Before I returned from E3 this year, something wonderful had happened on my Facebook feed. I was notified that You Don’t Know Jack had become a Facebook game. Not only that, it was essentially the same game that was released on consoles last year, only five questions long. It also let us “play” against our friends and compete for bragging rights and Facebook glory.
Do you know what it wasn’t? It wasn’t a game that would beg us to beg our friends for help. That’s why there’s hope for the future of Facebook games.
Social gaming in general has gotten a pretty bad rap due to people spamming Facebook feeds with requests for their farms. SimCity Social, a game I’ll talk about more in a minute here, does just this. The constant need to ask your friends for help brings down what is actually not that bad of a game. Hell, if those “ville” games play anything like SimCity Social, then it turns out they’re not all that bad either. But it’s the progression wall placed in these games that brings them down. The need to beg your friends to work at your fire department while fires ravage your city is a major turnoff.
This is why You Don’t Know Jack works so well: there’s no begging of friends to play a game. You simply get one game a day against friends and strangers. There’s no fee to be able to take part in a “Dis or Dat,” no friends giving you access to the Jack Attack. Everything we know and love about You Don’t Know Jack is present in an albeit shorter form, but the five-question format makes sense for the social platform. It also lets Jellyvision’s writers keep up to date with each episode; it’s been quite refreshing to receive questions about The Amazing Spiderman or Adam Sandler’s newest flick, keeping a show that’s about pop culture relevant in ways that normal DLC can’t do.
Sure, the games may only last five questions and some fly by more than others, but they never overstay their welcome and they keep you coming back for more. Not to mention the commercials are absolutely hysterical. I mean, nacho cheese-filled pillows? Come on!
Then there’s SimCity Social. The game with the right intentions but the wrong execution. It’s done a lot for the SimCity franchise, such as helping me get excited for next year’s SimCity reboot and my repurchase of SimCity 4. Most importantly, it takes the SimCity process and expedites it. The traditional “residential-industry-commercial” supply and demand chart is still present, but in different ways to help build the game for a wider audience. The quests are a great way to guide players who would otherwise be lost, and the game is pretty addicting on its own.
But herein lies the problem with SimCity Social. I don’t mind the energy limit for the amount of things I can do when I play; this is a free game, there should be some sort of limit. I do, however, mind the fact that I need to either pay money or beg my friends to progress further in the game. The “Facebook wall” hits the game way too early and way too hard. That UFO that crashes literally five minutes into the game? Yeah, you’ll need a bunch of friends to research it in order to make any use of it whatsoever.
The past month, I’ve played both games quite extensively, but You Don’t Know Jack will keep earning my time because of how it utilizes the social aspect. Instead of begging friends to help me out, it utilizes the same social tactics we’d normally see from a You Don’t Know Jack game. I can brag about high scores, share commercials, hunt down achievements, you know, all the things we normally do with our friends after gaming. SimCity Social could have taken the same route: the “attacking” other cities with pooping birds is a nice touch to add some sort of rivalry to the game, but beyond that, there’s not much of an actual social aspect to the game. Despite trying to distance itself from the “ville” games, it instead falls into the same trap, and that’s why it doesn’t succeed.
Still, thanks in part to the team at Jellyvision, there is at least one Facebook game that’s worth playing. Here’s to hoping others copy the model You Don’t Know Jack has followed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to answer a question about “2 Girls 1 Cup.” Yes, you heard that right; the topical adult-oriented humor is still there.