Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Friends For Sale: Designing a Game for the Platform v. the Channel

First, what is Friends for Sale?

Here's the description from the developer:

Buy and sell your friends as pets! You can make your pets poke, send gifts, or just show off for you. Make money as a shrewd pets investor or as a hot commodity! Friends for Sale is the bees knees!
Why you should care?

As of today, it has more daily active users (668,080) than Texas Holdem Poker and almost has as many daily active users as Scrabulous. If it is a game, then it's the second most popular game on Facebook.

So Bret, is it a game?

Here's the four key components of a game as defined by Wikipedia (feel free to dispute): goal, rules, challenge, interactivity. Let's break it down.

1. Goal: to have the highest worth among your friends.
2. Rules: you can only buy friends if you have enough money.
3. Challenge: To increase your worth you have to invest in the right friends
4. Interactivity: Other people can buy your friends from you and vice-versa.

And finally, my criterion: is it fun? Answer: ask the 668,080 people currently playing.

So yes, it is a game. In fact, I think it's an example of the new breed of social games emerging that will actually incorporate the social graph into their gameplay and not simply use the social graph as a distribution channel.

Platform v. Channel

In many ways, I think game developers are treating social networks as a channel for games rather than as a platform for games. Most games on Facebook only use the social graph to acquire users (i.e. Invite 40 Friends and get a Chuck Norris themed Jetman!). Sell your Friends! could not exist without the social graph.

A channel is just a way to distribute something. As a channel, Facebook is amazing, allowing any developer with a good game to *potentially* reach million of users. However, the vast majority of games don't. Roughly thirty games out of ~2000 games listed in the games sections of the app have reached one million installs (which, by the way, is more than I expected).

A platform has unique features that can be leveraged. Take the Nintendo Wii for example, it's unique feature is its motion sensing controller. Making a game for Facebook that doesn't leveraging the social graph (Facebook's unique feature) is like making a game for the Wii that doesn't leverage its motion-sensing controllers.

Just something to think about. There's a ton to say about *how* to design a game to take advantage of the social graph, but it'll have to wait until after my fever breaks.

Meanwhile, two predictions: Sell Your Friends! will soon be the most popular game on Facebook (as measured by DAU) and it's going to be copied endlessly.