Zynga vs. The World


I was going to write about Maschine Zeit some more, since I spent some time yesterday working on a little promotional material and trying to drum up some interest. It really made me miss a gaming store in Conshohoken called “The Roundtable” that had a great staff, fantastic atmosphere and fun events. I’d be willing to try and help promote that place, too, if they hadn’t closed their doors. I’d even try to reopen them if I had the credit to support a business loan.

Anyway, the reason I’m not is because of a debate that began over yonder regarding Zynga. Basically the argument was that people who play Farmville (among other things) aren’t “hardcore” gamers and thus they’re not legitimate. That’s bullshit, obviously. Video games are video games, from the tiny little indy projects programmed in BASIC to the massive summer releases that rake in millions of dollars from youth just itching to blow an alien’s head off rather than taking it out on their math teacher.

So in that I’m in agreement. But placing Zynga on the same level as other game developers is, to me, comparing apples and oranges. My ire might be increased due to Zynga’s performance in The Escapist’s March Mayhem, where the social network gaming company has defeated NCSoft (creators of Aion), Infinity Ward (Call of Duty), Rockstar North (Grand Theft Auto), Square Enix (Final Fantasy), and are facing off against a favorite of mine, Valve (Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead…)

This irritates me, and I’ll tell you why.

Zynga doesn’t develop games the way those others developers do, or at least they go for a different kind of game. Zynga’s games are technically video games, just like So You Think You Can Dance, Jersey Shore and Millionaire Matchmaker are technically television shoes. They’re aimed at a very specific demographic. I don’t mean to generalize, but a lot of the people who play Zynga’s games know very little about video games in general. They don’t realize how far things have come. They don’t understand why someone like me can sit back in awe of a Mass Effect 2 or Super Mario Galaxy or No More Heroes when things like Asteroids and Galaxian were the height of gameplay innovation.

To put it another way, here’s a post made over on the Escapist by one Catherine Lyons:

It’s about the culture America (and even the world) is taking that the cheap and tawdry is more important than the innovative and artistic.

“Twilight” gets throngs of fans, who understand nothing of the true genre (one fan even wrote about how Universal’s “Wolfman” was a rip off (despite the fact Universal was remaking a movie they produced back in 30s(? don’t know the exact year), and flamed them because “how could a silver bullet kill a werewolf?” and “the transformation sucked. Look at Jacob for how a real werewolf is supposed to look and morph like.”) It’s mediocre writings set a low standard for it’s fans, and they can’t recognize good material if it doesn’t have a romance between moody teenagers.

Other movies are giving into the “zomg3D” craze where movies that have nothing to really gain from a 3D environment slap together a 3D version just because they can.

TV is getting bogged down with melodramatic crap. The Hills, Secret Life of the American Teenager, Tyra.

WoW is watering down WoW (and by extension, the entire MMO community) with hand-holding and catering too much to their non-gamer base.

Even the news is more celeb gossip and political flaming than actual journalism.

We idolize people like Paris Hilton and the Kardashians, and teach our children from a young age “Be a slut. It’s the cool thing to do. Aspiring to be the concubine of a man in his 80s is a worthy goal.”

Every day, the general populace moves further and further away from anything that makes them think, exert effort, or engage in more than a non-superficial way, and more towards the inane and uninspired.

Gaming seemed to be the last bastion of hope for artistic medium. Despite problems with WoW and Zynga bringing in people that know nothing of gaming into the gaming world and making them think that they know what they’re talking about, it seemed that our games were just getting better and better. More attention to detail, better plot lines, better gameplay.

Now, to see Zynga, who, for reasons I won’t re-enumerate here, doesn’t even deserve to be in this competition (and my assumption is that they were only thrown in there to fill a spot, and expected to quickly get kicked out) win against game houses who have reshaped the industry (Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty is one of the most popular war-based FPS’s out there, Rockstar has consistently pushed the envelope in terms of content and has redefined the idea of a video game again and again, and Square Enix has put out some very popular series that hold a special place in the hearts of many gamers) is like a film fanatic watching Twilight go up for Best Picture. Or a music fanatic watching Kidz Bop go up for a Grammy.

It’s watching our art from get pushed down with the rest of the world in this new world-order of “Thinking is, like, hard and stuff.” and watching as our passion falls to the tawdry mediocrity that is drowning our entire culture.

Anyway, that’s my two rather pretentious cents on the whole Zynga thing, and if they win March Mayhem I won’t be terribly surprised. Just disappointed.


  1. I don’t see a whole lot of pretension in the post, to be perfectly honest, Josh. Maybe it’s because I thoroughly agree with you; I might have a little more respect for Zinga if they released something that I consider “entralling gameplay”, and I don’t think they are in the same league as Blizzard or Konami, but I do not at all deny what they make are games – very addictive games.

    There are people that play FarmVille that are far more hardcore than any 7-day a week raider in WoW or SuperTeaBagging Pwnddy in Call of Duty could ever hope to be.

    I mentioned this on Twitter, but to me the entire hardcore/casual thing is just an insanely arrogant dick-wagging contest, meant to do nothing more than stroke the ego of a select few. It’s an age-old bs argument, just given new titles and adapted to the digital generation.

  2. While I’m not on a side re: Zygna (they have their thing, whatever,) let me pose a bit of a counterpoint for the sake of advocating for the Devil.

    >Rockstar has consistently pushed the envelope in terms of content and has redefined the idea of a video game

    I cannot for the life of me find an example of how Rockstar refined the idea of a video game. The only thing they’ve done differently than other developers is refine and heighten hostility against women in video game content. That’s not revolutionary.

    However, Zygna HAS changed perceptions (before you throw out this strawman, I recognize that Zygna didn’t invent the Facebook game, but they did certainly take it to a new level.) There’s this whole class of game that you can play in five minutes a day while checking your email. You can’t play Halo between emails in that way. That’s pretty fucking interesting, if you consider the implications.

    Brainless point and click gameplay sells. Blizzard has made a millions off it. Diablo is not engaging, nor is it innovative. You point at a monster, you click. You click a bunch more. Every now and again, you click a healing potion. As a game, it’s no more innovative than when I sit on my Windows desktop and click and highlight icons when I’m bored. Except there are skeletons. It’s Gauntlet with prettier pictures. Atari developed Gauntlet. Blizzard just hung on their coattails.

    First person shooters are heralded as the Greatest Things Ever. Play Turok on the N64. Tell me modern FPSs are significantly different. They’re just bigger. They’re cleaner. They’re polished versions of the same model.

    You get revolutionary, innovative gaming every now and again. Katamari Damacy, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, these are games that really changed the way I look at games. But these aren’t going to make these playoff lists, because there are more versions of DOOM to call innovative. Yawn.

  3. Pretention is in the eye of the beholder.

    Someone wise said that, or maybe it’s just the abnormal amounts of Midol kicking in. Anyway my point is that your opinion is just that, your opinion. Of course, I agree with you (we rarely fight) to the point that the world is pretty much going to hell in a sparkling vampire handbasket. But just because you refuse to pander to the masses of blank minded explosion junkies doesn’t make you pretentious. It just points out that you spend a bit more time analyzing the world around you than most people.

    Don’t label yourself. Makes it easier for others to label you unfairly.

  4. You don’t, of course, take into account the young folks who get exposed to “art” through crass commercialism. Yeah, a lot of people are dippy over twilight. However, some are going to read Twilight, go “Fuck yeah, Urban Fantasy!”, and start reading The Dresden Files. Some are going to see that people talk about this Anne Rice person when discussing Steph Meyer, and after making that minor jump, they might notice that people talk about Anne Rice in comparison to Bram Stoker. From there, they can jump into a lot of good craft and art.

    It’s all well and good to say “Who Has Refined the ‘Art of Games’ More?” But in reality, Zynga puts a new kind of game in the hands of people who don’t play High Concept Vidjamagames. There are people out there doing all sorts of fun and interesting things that are bigger divergences from the field than “FPS with RP elements” etc etc.

    Any time you have something decided by popular vote, it’s going to be a popularity contest. You can’t be surprised when something designed to be played by anyone, any time, in small increments, without spending any money, wins. In the end, games, more than most media, are about enjoyment. Zynga may not bring the deep epicurean enjoyment of more complex fare, but it brings the amount of enjoyment it does provide to a much wider audience.

    Now, me, I’m having fun with little indie games these days. I lost a ton of time to Dwarf Fortress, I’ve had a lengthy fling with Steambirds after Tycho linked to The Lost Garden’s article on it. I don’t have an up-to-date rig by a long shot, I never even bothered getting used to controllers with 12 buttons a joystick and duelling dpads, and I don’t have money to shell out on “real games” anyway… but there are some excellent works of design out there being made by no proper studio at all, things that definitely go farther out in the main goal – bringing enjoyment to as many people as possible – than do the “serious” works.

  5. Rockstar comes under heavy fire for it’s content, sure. But it has changed the gaming world. IGN, in their Dec 2007 article on the Top Ten Most Influential Games, says about GTA III:

    “Not many games can claim to have spawned entire genres, buzzwords, and cultural phenomena. Grand Theft Auto III threw gamers into the sandbox and gave them the keys to a living city.

    Never before had we felt so much freedom in a game world. We could work our way through the non-linear story — or not. The game offered an unprecedented amount of side-missions, mini-games, and free play opportunities.

    Many other “sandbox” games followed in the wake of GTAIII: Saint’s Row, Crackdown, True Crime, and Scarface, to name just a few. The driving aspects led to titles like The Getaway series and The Simpson’s Hit and Run. The term “GTA clone” is commonly used to describe the many titles that copy GTAIII’s open-ended gameplay and criminal scenario”

    Their latest project, L. A. Noire, could very possibly bring about a revolution in game design.

    The number of character animators working on Noire? 0. Zero. Nada. Cipher.

    They’ve (in partnership with Team Bondi and their sister company Depth Analysis) developed new motion capture technology that rather than capturing skeletal movements, captures and digitizes the entire actor as a complete 3D animated model. In an interview in the Mar 2010 Game Informer, Depth Analysis’ Oliver Bao, head of research and development, says “Traditionally, one minute of facial animation could take a couple of animators a month. The idea is we can mass produce. We can produce 20 minutes of final footage a day, and it’s seemless – I don’t even have character artists or animators working for me.”

    You can’t tell me that the implications of that technology isn’t staggering.

    The biggest reason myself, and many others on TheEscapist despise Zynga and refuse to admit to any kind of legitimacy in their “games” lies more in the fact that they are plagiarists. Seriously. They’ve been embroled in lawsuits, and look at their current flagship of Farmville. Now, go look up an image of Farm Town (another FB app game released looooong before FV went live.)

    Look familiar?

    If the company (don’t know the name) that put out Castle Age (another FB, flash-based point and click) had made it this far, my attitude would be quite different. The game is not a copy paste, and is far more polished (and lacking in the scams that Zynga foists on it’s users) and is overall a much better game.

    I have a great deal more to say, but I think I’ve hijacked Josh’s entry long enough 😉

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