AUSTIN, Texas--While in Texas for a visit with the in-laws, I made a side trip to Austin to check out that town's annual Game Developers Conference. The show has been around for years, and this time it's been renamed GDC Online, and is now focused on online gaming--from MMOs to mobile games to social and Facebook games.
As one might expect, the real stars of the show were FarmVille, FrontierVille, and the other Facebook games that regularly bring in tens of millions of monthly players (interestingly, the show happened simultaneously with Facebook's big press conference announcing new privacy and application controls).
The panels and round table discussions presented some interesting observations. Most notably, how the life cycle of social game genres operates in an incredibly accelerated fashion, with farm games, restaurant games, and pet games, all showing rapid rises then gradual drop-offs in average monthly users during 2010.
The main debate among panelists repeatedly returned to whether experiences such as FarmVille or Social City could even be considered games at all. Notably, that argument seemed to come from rooms full of traditional male game designers, who complained that social games are not goal-oriented or action-packed enough, rather than from anyone in the female 25-44 demographic who actually made these games a hit.
Summing up the dichotomy of the Facebook gaming experience was academic game maker Ian Bogost, who offered a presentation on his surprisingly successful parody of social games, Cow Clicker. At its height, the game had tens of thousands of Facebook players clicking on a picture of a cow, then returning six hours later to click it again (yes, that's the entire game).
Take a peek through the photos in the gallery above for a tour of the show's expo hall and presentations.