An arcade beat-em up with a Diablo pedigree; a fast-paced multiplayer first-person shooter; a complex competitive strategy kingdom builder—these are the first shots fired in Facebook's battle to expand its gaming player-base beyond farmers and puzzle-players, with another seven in the chamber for 2013.
After years of steady growth, Facebook's gaming revenue has gone flat—fourth quarter revenue from games was the same is it was a year ago. The money hasn't gone away, but it's not coming in any faster, so Facebook is looking to tap a gaming segment that's long eschewed playing on the social network. It wants the players that will pour themselves into a proper experience, spending more money on guns and ammo than the casuals spend on limited-edition cows and timer-trimmers. Facebook wants the hardcore.
In an interview with Reuters, Facebook's head of game partnerships Sean Ryan laid out the company's plan to tap into this fresh audience. Since last summer Facebook's been working with developers like u4iA (Offensive Combat) and Plarium (Stormfall: Age of War) to bring the games hardcore gamers want to play online.
"You'll see a whole set of games hitting in the next two quarters in particular and throughout the year that really start to redefine what people think of Facebook games," Sean Ryan...
Another game that falls into the purview of the hardcore is nWay's ChronoBlade, a game designed by the creator of Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings and the designer of Diablo and Diablo II. These aren't "mid-core" titles aimed at bridging the gap between casual and hardcore—these are games aimed squarely at gamers looking for the sort of depth and challenge they get on the PC and consoles.
With these three and at least seven more coming in 2013, the only obstacle Facebook needs to overcome in courting the hardcore is a problem of perception. Distancing the social network from Zynga—the creators of all of those "Ville" games—late last year was a step in the right direction. Getting the rest of the way there will be far more difficult. Facebook wants to be the Xbox Live or Steam of web-based gaming. The trouble is getting gamers to see it as such.
Developers of core titles go to the social network because of the built-in community of gamers—it's much easier to use Facebook's infrastructure than build their own from scratch. Ultimately it's going to be up to these developers to create games compelling enough to overwhelm players' opinion of Facebook as a place to plant crops and bother people.