A Poor Person’s Guide to Making a Facebook Game: A Intro

Dudes, here’s the thing. When I was first starting out on this Facebook game making business I had no idea how complicated things would get. It’s like no one told me about this side of flash programming. You can’t just google and forum lurk your way into wisdom. You have to go deep, like 5+ sub links deep. Is it because most social games are run by companies who don’t want to share their secret sauces? Yes, maybe. Companies are evil like that.

Not me. I’m a friend. And I want to share what I learned. Partly because I’m a good person and don’t want other people to suffer like I did, but mostly because I want to get other (read: smarter than me) people’s feedback. Disclaimer: I haven’t made a successful facebook game (yet) and some of the things I’ll write about are things I didn’t do but totally should have.

Making a social game is different from making ordinary for-flash-portal games. Way different. For a typical flash game to be profitable, it has to be distributed to as many portals as possible. So it is common wisdom that you should put everything on a single .swf file, otherwise the portal people are going to hate your guts for making their lives miserable. Try to do that for your social game, cram 250+ animations of houses and racially diverse avatar skins and “save this cute lost puppy” dialog popups and you have yourself a slightly less heavy MMO client. And look, databases! And server queries! And user metrics! And Facebook credits!

It’s more like making web apps really. You provide them a service: you free them from boredom. The customers/players pay you to keep tabs of the data they generated from your app/game. This is similarities are uncanny for spreadsheet style games.

This is my linkedIn if my contacts have really cool job titles. My real linkedIn sucks.

So I think I will be writing about how to make games as apps. And here is a list of random topics I might write about:

  • Optimizing loading time
  • Dynamic asset loading
  • Efficient asset pipelines
  • Vector caching
  • Continuous integration
  • Transacting with real money
  • Connecting to social graphs and APIs
  • Virtual spaces
  • Logging user metrics

Btw, I use flash (as3) and php because I don’t know other languages.

I Q and A myself: About that new game

How this article should be visualized

How this article should be visualized

Q: Hi, how are you? What is your next game? I am not a very good interviewer.

I am ok. I am now making a social game. And by social I mean facebook. Old people still think all games involving more than one player is social, but apparently old people are wrong. Hence I am making a facebook game.

Q: Umm.. why?

Mainly because making facebook games is also my day job. And I often have these ideas that would be flat out rejected if I suggest them at work (I am not very convincing). So I try them out instead on the games I make during my free time.

Q: So like most of your games, this one is another experiment.

Yes. Wait a minute, I didn’t make as much games than I planned this year. In fact, I only released one game. The rest were spectacular failures. I also became a professional game developer and got involved in some commercial projects so I have an excuse in not releasing as many games as planned.

But yes, this is another experiment.

Q: Experiment on what, exactly?

Goal #1, this is a technical experiment. Basically poking and prodding on the technology to see what it can and can’t do.

Second, the Facebook landscape is changing. Some say the wild days of the cheap viral facebook game are over and, based on the current top games, content and gameplay are becoming benchmarks for success. I think in the coming months we are going to see the cheap facebook games flounder. Zynga was in the best position to start that trend and I commend them for doing just that. First FrontierVille and now with CityVille, their games are starting to get deeper/richer and most game companies are also doing the same.

I think Facebook itself has something to do with it — the platform now limiting viral channels and allowing non-obtrusive ways to enjoy Facebook apps.

As a web developer I always hated app spam and black hat viral tactics with a passion. Same way I hate SEO and social ‘marketers’.

But now with these changes in Facebook and the maturing taste of the gamers in it I feel that I can now dabble into social games without doing anything that would make me feel dirty or dishonest. Whether the game I made fails or succeed it did so because of the games merits and not because I failed to spam more friends.

To make a successful game with as little ‘spam’ as possible, that’s goal #2. Every ‘social’ aspect of the game should be connected to the game itself.

Q: But aren’t most of the new games in Facebook relying on organic means too? Like you said, Facebook is changing.

Dude, exactly my point. The new games that are coming out will rely on at least gameplay and production value. That’s the same criteria we judge PC and XBOX games with!

And I’m not that into competing with other games anyway. So yes, becoming the top 10 Facebook game isn’t my goal #3.

Q: So what is goal #3?

This interview is now risking tl:dr status so I’ll save that for part 2.