Open-source child-rearing

Props for Snood

Have you ever played the game Snood? Well, don’t start now, friend — I lost maybe three solid weeks of work in early 2001 when I discovered this free game. It’s basically a riff on the bubble-popping game Bust-A-Move, with slightly more sinister strategy. I think I’ve played Snood more obsessively than just about any other game on the planet, except for maybe Blix, another free online puzzle game.

And that’s what’s so interesting here: Online puzzle games have quietly become the most popular video games on the planet. Sure, all you’ll read about in the newspaper are massive role-playing games like The Sims, or tactical first-person-shooters like Counterstrike. But according to a study by Jupiter Media Metrix, Snood is the ninth-most popular game in the world, and actually outstrips Counterstrike in popularity.

Yet you almost never read or hear about Snood. Why? In a very cool essay on his new game blog, game-designer Greg Costikyan makes an excellent point:

As far as hardcore gamers are concerned, Snood almost doesn’t exist either. That’s not to say that hardcore gamers don’t play Snood, or Bejeweled, or other such games. They do, and they play Free Cell and Minesweeper, too. Everyone does. They just don’t talk about it. They play these games differently; they’re little time-wasting diversions, filling ten minutes before the next meeting, or occupying you when you’re too burned out to go slay gnolls in Norrath tonight. When you meet your gamer buddies and they ask what you’ve been playing, you don’t say “this cool game called Solitaire,” even if you’ve spent more time on it in the last week than you have on your last major conventional game purchase. Nor do you even really place Solitaire in the same category as Halo, say.

Gamers tend to talk about games that are part of the canon, a canon largely established by the business end of things, games that come from conventional development teams. Age of Mythology is part of their culture; Snood is not. Snood is just a game, it’s not a game. In fact, for gamers, games like Snood are “just a game” in the same way that, for the prevailing culture, all games are “just games”.

From my perspective, that’s a shame. Snood is a fine game. I’ve lost very nearly as much time to it as I have to Civilization or NetHack or Diplomacy, and from me, that’s high praise indeed. It’s a very clever little design. And “little” is not, at least in my vocabulary, a word of denigration: It is far harder to design a good simple game than a good complicated one. It’s very hard to make a tightly-constrained game interesting; if I can layer a variety of systems, I can produce a widely variant gamespace, and interesting emergent behaviors almost spontaneously arise. Getting something really compelling out of something as simple as Snood is hard.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson