"Ghost Recon" Comes To Facebook—Will It Zap Zynga?

Ubisoft's "Ghost Recon Commander," a Facebook version of the megapopular gaming franchise, is one of the most ambitious games ever created for Facebook. Will other game firms follow in its heavily armed footsteps?

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon is one of the most popular gaming franchises ever. Now Ubisoft and Loot Drop (John Romero and Brenda Braithwaite's social gaming studio) are releasing Ghost Recon Commander, a Facebook edition of the franchise--and one of the very first Facebook games designed to deliver a console-like experience. (The early comments on the gameplay have been... less than enthusiastic.)

Facebook is a hugely popular gaming platform, with the Zynga template still dominating Facebook gaming. FarmVille, Words With Friends, Mafia Wars, and similar games with a low-graphic, high-social, and high-freemium standard rule the social roost. Flash--the platform Facebook games are made in--is notoriously developer-unfriendly and places too many demands on processors and video cards. In short, it generally makes a mess out of any attempt to make a game more complicated than an iPhone app.

Ghost Recon Commander aims to change that. It's an attempt to deliver an experience somewhat close to console gaming to the Facebook platform. Ubisoft calls Ghost Recon one of "the first gamer's game[s] for Facebook"; there are over 10 games in the series, including a mobile adaptation. An online version of Ghost Recon is also scheduled for the near future.

The big challenge for Ubisoft and Loot Drop is twofold in terms of Facebook gaming. First, the Facebook version of Ghost Recon has to retain hardcore gamers who would just as likely be playing on another platform which offers a more immersive gaming experience. Secondly, there's also the need to attract casual gamers looking for something to play on their lunch break or while the baby's sleeping. These are two very different demographics, both of whom are looking for different gaming experiences.

Braithwaite says that GRC will use a freemium profit model, though she would not reveal additional revenue-generating details. One of the key points of the game is an asynchronous group play model: Players are able to participate in missions with offline friends. The game is also tied into the upcoming console Ghost Recon: Future Soldier product, with players being able to unlock items and bonuses for the console game through the Facebook game.

Ubisoft is no stranger to Facebook games; however, the gaming giant's previous social network products have all been more conventional. Despite Facebook's unsuitability as an immersive gaming platform, there's big money in those socially connected hills. Money-spending Facebook gamers are a distinct demographic that generally does not spend much money on games, apart from those made for the Wii. Producing a scaled-down version of a hardcore shooter like the Ghost Recon series lets Ubisoft access a neglected market. Even if the gaming experience is closer to a smartphone than it is to consoles or PC, it's a sign of things to come. Like them or not, Facebook games are only becoming more ambitious.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.

[Middle, Bottom Images: Ubisoft]

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