Social Gaming is a million sharks

05Oct11

 

 

 

On how social gaming companies are sniffing out the scent of desire and homing directly in on it.

 

 

This was originally posted on 16th September 2011 

It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.

Like Skynet, the fictional self aware network from Terminator 2, social games and the new wave of companies making them are learning at a geometric rate. What we are seeing with social games is games as a business first, trying and testing and refining and exploiting different genres at phenomenal speed with no regard for traditional hangups and legacy cliches of the traditional games industry. Often because they don’t know very much about the traditional videogame industry. They have no problem with providing exactly what is wanted by the audience, regardless of how it’s perceived by ‘gamers’.

In the process, social game makers have struck oil and brought into the public eye huge audiences who like playing games but aren’t traditional gamers. These people are paying lots of money to these companies! In what seems the very definition of consenting adult behaviour, these companies are facilitating the easy transfer of money from these people in exchange for things they want – or at least as easy as possible while bending to the will of the lunch money demanding Facebook and their credit system.


The internet before people went there.

Short, controlled bursts

One indie game designer/maker wrote fairly recently that they don’t make games to monetise the bored, referring instead to some higher ideal (something about fun, ownership, maybe love). A romantic notion, but also almost word for word what all game makers do: monetise bored people. Of course what they meant was their games are better, less mediocre than banal and cynical than freemium crap. Depending on how you measure ‘better’ then sure, but what is the point attempting to be made here? The Wire might be ‘better’ than The X Factor and The Fat Duck might be ‘better’ than KFC. They are different products that co-exist within the same industry.

The urge amongst gamers to dictate what is okay to be seen enjoying isn’t unique to gaming but it does seem to be especially prevalent. Gamers and game makers offhandedly dismiss social/casual games as ‘Skinner boxes’ and feel compelled to tell people they are wrong for playing or liking games like Tiny Tower. “They are pointless.” they say. “A waste of time.”, “Barely even a game.” Gamers are so used to living by arbitrary conventions rather than questioning them that they’ve created a set of complicated rules around their hobby. If you don’t know the secret handshake then you can’t come in. David Sirlin labels people who play by these sorts of self inflicted rules in fighting games as ‘scrubs’.

Maybe his visual acuity is based on movement.

While traditional game makers are wondering what all of it means for them and whether or not the bad men will force him to put some horrible things in his game, something is happening. Social casual gaming is getting closer to traditional gaming, but only where it makes sense to. It will inevitably get closer, but only where it makes sense to. The worry for traditional game makers isn’t that the current wave of social games are stealing their audience. Their worry should be that if social gaming companies start encroaching on ‘real’ games territory, how much they’ll decide is worth taking.

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