Friends: A different kind of resource
It’s now clear that when we’re moving into Social Games, our online friends are a fundamental part of our gaming experience. The fact that gaming is a social activity is nothing new to any games scholar, but how this social activity gets transformed by taking place in social network sites is something that should be further investigated. This was the idea behind my presentation at the IR11.0 in Gothenburg in October 2010 during a panel session on gaming in social networking sites together with Olli Sotamaa and Lisbeth Klastrup.
The hypothesis is that specific social games work using different kind of underlying social mechanisms. A couple of concepts taken from the social capital studies could help us understanding this point. We usually make a distinction between bridging activities and bounding activities: Bridging activities are those aimed at enlarging the group by bringing in new members or by establishing connections with different groups. On the opposite, bounding activities aim at strengthening the existing group by reinforcing the connections among the members.
If we try to see how these dynamics can apply within social games, we end up with the following kind of distinction:
There are games based on collaboration (FarmVille, Pet Society, etc.) where friends are used as in-game resources: The more friends you’ve got that play the game, the more benefits you will have.
On the opposite, we find games based on direct competition (Biggest Brain, Bejeweld, etc.) where friends are your competitors and you keep playing the game as long as you’re having fun challenging them.
Collaboration-based games seem to work with an underlying bridging dynamic, while competitive games seem to work with a bounding dynamic.
This is what emerges from an online survey on social gamers; it describes two completely different experiences of social-gaming activities among players of competition-based games on the one side and among those of collaboration-based games on the other.
While both competitive and collaboration games push the users to invite their friends into the game, collaboration games push the users to add new friends “because of the games” (48% of collaboration gamers have added new friends because of the game, against only 23% of competitive gamers).
In comparison, competitive games seem to work better as tools to manage and communicate social status within your already existing network: 50% of competitive game players share their game-achievements with their friends, while only 32% of collaboration-game players do the same.
Can these different underlying social activities be used to explain the time-life of social games and how they propagate through the social network sites? One corollary hypothesis could be that games based on bridging/collaboration spread faster than games based on bounding/competition (which tend to stay within smaller/closer circles of friends). Obviously, social games are always more complex products, showing mixed elements of both collaboration and competition, but I believe that some conceptual tools like social capital are always useful to understand what’s going on. (Source: Social Game Studies)