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Curiosity Is Over: What Was Its Overall Impact On Gaming?

With the recent completion of 22 Cans’ Curiosity “experiment”, it’s tough to look at it as just another game.  It’s the type of game that makes a person contemplate what is required to be a game.  It was a good look at how simple an app can be and still pull in over a hundred  thousand users a day.

But does it have a deeper impact on the study of game design?  If we look into users feelings about the app, we find an overarching theme of performance and a desire to better their ability.  While the tools may not have been a big draw to people, the block streak feature allowed people to build streaks that reached into the tens of thousands of blocks.  (Having played it myself on my Android, I was never able to get past about 300)

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User graphs for Curiosity for the first few days of January (Courtesy of CVG)

Users of Curiosity

Users found themselves vying to gain a better and better streak, with no concern for what was inside the cube.  The curiosity was enough to get them started, but the repetitive and relaxing breaking system found people of many sorts spending hours of their lives tearing up the cube, layer by layer.  Some went for massive streaks, some just cleared row by row, others advertised, and still others found themselves drawing pictures, or modifying other users’ designs.  In a CVG interview, 22 Cans owner and legendary game designer Peter Molyneux said that he was amazed by a group of Italians that took it upon themselves to turn all of the penis drawings into palm trees.  Shows you the range of people that took part in such a game.

So with all of this taken into account, what does it mean for games and gaming?  Are we likely to see any more small, basic, psychologically stimulating titles in the near future?  The market for this type of game is open again, and with the relative popularity of this simple title, what are the odds of seeing another?

Social Games

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One of the more addictive games on Facebook and mobile devices, Candy Crush Saga.

The social game has become more of a norm than even some triple-A titles.  I hear more about Candy Crush Saga every day than I do about Bioshock.  While this doesn’t necessarily represent the overall gaming market, viral, pay-to-win, free games are starting to grow even faster, thanks in no small part to King.com.  It is one of the most recent big names in the social, pay to win market, similar to what 22 Cans did with Curiosity.

Income

While millions will likely play and not pay anything, it is human nature to desire to do better, and if a player has the means and the desire, they may decided to improve their skills by dishing out a little money.  The upgrades can become addictive, and people keep buying them.  This gives companies the opportunity to earn much more from a single customer than a single license to a game might.

This is nothing new though.  Companies like Zynga and PopCap have been doing it for years.  Farmville.  Enough said.

The advertising that a fun, free game may get from word of mouth alone can spread the game to these paying customers.  Even the non-paying customers may provide a source of income though.  Popular games receive advertising dollars from better and better agencies to run their ads on the sides of the screen.  While web browsers now have a means of blocking these, mobile devices aren’t yet likely to have this type of software.

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The Elder Scrolls Online is a refreshing look at the fact that there can still be depth, story and big budgets behind games in this era of social networking and pay-to-win.

Are we going to see major titles fall from grace?  Not likely, but the trend toward more and more mobile devices, that are less and less powerful than the higher end computers, could cause a market gap.  The mobile and social games are likely to stick around because they give cheap thrills but little depth.  Games like the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online, however, make me personally feel comfortable that not every gaming company is going the route of small, story deprived, pay-to-win games.  Story is still a selling point.



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