Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Facebook Edition

Today finds your intrepid writer and game designer sitting in a Starbucks for the free WiFi. I hear they also sell coffee. For the past few days, Natalie Portman's navel notwithstanding, I've been blogging about Torn Armor. In an effort to provide some variety, I want to shift gears and write about something called "facebook." You may have heard of it. It's a social media website where you can connect with friends and colleagues, and I think it's going to be pretty popular. You might consider investing in it. 

Not to brag (well, I'm bragging a little), but my friends list makes gamers drool. Because I'm friends with almost everyone in the hobby games industry. So I get to find out what Shane Hensley is having for dinner, and what Fred Hicks thinks about The Walking Dead. I get to hear Jim Pinto's opinions on the concept of "steampunk" as a genre, or what Jesse Heinig thinks about Mass Effect's game play. So there's a component of keeping abreast of the intellectual evolution going on in game design. I also get pictures of kittens from Steven S. Long. Lots and lots of kitty pics from Steven S. Long. 

One of the things that's happened over the last few months is that Facebook has become a design tool. Not a networking tool. That's something different (and I've networked with quite a few people with whom I was previously unfamiliar). I'm talking about Facebook as a place where things get done. 

For example, I can have a meeting with Jeff Laubenstein and Mike Nystul about Cairn using Facebook's messenger system. Big deal, you say, people have been using online chat systems for a long time. And you'd be right. 

During that online meeting, Jeff can upload a picture of a something -- a page of layout, a table of scales, a picture of something he's drawn -- and we can comment on it. Because Facebook messenger allows you to upload files and pictures while chatting. Then we can all discuss it. It's like we're all in the same room with each other. Or, I can send files to both Mike and Jeff. In fact, I transferred some files to Jeff for layout just yesterday using Facebook. 

Back in the day, you had to switch between your chat program and your email program. Maybe a phone also had to be involved, too. It was inefficient, to say the least. That's the point I'm trying to get across here. Facebook allows you to do everything all in one place. I don't need to check my email, then go to Dropbox, then go to AIM. I just need to log into Facebook. Not only has the company centralized all the functions I need to hold an online meeting in one place, the sheer volume of people on my friends list makes this even more vital. If I have an idea, I can just messenger someone on Facebook, and design happens. 

Even better, I know that even if they're not logged in when I send the message, I know they'll eventually get it. Because everyone logs in to Facebook. That annoying red number in the upper left-hand corner will glare at them until they check their messages. I don't have to worry about people checking their email. In fact, I sent a file to someone via email, and they hadn't gotten it. So I resent through Facebook messenger, and they got it immediately. 

In the past few weeks, I've had random people start conversations with me, to ask me my opinion on something they'd written or ask my advice. I had an idea at 2am, and sent it off to Jim Pinto, who was awake, and started sending me cover treatments. At any point in the day, I can end up talking to anyone in the business about something game related. 

There are two problems with this system, however. First, because it's Facebook, it's fairly informal. So you can also end up swapping Monty Python quotes or talking about how the person's cat is doing after surgery. Social, yes. Polite, definitely. Useful in the context of a meeting? Not so much, because of the second problem. If you need a vital piece of information, you have to scroll through 10,000 messages to find it. Facebook doesn't organize information the way email does. With email, if I need to know what Alyssa Faden said about Sisk hoplites, I can sort of home in on the date and eventually find it. With Facebook, I have to scroll through 5,000 messages about her co-dependency issues. What really irks me is when I ask Mike Nystul "what did you say about hedgehogs spines again?" and he replies with "it's in messages." Yes, I know that. I'm trying to avoid having to read four months worth of chit chat to get the information. Just resend it. 

So Facebook is great for brainstorming, holding meetings, and swapping files. It's not so great for organizing information. It amazes me, however, when I realize just what a vital tool Facebook has become to my work. It's not just a place where you can play FarmVille and swap pictures of your lunch. It can be a great professional tool, if used wisely. 


  1. LOL what irks me is when someone asks "what did you say about hedgehog spines" and wants me to go through the same 5,000 messages ; )

  2. It would be great if the FB chat had a search tool for searching within a particular chat log. It's quite clunky to go back historically, if not impossible, and that's a problem area - particularly if you get dozens of messages a day.

    As a means of doing business though it is fundamental to me. Not only for the people I have been able to 'meet' and work with, not only as a means to surface talent and potential work partners (hi Ross! *waves*), but simply to "get myself out there." Me, my maps, Torn World ... it's considerably more effective than the old days of throwing up a webpage and hen breaking out the SEO for Dummies.

  3. Oh Alex, that was beyond funny. That tickled me in a way that only hedgehog spines could. I never actually thought of it that way. I just sort of assumed the person would actually remember what they said and just write it again. It never occurred to me that the person in question would have to search through the same 5000 messages.