Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gaming Facebook Games

Michael Hartman of Brighthub wrote a very angry rant about Facebook games. Quote:
When I play a Facebook game, I feel less and less like a gamer and more and more like an employee of the developer's marketing division. It feels like half my gameplay time is spent sending messages to friends, asking friends to click on links, inviting friends to play, or otherwise pimping the game in one way or another.EXAMPLE: In The Sims Social, you cannot build rooms, buy certain types of furniture, advance certain quests, or do much of anything without the direct contribution of your friends. I'm serious.

If you have ever played any of the "real" Sims games, just think about how absurd that is. Think of every single time you built a new room, advanced one of your "wishes", or did a whole host of other core gameplay elements. Now imagine instead of actually getting to do those things, you had to wait until 2 to 10 friends:

1.Happened to be online.
2.Happened to be checking your messages.
3.Happened to have the same game installed.
4.Happened to feel like clicking the link.

What a titantic PAIN IN THE NECK. I just want to build a room for crying out loud! Why do I need permission from 10 of my friends to keep playing this game?

Why do they do this? Simple. They want your friends to see these constant wall posts of yours asking for help. They want you to beg your friends to install the game so they'll click on the links that let you trudge inexorably forward in the game.
Of course he is totally right. Needing the permission from 10 of your friends to keep playing is infuriating. But what if those friends not only had to come online and click on a link? What if to advance you'd need your friends to be online at the same time as you, doing the same activity in the same game as you for a continuous block of several hours? Then you'd be raiding in a MMORPG. :)

The chances that among your real-life close friends there are a sufficient number who actually want to help you with your various game chores is slim. Which is why guilds in MMORPGs have reverse social engineered the problem a long time ago: If you don't have enough friends who want to raid, you simply seek out the people who want to raid, and declare them your new friends!

And as we've seen that Facebook games actually require much less effort from your "friends" than a MMORPG does, the same trick works there even better. You don't pimp a game to your friends, you pimp your virtual friendship to people who happen to play the same game. Problem solved. Just like in a guild your fellow raiders need you as much as you need them, the players of Facebook games all need each other. You usually get a list of game requests when you start the game, and clicking through them is a matter of seconds. With very little effort you quickly make all of your "friends" happy, and thus don't have to feel embarrassed if a bit later you find you need to spam them with your requests. It's a click for a click, a simple deal that benefits all involved. Except of course for the marketing people who had hoped you'd pimp their game to some of your real friends.

Developers design reward systems to make players behave in a certain manner. But that only works on some players. Other players look at the reward system, and quickly find out how to game it to their best advantage. That is the very thing that makes online games so interesting to observe. Emerging player behavior in response to some rule system. And because game rules are different from real life rules, one even has the chance to observe modes of behavior that don't exist in real life. Albeit not in this case: If your real-life friends don't want to play tennis with you, you'd join a tennis club and make new friends in real life too.

I do think that the latest generation of Facebook games has gone a bit too far in how much you either need to have help from your "friends" or as an alternative how much money you have to spend to advance if you don't have enough friends. In Adventure World I'm working on my second tool shed upgrade, and if I'm not willing to get 75 clicks from friends, I'd need to pay 50 bucks for the upgrade. Which is rather ridiculous. And probably counter-productive, as this is way beyond what most people would actually be willing to spend. Lower prices would be a lot more profitable, because then friends or cash would actually look like viable alternatives. As it is, we'll just see the evolution of something like "guilds" on Facebook, interest groups of strangers banding together to game the social requirements of the games.

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