Although I've played on quite a number of platforms, it would certainly be accurate to say I'm predominantly a PC gamer, and have been for many years. In this respect, I mean "regular" client-based titles. So, I've been watching with interest as both MMOGs and the free to play space have begun expanding to embrace other possibilities. Most of my attention has been focused on the web-based sector, but the complete picture includes more.
For example, I recently came across Mind Twist, an F2P strategy offering that will launch on Facebook and iPhone. While the play will be primarily head to head, it's described as incorporating a form of massively multiplayer, persistent meta-game with elements such as tournaments, friend lists, guilds, digital object collections and the ability to customize the strategy you employ. Currently in development at Mind Control Software, its up-front attention grabber is its designer, Richard Garfield. On the off chance you don't know who he is, he's the creator of a property of which you're undoubtedly aware, Magic: The Gathering.
Company spokesman Randy Buehler admitted Mind Twist may not foster the same sense of engagement as a more typical MMOG world. Nonetheless, he believes many people will find it compelling, particularly due to the meta-game aspect, which is certainly vital to MTG's success. The target audience is "thinking gamers" who appreciate depth of strategy that requires appropriate levels of knowledge. At the same time, he pointed out that as in the casual sector, long sessions and grinding won't be necessary; single matches will reportedly take only five to 15 minutes.
Obviously, I was curious about what led to the choice of the aforementioned launch platforms. Buehler gave a couple of reasons. The first is business-oriented. He said they were simply the easiest ones to publish on that provide access to a suitably large number of potential users via central servers. He also referred to the way social networking can interact with a competitive strategy game. Since the play will be turn-based, he explained that it's easier to make matches across devices. And Facebook has various elements built in that facilitate the meta-game.
There's also a potentially far bigger, broader and more significant question involving how the fit between games and social platforms will continue to evolve. It has been my contention for some years now that the game industry's primary avenue for growth will be learning to embrace and to attract audiences outside its traditional base since waiting and hoping for the masses to become hardcore only works slowly. Some characterize this and bemoan it as going casual or dumbing down. Neither term is completely accurate or inaccurate. However, hoping the trend will reverse itself is a waste of time; it's not going to happen.
"There is a ton of activity on social platforms right now, and I definitely think it's an area that will continue to see tremendous growth for quite some time," Buehler stated. "Many millions of people are playing games on them despite the fact that most are still pretty mediocre right now." To expand on this, even though few are serious gamers, it's an undeniable, vital fact that there are enormous numbers of them, so many that even monetizing a small portion at a relatively low average rate would add up to billions of dollars.
Buehler readily admits that Facebook and iPhone aren't the right platforms to target those who demand advanced visuals and immersive virtual worlds. That's not who his team is after. Instead, he believes Mind Twist will appeal on a different level, one that will hold users with "deep strategies that you can't stop thinking about even when you're not playing" plus social relationships between real people rather than avatars.
Since I haven't seen the game, I don't have any idea how accessible its initial learning curve will be. However, I'd have to assume that just understanding the rules will be a sufficient barrier to exclude those whose ideal level of complexity is match three. As a result, the potential target audience is only part of the two platforms' full combined user base.
I'm very interested to see how well the F2P business model will work on non-traditional platforms, which is why I'll be watching Mind Twist and a couple of other intriguing projects as they progress over the coming months. My gut feel, although not based on much, is that we'll see some significant successes when the right projects and market situations intersect. I don't have a good sense as to when that's likely to happen. If Richard Garfield has an MTG-like success left in him, maybe quite soon.