Core Corner: How Facebook RPGs compare and compete with Diablo

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As I play through a newer social action RPG like Merlin the Game, I wonder why more of these RPGs aren't some of the most successful games on Facebook. After all, action games are some of the most widespread in the standalone PC market, but on Facebook they just seem to do... OK. Of course, this is in comparison to monsters like FarmVille, in which case almost every game does just OK. Still is there a reason that Merlin the Game, Dungeon Blitz or Cloudstone aren't consistently on the charts? What do these games do right and wrong, and how does that affect how they perform when compared to other games?

Let's be clear about the definition of core gaming on Facebook: Core gaming is squeezed somewhere between the ease of, say, FarmVille and the intense strategy of PC RPGs or RTS games/ Core gaming is for everybody, but skews towards depth and challenge. A standalone title like Diablo or Age of Empires might prove more than a core Facebook gamer wants. To that end, core games offer gameplay that's best broken up into smaller sessions and also offer cash-shop items that can give an immediate advantage. Core gaming on Facebook is perfect for those of us who grew up on more intense strategy titles but don't have time for those marathon sessions anymore.

Games like Merlin the Game or Cloudstone are perfect illustrations of core gaming. They provide some challenge but the primary attraction comes from their lively graphics, excellent sound and polished experience. At the same time, there are many former hardcore strategy players who would sneer at such a game and say that neither title holds a candle to something like Diablo. This is true in many ways, but I would argue that core social games are not trying to compete with games like Diablo, immense single-player experience that cost millions more to manufacture. Could Diablo players loose themselves a world like Merlin's? What would it take?

The first step would is to ramp the challenge up. There's no need for an immense jump, and only certain encounters that a player faces would bring much harder enemies or present with more intense challenges. Remember, the success of core gaming on Facebook is due to that it is "easier" than standard strategy gaming, but this accessibility has possibly hurt its reach. Many of the quests or goals that are found in core titles like Dungeon Rampage are occasionally challenging, but more designed bite-sized sessions. Take out that time constraint, divide the challenges into longer quest chains and even drop players into more intense and longer battles, and gamers outside of Facebook might take notice.

Graphically, many of the titles on Facebook are just as accessible. There are a few titles that will push a PC to run smoothly, but most core titles offer graphics that, to an outsider, seem as if they were designed for younger players. Obviously, the formula is pretty successful, but imagine if core games took more of a chance in the graphics department. What if Merlin the Game came with more realistic artwork? Would that help attract and maintain a playerbase of Diablo fans? It might.

One of the most obvious differences between core social dungeon-crawlers and standalone games is the cash-shop. Although we see cash-shop items offered in even hardcore single-player titles, core social games have them all beat. A player can buy almost anything in most core games now, including items and weapons that give an advantage in PvP. Diablo 3 ran into some issues by offering goods for real-life cash, and the blowback was enough to make one wonder whether core games should cool it.

After all, part of the challenge and thrill of core gaming is the search for a better weapon, stats or goods--selling them in the cash-shop tends to take the edge off of the fun. Cash shop design is probably the last thing we would see change about core gaming, though. After all, these virtual items make a ton of money and Facebook denizens are used to those transactions.

It's possible that there will always be a divide between social-core gamers and standalone strategy lovers. Each genre will continue on to different levels of success, and the two will rarely cross paths. Then again, we have seen major single-player titles like Dragon Age and Neverwinter Nights branch off into core social gaming, but to what end? Both are no longer around. Here's hoping that both genres can eventually see eye-to-eye, to the benefit of us all.

Play Merlin the Game on Facebook >

Play Dungeon Rampage on Facebook >

Play Cloudstone on Facebook >

What do you think core gaming can do to attract outsiders? Share your thoughts in the comments! Add Comment
Beau covers MMORPGs for Massively, enjoys blogging on his personal site and loves social and casual gaming. He has been exploring games since '99 and has no plans to stop. For Games.com News, he explores the world of hardcore Facebook and social games. You can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
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