On a recent visit to GDC 2012 in San Francisco a few weeks back, I was impressed with several conference sessions. One that stood out for me was from the CEO of Applifier, Jussi Laakkonen. He lead a couple of sessions but one of the interesting Ah Ha moments for me in the week was a particular session titled, Players Vs Friends.
It seems obvious when I look back but this concept is still something that does not seem to be fully understood by all developers on social platforms such as Facebook and perhaps less so by mobile developers. The main take out for me was that while ‘friends’ may offer viral growth, ‘players’ are interested, motivated and more likely to actually care. You have all had the experience of a friend playing a game on Facebook that you actually do not care about but for some reason are roped into. The point is that games on Facebook only allow you to play with ‘friends’. This is core to the social graph model. There may be a lot of people that like playing the game that you play, that you may even want to be friends with, but if you are not Facebook ‘friends’ already, you are not allowed to play with them.
Zynga is onto this and have had some mechanisms in place to allow for what they now call ‘zFriends’ to play a game with you even though you are not Facebook friends with them. This is model is coming to frution with the launch of Zynga.com and for the first time ever, I understand how this proposition might work outside of Facebook itself. What makes Facebook valuable is also what holds it back for gaming. You cannot play with people you do not know. Xbox Live and PSN of course do not worry about this and as long as you have bought the same game, you are ‘friends’ according to them.
Not sure what the answer is yet but certainly some interesting developments in this space over the next few months and years.