Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shh!! 3 Unspoken Lies About Social Games

The inimitable Greg Costikyan wrote an excellent piece for Gamasutra, lambasting Social Games, and claiming that they are in fact not very social at all.

I agree, and thought I'd add two more topics that came up in conversation at Login recently, and in conversations with a couple social games developer friends.

So let's give Greg Credit for calling out the first lie on my list:

Lie #1. Social games are social games. (Truth - they aren't very social at all)

And to this I'll level two more accusations.

Lie #2. Social games are viral. (Truth - they aren't)

Social games are often cited as "viral", or having the opportunity to be so, because of the social network on which they reside. However, short of the early days in which FB allowed apps to spam a user's friends list, this just isn't the case.

Companies like Zynga are rumored to spend many millions on advertising within FB to acquire users, but if the games were truly viral, they would spread on their own, being recommended whole-heartedly by friends via word of mouth.

The fact that few social games have been able to exceed the virality of the average dog-on-skateboard Youtube video - let alone the virality of an Angry Birds - is proof that they aren't viral. (Some examples do come to mind though. Parking wars and Cow Clicker certainly got a lot of watercooler talk.)

Lie #3: Social Game Publishers are building Games, not Products. (Truth - most have little respect for the medium other than as a revenue generator).

I'll cut to the chase: To my knowledge large publishers in this space, like Zynga and Playdom, don't have developer credits listed in their games.

I wasn't able to find them anyway. I had a couple developer friends lament about the fact that there were no game credits and that when they'd asked management at these companies, they'd been told no.

I think that speaks volumes about those publishing these games and what they think of the people working on them, and of their contributions. "It's just a product, and you are just a cog".

There are a few companies out there doing the right thing (I'm looking at you Brenda!), but I fear these are the exception.

With all the excitement around 'Social Games' these days, it's important that we don't delude ourselves about some of the lies being told.

//rant off


Greg said...

Hi, Kim:

Thanks for the shout-out. About credits, though: This is, I think, just an instance of the immaturity of the social games industry. In tabletop gaming, nobody published credits from the inception of the industry in the 19th century until 3M and SPI started publishing them, in the 1960s. In arcade and console gaming, there certainly were no credits in the early years; in home computer gaming, there typically was, because so many early games were one-man operations. But in general, publishers don't like credits, because they want consumers to associate the brand with them, not with any individual; and it's generally whines by developers that cause this to change. Giving in on the credits issue is a cheap way of making your staff happy.

So I agree the lack of credits in social games is a shame; but I suspect it's something that will change with time.

Patrick said...

It is true that most social games exhibit .5-.7 players invited successfully for every acquired player. I have been close to two games that attracted more than 1 player per existing player and thus grew exponentially with little ad spend until reaching saturation between 1 and 2 million DAU. It depends on the motivation one provides.