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Funware and Social Games – All the World’s a Game

Posted on Thursday, Dec 6th 2007

By Gabe Zichermann, Guest Author

Status games are universal, powerful and profoundly engaging. From the shiny new car, to the right education, from your eBay rating to FB TopFriends position, people are preoccupied with status in a way that transcends all other forms of competition. By taking a step back from the traditional definition of an electronic game, it becomes clear that when we “play” Facebook, we’re endeavoring to improve our status within its community, and we interact with the quests, challenges, levels, badges and virtual items presented there just as we would in World of Warcraft or Habbo Hotel. And it’s precisely the lack of understanding around status games (and the platforms required to execute them) that made so many Web 1.0 applications so passionless and flat; you must be able to show other people your status, or its meaningless.

This is something game designers have understood since the beginning of their craft, but it’s clearly something that the web community is only now beginning to grasp. In parallel, the Millenial generation is coming-of-age with their gamey and socially networked worldview, their expectations for interactivity are dramatically different and more evolved than ever before. Most importantly, they expect every interaction to be fun and tightly integrated with their friends – both online and off.

Enter Funware and Social Games. The latter are games that use a social network for play and as a core part of their design (e.g. Scrabulous or Traveller IQ). This differs from games that merely use social networks for distribution, such as the majority of titles available from RockYou. Funware applications, on the other hand, use game mechanics to radically reshape a non-game application – such as I’m In Like With You (a dating game), Luppo (a shopping ‘options’ game) and my new venture, rmbr (a photosharing game).

Although Funware in the broadest sense has been around since the dawn of the Internet, it’s only now become possible to design applications that explicitly use game design in innovative ways. At rmbr, we’re using games to help you sort, organize, tag and share your memories. With a virtually limitless set of photos as inputs and a 30-year history of game design as inspiration, we’ve built some exciting, breakthrough and – most importantly – fun interactions that should reshape the way people think about memory. Our vision, shared by Funware developers all over the world, is that everyone likes to play games, even though they may not always realize it.

And there lies the limit and the lesson of the success of the games industry. In its most raw form, games entertain people by taking them to parallel universe with clear rules, objectives and a scoring system. This allows users to express themselves and exert control over their “lives”, whether they are pretending to be a fruit-eating circle or a 3D avatar in a fantasy world. The biggest future opportunity for games lies in embedding them into “reality”: banking, shopping, flirting, sharing and living. Because if we can make a bleak landscape where humanity is extinct into “fun”, we can certainly do the same for applying for a home loan, or learning to speak French. And therein lies the brilliance of our art form.

Games: they’re not just for fun anymore.

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