Here's some links to catch you up before I take a crack at it.
- Chris Hecker on Rewarding Players for Dull Tasks
- Soren Johnson (Civ 3, Civ 4, Spore) Weighs In (this post is FULL of links on the issue)
- Josh Sutphin talks about GDC and makes a note about Zynga's controversial acceptance speech
- Gamasutra article about Selling Hate and Humiliation
My core takeaway from all of this is that indie and corporate game developers need to get over it. More importantly, they need to step it up and do it better.
The reality is pretty clear to me. When Zynga's games are so popular that Farmville is the focus of an entire South Park episode then they are doing something correctly. Not everything, but something. It also means they are culturally relevant in a big way. Millions of people are choosing these games over other activities.
Instead of getting angry about how Zynga conducts their business, I think the rest of the industry should take what they've started, create legitimately good games, and steal the massive group of consumers they've created. There are millions of people just waiting for something incredible. They are playing Farmville because there's very little competition and their friends are doing it.
You're bothered that Zynga's designers are more like business people? Okay, give that role to someone else. You don't like how they manipulate human psychology? Okay, manipulate it in a better way (i.e. give them something fun and legitimately satisfying). You don't like Achievements? Don't use them.
Instead of shallow, repetitive click-fests we can create deep games that borrow from fantastic traditional game elements and combine them with the brevity, community, and public accomplishment that Zynga claims to offer.
Some developers are doing this! In fact, I've latched onto two free-to-play games in particular that have not only taken my time, but also my money! Here are a few I've tried and recommend highly.
Neptune's Pride is rich with strategy and diplomacy, yet it only takes minutes during the day. It's a brilliant game that is absolutely what a free to play web game can and should be.
When I was young I'd try to point the finger at my friends to deflect blame or express frustration. "Well, look what Jeff's doing!" I'd say. My mom would always sit me down, look me in the eye and say "I don't care about Jeff. You need to worry about Grant and your problems will go away."
Seems like good advice. Ignore Zynga. Get over it. Do it better.