Fun is just another word for learning

“Fun is just another word for learning. Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. With games, learning is the drug.”

Raph Koster (via)

I’ll take a second to point out that much of the thinking around social gaming at the moment is a bit surprising to me - why is it that people view gaming on a social level as a “hits based business”? Why are Zynga and others cranking out game after game, while we watch other social gaming (MMOs, MMORPG’s, etc) having years of stability and popularity?

Here’s the thing: Just as Koster mentions, there’s an element of mastery and the joy of mastery that comes with these MMO’s, and, coupled with the pride one gets from showing off to your peer group (your guild, crew, whatever), this creates its own sort of network effect, creating communities around games that last for years. If you’re at level 70 in World of Warcraft, why would you switch to a new game and start at the bottom of the totem pole?

So, then, if social gaming on Facebook isn’t showing these effects, then what is going on? There’s two options:

  1. The developers are not smart enough to develop social games that demonstrate these network effects. I have a hard time believing this, though it is entirely possible: with the gold rush going on in Facebook apps right now, it seems that many developers are just copying what is working for others, rather than developing novel approaches. And if everybody’s just copying and iterating on everybody else, that means we’ve got a whole bunch of exploration in one narrow channel.
  2. People don’t want to play skill-based games on Facebook. I hadn’t thought of this idea until recently, and it makes perfect sense to me now that I’ve thought of it. One of Facebook’s biggest problems is bringing intelligent discussions and movements onto the Facebook platform. What I mean by this is, by and large, when people go online to talk about your favorite sports team, your industry, or your hobbies, they find themselves using other tools - Twitter, blogging, forums, etc. This makes sense: Facebook is for talking to “friends,” but when discussing these other topics, one benefits from talking to others who show related interests, even though they are not necessarily your friends. In the same manner, if a person is going to invest time in becoming “good” at a game, why do it where your skill is only visible to the small group around you. For hardcore gamers, they already have a community that they are a part of and “want to impress.” As for those that are new to social gaming, they are either facing a small world of friends on the game (and if you’re the first, why bother getting good at the game when no one else might ever appreciate your efforts?), or a world too crowded with strangers when you expected to find friends.

Just some random thoughts. Perhaps someone with more experience in the social gaming world would care to pick my argument to smithereens in the comments.