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Social Networking meets Gaming
Online social networking has become the hot topic of choice for companies providing online services. With the seemingly overnight successes of websites like Twitter hogging media websites and taking up a lot of mainstream media, it is no surprise that everyone from CNN to Microsoft is offering their own twists on social networking. Gamers, too, want in on the action, and understandably so. Online gaming, arguably gaming itself, has always been a social activity, but good matchmaking systems are rare, leading to communities that feel less coherent than one would imagine.
Enter Kongregate. The goal of Kongregate is to offer a online community where gamers and game developers can come together. The Kongregate mission statement nobly proclaims that Kongregate's "mission is to help indie developers make better games and earn more money doing it." That is goal that few gamers would scoff at, but it will go unfilled if Kongregate is no fun to use. So how does it stack up?
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With a few rare exceptions, flash-based games don't tend to hook the player in for long periods of time. Kongregate, or any website with many flash-based games, is going to present games which can be completed in thirty minutes or an hour, and there are some that may not be entertaining for more than a few minutes. To compensate for this, flash-based game websites are supposed to offer a huge variety. The entire point is to be able to jump in, play for awhile, and jump back out.
Kongregate passes the basic library test with flying colors, probably thanks to its goal of being friendly towards developers. As of July Kongregate boasts over 16,000 games and rising. More importantly, cross-referencing Krogregate's selection with that of other flash-based game websites did not reveal any serious gaps in Kongregate's library. In fact, it seems that Kongregate often has games that other some other websites are missing.
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Given the huge library associated with flash-based game websites, and the dependence on advertisements for revenue, the layout of such a website is a big deal. A website which is poorly put together is going to make it hard for the player to navigate through the thousands of available games. Advertisements can also be a problem. Websites like Flashgames247 and Flash-Games.net are horrid when it comes to advertising. Banners are everywhere, distracting from the games and the libraries. Kongregate, on the other hand, never lets the advertisements become the centerpiece of the website. They're defiantly there, taking on the form of banners at the top of every page, but they don't become so distracting that it is hard to enjoy a game. Kongregate also has high-quality advertisements which may be of actual interest, unlike some other websites which are spammed with ads for Civony and IMVU.
The only problem with Kongregate's website is its library navigation. The search functions work fine and the website does an excellent job of outlining those games which are the best rated and/or most popular. There are no sub-genres listed, however, nor any apparent attempt to break up the games among finer lines than "strategy" or "action". Only fifteen games are listed per page when browsing, and there is no way to change that. It would have been great to be able to view games in a list format with perhaps fifty on a page.
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Developer Community Features
Kongregate.com makes a big deal about connecting with developers. A lot of game sites and game publishers do. Such claims are usually cheap PR stunts aimed at pulling the heartstrings of gamers who feel the need to support developers as much as possible. Kongregate, however, actually backs up its claims.
Granted, we're talking about flash based game development. The path to revenue is often advertisements. It is a common revenue model, but not all website which engage in it make it straightforward how the revenue is transferred to the developers. Kongregate, however, is quite clear about the process and what cut the developers are getting.
Even more interesting are Kongregate's regular developer challengers. Kongregate hosts these challenges on a regular schedule. Developers can enter and win cash prizes which can reach up to $1500 dollars. That isn't a bad chunk of change for a flash based game, plus the award winner gets
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Kongregate is not subtle about its community-oriented slant. Gamers on Kongregate are encouraged to register, which creates a gamer account that can be customized in the ways one would typically expect. Players can add their own avatar and biographical information, list their favorite games, and invite fellow gamers to be their Kongregate buddies. Kongregate also includes community ratings of games. Players can see which games have the highest ratings, which ones are the most played, and which ones are new.
As if this didn't make Kongregate's community focus obvious enough, every single game played on Kongregate comes with a chat window, allowing gamers to talk about the game they're playing - or anything else on their mind. Also, there are weekly challenges which allow you to win cards for use in Kongregate's card game, Kongai (which is not bad at all), the ability to link to a gamerDNA account, and much more.
But if none of this sounds exciting or revolutionary, that's because it isn't. With the exception of Kongregate's focus on the development community, this is the standard fair one would except from a social webiste. And while it is indeed true that Kongregate offers community functions which most flash-based gaming websites don't, its hard to see why the average person should care. The chat rooms didn't exactly seem like the happening place to be, and the few conversations which did take place were about Michael Jackson's death or slurpees.
Like many social websites, Kongregates ultimately stumbles because it gives no real reason for strangers to interact. Instead it takes the pile-and-pray approach, lumping gamers together and hoping they might find something to talk about on their own. The sheer amount of social content means that something might hook you, but it is due as much to luck as good design.
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Kongregate's community features aren't all they're cracked up to be. Achievements are a nice touch, but by themselves they do not create a social gamingenvironment. Kongregrate is not just a social website, however, and is saved by its strength as a flash-based game website. In comparison to the competition, Kongregrate is far and way more fun. The lack of distracting ads makes the games feel smoother and more professional. Kongregrate may not live up to the social-gaming promise inherent in its name, but it hardly matters. It is still one of the best flash-based game websites on the web.