Facebook, Game Platform

Marek Bronstring’s post Why the next big web game could be on FaceBook or MySpace covers a lot of what I’ve been meaning to write (he saves me the hassle of doing it myself!) ever since the announcement of Google’s OpenSocial API.

Though I have an account I’m not a big fan of Facebook. That “social software” kind of networking has little appeal to me and feels superficial (why send a message through a third party site when you can just send me an email?). What I do like, though, is the Facebook platform and its API. It lets me stay active on Facebook and keep the friends on there informed of my web going-ons without ever needing to actually use Facebook. Through various applications and tools, my profile automatically grabs my latest weblog posts, my del.icio.us links, my Flixster movie reviews (a service I semi-used before Facebook but now often use through Facebook) and my flickr photos. At this point, I log onto Facebook only for Scrabulous.

Scrabulous is a Scrabble ripoff game that you can sign up for and play against other people online. Once Facebook opened its API to developers the makers of Scrabulous seized the opportunity and began to integrate their service with Facebook’s. if you do use Facebook, then all you need to do is add the Scrabulous application to your account and then you can immediately see who amongst your friends has it installed and you can start a game with them right there. You don’t need to sign up on their website and segregate yourself from your social network friends since it seamlessly integrates into the experience. This is great. Facebook is a game platform [1]! That’s something that’ll get more use from me than a social platform.

Meanwhile, all other game networks exist as closed gardens. You have your XBox Live friends and a whole other set for Steam or PSN. Maybe some people are on two or three, though sometimes with different user names. You can only access data and management functions while connected to the network and the best you can hope for outside of it is a gamer card or some stats — none of it standard or uniform.

It would be nice if all these game platform holders could decide on a standard or, at the very least, allow a certain degree of openness. It would be nice if I add a real life friend with an XBox account into Facebook that they would be automatically added to my own XBox Live friends list. It would be very nice. It’s the kind of thing that OpenSocial, or any open system, would be great for. Unfortunately, for everything to work there needs to be a level of participation from all platform holders and that’s not going to happen. The game console makers like their closed gardens. The chances of an open console game network happening are about as remote as an open hardware platform: not gonna happen[2]

The best we can hope for is something new. A new game built on top of all these social networks. The userbase is there. The technology is there. Somebody just needs to make an investment.

Edit: Guardian games gets in on this.

  1. Facebook is the new AOL, after all.
  2. The 3DO doesn’t count.
  3. Microsoft has been expanding that connectivity a lot — you can log into Messenger and talk to your MSN friends while playing a game on your 360 — so I’ll give them credit for this.
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