For probably longer than I've been writing about them, social games have been looked at by traditional gamers as "casual" or barely even games. And in some cases they are absolutely right. (Sometimes, you just can't resist the debate.) But just take a look at the FarmVille forums on any given day or eavesdrop on a conversation between Bejeweled Blitz devotees and you'll learn that it's far from the truth. In fact, social games are as hardcore as they come, and here are five reasons why.
1. Social games demand time and dedication
Not to mention excellent scheduling skills. This is because several social games including just about every 'Ville there is from FrontierVille to CityVille could have several timers running at once. Between crops ripening, shipments returning and gift requests refreshing--sometimes taking days at a time--a calendar app is almost required to play efficiently. (I'd be nowhere in FarmVille without my iPhone calendar.) Only the most hardcore of MMOs like Final Fantasy XI in its hay day and EVE Online require this amount of attention for similar reasons--just replace "crops" with monster appearances and mineral shipments.
2. Social games require strategy
Take a gander at this forum thread in which players discuss their meticulous methods for maximizing Business returns in CityVille. These talks are strikingly similar to what you'll find on the World of WarCraft or StarCraft 2 forums. Hardcore online gamers watch videos detailing the new maps in Halo: Reach much like Zuma Blitz players have started to tune into Tiki Talk every week. Halo isn't over after you shut the Xbox off just like social games don't necessarily end as soon as players enter a new URL.
3. (Some) Social games are deep
Just look at any given game by Kabam on Facebook from Kingdoms of Camelot to Dragons of Atlantis. These real time strategy games (sound familiar?) are designed to give you one week's time to prepare your territory for open season. In other words, once seven days of preparation are through, it's a no holds-barred battle for survival. Players are forced to make split decisions on what to upgrade when, who to attack and how to defend themselves against thousands of enemy players. Wait, that sounds a lot like Civilization ... only it's on all the time.
4. Social games are slowly becoming skills-based
There are only a few social games out there--most of which are thanks to PopCap--that require skill to succeed. Games like Bejeweled Blitz and Zuma Blitz demand nimble reflexes and a bit of planning to excel. Have you ever scored over 2 million points with three Hot Frogs? (For perspective, I've only scored 400 thousand ... once.) And more games are slowly adopting features that rely heavily on skill like The Oregon Trail's list of mini games. This appears to be the direction in which social games are headed, so expect more where this came from.
5. Social games conventions are incoming
And not just those for stuffy business types and plucky journalists and bloggers. Zynga is expected to throw two conventions this year based on two of its most popular games: Zynga Poker and Mafia Wars. Hundreds of fans have already purchased tickets for these events and likely look forward to meeting their fellow social game fans in person. You know, like Blizzard's Bliz Con or Penny Arcade's Penny Arcade Expo? With over 90 million CityVille players, it's only a matter of time before we see a CityVille Fest or better yet, Zynga Con.
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