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Feature: Social Gaming Draws Developers In

In our latest feature, Gamasutra talks to industry notables like Brian Reynolds and Steve Meretzky to find out how and why they've been redirecting their design
Core' game industry notables like Brian Reynolds and Steve Meretzky have been redirecting their design efforts to social network games on Facebook and MySpace -- but why? In our latest feature, Gamasutra talks to them and other social game experts to discuss opportunities in this fleet-of-foot market: Both Meretzky, who is now VP of game design at Playdom, and Reynolds, who is now chief designer at Zynga, say they've happily made the leap to social gaming -- the former in November, the latter in May -- and haven't looked back. "For me, the 'ah-ha' moment when I decided to make the switch was when I was playing Mafia Wars on Facebook," recalls Reynolds. "Not only were my friends playing it more and more, but I noticed that my aunt was also playing it, and I remember thinking that it was kind of funny for a middle-aged woman who is a generation ahead of me to be putting hits on people." "Then one day I got an e-mail from her saying, 'Brian, thanks for all the energy packs. I love you. Aunt Susie.' I thought, wow, that's great. My aunt loves me even more since I'm playing Mafia Wars." "I say that with tongue in cheek, of course, but I realized that not only I was building social capital with my real friends when we were playing these games, I also had a wider variety of people to interact with than in typical gaming because Facebook attracts a much wider cross-section of people to play with. That's when I was sold on social gaming." Steve Meretzky explains why he left Waltham, MA-based Blue Fang Games, where he was working on the popular Zoo Tycoon franchise: "I was attracted to the sheer number of people -- tens and tens of millions and still growing -- that are in the social network environments," he recalls. "That gives you access to huge numbers of people who are in an environment that enables them to access their friends in a way that's so much easier and faster and seamless than in any other way they've ever played." Meretzky is also glad to go from high budgets and long production cycles to the world of small teams, short cycles and quick iterations: "You can be a lot more experimental," he says. "You don't have so much on the line with every project so you can try a little more crazy stuff. What other popular games enable you to do that? It's just wonderful to be able to work on multiple games and get them out the door quickly." "Plus you have the ability to constantly improve on your last several games while you're working on the next several. It just feels wonderful to have so many games that you're touching in so many different stages of development." The full Gamasutra feature incorporates many more perspectives on the growing social gaming space from key industry figures who have made the leap (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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