I’ve been thinking about this post about Chris Trottier’s gameplay models as well as my own experience with casual games in general and Facebook games more specifically.
It has become reasonably clear, zeitgeist-wise, that at least the perceived demographic for most Facebook games is the mom demographic. For many casual games as well (I’m willing to bet that is a big reason for the otherwise inexplicable rise of the “hidden object game.” Highlights magazine is really sad they didn’t pioneer that genre and make a mint.)
I ought to be absolutely, square-on perfect for this kind of game. Even I have thought this of myself, up to the point wherein I actually had to play the games. I’m 34, mother to 1.5 children, I work a full-time gig from home, and have little time left over to play games. And the games I play had better be compelling, at least to me personally.
One argument – the more frequent argument – is that I don’t like the current crop of Facebook games (there are some great casual titles out there (off Facebook) – it’s just incredibly hard to find them amidst the dross) because I am an “experienced gamer,” that is, I have played a variety of games over the course of many years and I’m familiar with the general principles of game mechanics and design.
Even though this sentiment is basically asserting that I do not like Facebook games because – due to prior experience – I am able to tell that they are extremely bad games – I think it is incorrect. I think there’s a very good chance that the reason I don’t like these games much is because I have a number of creative outlets I have built into my work. Essentially, I think I am less bored than a lot of the moms (and non-mom players too) out there. My job is a creative one, and I do a lot of stuff that allows me to learn, be engaged, and otherwise experience personal fun outside of work, too.
Many – probably most – of the people playing these games (moms or otherwise) are perhaps not that lucky. Certainly, plenty of people find (sometimes quasi-) creative outlets in both Facebook games and other pursuits; witness the ever-expanding crafting world. That said, I think that there has been way too little exploration of creative exploration in these and other games appropriate for the demographic. I played The Sims 2 somewhat avidly, except that I didn’t play them so much after a week or so as spend time making 3d models and other items for the game. That experience was aggravating due to the fact that the community had to develop and document and support the applications to achieve this; it did not come from the developer or publisher (in fact, it appeared that the mod community was not exactly smiled upon by those entities.) I don’t entirely blame them, mind you, but some outreach would have gone a long way.
I think the creative aspects of games like Farmville (players talk about having “a beautiful farm”) are a critical selling point. Clearly Facebook game developers are trying to approach other (more masculine, often) demographics with games like the recent Dragon Age: Legends, not to mention the various strategy games, but few seem to be approaching the question from a standpoint of adding new creative outlets (or supplementing existing ones) to these players’ lives.