Don’t Facebook In Anger: Gaming Scams?

Yeah, you try illustrating this one.
I picked this up from Cliffski on Quarter to three, but it’s… well, it’s the sort of thing I think we should all read and talk about. It’s the techcrunch article about the propensity of iffy ways that social-game monetize themselves and is catchily entitled “Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem Of Hell”. It’s incendiary stuff, arguing the whole social-gaming bubble is in a self-enforcing cycle towards the dark side. As in, companies who scam make more money than those which don’t, so they advertise more, so… well, it’s a nasty cycle. By means of balance, the annoyed David Kaye of Meteor Games directs people at another article he considers more balanced. If you’ve had your own experiences with these kind of social gaming, do share.

34 Comments

  1. Railick says:

    I agree with Cliffski the whole face book game system is a huge scam. They all suck you in with addictive game play with the ultimate goal of getting you to spend your hard earned money on some of their special game bucks or what have you. (Or try to suck you into diffrent deals they list at the bottom of that page like applying for a credit card or filling out a bunch of surveys that require you to buy something at the end) People have just taking all that spam mail you get and cramed it into a game so you'll look at it without thinking about it

    YAYZORS, you kilt a dragorn! Now how about increasing the size of your real sword wink wink nudge nudge, click here if you do, want to , you know, increase it size, and you also get free dragon pennies to spend on virtual clothes for your ragnarok kitten.

  2. Tei says:

    New rules of the Internet. Old rules still apply.

    a) If you say “content” you lost the discussion.
    b) If you say “monetization” outside some accouting webpage, you lost the discussion
    c) If you say “virtual gods” you lost the discussion.

    I am unsure about B. Game dev’s deserve to get his inversion back. There are talented people that want to give us his skill, but can’t get our money. So a way to “monetize” his skills is rather good. Is evil wen monetization means _everything_ is a “system” to extract your money from the pockets. I have not problems with buying virtual money …hell… real money is virtual too (your paycheck is just numbers on the bank computer), …what I think is bad is too much “pression” on the gamer, forcing him on a path where advance mean paying more and more and more.. At least with montly fees you know how much you are paying and what get back. So It is always like a fair deal.

    • invisiblejesus says:

      Totally agreed, though I think you might be able to simplify and just say “If you have to use goofy buzz language that no one would use in a normal conversation, you lost the discussion”.

  3. Railick says:

    I have a serious problem with buying virutal money, several actually.

    1) You have no recourse if the game should suddenly fail, taking all your virutal money with it
    2) You have no recourse if some of your virutal money suddenly comes up missing, ever tried to argue wtih an mmorpg companies customer service, imagine THAT but with a face book game companies E-mail dude who probably won't ever e-mail you back :P
    3) Money is better spent on real things, like food ect. If I'm going to spend money on a game I want something I can play until I'm sick of it. 10 dollars for a month worth of MMORPG time is a good deal for me but 10 dollars for 50 in game bucks is NOT.

    When there is a lot of preasure on the gamer to buy the in game money in order to even advance those things above get to be even worse. Ontop of all that you're still giving your credit card info to a company that you don't know for a fact you can trust. Most of these micro-trans free to play otherwise mmorpgs have tons of complaints against them for taking gamers money without giving them anything in return. (and in some cases banning their account when they complain)

    I think people will come around to the scam sooner or later but in the mean time these companies are going to make a ton of money.

  4. Darkelp says:

    I won’t lie, I play Farmville, Mafia wars and Cafe world on Facebook. I enjoy them and find them to be a good way to pass the time.
    But I would never pay for the services, such as in game tokens and coins. If I get to a point when they say ‘To advance please pay £XX now!’ I will simply delete the application from my facebook and not play it again.

    On the other hand though, the recent announcement of Civ being on Facebook is very exciting. Hopefully they won’t go down a similar ‘Pay £xx for more research points!’ way.
    I highly doubt that they will though.

  5. Robin says:

    “You have no recourse if the game should suddenly fail, taking all your virtual money with it”

    That doesn’t sound like a risk that’s limited to virtual currency.

    I think Arrington’s right to call these murky (or at least, very feebly policed) schemes out, but I suspect that his depiction of the entire FB game ecosystem as dependent on these ‘offers’ is probably inaccurate. I’m sure the vast majority of users with any access to a credit card or paypal wouldn’t forego convenience and (percieved) security for the sake of buying a few virtual beans.

  6. Heliosicle says:

    Only game I’ve ever played on FB is bejewelled, thats it…

    I prefer good games…

  7. Heliocentric says:

    I get suggested games from games, i open them see they are crap close and remove them.

    Apart from the tetris one(likely one of millions of tetris games) i have which is too legit to quit. RPS linked it once while i had it, so i’m cooler than them.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Remove “games from games” substitute with “games from friends”

    • Darkelp says:

      I do admit the whole ‘Blah blah has just bought a tree!’ is extremely annoying and stupid.
      Luckily they have the option to not send them.

  8. Clovis says:

    If these games are so interesting, and addictive, that people will actually fill out surveys and sign up for credit cards, then shouldn’t some other company manage to sell something similar for like $10 and you get to play the whole game?

    Maybe this will be just a weird phase in the developement of this type of game. I’m guessing that a huge number of the players don’t play many other games. The game had to be “free” in order for them to even start. Then to make money they had to come up with these schemes.

    Well, now there are millions of people who know they like this crap. It seems like a rival company could compete with a “pay $5 for full access” deal or something.

  9. Sporknight says:

    Well, one way to look at it is that if these people are dumb enough to spend their money on that sort of thing, they don’t deserve to hold onto it. We might call games like these “addictive”, but really, are people going to end up with “Farmville addictions” on the scale of legitimate gambling addictions, where they end up blowing their life savings on virtual potato crops? I don’t think so.

    I think the first article really blows things out of proportion. I’d like to see some hard facts, really, on how many people play these things and how many pay to play, and what sort of revenue this is generating.

  10. Railick says:

    I don't really check my alerts on face book any more. I've got about 200 waiting for me to check them now. Thank goodness it breaks them down into sub-categories so I can tell which one are friends requests from old friends and which ones are my gay friend (literally) sending me more strange gifts or my addictive personality friend sending me 4000 things from mafia wars :P

  11. Sinnerman says:

    Any of these products built on network effect rather than good game design make me feel like a rat in a cage. Give me that old time religion, don’t give me no affliction. You would think that there has to be some point to them other than capturing new users and monetizing them but I can’t see any reason to play them.

  12. V says:

    1) You have no recourse if the game should suddenly fail, taking all your virutal money with it

    That holds true for many online services, not just games and not just ones that use offers and surveys as a payment method. Part of the deal is that you have to weigh your risks. Personally, if I unload $10 into a game and months later it goes belly up, I’m not going to cry about it. Maybe if I’d sunk $50 I’d be peeved. It’s a personal threshold.

    2) You have no recourse if some of your virutal money suddenly comes up missing, ever tried to argue wtih an mmorpg companies customer service, imagine THAT but with a face book game companies E-mail dude who probably won’t ever e-mail you back :P

    I work for an online game company that uses these offers. If a player complains to us about missing currency, we fix it for them unless it’s obvious that they’re trying to scam us. We fix it. We don’t give them the runaround or fail to get back to them. We can’t be the only company that behaves this way. So maybe you had a bad experience somewhere, but that doesn’t hold water as a reason that this payment method shouldn’t exist anywhere.

    3) Money is better spent on real things, like food ect. If I’m going to spend money on a game I want something I can play until I’m sick of it. 10 dollars for a month worth of MMORPG time is a good deal for me but 10 dollars for 50 in game bucks is NOT.

    That’s your call. Other people prefer something else. It’s their money (or time), and they can do as they please with it. I don’t think you can really back up the argument that spending money on an MMO subscription is “right” and microtransactions/offers/surveys are “wrong.” Wrong for you, maybe!

    You might want to take a look at this blog post by Gambit, one of the companies that sources these offers and surveys: link to blog.getgambit.com.

  13. Railick says:

    Fair enough V

  14. Lyndon says:

    Ah dudes the problem here isn’t the virtual money it’s that the devs are doing lead gen for skeazy sons of bitches.

    Sure you’re not going to spend real money on farm points but you might fill out a survey for “free” points. The survey then asks for your mobile number so that it can send you your score. Once they have your mobile number they can charge you a ten dollar a month fee without you realising.

    This is much more serious than the usual “virtual money is a rip off” thing.

  15. go says:

    I thought I’d bring up another point I’ve noticed about these types of game. although traditionally they are viewed as “easy to the point of being pointless” to the game literate, they are in fact a real challenge to some, even if it is via an obtuse menu and superfluous aesthetic options. This “difficulty”, by design or mis-disign, adds a certain psychological kick whenever the player triumphs over it, giving an added reason to recall this action than if it had been straightforward. A more “games conscious player” would probably give up at that point recognising it as a design fault, but y’average facebook user would probably rank it as a major triumph over a machine that rarely gives out such praise for successfully navigating a menu system (unlike all the other things non-gamers use a computer for).

    The actual “game” bit of the content seems far closer to a fruit machine that flashes a symbolic *WIN*WIN*WIN* after a set amount of interaction, and new funds flow into the player’s virtual pockets . Whether this can be converted into a positive consumerist frame of mind or just a compulsion to have another go seems to be the major objectives of the genre.

    Whether or not the prizes being offered are a further con or not seems to miss the very core of what these games are about. It’s casino time. All bets are off.

    ….I’ll get my tin hat.

  16. Railick says:

    You do realize that the entire tin hat thing is actaully a government propaganda plot to convince people to put ON tin hats, allowing them to target you more easily with their plasma beams that can control your mind. As you already know all the con-trails in the sky left by fake government airliners allow them to beam plasma up into the atmopshere from high energy arrays on the ground (like the HAARP Thing) Once they're up their they home in on your brain with the tin hat and alter your thoughts to make you do things you wouldn't normally do. Then again if you DON'T Wear the tin hat then the aliens WILL be able to read your mind and change your thoughts so you're kind of in trouble either way ;)

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    • golden_worm says:

      Proof, if proof be need be. Maybe so, but the high number of shill or shill like comments in the related threads makes me paranoid. Not, you of course. I totally trust you.

      (I posted under the name “go” in error, damn netbook keyboards)

  17. Railick says:

    Proof that I'm correct about Tinfoil hats
    link to theregister.co.uk

    :P muwahaha

  18. heartlessgamer says:

    The point should be that games don’t need to scam us. Make a good game and ask players to pay for it honestly. Making a free game that can’t be supported without tricking players into scams is NOT a business model, its borderline fraud.

    Making a free game that spurs players to spend money legitimately is a business model.

    Thus, I don’t play any Facebook games. Some are very well thought out, but they have grown beyond their developers ability to support them and that leads to where they are now.

  19. Flimgoblin says:

    Such hate for the social gaming.
    The companies running, or associating themselves with these scams are pretty reprehensible. They either need to sort themselves out, Facebook does, or some regulation needs to be put in place to sort them out.
    But that doesn't mean social gaming is bad. These sorts of surveys exist for other rewards – people fill in surveys for amazon vouchers or whatever. SMS scams have been around for as long as SMS billing – less so these days (in the UK anyway) because they have been regulated. Too many kids getting themselves signed up to reverse charging SMS subscriptions without realising it.
    A good Facebook game (at least to me) seems to combine some sort of sim city/sims vibe with either indirect or direct competition with your friends (e.g. "my restaurant/farm/whatever looks better than yours") or cooperatively ("my mafia family can trounce that punk who put a hit out on us"). It's not twitch-reflex-gunning things down (hmm, quakelive on facebook, that'd be nifty ;)) and it's not 20 hours of intensely scripted and voice acted story but it's still a game… more so than just a fruit machine or a roll of a dice (which, technically, are games too :P but of little appeal to many without a bit of money behind it)

  20. EER says:

    I played farmville for a while, was annoyed by the constant nagging of the game having me tell my friends “I planted a tree, come see it now!”. After a day or two I found myself asking ‘why the hell am I playing this anyway?’, and quit.

    As for the scams, I don’t know. Whoever fills in their phone number to get an IQ test result … probably failed the test.

  21. Kommissar Nicko says:

    There’s something insidious about the text-message angle. On the one hand, I shun the telephone as one should the mutant, the heretic, and the unclean, so it’s not an issue for me. On the other hand, I’m a discerning fellow who knows what kind of information will lead to disaster, what kind will lead to spam, and what kind will lead to me getting what I want; text-messaging some nonsense never really registered in my mind as a potential way to get screwed. At least, it’s a little less obvious than “fork over your credit information!” or “give us your Social Security Number!” (I dunno what you Brits do, what with your face-recognizing closed-circuit cameras and Fingermen, but in America, the SSN is essentially your super-secret personal dentification code that everyone mysteriously wants to know but shouldn’t ask for.)

    Good thing I don’t do social networking. I hate everyone I know.

  22. rnx says:

    don’t really mind the virtual good thing … some people seem to prefer it.
    but the constant pressure to harass your friends … pure evil.

  23. Rook says:

    Here’s the other side to this argument by someone involved in the advertising, and how they think that once the real industry catches up to the potential of targeting ads in facebook, they’ll muscle out the scammers. link to techcrunch.com

  24. Railick says:

    I have to ask strangers for their SSN all day long, I've gotten very good at it actaully. trying to convince old people to give up their SSN is like trying to convince a rabid dog to give your leg back.

  25. Chris Smutny says:

    Kieron,

    I appreciate the attention you are bringing to this.

    I think this conversation will help improve our young industry. We’re listening intently to feedback from users, publishers, advertisers, and our platform partners. Please check out what we’re doing to continue to improve our performance at link to srpoints.com. We’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can improve further.

    Chris Smutny
    Super Rewards

  26. Ayekay says:

    So, I run a tiny wee indie social games startup. We agree with some of the things people said above, roughly, to this extent:

    1. A lot of the text-based social network RPGs treat their players with open contempt. Peck the space bar nine hundred times and get a different gun graphic.
    2. A lot of them have no gameplay to speak of.
    3. A lot of them are like giant spam machines of spam.

    We wanted to build a game with really interesting content, basic but noticeable gameplay, and an opt-in spam policy. We think it’s doable. I’m not here to shill, well technically I suppose I am, but the beta’s basically full at the moment so it’s pretty ineffective shilling. I lost my thread, it’s very late. Ah yes.

    If the experience is *minimally* interactive and has a halfway decent narrative, it’s no worse than working through the kiddy-level puzzles in Dreamfall. Which was a great, satisfying experience. The difference is that you play a casual SNG for a few mins a day, come back tomorrow, have a sense of the passage of time, see the nice new content. Like a webcomic with more clicking. Or if you’re one of the 3% who want to rush through it, get your card out. It’s no different from paying from extra content on the web.

    The offers scams are nasty, but it’s basically Michael Arrington getting exciteable for link-bait, as he does. It’s a problem, it’s not a massive problem, the big players will sort it out because they can’t afford not to. Roll on a nice friendly iTunes-like micropayment platform which will allow us to charge people 5p painlessly for a peek under our content’s skirts.

    Don’t judge the SNGs of tomorrow by what you’re seeing right now. Brian Reynolds works for Zynga now. Brian Reynolds! Soren Johnson is working on a casual web game. These are real game designers, people.

    • Vinraith says:

      “Brian Reynolds works for Zynga now.”

      Really? God that’s depressing.

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