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You Got Your Blockbuster In My Social Media Games

A couple weeks back, we had the pleasure interviewing Ryan Schneider, one of the key people involved in building Insomniac brands such as Resistance. You might have assumed that we brought him in to talk about the developer’s latest big shooter, but that evening, we had bigger matters to discuss. There was a battle taking place on browsers throughout the world, a Global Resistance with a player count that far surpassed even the gigantic scope of Resistance 2. Unfortunately, a bad Skype connection cost us most of that interview, but there was one clear takeaway – social media games are no longer exclusively shoddy cash-ins, and developers are only going to get more ambitious in the future with their Facebook/browser tie-ins.

For those of you bombarded with updates about how many times my Sim has gone to the bathroom today (apologies!), it might be tough to see the appeal. These games are traditionally less interactive and more compulsive than typical console fare, and there’s no shortage out there of uninspired puzzlers with popular licenses attached. But I’d argue that just being able to access some part of your game from the office or morning commute is a powerful motivator, and a recent batch of franchise tie-ins actually seem thematically appropriate and ambitious.

Below are just a handful of social media games that get the small stuff right, beyond just unlockable extras:

Assassin’s Creed: Project Legacy – I remember this being one of the first Facebook games to make waves in my circles, and it’s not hard to understand why once you’ve played through a few chapters. As an Abstergo recruit, you inhabit the memories of various assassins, whose stories are told mostly through text. The individual plot lines don’t have much of an impact, but getting to use your own version of the Animus operating system is a neat visual hook. Even though the game is mostly text-driven, you have a number of gameplay options – combat against friends, territories to buy, items to craft, and more. You’re unfortunately limited to so many units of usable energy per day, but players who can deal with the frequent cool-down periods will be able to tweak their own assassins from Brotherhood, a nice perk.

Dragon Age Legends – Admittedly, I haven’t spent as much time with this game as some of the others I’ve touched upon lately. Tom and Kaz’s apathy towards Dragon Age II, as well as my general dislike of high fantasy, ensure that I was never going to stick with this for long. However, as the “first real game on Facebook,” Legends also enjoys high production values, a deep turn-based battle system and a world that feels in keeping with the overall series. I may not like how EA monetized this project, but it’s still another slice of role playing for fans on a more manageable scale.

Global Resistance – My favorite of the bunch (and the inspiration for this article), GR is global, online Risk with Chimera and sci-fi trappings on the board. There are tons of achievements to unlock (with rewards transferable to Resistance 3), but more importantly, there’s a persistent battle online with an active community, and after some amount of play, you can amass enough troops to feel like you’re turning the tide of war. The presentation evokes more of that mid-20th-century wartime aesthetic, and everything just feels really well thought out.

Of course, there are definitely games that I’m missing. (A number of you pointed out the Madden 12 Facebook card game as quality stuff.) But I think the picks above are representative of a general shift in attitude towards these games. Each one of them has attracted hundreds of thousands of players, definitive proof that “real” gamers won’t automatically dismiss social media extensions of their favorites. And with this shift, I think we can look to a future in which developers take these games much further.

Assassin’s Creed: Project Legacy lets you take contracts for your assassins and earn a couple capes, but there’s a huge real estate component to those games that’s just waiting for a PC interface. Dragon Age Legends is a fun side story, but what if your Facebook characters could be weaved in and out of the main storyline? And as for Global Resistance, I could totally see territorial influence on the global map having some influence on team skirmishes in Resistance 3. I think you can run the risk of putting to much emphasis on these outside experiences, but as long as Facebook and browser games (and hell, iOS/handheld stuff too) are an option to enhance the main experience rather than something forced upon players, I don’t see why multiple styles of play can’t coexist.

In other words, no offense taken if you need to take me off of your social media news feed in the near future.

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