Serious Games and Social Networks – the next frontier?
A client approached me recently with a query about Facebook. Their mandate is to deliver adult skills training to learners through a multitude of access points to provide learning opportunities for all. They have developed Immersive Learning Sims for workplace training that have proven effective in enahancing the employment prospects of these individuals. Their research has shown, not surprisingly that a whole cohort of this target group aged 18 – 28 spent a great deal of time on Facebook. So their question was whether Facebook and other social networks could be a delivery platform for their immersive sims.
I saw this first as a technical question – we can deliver browser based 3D games and Sims; Facebook has an API so there should be some way of achieving this. However, digging into the API and looking into the phenomenon that is Social Games gave a different perspective. It was clear that the motivation and behaviours of users in social networks differed from other online communities and were radically different from those in our clients usual deployment environments.
I was very surprised by the level of personal data that Facebook gave developers access to. Putting my own personal privacy concerns put aside for now, the data gives developers a wealth of personal attributes and social graph data upon which to construct experiences and group interactivity. The explosion in social games points to the power of games on these networks. The rise of companies like Zynga, SGN, MindJolt and Playfish has been phenomenal and is based upon simple games that make use of this social functionality. Brett Terril usesÂ research withinÂ Evolutionary Psychology to understandÂ game design within social networks.Â For instance the fundamental humanÂ drive to enhance self esteemÂ Â can be utilised in a myriad of game mechanics within successful social games ranign from simple scoring methods for comparison through to usign your ‘friends’ as items to manipulate within gameplay. Read Bretts throughs and recommendations in these articles.
This could offer opportunities for learning applications where immersive games traditionally struggle. Noah Falstein brought this to my attention with some great ideas:
Â “One area where games have traditionally fallen short is in simulating convincing conversations and interpersonal relationships. We’ve come up with many clever work-arounds, but to all but the hard-core gamers it is very unsatisfying compared to the richness and nuance of communicating with real people.”
Since the advent of online gaming, it has become possible to finesse that problem by using real people and not simulations. And yet for many years the only real people you were going to meet online were fellow fantasy roleplaying enthusiasts, or people willing to negotiate the rather imposing interface problems and other social deficits of Second Life. Facebook, on the other hand, is reaching the huge numbers of people who casually surf the web but don’t want to drive 3D avatars around a virtual world of dubious quality. Better still, they already use it to connect to other friends who do the same thing
The technical integration into Facebook API was not too difficult. We built a quick demo game – Christmas Carnage - using Thinking Worlds that we delivered into the browser through Shockwave – not a Serious Game by any stretch of the imagination; it was for a games client but the techncial solution is the same.
You’ll need a facebook account WINDOWS ONLY
Santas Elves have stolen all of his presents so you have 5 minutes to search the xmas town and whack any elves that you can catch. You’ll find special presents along the way – 20 different – which you can then send to your friends. Its also a personalised 3D christmas card.
If you have not got a Facebook account then see an online version
The game build was 10 days but the Facebook integration was a bit more fiddly and I’m sure will have more bugs when mass market tested. We’ll then integrate with other social networks.
If anyone wants a heads up on the technical issues and solutions then just mail me and I’ll be happy to help.