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(fluff)Friends: A Warning to Game Developers

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For a game developer, a dedicated community of players is everything. You can spend your life working on a brilliant game, but without players to embrace your creation it hasn't got a heart, or a soul. You'll also be quite broke, because the loyal gamer is more likely to invest in your game than the casual one.

A true gaming community will stick by you, so long as they know that you care about the game as much as they do. They'll congratulate and thank you when all is well, and forgive you for a glitch or error if you're willing to communicate with them. They'll understand that you need a roof over your head and food on your table. Many will be happy to support you. It's a two-way street -- respect them, invest in them and they'll respond in kind.

An example of a warmhearted, loyal community is that of (fluff)Friends, a social networking game on Facebook. Established in 2007 by Mike Sego, it was a simple little game. Users could adopt a virtual pet, visit the virtual pets of friends, and that was pretty much all there was to it. As the number of users grew, the game evolved. Habitats were introduced -- little backgrounds for the pets to live in. There were decorations and a variety of foods to feed, and players were overjoyed at the introduction of Minis and MegaMinis, the small and resizable versions of fluffs to keep their main fluff company.

Events livened up the game, in which special fluffs and items could be won. Players were able to visit others outside of their circle, and the 2008 Egg Hunt is still remembered fondly by many as the first time they truly discovered the wider community.

Friendships blossomed. People loved to gift, loved to share, loved to be able to establish ties with people from around the planet. Like any game, its users felt its highs and lows -- the introduction of a premium currency for special items met with some comment and so did the subsequent release of subscriptions -- but negative feelings settled and people were more than willing to help out others, either through trades or generosity. The community lived on.

It survived the purchase by SGN. It took a hit when the new owners released an atrocious new user interface which gave some users actual headaches due to its horrendous colour combination, and its completely counterintuitive design. When SGN didn't listen to the players who wanted the old version back, and insisted that the new design was cute, a lot of formerly dedicated players decided to leave. Some came back when months later the company relented and started to run both UIs side by side.

The community was still there despite the diminished amount of events, it hung in there through glitches and lack of communication, and when the game was taken over by MindJolt, it became hopeful that here was a company who would once more revive what the game used to be.

It did look promising, at first. Though their first event was ill-designed and a blatant drive for people to purchase the premium currency, there was what appeared to be a genuine enthusiasm by the new owners, and communication improved. The second event was good, old-fashioned fun and the players battled through the errors, determined to enjoy themselves.

This resilience and attachment to a social networking game might be difficult to understand for those who have never played one, but it highlights the heart and soul aspect. A game is more than fancy graphics and a clever interface. It's about people. Some (fluff)Friends players have travelled far and wide to meet face to face with other members. They rejoiced in each other's achievements and supported the other in times of need. That is true even now, although on the evening of the 29th of September, the community found itself in trouble. They're still there, but their game, for all intents and purposes, has come to an end.

It was a sudden blow. Just days earlier a new artist was announced. Any questions about a recent silence were countered with reassurances. Understandable, since the customer service advisor didn't have a clue about what was happening, either. She'd been working on an upcoming event. Paid subscriptions went through even on the 29th, and some purchased premium currency mere hours before the game ground to a halt. They're the lucky ones, in a way, because they'll be refunded if they so desire. Those who made their purchases on the 28th or earlier will have to accept their losses.

No announcement has yet been made in the game itself. Premium currency can still be purchased, though those who do not visit the dedicated forum will be making an uninformed decision in doing so. Meanwhile, the community is huddling together, bracing themselves for further bad news. For now, the game is still there but abandoned by its developers. No more updates. No more fixes. Whatever breaks will remain broken until the curtain falls.

The strange thing is that (fluff)Friends could have remained a thriving game. People wanted to spend money on it. Had the developers treated the game and its players with just a tiny bit more care and consideration, they'd have been on to a winner. And with the demise of competitor game SuperPoke! Pets, a huge user base of virtual pet-loving players is left stranded without a company to cater to them. Someone, somewhere, should take note, so long as that someone, somewhere is willing to listen to them and isn't simply out to bleed them dry. MindJolt tried that, and it didn't work.

These gamers are clever. From teenagers to grannies, students to teachers and scientists, they know the game. It is a shame that the developers have forgotten...