Many, maybe too many, conversations about social games lead back to the same topic: Zynga games, they're big, but are they any good?
One of the more measured answers to that question comes from Cerebral Fix CEO Ben Dellaca, who is currently on a Stateside tour to promote his and a few other New Zealand game companies who specialize in social, mobile and augmented reality games. He says Zynga started out creating, well, non-games, but have evolved since then. Here's a snippit of our conversation:
"I kind of argue that the original Zynga products on Facebook were actually slightly gamified websites. And that was as simple as it was. So the likes of the Mafia Wars products or the 'X' Wars products -- they just ripped themselves off like 20-something ridiculous times, Vampire Wars... Vomit Wars. They introduced a whole RPG (role-playing game) concept to it. It was one click, and then it was like, come back here [to click again].
Do you think Zynga games are the same now?
I don't think they're the same at all. This new flight of products coming out from Zynga actually are "games," in my unhumble opinion. I have to tip my hat off to them. Games like Empires & Allies have real fighting elements in them ... I don't think the PvP element is going well at all ... but I think that took their audience to the stage where they're starting, starting, to create some cool little game content. And there's a whole new wave of them... their Indiana Jones rip-offs and their Castle-things are kind of interesting, although that CastleVille does look a little like FrontierVille to me -- so that's a little bit of a worry. But it will be interesting to see where they go in the future because the whole space is maturing. And, if you see a company like Zynga changing... then we're all going to be.
Is Zynga dominating social games on Facebook so much, that it's, in a way, killing it?
I go to all of the conferences and I'm forever seeing developers who are actually looking at the likes of Zynga and going, "Let's do that!" Which I think is crazy... Pick something you're really great at, start there and really polish that up. A lot of game companies moving into, and getting their butts kicked, in the social space are better off, in my opinion, doing something that's a little more core. We've just figured this out recently and have a new buzzword called 'Mid-core' gaming.
What about "core" games on Facebook? Is that really going to draw console games to play a game on a social network?
A great example of how not to do that is Sony and product that they've put with that dungeony thing [aka, Dungeon Overlord] they've put in there. It was a really great game but it wasn't connected to the audience properly. It was almost as if they made this great little game and wanted to sell it to Zynga customers. It wasn't a product that a 55-year-old US 'home executive' was going to play. So you really have to think it through strategically and have got that wider level of thinking as opposed to getting a little too excited about what we're doing and just going out there and making a product. Which does happen from time to time."
Cerebral Fix recently churned out a Facebook game called Crystal Link, a simple, but compelling gem matching game with power-ups (think Bejeweled Blitz). The company also released a Pokemon-style game called Terrapets for Android in November, which Dellaca says will be scampering onto Facebook in the not-too-distant future.