|I think it's a transporter grid from Star Trek.|
I see this as computer-aided game design. You start with something that "feels" right to a designer. With a traditional game, while you do some playtesting, once it's launched that's pretty much how the design is gonna be unless you someday do another edition. Social games are different, though; they are constantly changing based on what users are doing. So you get to use analytics o refine the game design, add and subtract and modify elements to increase user satisfaction. Which means you can find ways to generate more money without also generating resentment.
This is really a new era in game design. In a way it's the love child of marketing and game design, where the two finally get together to do something better than either alone can achieve. There's nothing like being able to look at vast amounts of data to see what's working and what isn't. It sure beats arguing over whose opinion is better. This is part of why social games are here to stay; they've got software helping them optimize the design. Mobile software's got analytics, too, which is similarly helpful. Will consoles ever have tools like these to help developers create better games? Yeah, I don't think so either. At least, not soon enough.