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Zynga Rich, You Jelly

A number of people have corrected me to say they're not JEALOUS of Zynga - they just think that social games have shallow gameplay. ORLY?

Ryan Creighton, Blogger

March 23, 2011

8 Min Read

[this article is cross-posted from the Untold Entertainment blog, which is awesome]

i feel like i'm on an endless rant over this Zynga thing. It's like a Grateful Dead tour ... i just keep following the issue around in my VW minivan, and when i finally catch up with it, i dance around naked and bask in its glory. And then they name an ice cream flavour after it. Or ... wait. What's happening?


Haighters gonna Haight.

A few people took exception to my saying that the stink over Zynga and the horrible scads of filthy cash they're earning, perhaps at the expense of crazy people, was due to jealousy. "No!" cried The People. "It's not because i'm jealous that they have more money than the Federal Reserve fresh off a print run. It's that Zynga (Playdom, Playfish) develop games that are shallow."

Shallow Is as Shallow Does

Oho! i see. The problem is not that social game developers have enough cash to make papier mache pinatas for their kids' birthday parties out of fifty dollar bills. It's that their games don't deliver a satisfying experience. It's that they're shallow. Let me tell you about some shallow games, because i've spent my life playing them. And it's been most of them. i've played a game called Blue Dragon, a Japanese RPG where you keep pressing the "A" button for about 40 hours until you win. (Blue Dragon is also known under its import titles "Final Fantasy", "Dragon Quest", "Phantasy Star", "The Secret of Evermore", "Earthbound", "Pokemon", "Star Ocean", and a few hundred other names which escape me.)


The game manual is one page, with a 72 pt font that says "PRESS A".

I've played a game called Double Dragon, where you press the joystick button for about 2 hours until you win. (You may also know this game as "Final Fight", "River City Ransom", "BattleToads", "The Simpsons Arcade", "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV", "Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja", and many more.)


Double Dragon has kicking AND punching. Are we deep yet?

I've even played a game where you continually pressed a button to win, which i think was called Zaxxon / Xevious / Centipede / Bangai-O / Silpheed / Commando / Rambo: First Blood Part II / Contra.


Does the isometric illusion of depth translate to gameplay depth?

And all in the name of playing a game with a little more depth, i even tried a game where you're a guy, and you have to punch another guy using a combination of buttons until the other guy falls down (or you murder him). That one was called Mortal Kombat / Marvel vs. Capcom / Street Fighter / Killer Instinct / Clay Fighter / Virtua Fighter / Tekken / Pit-Fighter / Bloodstorm / Time Killers.


Technically, i did have to reach pretty deep into that guy's body to pull out his spine.

And if i ever really wanted to blow the barn doors off, i'd play this game where you walk around a 3D maze with a gun, and you SHOOT enemies with it, until all the enemies are gone. Sometimes, i'd play that game with other people in a "death match". That's a game mode where sometimes i would kill the other players, and sometimes the other players would kill me. Then we'd get a score sheet of who killed who. Then we'd play again. The next time, i would kill the other players a number of times, and they would kill me a number of times. The numbers sometimes changed, you see? That one was great. It was called Wolfenstein 3D / DOOM / QUAKE / Serious Sam / Duke Nukem / Call of Duty / Halo / Shooty McBang-Shoot.


Hitler in a mech suit. Here, we've attained THEMATIC depth, because Jews.

For 25 Points, Define "Shallow"

What's shallow gameplay? Is it gameplay where you strategically place assets and efficiently use time and resources to maximize profits and dominate the game board, as you do in Farmville / Restaurant City / Cityville (or Dune II / Starcraft / Act Raiser / Populous / Age of Empires / Sim City)? Or is a "shallow" game one that you don't enjoy?


Warning: ONE of these games has shallow gameplay. But just one.

When we think "film", we think of the best-in-class examples, like Citizen Kane, The Shawshank Redemption, Taxi Driver, and Lawrence of Arabia. We don't necessarily call to mind Dude Where's My Car, The Hottie and the Nottie, and Good Burger (although i'd really like to put in a good word for Good Burger, because it's awesome. Check your Netflix listings.)


Well, he's no Sidney Poitier, but ... aw, who am i kidding? He IS Sidney Poitier.

Similarly, when we think of "games", we think of Shadow of the Colossus, Braid, Super Mario Bros, Pac-Man, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and Tetris. We don't necessarily call to mind Superman 64, Night Trap, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, or the writing in Braid.


So ... the girlfriend is a bomb? ... i got nothing.

Starting with the Man in the Mirror

Can we be honest? Just as we've seen a lot of crappy movies over the years that weren't really worth our time, we've played a LOT of horrendous games that we really should have passed on (except that we needed to beat the high score/get the last achievement/collect all the things). Sometimes, movies we dismiss as derivative or shallow get all kinds of money and attention (Steel Magnolias please?) Other times, we approve (Academy Award Winner Heath Ledger).


Never go full supervillain.

So you don't approve of Farmville? Why troll out your film critic's turtleneck and goatee and try to pontificate over the lackluster aesthetics or shallow gameplay? Why isn't it just good enough to say you don't like it? "It's not for me, but it's okay for them to make money from it because other people seem to enjoy it." There. Try saying that. It's therapeutic.

Cozy Up with Grandpa Ryan

Look, i went through this. i've been in your shoes. Back in the mid-90's, i lived and breathed graphic adventure games. They were witty, they were story-based, and they had GREAT characters and beautiful graphics. Then somewhere along the way, we went from LOOM to DOOM - from Zak McKracken to crackin' skulls. Suddenly, the kinds of games i enjoyed stopped being made, because everyone was into running around and shooting things and not having to think. This brought an influx of the wrong kind of people into games: jocks. The very people who tormented me in elementary school for liking video games were now the industry's target demographic, and would be for decades.


Know what? i f*ckin' LOVE Turok.

Sure, i could rail against those games - talk about how they're vapid and shallow and uninteresting. i could smoke my unfiltered cigarette through one of those long holders and sip red wine from a high-heeled shoe, and then splash it on some fashion model i keep around my studio apartment to brighten up that corner near the Bauhaus-designed furniture set. And i did, actually. i did just that.


Fable? More like FEEBLE. Muh-huh. Mmmyes.

But eventually, you just gotta say "that game is just not what i'm into." Stop feeling threatened. Game genres fall in and out of favour. Are you worried that casual games become so popular that no one will make your empty-headed idiot shooters any more? It could happen. Then you'd become a niche player, like those of us who scour the bargain bins at Wal Mart looking for games that scored above a C- on JustAdventure.com. LOOK UPON ME: THIS IS YOUR FATE!


Hmm ... Scarlet Pimpernel: The Graphic Adventure Game. This looks promising.

The bottom line is that social game developers have made a LOT of money creating games that you don't enjoy, and you feel threatened and resentful (and perhaps a little jealous) because the games that are getting so much attention aren't the ones you enjoy playing. Do you really think that convincing those Farmville-addicted moms to play a metroidvania platformer is the answer? How will you choose to articulate your feelings? i like collecting little lost cows, and you like shooting space demons in the head. Be very careful who you're calling shallow.

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