the next generation of social games

One of my favourite iPhone games is Andreas Illiger’s Tiny Wings. It’s cute, child friendly, and once you’ve bought it, there are no ads, no distractions, you get the entire thing. It’s a rarity in the App Store world, and in the online gaming world in particular. I worry that I spend too much time, even now, in my thirties, playing games. i should put them aside entirely, and focus on serious things.

When Draw Something came out, I was enthusiastic, and spent a lot of time playing it. Then Zynga (the company that owns Words with Friends and a lot of other games) bought the company (for $190M), and it started to go downhill. The tendency to extract money for players became stronger and stronger, and it felt like I had a never-ending to-do list of drawings to interpret and return.

When the privacy policy changed to be more generous toward Zynga and less toward me, I deleted it, and haven’t felt the need to go back. I can’t say the same for words with friends. I would say that I log into that game several times per day, but having bought paid version of the app, there’s not much they can do to extract further money from me, so I can concentrate on playing the game.

What I’m seeing in some other games, though, is a greater reliance on in-game currency. One game – different to bejewelled but clearly of the same lineage – is Diamond Dash.

Not only does this game have the “wait 8 minutes to be able to play again, or pay money to be able to play Right Now”, but they have two different types of in-game currency on top of this. So it’s possible to buy two lots of tokens for the game and still not have the feature that you want.

If you don’t want to pay, you can use social media to buy in-game currency, for a while. You can ask a friend to give you a life in the game, and they will receive one too. This clogs up your Facebook notifications, and theirs, but doesn’t particularly invoke positive sentiments towards the game.

These mobile devices that we use for games, and the social networks we connect them to, have so much capacity than merely to add in-game currency to existing games from the 1970s and 1980s. But we’re not seeing a lot better just yet.

I felt that Zyngapocalypse Now (And What Comes Next?) was asking some good questions about the future of gaming.

 If Yahoo was “Search, Generation One” then Google was “Search, Generation Two”. The first generation was the one which became cluttered with all manner of complicated ambitions, poor performance and a whole load of “conventional wisdom” which often proved contradictory. Generation Two, on other hand, realised what mattered and delivered just that. A similar shift is what will make “Social Games, Generation Two” real.

I’m interested to see the future of gaming, but mindful that I need to be ever more disciplined in how I use my time. Future games will work even harder to make sure that players will have “just one more game”: I’m hoping I can find a way just to dip in and out, without losing hours.

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