Like millions of others, I’ve been playing a variety of “social games” online. I’m struck by several aspects common to these games, including the overall poor gameplay. I think that will change, slowly, as game developers figure out what works and what doesn’t.
But what has also struck me is that these games have no “elder game.” In terms of a linear, limited form of media (book, movie, single-player game) you might say they have no third act; there is no summation or reconcilation. Of course, in an online game you don’t want a summation — you want people to keep playing! And yet, each of these games seems to run out of steam for the player experience sooner or later. You amass enough “stuff” (coins, guns, troops, mana points, whatever) and either the challenges you face are uninteresting or non-existent.
So (as always) the question is, what’s next? How can social games transform their gameplay to remain engaging to the “elders,” those who have mastered the main part of the game already, to keep them playing and (of course) paying?
Or is this the right question to be asking? Might it be that social games simply have a lifespan on a per-player basis — when you’ve done it all, you’re done, thanks for playing, bye-bye? Is it expecting too much of social games to deliver fun experiences for the new player, the up-and-coming player, and the elder player? If it is, what does this say about the staying power of social games as a genre (is faddishness a built-in Achilles’ heel?), and if not, what does that say about the current state of social game design?