So, in a few weeks I'm going to give a talk at DevCon5 on 'GAMIFICATION', how non-game apps are taking on gaming aspects to motivate users. In the course of researching material for this talk, I took some time to play the latest social games on Facebook and the iPhone.
What I'm seeing is more and more of what is known as 'Grind' or 'Task' games. Games where the play is really about 'tasks' and not the traditional game play elements we've known.
The popular example is Zynga's Farmville (yes, I know they didn't invent the concept). You plant crops, harvest food, buy more things, make the farm larger etc... These tasks results in achievements that are shared with friends who are also playing the game. Items can be gifted to friends. Motivations include "pride of ownership" in building a cool world as well as very effective reward systems with slot-machine sounding awards of coins and achievements. Very clever and much has been written about this.
The games are "Free to Play" (I prefer Freemium) with in-app purchases driving revenue. These are hugely popular games with 10's of millions of players. Six of the current top ten iPhone games (in terms of revenue) are of this type.
I recently checked out Zynga's new "Empires and Allies" as well expecting to see perhaps a vast multiplayer strategy war game (hey, I got my start at Avalon Hill) but it's also a 'Task' game, where you rebuild your island that has been attacked. As in Farmville, you construct buildings and even can plant crops ... but the addition here is that some of the buildings also create troops and weapons ... something I fondly remember from classic games like "Total Annihilation" and of course Starcraft/Warcraft.
These units that you build, will eventually combat the mythic 'enemy' who destroyed your army in the first place. Combat is simple, which is appropriate for the casual Facebook gamers, but the clever thing here is that Zynga has extended the Farmville 'grind' into a broader game play with the simple combat sequences.
I believe the appeal of the 'Task' game is that you can drop in when you like and just play with it. This harkens back to the "digital plaything" games of "Little Computer People," "Sim City: and other titles like it. The difference here is the social networking that motivates folks to create something worth bragging about. Productivity, even in a virtual sense, feels good.
The thing that I like about this is that we're bringing in the sort of audience that never played games in the past. I expect to see this mechanic combined with traditional game elements of strategy, action and adventure. It's a good thing.