Responsibility in Social Gaming

The Streets of Cityville are Paved in Blood - The Anti-Social MediaThis year, social gaming will grow to be a $1 Billion industry. With that in mind, it’s time for social gaming companies to do something more than make people click mindlessly, spam their friends, and have people pay them money to “play” the game faster. Thats not what games are about. Social games, like all social media, should be fun.

Social games offer a chance for people to broaden and deepen their relationships as they interact with one another. Relationships in the current crop of games, like Farmville and Cityville, are token at best when those games are riddled with meaningless achievements that do not make the game more fun. Games shouldn’t harass users’ contacts to gain more players.  Additional players should come from an organic want and desire to spread the word that a game is fun and that playing with more people makes the game more entertaining.

Similarly, players should pay to play the game, not pay to fill it with useless but slightly cute objects. I realize you need to make a living, and you would like that living to be comfortable. It’s possible to be devilishly successful without asking people to spend money on useless, virtual crap. There has to be a way to turn that micro-transaction genius into something more worthwhile and more engaging to users than a pink tractor. Maybe people who pay a small amount get to play a unique mini-game that provides exclusive rewards or get access to better ways to collaborate with their friends.  I don’t know what the solution is, but I know the current one won’t work in the long term as people realize there is little value in virtual goods.

Are there better social games out there already? Can we make Facebook games that suck less? Or is the future of social gaming just combining any noun with the suffix “ville” and finding a way for users to click endlessly?

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8 Responses to “Responsibility in Social Gaming”

  1. Brad January 13, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    The problem with these social games (to borrow from my Micro-transaction notes), is that there’s different types of ‘Value’ (ooh, capital V!) we get from playing games.

    One, of course, is fun. I’m willing to exchange time (and sometimes money) for fun.

    Another, in the case of the meaningless achievements, is ‘accomplishment’. Or even ‘recognition’. Or ‘kudos’. Whatever. The fact that you’ve accomplished some goal and been recognized for it. Even if it’s meaningless, that has ‘Value’ (again!) for people. And so they’ll trade their time and money for it.

    The problem that you’ve hit upon is ‘What is the best alternative?’. Barring one, there’s no incentive to stop playing Farmville or Cityville, especially once the ‘Values’ of ‘competition’ and ‘routine’ kick in. There’s tremendous ‘Value’ in the comfort of a routine.

    As to what a good social game looks like, I think we have that in the game that could, in theory, be played in the real world. Take the myriad of poker games, for instance. There’s direct social interaction, usually a fair lack of financial transactions (unless you have to buy chips), and the “Facebook-spam” interactions are fairly reasonable:

    Click to give your friends 500 chips!
    Ask your friends for a bonus!
    You got a Royal Flush! Tell the world!

    This appeases those who don’t mind gambling and can co-ordindate a simultaneous game with friends (or doesn’t mind playing with strangers).

    For those who have a strong grasp on the vernacular, there’s always Wordscraper or Lexulous. Games that don’t really spam your wall, don’t involve interaction with those outside your social circle, and which don’t require a specific time investment. As an added bonus, there’s no financial transacting available!

    Now, these are only a few examples of ‘better’ social games I know — the reason there’s a significant lack of them is that in order to create a game, there has to be ‘Value’ for the developer… and most focus on two numbers: unique players, and dollars coming in…

    …and by now, my comment is probably as long, if not longer than your post. So I’ll stop. :)

  2. Rob January 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Great reply Brad!

    Unfortunately, we seem to be in the loop of “If people are paying money for a game that someone is putting minimal effort in to create, why put more work in?” It would be like asking Wal-Mart give their employees better benefits just to be a better company so the rest of us would hate them less. If they can make money and people still go with it, why put in more effort?

    That being said, I really wish there were more reasonably good games that capitalize on the community aspect of things like Facebook. Maybe then your friends actually WOULD want to play along, rather than blocking the app because they get tired of seeing all the updates and requests to join. There has to be a better method of creating the social game, where money is made and significant fun is had, but until someone ups that bar, we are stuck in Ville-Ville.

    • Jay January 14, 2011 at 7:11 am #

      Exactly! It’s sad how many people have built networks of their friends on Facebook, yet no one can use that network to make games people want to play together!

  3. Dino Dogan January 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Its just amazing to me to see virtual gaming real estate demand a price the same way physical real estate does.

    Im talking about virtual billboards for example, being sold to corporate advertising. So as Im driving my stolen car after killing a hooker, I can gaze upon Drink Coke on a billboard next to the highway….wow..

    • Brad January 13, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

      Nothing refreshes after a long day of hooker killing than a tall glass of Diet Coke!

      • Brad January 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

        Well, there goes my chance to be a grammar cop. Nothing refreshes after a long day BETTER than a tall glass…

    • Jay January 14, 2011 at 7:12 am #

      Clearly, the companies just want to remind us of the refreshing taste of a soda when we kill hooker in real life.

  4. Rob January 13, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    They claim that the “virtual advertising” is to input more realism into the game. You see the billboards in real life and want to buy the product, why not when you are killing digital hookers? The market for this is huge, too, especially once the open-world “sandbox” games really took off. However, unlike many other digital material where you get rid of the advertising once you pay for the item rather than use it free, we are actually paying $50-60 to have the advertising. One of those “wish I had thought of that” genius moments, is it not?

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