From Console to Social Application
Electronic Arts, Inc. (“EA”), publishers of praticly every major video game released in the past few years have recently set their sights on Facebook. Could this spell trouble for the little guys or is EA just dipping their toes in hoping to pick up a few more sales?
I had the pleasure of playing a new trivia game for the Nintendo Wii called Smarty Pants over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Developed by EA, with over 22,000 questions and interesting game play that involves such gestures as actually having to raise your hand with the Wii remote to buzz in answers, Smarty Pants is a definite party pleaser. Arguably not the best video game, not even close, it does have the distinct advantage of being the only game in the trivia genre for the Nintendo Wii at the time being. These two factors alone tend to earn it an average 6.5/10 rating by most console video game reviewers.
Smarty Pants for the Wii was released on November 15th and retails for around $49.99 but can be picked up for as low as $24.99 if you’re a Black Friday bargain hunter. Not a bad deal until you discover that you can play Smarty Pants on Facebook with all of your friends for free!
Smarty Pants for Facebook is not quite the entire game, but depending on who you ask this may be an advantage. The somewhat repetitive and annoying intermissions that you religiously pound the A-button to skip through on the Wii are lacking on its Facebook clone. Instead it gets right down to the nitty gritty of serving up a buffet of trivia questions at a heart pounding pace that will make you pull your hair out.
In the Facebook version of Smarty Pants you start a new game by inviting all of your friends that you wish to challenge. Each game consists of 10 random trivia questions from several categories that include; art, books, entertainment, fashion, games, places and people, science, and sports. Each player takes his or her turn answering the same set of 10 questions conveniently on their own time. Once you start answering though there is a very fast clock that counts down each question. The longer you take the answer each question, the difficulty of the question, and the correctness of your answer all contribute towards the points you earn. The player with the most points per game is the winner.
The Smarty Pants Facebook port was developed by social application development house, Context Optional, Inc. for EA. The “smarty pants” over at Context Optional, Inc. are well versed in developing viral applications for Facebook and their expertise is very noticeable in Smarty Pants. One such viral feature involves upgrading a pair of so called smarty pants that each player starts off. As players earn more points they level up and acquire upgraded pants and “bling” to match them. The higher the level of pants you possess the more bragging rights you have. Your pants are proudly on display in your Smarty Pants Profile Box and every upgrade is broadcast to your Mini-Feed. Discovering the different pairs of pants you can earn, like clown pants, can be entertaining at first but eventually feels too aggressive at the pace in which they are earned and broadcast.
Overall as a trivia game Smarty Pants for Facebook is very entertaining, the clock is fast and sends your heart racing trying to compete against your friends scores. Some users have complained on the forums that the questions were too targeted towards US residents, especially the sports related questions, so they have made an effort to strike a better balance for foreigners by reducing the number of sports related questions. This is just one of the many issues that Context Optional, Inc. had to overcome while porting Smarty Pants from the Wii to Facebook.
The game obviously serves as one giant advertisement for the Wii version with its noticible banner on every page but I would have to say that I’ve probably had more fun competing with all of my friends on Facebook than I have playing it on the Wii. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Facebook version does more harm than good for EA by cannabilizing sales of Smarty Pants. Not an uncommon problem for third party services who try to draw Facebook users onto their own services only to find out that their Facebook application performs better than their standalone application. Context Optional, Inc. did a beautiful job in porting Smarty Pants to Facebook, perhaps too good of a job.
With the recent formation of Social Gaming Network (SGN) by Webs to focus entirely on creating games for the social graph will we start to see behemoths like EA entering this space soon? With the success of Smarty Pants for Facebook I think the game is about to change.