Compact timescale aside, the first half of 2010 on Facebook has seen the kind of progression that’s not too distant from what we’ve witnessed in traditional console and PC gaming for many, many years. Visual quality has been upping in slickness, art styles are becoming more cogent, themes are branching out into specialised areas, and functionality is increasing. With this progression curve in mind, the next generation of Facebook titles is starting to appear in the second half of 2010, but there’s perhaps a slower, steeper incline that it will need to tackle.
On Facebook, with viral distribution somewhat neutered and the now-established dominance of certain operators, it’s becoming clear that converting free players into paying users is more vital to growth than simply accruing enormous followings. With this in mind, we’re seeing deeper, fantasy-themed experiences — such as Playdom’s Verdonia — emerging. Again, these aren’t new games, and draw upon a long-existing heritage of browser-based gaming, where strategy RPGs have been a mainstay for most of the past decade. But the motivation is that while userbases may be smaller than the immense crowds that flocked to FarmVille et al, deeper connections to more complex play structures will lead to greater monetisation of users. If successful in this regard, it should prompt even more pre-existing MMOG and casual companies to enter social gaming, if only by dint of converting current IP.
However, the extent to which such games can scale may be limited, by the very mechanisms that allowed social gaming to flourish in the first place. One of the key reasons why the second generation of Facebook games bloomed is due to the manner in which they could wrap around a multitasking environment, integrating themselves into the suite of activities that users are there to perform — not just play games, but also communicate with friends, and perform other social upkeep. It’s essentially a turn-based rather than realtime relationship, where tending to your farm/casino/hotel/pet becomes part of queue of social engagements. Asking such players to become more invested in games may be a tricky balancing act, with a low ceiling in place that obstructs many of those people that flocked to the defining titles of the past year.