Zynga Beijing manager says social games are a craft, not an art

FarmVille Mona Lisa
Social games are not an art, according to Zynga Beijing general manager Andy Tian. And there it is straight from the omnipotent horse's mouth, folks. In an extensive interview with Gamasutra, Tian goes in detail explaining what drives games like FarmVille and CityVille and the relationship between metrics and creativity when creating these games. In short, metrics-based games work best on Facebook because, quite frankly, their audience is not gamers.

Artist Cow"A lot of people in the game industry, like they want to build games because they're gamers, right? They like games, they play a lot of games," Tian said. "Our audience is actually in fact not gamers. The 200 million users out there who maybe play just a very, very basic kind of game, and that's it." In between very conservative comments on Zynga's goals--it's only focused on Facebook and its mobile extensions right now--Tian said that developing single-player games for Facebook is difficult, according to Gamasutra.

In fact, Zynga was working on a Diablo-like RPG game called Guild of Heroes before adopting its current model, which has proved far more successful. In the end, it seems that Zynga's metrics and feedback-driven method of game design isn't going anywhere. Not to mention the asynchronous style of games like FarmVille. That's no longer just a limitation of Facebook; it's what works on Facebook, according to Tian. When asked about creativity's place in Zynga's game design, Tian said:
I think we are metrics-driven. It depends on what you mean by "creative". Like, what is creative? People's definition of creative is very, very different. We ask different people... What is creative to us? [If] people like it. Many times, to a game designer, what is "creative" is what is new. "What I think is creative." I think we want to leave that judgment to the end users more. The end users will tell us what they like, what's creative. In fact, they'll give us a ton of ideas, too. So, I think that's where we differ. We want to drive as many things as possible through metrics and achieve, in the very beginning, not a balance, but a really, really integrated effort between metrics and creative. I think they can exist both in the same time. Very much so.
However, one commenter named Carlo Delallana made an interesting point in a reply that reads, "Unfortunately it's a numerical relationship that will be good at delivering what people want but (if powers that be push it as the end-all solution) may prevent creative people from giving people something they didn't expect."

So, are social games creative? In their own way of manipulating metrics and player feedback into relatively new features and gameplay, sure. But in the way that some video games evoke a response you didn't expect? We have yet to see. And if the direction in which this industry moves is up to Zynga, we probably won't.

[Image Credits: Wonder How To & FarmVille Informer]

What do you think of what Tian had to say of creativity in social games? Do you think social games could ever achieve what many traditional video games have creatively? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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