'Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition' en route to Facebook
For most life-long gamers, the real attention-grabber is a game that IA's put in the seat of their new vehicle -- and that's bringing "The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition" to Facebook.
First released in 1990, The Secret of Monkey Island is a highly quotable, cult classic adventure game that was remastered and re-released last year, as a "Special Edition," by LucasArts. Originally a PC game, it's so beloved that it's also sold on Xbox Live Arcade, and for the iPhone/iPod Touch.
I saw the game at PAX East this weekend, where it definitely looks better than the XBLA release (which was compromised due to compressed visual and audio). IA's plans to launch The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition as a 20-minute demo on Facebook for free, and the full version for $9.99, which is a reasonable deal once you understand the scope of this launch...
...because IA has developed a distribution method similar to YouTube's 'embed' option. Using the embed feature means that you can play any game published by IA, anywhere and anytime on the web. You can stick the game on your Web site or on a blog post. You won't have to log into Facebook, or even IA, to play their games. And you purportedly won't have to wait for long downloads. This works because all your save states and gaming profile will be hosted by IA, which dramatically increases the game's online portability.
The other feature that's being offered is something similar to Facebook's Games Hub where you can see when your friends last played a game, or are "currently playing." But IA offers even more detailed info, such as in-game screenshots of everyone's progress. This is a controversial move, but IA recognizes the need for privacy and assured me that they intend to go with highly customizable privacy settings, something that Facebook has yet to implement for their games hub.
Now, the flipside to all this is that, aside from the friends tracking feature, The Secret of Monkey Island on Facebook is going to remain a single-player experience. IA doesn't care to woo the typical Facebook demographic, and they're not taking advantage of the social networks on Facebook, which everyone feels is part and parcel of the social games boom. At the same time, IA claims they're doing this to increase gamers' sense of community by providing a deeper narrative experience. There's already plenty of criticism from players and developers that social games are not as social as they seem, and there are those who try to defend social games from the core or how casual can be core in its own way. Or that even, social gaming isn't sustainable, developers will move beyond Facebook, and these games will eventually evolve into something different.
Obviously, this is a really divisive topic in the gaming community, and IA's innovation is clearly a response to that. Now, I can speculate how the game embed feature might be the forefront of the next great change for online games, but history is still much being written at this stage, so I'd rather fork over my 10 bucks to IA for their well-done release, and tell you to give The Secret of Monkey Island a try.