Social games aren’t social enough, but do we really want more?
Many followers of the social games industry likely feel inundated with the claims that social games are not social enough or they’re downright evil. While I can’t help but agree, I also can’t help but play devil’s advocate. Social connections are used by today’s Facebook games as mere means to an end. Today’s social gamers are only as successful as the amount of dedicated friends they have, regardless of whether those “friends” are genuine. Truth be told, those friends are replaceable. But what if they weren’t?
What if your friends in, say, FrontierVille were more meaningful than just a source of Item X for Goal #458? Imagine a FrontierVille that featured real consequences that could only be resolved through the help of your most dedicated of friends. Say your avatar is bitten by a snake while clearing debris from his homestead. A pop-up appears reading, “Ask yer friends to join together an’ create an antidote or yer as good as gone!”
You have two hours to rally your closest Facebook friends to collaborate in a real-time puzzle mini game to concoct an antidote for the poison. If they can’t create and deliver the medicine in that time, you will die. Don’t worry, they’ll be rewarded with XP and coins for their efforts. Does this sound like fun? How about on the other end? Another scenario: Your friend has the parts to upgrade his General Store, but needs you and three other friends to join him in real time on his homestead to build it. If you can’t respond in six hours, his planks of wood will warp, his nails will rust from time passed and he’ll have to start from scratch. Your friend just wasted 15 thousand coins because you were busy at work, and he’s not happy.
Sure, these two scenarios are wildly extreme. But how else would a developer like Zynga make its games more social while maintaining the urgency that you? We all want social games to make better use of the social connections that Facebook fosters. Yet as Facebook users, it can be enough just to keep in touch with whomever writes on your wall. For friendships in social games to become more meaningful while maintaining profitability–which is no doubt a chief concern for developers–then the urgency to keep playing has to be intensified. And what better way than to put your friends’ enjoyment of the game at stake?
Would social game developers ever attempt such an exploitative tactic? That, of course, has yet to be seen. But it’s the only foreseeable method of creating deeper social connections while raking in the dollars. (Ever notice how dissenters never explain what these “deeper social connections” would be when crying out for them?) Responsibility for your friends’ enjoyment of a game and likewise is a deeper social connection, one that would definitely force a selective hand when choosing allies. But wouldn’t this type of responsibility kill the fun of it? If this is what “deeper social connections” would lead to, then count me out.（source:games）