By: Dennis Scimeca
The overarching lesson I took away from the "How Your Favorite Game Companies Use Facebook" panel at PAX East 2011 was that if you're a company that makes games for Facebook, like EA Playfish, you know what to do with the social networking tool because you're already on it. Sam Houston, the Online Content Manager from Playfish, said that his company leverages Facebook as much as possible to send people into their games or their forums, whatever is valuable to Playfish as a company and to their community managers. For Houston, Facebook is a no-brainer. For everyone else on the panel, figuring out how to utilize Facebook is more of a challenge.
John Drake, Manager of Communications and Special Projects at Harmonix, says that his company uses Rock Band's Facebook page mostly as an announcement and marketing tool. “We [also] have a Facebook game called Rock Band Icons which is not that great, [but] I didn't make it,” he said. The Dance Central Facebook page has interactive apps to upload videos of people dancing.
James Stevenson, the Senior Community Manager at Insomniac Games, says that his company focuses on giving out information on their Resistance and Ratchet and Crank franchises. They also have “day in the life of a studio” content, and do things like invite people to community days, and teased some kind of announcement taking place at the Insomniac panel at PAX East on Saturday which might have something to do with Facebook.
Justin Korthof of Robot Entertainment is “more of a Twitter guy,” but says that his company treats Facebook as if their account was a friend of the people who follow it. They do have a page for their new game, Orcs Must Die, which is more news focused, but he continually stated throughout the panel that Robot is still growing their Facebook presence.
Using Facebook effectively takes some getting used to. Insomniac had the idea of producing some screenshots and art specifically for distribution on Facebook, and planned on releasing it based on the number of “likes” their page received. After debating the required numbers they should set, Insomnaic decided they would release each set of the five sets of content for every 2,000 likes. “We got 15,000 likes in 24 hours, and then we were totally out of assets,” Stevenson said. “It was supposed to be a two-week campaign.”
Drake reflected on how different Harmonix community members are between their forums and their Facebook page. They have half a million active users on their forums, where everyone is anonymous behind forum names, and by and large they all get along fine. “Inside of Facebook, people post ten times more hate-filled speech,” Drake said. Even though you can see who they are on Facebook.
Houston noted the irony that his company, who has more Facebook followers than they can often keep track of or interact meaningfully with, sometimes provides less substantive content on Facebook than the other studios represented on the panel, who had deeper content, but fewer followers. In my mind, this exemplifies the issue with Facebook as a tool for studios that don't produce games specifically for Facebook. It's not really a medium intended for meaningful interaction, or anything short of a “Hey, how are you?” post to keep track of friends or family. Likewise, social game developers don't really design deep gaming experiences historically, and so they mesh well with a service like Facebook. If you make rhythm games, first person shooters, or action games? Not so much.