Saturday, January 30, 2010

When RPGs Meet SMGs, Part One

The other day I got into a Twitter discussion with the cool Jonathan Jacobs of The Core Mechanic (a discussion which includes the also cool MadBrew of Mad Brew Labs). He invited me to take a look at a few articles he'd written regarding the future of RPG's, Social Media, and how the new Apple iPad may fit in. I decided 140 characters was not enough to comment on this, so here we are. I'm still digesting all the articles, comments, and further articles they link to, so this will probably be the first in a series of responses. Here are links to some of the articles in question:

In the first article, Jonathan (if I may be so bold as to use a first name), reflects on what exactly is the future of the role-playing game. There's a feeling that the traditional RPG market is shrinking, while a new class of Social Media Games (or SMG's, think Farmville and Mofia Wars) is exploding. He ponders if, and what, RPG's can learn from SMG's.

When using the term "Role-Playing Game" to define a type/style of game, I prefer to keep the definition focused. A RPG should involve humans taking on imaginary roles and interacting with humans (who are also taking on imaginary roles), following a set of rules which allow the humans to create a story dynamically. The group could have a leader (i.e., Game Master), or not. It could be face-to-face, or not. It could be real-time, or not. I feel if one eliminates one these basics, then one is talking about a different type of game. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, I'm just saying it is no longer what I would call an RPG.

Social Media Games, at least the few that I am familiar with, are quite different. They are really more of a single person completing simple puzzles or repetitive tasks on their own. The "social" aspect comes into play primarily through comparing results, or 'helping' someone else. When I watch people play Farmville, I really get the sense it is a solo activity. Sure, they'll water someone else's farm, but that other person will likely never notice. They send 'gifts' at random, and receives them, but this is really to gain some in-game advantage. The most social aspect seems to be the competition with other players. The definition of these types of games seems to be a solo gamer, a simple set of tasks, an ability to compare/share/help others, and a repetitive (or even non-existent) story. SMGs to me are a completely different type of game then RPGs, and not very compatible.

This is not to say that RPGs cannot learn from SMGs, but I do think if one brings too much SMG into the RPG, it becomes a new class of game. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Looking over the ideas The Core Mechanic and Mad Brew Labs present on the intersection of the two, I see possibilities. Traditional table-top role-playing games seem to be still struggling to find ways to officially adopt technology as a part of the game. SMGs may provide some clues, in addition to showing ways to grow the user base. However, I'm going to need to ponder this some more, so please do check back in a few days or so and see what I've come up with.


  1. I agree with you that an RPG definitely requires human participants (I've come up with a very strict definition).

    Looking forward to what you come up with.

  2. I believe I agree nearly 100% with your definition of what makes an RPG.