Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I don’t think that Flash games are very compelling. In fact, most of the time, they are downright awful. This isn’t to say that there aren’t very creative people working on sweet Flash products, it’s just that I can’t remember them.

This latest explosion of Flash games on the social networks is interesting, though. The kind of gamer that they appeal to may never grow out of the phase they’re in. I’ve heard it said in many places that these gamers will and must eventually expect a deeper play experience, but I wonder.

When I think about how my own gaming tastes have evolved, I am startled to see that they haven’t. It’s almost as though whatever genre and mechanics I was initially attracted to have really stayed with me. As a young boy, I loved playing Final Fantasy 2 (US) on my SNES, which started my thirst for compelling RPG’s. I also loved strategy board games which led to my interest in games like Civilization and standard RTS fare.

Although RPG’s have evolved as a genre since Final Fantasy 2, all of the basic mechanics are still there, albeit shuffled around a bit. The only thing that has dramatically changed has been the graphics, UI standards, and playability.

In other words, the games haven’t changed — they’re just easier and more enjoyable to play, with prettier packaging.

So where does that leave games like Farmville or Cafe World? Well, my guess is that the gameplay mechanics will continue to be shallow collection games with doled out rewards with some social hooks. This set of features has been honed, polished, and perfected for a simple reason: it’s like crack. Crackheads don’t want deeper game mechanics, they just want more crack, the same way I just want better RPG’s or RTS games. I don’t expect those mechanics to go away anytime soon.

So, given that the mechanics won’t change much, just graphics, UI, and playability remain. Unfortunately, those are not Flash’s strong points.

I’d love to say that HTML5 will come and deliver us all from these issues, but that technology still feels like it’d be a couple of years before the spec is decided on and has reasonable browser/user penetration. I guess we’ll all have to be patient.

There are some alternatives, of course. The big three that come to mind are: Unity, Instant Action, and the Portalarium Player. All three of these solutions are browser plugins of some kind that essentially run a 3D engine in the web browser, but only the Portalarium Player can run an arbitrary engine of the developer’s choice.

These choices still have the inherent problem of creating another barrier to the game that the poor user will have to navigate through. Hopefully the user’s attention span is long enough to make it, but admittedly the sort of user interested in playing these crack-like games has little to no patience. These platforms do seem ripe for some high-quality content though, and could do quite well if the games targeted the proper demographics.

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