Friday, March 12, 2010

Gravity Bear Gets It All Wrong: 5 Common Mistakes of Traditional Game Developers Entering the Social Space

I must be in a critical mood, I apologize in advance to Gravity Bear who did make a well-polished game and doesn't deserve to be my whipping boy. This post is more directed at the wave of traditional game devs who have been entering the social space for a while and having their boats smashed against the rocky shores of Facebook. Gravity Bear simply makes the same mistakes, which are numbered below.

I just played Battle Punks ( for the first time, I had been watching Gravity Bear since they announced their formation.

1. Early Press release. I always consider it a sign of impending fail if a studio announces their social game via the press months in advance. It's traditional game industry thinking and has zero impact on adoption of their game. Though it is useful to raise money.

2. Using a Plugin. Everybody wants to make their game to look pretty, I get that. But not at the expense of massive user drop-off. Plugins hurt your funnel badly. Instant Action was actually pretty painless, but I am using the latest version of Firefox on a computer where I'm logged in as an admin. Neither is a likely use case for most of the FB audience.

3. Long download times. I had to wait through multiple content downloading message to get to the core game. Typical user would have gotten bored and left. Also indicative of a big, unoptimized flash file which will likely crash older browsers (which is what most people use).

Both 2 and 3 are classic traditional mistakes, not taking into consideration technology lag and technology adverse users when creating games. Pretty rich graphics have a high cost which most developers don't see because the games run fine on their high-end machines. This technology lag is going to be the biggest impediment to adoption in the forecasted "better graphics = better games" race that everyone is buying into. Believe me, optimizing flash is a hard problem for richer experiences and there are only a handful of guys in the world who have any real (real= years+) experience at this.

4. Focusing on graphics versus gameplay. Most of Battle Punks is watching a repetitive, animated battle that you can't control and can't skip. That's the core of the game. Not fun. There's a reason Mafia Wars doesn't have animations. There's also a reason why Gangster City is a FAIL: because the animations are not the reward, the experience points are. People seem to be confused about that. Civ: Revolution on the iPhone does animated battles well: quick and skippable. They are practically over before I can hit skip.

5. Overly-complicated Game Systems adapted from MMOs. Don't make people have to active manage their inventory. It's not fun. It's a barrier to the core fun of the game. Only hard-core players can appreciate the nuances. Please stop taking game design lessons from MMOs. It's a different audience (casual) with different requirements. If anything MMOs should take lessons from social games if they want to widen their audiences. Do not pull the World of Warcraft card to try and justify using MMO game design. WoW is unique, the other 100 MMO failures should have taught us something.

I'm stopping at five because I'm starting to rant. My hope for Gravity Bear is that they find their niche audience and monetize well and have a profitable business. There is a popular thesis that niche games with high ARPU is the next social games wave. I hope it is, but I have some opinions on that which I will share another time.