Are Social Games Really Social? Games?

By Nathan Grayson on May 22nd, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

FEAR US FOR WE ARE GIANTS.

Embarrassed kids are amusing. A parent or authority figure co-opts a line or two of their lingo, and they act like it’s the cataclysmic end of everything they hold dear as foretold in The Prophecy. It is, to them, a corruption – a barely recognizable remnant of something they once loved that’s been chewed up, spat out, and then obliterated by a fortuitously timed meteor. It’s interesting, then, to watch fully (or at least, mostly) grown adults react the same way any time social games come up.

And yet, while the parent/grandparent parallel still applies, there is some reason behind social gaming’s reprehensible reputation. The overwhelming majority of the titles that gum up Facebook’s works bombard users with requests and notifications while waging a rapidly escalating war on their wallets. Worse, calling them “social” is a major stretch, seeing as friends in Zynga’s “ville” games or even Funcom’s The Secret War are less people and more currency. It’s almost enough to make you wonder if all those “incredible gaming possibilities” Facebook proponents tout are even real. That in mind, I spoke with Brenda Brathwaite and John Romero – whose company Loot Drop just launched Ghost Recon: Commander - about how the modern age has shaped social games and whether or not they’re having a negative effect on the people who play them.

In many ways, Ghost Recon: Commander represents a step in the right direction. It doesn’t require any of the obnoxious “social” stuff like constant wall posts, notifications, or microtransactions. It has player-vs-player multiplayer that actually necessitates a modicum of actual interaction. Oh, also, it’s an actual game. It’s self-described as “X-Com-inspired,” though admittedly, disjointed, one-at-a-time squad controls and less-than-stellar AI keep it from tickling the tippy toes of that classic’s lofty heights. And yet, there are missions and mechanics and character progressions that can be, on a fairly deep level, enjoyable even without the traditional series of jagged Facebook-themed hooks just beneath the surface.

As such, Ghost Recon: Commander almost feels like an awkward middle point between Facebook gaming’s sordid past and a (relatively) hopeful future. Its asynchronous definition of “social,” especially, is far more a product of Facebook’s bite-sized-snack approach to interpersonal relations than it is anything that might traditionally be considered substantial. You can bring friends’ soldiers with you on missions, but not, you know, friends. PVP, meanwhile, is an asynchronous back-and-forth ala Words With Friends. Sure, you can have gobs of games going at once, but it’s social quantity over quality. Ultimately, then, I have to wonder: does Facebook’s all-encompassing approach to communication actually hurt more than it helps? Brathwaite and Romero argue that the situation’s not quite so black-and-white.

“Let me put on my ‘former professor’ hat for a second,” Brathwaite began during an interview with RPS. “So if we want to talk about social stuff, Twitter, Facebook, handwritten letters – all of these things are social actions. Board games are 99 percent more social than Doom ever was. If you play Doom, your face is stuck in that monitor and so is mine. When we play Ghost Recon versus each other, we may as well have Kansas in between us, right?”

“Here’s something that’s great: I play a lot of Facebook games with my daughter. Right now, she’s on the other side of the country. So this asynchronous socialization to me is super valuable. She and John play WoW on the weekends. Their characters are way higher level than mine.”

Further, Romero went on to explain that levels of social interaction can even vary hugely within a single game. Continuing with the World of Warcraft example, the Doom-co-creator-turned-Facebook-maestro explained:

“You know what’s funny – talking about this idea of ‘Well, you’re not really there and you’re not playing together’? Well, when I play with [Brenda's daughter] Maezza in World of Warcraft, she’s got her own thing she wants to do, and I’m doing my own thing. So even though we’re in the same world, unless you force yourself to be in a party and stay at the same level, it’d have to be a concerted effort to actually level together. We’ll be questing together, and she’ll be like ‘I’ve got to go in a dungeon!’ And then she’ll take off and go into Dungeon Finder. So how useful is it even to be in the same place in the game? Even if you get people together, they might not want to do exactly what you want to do. And asynchronicity kind of solves that whole problem.”

“We spent all of last summer playing Minecraft on the same server,” Brathwaite added. “So it’s a full-on family. We’re all in there – doing our own thing. Or sometimes, we’d build things together, and we had a blast. And then we’d have truly social things, and it was like ‘OK everybody, we’re going to Disney [theme park],’ and everyone was like ‘Yay!’ And we’d all go do that… You know, what’s happening in WoW, Minecraft, and Ghost Recon are just different forms of socialization. These questions never actually arose until the fake socialization that Facebook games specialized in [caught on].”

So Brathwaite, Romero, and co’s hearts are in the right place with Commander, but sometimes, nature trumps nurture. The question in this case, however, is whether or not it should. Like any other commercial game, Commander needs to make money, and its business model tweaks a few tried-and-unfortunately-true Facebook techniques instead of blazing an entirely new trail. The short version: For now, the absolute best guns, base camp items, etc – from a pure stat perspective – are only buyable with real money.

And though Brathwaite and Romero assured me that will change soon, weaponry’s still tiered in terms of power – not skill-based difference. Moreover, you either have to buy ammo with real money or wait a few hours for it to refill. So then, pick your poison: time or money. In defending that approach, however, the two were refreshingly direct.

“The single best thing in the game right now, you must earn,” Brathwaite noted, referring to grenades, which can also be handed out to other players. “You cannot pay for them. But it boils down to – and this predates games – you pay for quality. You want bigger, better, more? You pay for it.”

“I would not feel OK about it if you couldn’t beat the game with [earnable items]. John bought gold [in WoW] yesterday for Maezza because she wanted a mount. But that’s basically cheating the system. People sell these incredibly high-level characters. So I would have a problem with [buyable items in Ghost Recon] if they ruined the game for everybody else. But that’s not the case… Those [items] aren’t required for gameplay. Those are required if you just want [something extra]. For instance, if you want to mow stuff down, there’s a weapon for that.”

Even so, games like League of Legends and – for the most part – Tribes: Ascend have proven that a microtransaction-driven business model need not dangle pure power in front of impatient players’ noses. Waiting for ammo to magically regrow, meanwhile, is a terrible design choice no matter how you slice it. So then, can social games be social? Yes, on some level – when paired with other forms of interaction. Can they be solid, enjoyable games? Again, yes, as Commander’s robust mechanics show. Ultimately, though, those questions are only starting points, and games like Commander still have a long way to go before they can even dream of leading the pack.

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52 Comments »

  1. Discopanda says:

    I did not walk away from this article convinced that “Social” games have a promising future. Where our Daikatana 2 at, Romero?!?

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Why on earth are you asking for a Daikatana 2.

    • BooleanBob says:

      The ‘more hopeful future’ is just a rhetorical construct. It has been placed by the author at one end of the scale. At the other end is the extreme negativity that he can rely upon his readers to associate with exploitative, trashy social gaming as it currently is. In so doing, the author positions the product in question in such a way that the reader can’t help but feel a degree of involuntarily sympathy toward it from the outset.

      Quite why the author chooses to do this, I simply couldn’t say. As you mention, the article doesn’t really provide any ways in which this is anything but another exploitative, trashy social game (it does give a few as to why it isn’t).

    • Discopanda says:

      I would be far more excited for Daikatana 2 than I currently am for Ghost Recon: Commander.

  2. Dreforian says:

    The answer to the title question is “no”. Now to read the article….

    • Discopanda says:

      I thought it was a bit worrying how the interviewees brought up traditional games like Minecraft and WoW rather than compare their game to their “social” competitors. What’d you think?

  3. Tuco says:

    Every time I try or think about a “social” game, this article comes to my mind:

    http://garethfouche.com/revulsion

    • frightlever says:

      That’s less of an article and more an angry internet man comment response to an actual article.

      I don’t have a problem with companies monetizing the tedium of clicking squares – if people are prepared to pay to click those squares more efficiently then that’s fine. I have no right to tell them what to do with their money, provided what they’re doing isn’t hurting anyone.

      People have been spending un-Godly amounts of money on games and toys for decades. Look at beanie babies, Pokemon cards, Magic the Gathering etc., and often there is an aspect of socializing involved. The villes are simply a continuation of this in a modern wrapping. I’d much prefer people would pick up a book instead of playing Mafia Wars or Tiny Tower or whatever the hell, but it’s their choice. There’s absolutely nothing inherently worthwhile about conventional gaming either, so arguing that one is bad and the other acceptable is specious.

      We should get to waste our free time however we so please.

  4. SamC says:

    I think the answer that was danced around is that anything can be social if you make it. I mean, even reading can be social. You talk about the books you’re reading with other people, share favorite authors and anecdotes. I think the issue is that ‘social’ games give me even less to talk about and share than a standard console game. Most of them are shallow enough that there’s nothing really to discuss, and all you’re left with is the fake social actions that they mention. I’ve only played 15 minutes or so of Ghost Recon: Commander, but I’m missing the depth that the article mentions. I’m going to give it more time, but the description as “X-Com inspired” is a stretch.

    • Premium User Badge LTK says:

      That is a really good point. I found myself agreeing with the way they explained asynchronous socializing in those games, in that you’re part of the same world even though you’re not interacting directly with each other. It breeds a sort of co-familiarity which can be beneficial to your actual socialization; you have something to talk about. I didn’t realize that this is almost exactly the same with every other form of entertainment that you follow together. Not with social games, and for all their talk of socializing with your kids via the games you both play, I also doubt there’s a lot to Commander worth talking about.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        I guess the main advantage is that Facebook directly links you to that person so you can discuss it. But apart from those annoying mandatory posts I’ve never seen anyone actually discuss those games on Facebook. I guess the game does that for you instead with all those dreadful posts

  5. Metonymy says:

    I usually understand the posts here, but this one went completely over my head.

    The disease that destroyed gaming was casualization itself. The first person shooter genre was hit far harder than any other, because it is itself inherently more casual. CoD crucified that genre forever, and no amount of serious sam, or tribes, or quakearena will ever resurrect it. But in truth, every type of game has continuously gotten more accessible and less interesting to a person with intelligence or experience with gaming.

    The POSITIVE part of casualization is that gaming ‘arrives’ for people of…lesser mental faculty. Those people get new and fun things to do. If my sister enjoys planting little fake crops and watching the graphics change, that’s something she would never have been able to do otherwise. It’s like she’s playing sim city 1, without the thinking.

    • CPTblackadder says:

      Casual games are a great way to slowly bring people into gaming, it’s hard to play dwarf fortress if you come from the time of time of typewriters. What we need is a balance between casual and more hardcore games. Unfortunately casual games have a larger audience, so there’s more money there. So being a game developer what do you do, make a cool game or get money so you can make more games? Do you risk your life to possibly gain something?, or do you go with the safe option and live to fight another day?

      • SanguineAngel says:

        As a developer why are they even bothering if they don’t make the games they want? Because currently in the main it seems to boils down to make the game that will make money so you can make the game that will make even more money and then money money money. At some point (possibly when they enter a publisher relationship) money becomes more important than their chosen craft.

        Then you get the inspiring guys who make the game they want, manage to make loads of money and eventually just start making games to make more money too.

        I usually respect those debs that stick to their guns and make their game their way. It takes guts and a lot of risk. But then that’s why they started developing in the first place surely!

        Capitalism grumble grumble etc.

    • godwin says:

      My, don’t you sound like a complete ass. “Lesser mental faculty”? Just because they play a game that’s less complex than the ones you’re used to playing?

      Also, why are you employing the logical fallacy that’s used in the piracy/DRM/PC-gaming-dead argument — that more piracy = fewer sales? So more people playing accessible games = fewer people will play your old-school “hardcore” games? Yes, fewer of the latter kind of game is being made, but they are still being made, albeit more as niches — but is that necessarily a bad thing? I personally think it will carve out a new space for people interested in making “purer” creations to focus their energies into doing that, and not have to compete on the same level as the big studios (sales). What does it matter to you how many people play the games you don’t play? And hey, maybe you know, the market(s) just grew (as is the aim of the publishers. And I’d contend that the “death”, according to you, for the FPS really began with Halo instead), and people who never really played games are now playing games. Surely the recent spate of crowd-funded nostalgia game projects should be enough proof that gaming is not “destroyed”.

      • Chmilz says:

        Let me help: yes, those people are complete fucking morons with soft pudding where their brains are supposed to go. My wife has never gamed. A year or so ago, she decided to try Farmville. Played it for about a week, then realized there’s no endgame and it’s nothing more than a tedious grind. Then she got a smartphone, tried playing some games on there. Realized they’re slightly less tedious grinds. Then she came into my mancave and watched me play Skyrim for a bit. Now she’s begging for a gaming rig so she can play, and I quote “games that actually seem fun, with stories and cool stuff, not just clicking for the sake of clicking”.

        My wife isn’t a complete fucking moron. That’s why I married her. People that get suckered in to Zynga games forever and actually pay money, they’re fucking morons. If you’re one of those people or know one, that sucks.

        • Ninja Foodstuff says:

          Yeah!

          And if you can’t be a complete fucking moron, be an elitist prick.

          • Kdansky says:

            The upshot: Everyone who has ever invented something meaningful was either an elitist prick, or a nice person. But (s)he was certainly not a complete moron.

            What I’m saying: I prefer the pricks to the morons. Politeness is a nice-to-have extra. Brains is an absolute requirement.

    • MD says:

      I’m pretty frustrated with the direction that mainstream gaming has taken.

      But sitting there making smug posts about how stupid everyone else is for enjoying casual games? Suggesting that the reason people don’t like complex/inaccessible games is that they’re idiots? That tells us a whole lot more about you than about anyone else.

      And I’m not just taking you to task for being rude. You’re demonstrating an amazingly narrow, arrogant view of the world. Do you not even see the *possibility* that other people fail to seek intellectual stimulation in gaming not because they’re mindless, but because they’re more interested in engaging their intellect elsewhere?

      I don’t know you, so it’s possible that your every leisure activity is a form of challenging mental exercise. But if so, you’re in a tiny minority. Most people need a combination of challenge and relaxation. We like our minds to be stimulated, exercised, but not all the time. Plenty of intelligent people are uninterested in serious gaming, not because it’s too much for them, but because there are far more interesting and meaningful ways for them to use their mental capacities. Some of these people like to use casual gaming as a form of relaxation, or a cheap dopamine hit, or whatever else.

      (I’m not even going to go into the issue of how intellectually challenging your ‘hardcore’ games really are. But many people have a tendency to confuse inaccessibility, obscurity, surface complexity with depth and intellectual challenge.)

      • Metonymy says:

        1 sentence: I agree with you
        4 paragraphs: I dont like you

        You understand that it’s still primarily children who play games, correct? And children are ‘the future?’ And games prepare children for reality? Why shouldn’t I despise any factor that makes a game easier for children? Make your case.

        • MD says:

          Wait, what? If you want to change the subject, make your case. I was responding to your post, in which you said/implied that ‘casual’ gamers are idiots. If you want to talk about the negative social/developmental effects of easy games, go for it. It’s a potentially interesting discussion, and we might find some common ground.

        • Kdansky says:

          >You understand that it’s still primarily children who play games, correct?

          The average age of video-gamers is 37.

          http://www.theesa.com/facts/index.asp

          • canonfodder says:

            thank you! I was just about to reply to that.

            While you can talk about how video games are a good or bad thing for children (depending on context, content etc) you CAN’T say that its still primarily children playing.

  6. Chandos says:

    The question is social for whose benefit? The “social” part of the name mainly comes from social marketing or network marketing; some might even call it pyramid scheme. They are not social for the benefit of gamers looking to socialize. They are not even games for the benefit of gamers looking to have entertainment. It is one sided exploitation for the majority of the social games out there.

  7. Brun says:

    I’ll just leave this right here.

    http://insertcredit.com/2011/09/22/who-killed-videogames-a-ghost-story/

    EDIT: I think it’s interesting that you call out this game as a “middle point” between the FarmVilles and a more hopeful future. The author in that article alludes to a similar trend in Zynga’s own games.

  8. Kestrel says:

    John Romero’s about to make Facebook his bitch.

  9. MythArcana says:

    Anti-Social and zero-tolerant since 2001. Single player games are the future.

  10. Hematite says:

    The main reason multiplayer games (MMO or otherwise) haven’t gripped me is because they always seem like a bunch of people playing single player plus an IRC channel (or PvP duels, which doesn’t interest me).

    Rather than me ranting, can anyone comment on what games they’ve played with enjoyable multiplayer mechanics?

    Magicka is on my to-do list. I heard good things about Borderlands, but I suspect it would still just be “… and your friend is also shooting things!”

    • LionsPhil says:

      Magicka, as noted.
      Alien Swarm, because it demands co-operation and co-ordination in a way that makes Left 4 Dead look like Quake deathmatch.
      Sanctum, to some extent, since you need to plan and collaborate your defence.
      Minetest, spending lunchbreaks with a friend exploring the ludicrously huge caverns the terrain engine had generated for precious iron ore and still trying to not get lost.
      UT2004 VCTF vs bots just for the thrill of bundling mates into a Hellbender and going on a flag run.
      And Champions Online is interesting as something that is largely individual fighting but enhanced by having lots of other people arsing about in the background, because silver age superhero sillyness really works well with the infinite “creativity” of the Internet having a super-biff punchup all around you. Everyone piling in on a supervillain is more amusing when they’re a chaotic mix of comic-book knockoffs, hideous offenses against face sliders, and worryingly sexualised furries. Half the fun of the game is just sightseeing what people came up with in chargen.

      …hmm. Every single one of these is co-op vs the computer. I was dithering about RTS comp-stomps, which meet that criteria too, but there’s a lot of base-building in isolation.

    • godwin says:

      Arma 2 coop (usually, but there is adversarial stuff) with the RPS people. But I guess that goes for any game with some sort of community or organisation involved prior to play.

    • Hematite says:

      Thanks for the recommendations! I wouldn’t have thought of Sanctum, or coop UT2004 for the sake of arsing around rather than winning.

      Arma II scares me a little bit – I started playing SP recently to get some skills for DayZ and I’m really surprisingly terrible at it, to the point that I can’t finish half the tutorial missions because something goes wrong along the way.

      • godwin says:

        It does have quite a learning curve and its unique brand of glitchiness, but if you feel like there’s something in there for you, give it some time to grow on you, and to get used to the controls and mechanics. Personally what I love about Arma/OFP are the immersive (as far as a combat simulator is concerned) open environment and unscripted nature of encounters, plus its almost endless customisability/replayability through mods and addons. I haven’t played it for a while, but the RPS bunch are great and I’m sure they can help walk you through stuff if you need any help; just hit the forums!

    • Grygus says:

      I really liked the co-op maps in Portal 2, and the co-op campaign in Total War: Shogun 2 is a blast when it works.

  11. Craig Stern says:

    I actually rather like the idea of asynchronous multiplayer X-Com. I’m not sure about the decision to make every enemy a bearded man in a white undershirt, though. Are they battling the Alcoholic Abusive Husband Brigade?

  12. Lacero says:

    Maybe it helps to compare the flaws of this facebook Pavlovian style game with the previous ones, to get some perspective.

    The aim of the new ones is to make you pay for something, and so to make you think you need it and to keep coming back to pay more. There’s no reason for you to enjoy it just for you to come back and keep coming. You’ll be reminded of the game by friends and emails if you stop playing so you can get back into it and maybe spend more.
    You’re also encouraged strongly to get friends to join you.

    With old games they wanted a single sale, and they’d do anything to get it including fake screenshots, back of the box lies, unrelated box art, review score corruption and very carefully selected demo areas.

    So now in this new world we can at least rely more on the signals that draw us to the game, as if we don’t like it we can stop playing. But then the enjoyment isn’t really the aim for this kind of thing, it’s communication with others and a feeling of obligation to log in at 3am and set off an assault in travian. So while we can rely on the game description being more accurate we can’t rely on getting what we originally wanted to any more than we could before.

    Trying to decide whether to buy a game now is more about deciding how much time I want to put in vs how much time I think the game will try and take. How much fun I’ll have is sadly secondary.

  13. Gasmask Hero says:

    Trying to illustrate the worth of Facebook games by using a Facebook Ghost Recon game ensures you’re fighting on the back foot from the start. Ghost Recon remains my favourite ex-Clancy branded title and what you have here bears no resemblance to what made the series. Having Romero…John Romero, of all the people that could be possibly involved with this, singing it’s microtransacted praises just sticks in my throat.

    It somehow just sums up what’s wrong with Facebook gaming, Ubisoft and John Romero in particular.

  14. MadTinkerer says:

    If this wasn’t a Facebook game, I’d want to play it for the fact that it’s made by Brathwaite and Romero. Man, I wish it wasn’t a Facebook game…

  15. Shooop says:

    The only “social” aspect of any game termed that is they ask you to pester other people on the internet to name-drop you so you can get items in them.

    It’s all about trying to make more microtransations.

  16. Consumatopia says:

    There are some non-terrible free-to-play, asynchronous, persistent, massively multiplayer games on the web.

    But somehow it seems to be impossible to make one on Facebook. There are a lot of smart people who would like to make social games that are actually both social and games, but somehow they never succeed.

    My guess is that being linked to your real world name and your real world friends and family ruins the experience of a persistent massively multiplayer game. I don’t want to permanently screw over my friends and family. That means, if the game is persistent, I have to be playing co-op with my friends. And my friends in turn will want to play co-op with their friends. Which means that essentially everyone in the world has to play on the same side.

    If you want players to be able to detriment other players in fun, unpredictable ways, you have to abandon persistence. I’m willing to screw my friend over in Monopoly or Risk because those games have endings (or at least they end when we get sick of it).

    But Facebook games can’t abandon persistence–their whole business model is to sell you in-game objects and advantages. If the game itself is only temporary, the things you buy are worthless. (How much real world currency would you pay to have an advantage in Monopoly?)

    Interesting game play. Persistence. Real world identities. Pick two.

    • Consumatopia says:

      I don’t want to permanently screw over my friends and family.

      Actually, thinking again, what I probably should have said is I don’t want my friends and family to be able to mess everything up. For example, Brathwaite mentioned playing Minecraft with her family.

      Imagine what a Facebook Minecraft would be like. Ignoring the technical hurdles, let’s imagine that every Facebook user can click a button to create a world and give all of their friends the ability to play on it (in creative mode) without having to host a server themselves.

      It could be really awesome. But it could also be really terrible. Some of your friends will act inappropriately (build obscene structures, dismantle or grief appropriate structures, create profane signs) that will piss off your other friends. Some of your friends are idiots (or, alternatively, some of us are idiots) and will end up flooding or burning everything. And you can’t just kick or block these idiots from your server without provoking a real life social crisis.

  17. Beelzebud says:

    What no freak out over all these games having always-online DRM requirements? ;)

  18. cassus says:

    I’m actually semi enthusiastic about social gaming, but not in the way it’s currently being done on facebook. I’m more about coop gameplay, like DayZ, perfect example, a game like that is social AND antisocial at the same time, you’re given the choice, you live your life amongst other people. THAT is what social gaming means to me. Not sure why social games on facebook is all about just getting rewards and then sharing a bonus bit of that reward with other people so they in turn share stuff with you.. That’s as social as lending your neighbour a cup of suar..

    Here’s the sugar you wanted.
    Thanks, bye.
    Bye.

    There needs to be social interaction IN GAME, not in status updates. The biggest social aspect of many FB games is the scoreboard..

    For most gamers, facebook is basically dead. I know of no gamers who actually use facebook actively. It’s not a good place to socialize with friends, and it’s not a good place to play games. Most people’s “friends” on facebook, as has been stated ad nauseum, are just assholes you knew in the past, not people you actually relate to in real life. Ever. Why would you want to play with those people in the first place? That’s why gamers play other stuff, like coop portal, or ArmA, or flight simulators or whatever the hell people play on consoles.

    Social gaming is reserved for gamers. Facebook gamers are content with what they’re getting. Bored single moms don’t have high demands.

  19. zoombapup says:

    I quite enjoyed this comment from romero: ” Even if you get people together, they might not want to do exactly what you want to do. And asynchronicity kind of solves that whole problem.”

    How exactly does asynchronous play help solve the problem? I mean there really is no correlation between the “problems” he states and asynchronous play. Someone wan’t to play the game differently? why would async play be any different than them synchronously playing the game differently?

    Async helps scale server loads out rather than up. That’s what it does. Don’t try and pretend that it does anything particularly beneficial in terms of game design. It COULD be used to offer some async channel of communication (much like we use here in comments, or on twitter, or on forum posts) but that isn’t what we’re talking about.

    If there were any social activities in these games it might be an improvement. Gifting is a good example there. But I’ve seen some “social games” eschew ideas such as gifting because it implies that someone can nullify the grind of another player, which is what pay-for items are about. Imagine if a really hardcore player could gift tons of loot to lesser playing friends? wouldn’t that be social? I’m sure some social games allow it, but I’ve seen plenty that don’t and yet it seems obvious.

    The trouble here isn’t with facebook or the “social” part. Its the cynical development model that seeks to maximize revenue using psychology and metrics-based design that we all know is going on. But those things are not inherently related. You CAN make a social facebook game that is actually social. You can use metrics to make a game that isn’t based on monetization. So maybe we should all pay heed to the ones that don’t try and follow the typical model?

    • frightlever says:

      Maximising profits is cynical when a game company does it, but laudable when it’s an individual asking for a raise from their employer, right? So long as we have perfectly legal gambling and lotteries in most of the Western World, there will be a long list of enterprises, far ahead of social games, that are better at parting folk from their money.

      • Consumatopia says:

        laudable when it’s an individual asking for a raise from their employer

        I guess you consider it laudable when an employee realized that by doing a crappy job they somehow made more money–perhaps even by subtly causing more of the problems they were hired to solve. As long as they can find a way to do so legally then you’re all for it.

        Or, perhaps, in your zeal to defend corporations above all, you misunderstood the parent.

    • Consumatopia says:

      If there were any social activities in these games it might be an improvement. Gifting is a good example there.

      Gifting is “social” but it’s not a “game” anymore than forwarding chain letters is a game. If my actions can only benefit other players in predictable ways (and everything has to be predictable by metrics), then there can’t be any game that isn’t a waste of time.

      You can’t blame the business model alone–outside Facebook, there exist F2P, microtransaction funded, multiplayer games worthy of the word “game”. It *is* something about Facebook or social networks generally that drives companies to produce crappy games. My prime suspect: that everyone knows everyone’s real name and is connected to their real world friends and family. That’s just not compatible with an interesting persistent game.

  20. rustybroomhandle says:

    Well, seeing how social games are meticulously engineered to exploit and prey on our most basic human impulses, much like how serial killers work, that makes them decidedly anti-social.

  21. Premium User Badge Malibu Stacey says:

    John bought gold [in WoW] yesterday for Maezza because she wanted a mount.

    Uh since when was that OK?

    • Durkonkell says:

      Not only is it a violation of the ToS, it’s a wonderful way of getting your account compromised or worse if you were silly enough to give them your credit or debit card details.