By Jenny Ng From games.com
More than two hundred million players check in every month to play Zynga games, and yet, those and other Facebook games are often derided as exploitative "Skinner boxes", their appeal reduced to sinister mind-hackery. Ian Bogost, a professor and game designer, went so far as to create his own Facebook game, Cow Clicker, and a "cowclickification" app to drive home these points. But Playdom Design VP, Steve Meretzky provides a counterpoint: "when you come down to it, basically all games are Skinner boxes -- meaningless activities where you're not getting anything out of it other than enjoyment." And enjoyment really is the point here.
Because if the mechanics to creating good Facebook games were as simple as the theories behind Pavlov's dogs and Skinner's rats, Facebook game designers wouldn't need to garner input on what works and what doesn't. This suggests that you need new models on assessing player psychology in social games. Jason Brown, who works as Zynga's VP of player insights believes that "Our games tap into some fundamental drivers of human happiness. . . They give people moments of pleasure (and) a sense of accomplishment. And they help people connect with each other."
Nicole Lazzaro, an expert on gamer psychology who's been studying player experience for two decades, breaks down just what's so appealing about games into four elements that she calls "Keys", and says that most Facebook games attempt to ace three out of the four following traits:
Last week, Lazzaro was asked by the Los Angeles Times to put Zynga's games to the test. Lazarro's "fun meter" can be broken down into a game's level of engagement, facility of socialization, "intrinsic fun" and "extrinsic fun". ("Extrinsic fun" is defined by collecting points and badges, while "Intrinsic fun" is "what I call hard fun or serious fun, relies on engagement beyond just rewarding players to click.") Her conclusion? Facebook games are terrific at the first two elements and terrible at the last two.
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