Interview: Click here to learn more about Insomniac Click

Insomniac Games made the surprise announcement at SXSW Interactive that a new division would make games for Facebook and other social gaming platforms. The newly hired team is already at work on an unannounced project based on a new IP.

I wrangled the two Insomniac panelists, marketing director Ryan Schneider and lead artist Tony Mora, to discuss how the new division will integrate "social gaming" into the Insomniac style, and to find out just what a "social game" is.

We began the discussion by trying to nail down exactly what kinds of games we'd be seeing out of this new division. While Schneider and Mora couldn't be specific about the exact game or style of game, they were very specific about one thing: it's an all-new IP. "We're not looking to make Ratchet & Clank Facebook games," Schneider said. "Although it would be awesome," Mora added.

So what exactly is Insomniac Click targeting? "Well, I think games that are on mobile platforms, Facebook games," said Schneider, "these are all casual and social games," and thus within Click's purview. "The big thing for us as a studio is, we want to take the same sense of fun, accessibility, and gameplay depth that mark a console game that's made by Insomniac, and we want to bring that to the world of the casual/social game market."

The kind of "gameplay depth" expected of a console game, according to Schneider, means a game is not just satisfying in short-session "bursts," but is playable long-term. "Insomniac Games has been known for our replayability in our console games. We want to bring that sense of replayability to the social/casual game space." Insomniac Click's first game will carry on the company's legacy in more tangible ways as well. "I will say that there are signature traits in our current unannounced project that I think people will recognize, if they look closely enough, as inherently Insomniac."

The team of five, including lead artist Mora (who worked at Spümcø before creating animated sequences for Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time) will work closely together, as opposed to being in "separate silos." "We're going to learn from each other, we're going to share lessons across the board," Schneider told us, "and ultimately it's going to help us make an experience that can permeate whatever platform it is we're working on. What's most important to us is making an IP experience feel unified and cohesive across all the different ways you can access it. So in order to do that, we have to make sure that we're all communicating tightly together."

The company's output is unlikely to be too closely reminiscent of the work of current Facebook champion Zynga. " [Zynga games] still feel like a weird hybrid to me," Mora said. "Even Cityville. It's super polished. I think it's amazing for what it is. It's SimCity, with the whole thing tacked on of 'want this? Gotta pay for it.' But they're doing a good job of it." For Click, monetization is not the first step, but will of course be present. "We are focused on making great game experiences," Schneider said, "and if they're so great that maybe you will want to engage further and then the monetization aspect becomes more natural."

I don't know who started that word, man, but when I see those games, that is not social. Street Fighter is social.- Tony Mora, Insomniac Click

In fact, Mora doesn't see games like Cityville and the current Facebook fads as "social" at all -- even the good games, like the PopCap library. "Those are a different ilk," he said. "Those are just short burst. They're just ... good. I don't care what you play it on, it's just a good game. And that's why the whole premise of "social game" is a misnomer, because it's a good game regardless. If that game came out on Xbox or PlayStation, you don't call it a social game. You can call any game a social game. But you don't. These are all single-player games."

Other games are getting "social" right, including the mobile word game Words with Friends. "Those to me are social games," Mora explained, "because you're actually playing one on one with someone. It's simple and you get the point across that you're actually being social. A lot of the games on Facebook are antisocial. I don't know who started that word, man, but when I see those games, that is not social. Street Fighter is social."

The team is aware that the "social game" badge carries a stigma that Insomniac titles usually don't. "It's daunting because we know a lot of people on the hardcore side are going to say 'whatever.' And that's understandable," said Schneider. "There's a lot of ill will toward casual and social games among hardcore gamers. And we recognize that, we respect it, and what we'd say is just wait and see. Before you judge or condemn what we're doing, wait and see what we bring out and play the game and see what you think. Give us a shot."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.