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Posted by edoron | March - 25 - 2011 | 3 Comments

Abstract: Facebook games are extremely successful, because they are actually “casual” games with built-in viral distribution mechanisms, and not because they are really “social”. You are playing near your friends, not with your friends.

I’ve been playing computer games since 1986 and I’ve been occasionally developing games since 1991. I’ve played almost every conceivable genre and I’ve worked on many games and gaming related projects, including 2D, 3D, isometric, single-player, multi-player, casual, MMORPGs, Facebook… you name it.

In recent years, like everyone else, I’ve been playing various “social” games on Facebook. Games like Farmville, CityVille and Mafia Wars by Zynga, Happy Island by CrowdStar, Country Story and Pet Society by Playfish… and others. Most of these games are fun, albeit a bit too simplistic.  At some point I realized that these games are not at all social. If I have to distill it into one sentence: the social interaction in these games is mostly limited to begging your friends to click.

Let’s analyze the types of “social” behavior these games support and encourage:

1. Wall posts (sharing). Purpose and use:

- Asking friends to help you out by clicking.

- Bragging about in game accomplishments.

2. Sending Facebook Requests. Purpose and use:

- Asking friends to help you out by clicking.

- Inviting friends to play.

3. Comparing scores and achievements with your friends. Purpose and use:

- Bragging about in game accomplishments.

4. Visiting the game area of your friends (without ever meeting them). Purpose and use:

- Some kind of forced sense of togetherness.

Do these interactions warrant the title “social games”?

I don’t think so.

What kind of interactions will warrant this title?

I think that for a game to be called “social” it needs to support true “face to face” interactions with other human users. This should include seeing other players (or avatars) and communicating in person. All of these must be accomplished not through time shifted Facebook requests and wall posts, but rather in real time.

But wait… such games do exist…

It all started with Meridian 59, EverQuest and Ultima Online, then more recently with the likes of World of Warcraft, Habo Hotel, RuneScape, Dofus, Aion, Lineage and many others. I’d say these massively multiplayer on-line games (MMO / MMORPG) are the real “social games”. In these games users actually meet and interact with other users and not just send canned messages to one another.

3 Responses so far.

  1. Johnny says:

    Very good analysis Doron. However, I guess you are always going to have the other
    side defend that their games are social. Thanks for the post!

  2. rob fulop says:

    I certainly agree with your assertion that what we call “social games” are not terribly social. I wouldn’t even call many of them “games” actually. In my personal definition of a “game”, something needs to be getting in the way of the game player achieving their “goal” in the game. But in something like Farmville, not only is there any particular “goal” … there is really nothing getting in the way of me achieving that goal other than needing to have enough virtual “points” in my account, which I can purchase at any time with my credit card.

    So these games are not “social”, nor are they really “games”.

    How about we start calling them “extremely profitable leisure time activities”?

    Because whatever we call them, all I know is that the numbers being generated by the successful “activities” in the genre you are talking about here are out of control … like you I’ve been in the games business for a great many years, and we have always talking about the ubiquitous “mass market” for games and what “they” want when it comes to entertainment that appeals to a large cross section of the population.

    In the case of a game like Farmville, obviously “the masses” have spoken and this is what the masses want … call it whatever you will … like it or not .. the “collect all the stuff” genre is looking like it will remain a permanent fixture in the gaming landscape, easily surpassing RPG-style gaming, or anything else for that matter.

  3. edoron says:

    I can live with “extremely profitable leisure time activities”. :)

    I think that these games finally cracked the holy grail of computer gaming: “games” that appeal to women and non-gamers.