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The Cruel Mathematics
September 30, 2011 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Tim Rogers has written a long piece about the evils of social gaming and the mechanics of getting players to pay for virtual items. This, in reaction to certain mechanics in the new facebook mega-game, The Sims Social, which Tim has also reviewed, calling it "A Love Letter from a Computer Virus"
posted by hellojed (78 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tim Rogers? A long piece? GET OUT OF TOWWWWN
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:06 AM on September 30, 2011


It's interesting, but I need a lot less texture and a lot more information. Which is a fancy way of saying "it hooked me for 5 minutes but not for 10." Which is a cute way of saying "tl;dr." Or maybe "I am not his audience." But I giggled at "Tap your gorilla!" which is way funnier than "Tap the gorilla!" for some reason. Maybe I will think about that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:14 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tim Rogers? A computer game? I was born and raised on Hourly Daily, and that guy has NOTHING to say about electonic culture. He's stuck with his tried and tested retro sounds throughout his long and successful career, and if the warm sound of valve amplifiers are good enough for You Am I, they're good enough for me.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:16 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really really wanted to read this, the FPP itself is great - the perfect teaser to make one want to click to find out more.

Then I got stuck here:

The smaller of the men

There's something not quite right with that phrase.
posted by infini at 6:23 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to see more on this subject; on the reasons why game designers feel uneasy about making social games. Here are my reasons:

With few exceptions (Facebook Civ comes to mind), social games are a soul/money/time suck, with little fun or challenge to be had. The design on these games is so thin it's threadbare. The emperor has no game mechanic, and yet every company out there is slavering over Facebook games. Companies like Zynga are raising so much money, they're hiring friends of mine away from their dream jobs at Disney for 40% more than they were earning before. 40%! Over a Disney salary! The money involved is changing the landscape of family friendly gaming, at least from where I'm sitting. Even people who understand how it's ethically dubious to create a Pavlovian pellet dispenser (ratio rate reenforcer?) are sucked in. I don't blame them. The money is too good.

I will say this: this is a bubble, and it WILL crash. There is too much money put into it right now. For me, I just hope my friends in that part of the industry have a plan B.
posted by erinfern at 6:37 AM on September 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


You all sure about this? Ignoring poor turns of phrase this guy has a point. I mean... I can give you a real world example right now or this effect.

I'm playing Swords and Potions right now on kongregate. It is, ostensibly, a very shallow MMO where you "compete" with other players to be a successful retail shop owner. The way the game is set up you have a few tiers of bits to spend to get stuff. There's gold, "edgebee" tokens and improvement points.

Gold comes to you as you sell off your wares (armor, potions, weapons, musical instruments etc ad nauseum). You make wares by having your tailor or carpenter or blacksmith or sorceress craft them. These cost resources which you spend gold on. You can also spend gold by making improvements to your shop without which the game is nearly impossible to advance through. Improvements are stat buffs for your avatar (the shop) and your employees. But, when you start putting in improvements by spending gold you need improvement points.

Improvement points slowly build up as your employees make stuff. But, here's the kicker, except for a few edge cases the only way to spend your improvement points is on the shop improvements that other players in your guild have pending.

If you want improvements without being in a guild, or waiting, you have to spend tokens. You also have to spend tokens to play uninterrupeted for more than a free in-game days. You have to spend tokens to get the power items that make you LOTS of money.

Now, the game let's you look at the rankings board and there are players who are raking in weekly receipts of more than eight million gold.

I'm sure we can all see where this is going but I'll lay it out... The ONLY way that those leader ranking players could have got there was by spending money on the game OUTSIDE of the game. Putting actual dollars, or euro, or yen into the hands of the owners of the Kongregate website. In order to get Kongregate Kreds, to spend on Edgebee tokens.

So, what I'm saying is let's actually debate this fellows paper on it's merits rather than some silly idea about what the author does or does not know about current digital environments.
posted by Severian at 6:41 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


figure one: satan.

This.
posted by chavenet at 6:45 AM on September 30, 2011


I kept thinking this was meant as some kind of performative example of what he was talking about, that a screen somewhere near the bottom of each digressive, wandering page was going to ask me to pay 300 gold coins to get to the point sooner. But either online articles haven't been as finely tuned as Skinner-box online "games" or else I'm the rube who keeps clicking, hoping to get the thing for free.
posted by RogerB at 6:46 AM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


are you treasurer of your own currency, listener

seriously though fuck "social gaming"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:47 AM on September 30, 2011


Geocities is alive and well it seems.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:51 AM on September 30, 2011


Oh, right. Tim Rogers. Wish he'd change his name to something that'd stick in my memory better, like "Tim Don't Read Any More Rambling Unedited Essays By Me."
posted by RogerB at 6:53 AM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Severian, you made an excellent point concisely, which I understood and i agree with you. Can you point me to other material in this topic area as well written as your comment?
posted by infini at 6:54 AM on September 30, 2011


Thanks for the complement, I think. Can I point you at another example? Not without more extensive research. Is my example anything more than an anecdote? No. Am I wrong? HECK NO.

This article by Tim Rogers IS long winded. But, if the rest of us are discarding the content because of the wrapper... Well... *shrug*

I don't know what to tell you.


I do know of at least one TED talk where the topic was the "gamification" where you got points for making "good" choices. Points that could ostensibly be spent on coupons for shopping or whathaveyou. And there was an FPP here on the blue about a week or so ago about "gamificaiton". The posters to that FPP were as equally dismissive or disgusted by the content as I'm sure this thread will turn out to be.
posted by Severian at 7:00 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Games that have your credit card on file should be handled with the same legislative severity as gambling.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 7:06 AM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Social gaming" is like a pinata full of cancer.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:08 AM on September 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


I knew this thread was going to be a test of whether metafilter hates Tim Rogers or Farmville more.
posted by empath at 7:09 AM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


That shuld be... The TED talk was on a proposed gamification of day to day living. Where you would get points for making "good" decisions. Such as brushing your teeth, biking to work rather than driving. That sort of thing.


Of course, how you define good may not be how the game designer defines good.
posted by Severian at 7:10 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't the social media bubble already popping/deflating?

Portal and Portal 2 are imho the style of game most worth developing, i.e. interesting and spectacularly well done fixed-time-comitment puzzle games with a real time component. Yes, $50 sounds rather steep for 10--20 hours of play. Yet, isn't paying more to get more enjoyment in less time better?
posted by jeffburdges at 7:11 AM on September 30, 2011


At some point in the distant history dice were invented. Not long after there were gambling games. Pretty soon after that I'm sure there were gambling games that ensure the "house" got a "rake". Card games no doubt went through a similar process.

Now we are on to computer games. These folks are bothered because they realize that the same talents that help them make something for enjoyment can also be used to create a predictable money extraction machine. It isn't much different from becoming a mechanical engineer fifty years ago thinking you might get to make medical life saving equipment and then finding yourself designing parts for slot machines. Except, it seems to be a much bigger stake of the whole industry.

This is clearly some part a harmless way to get people to pay for their entertainment and some part praying on certain folks addictive behavior. I'm sure within a year we'll start getting the media pile on of articles about people who lost their job, family and are losing their house to foreclosure because they are addicted to these sorts of games.

All that said, the article just kept going with no clear position or direction, so I have no idea what was after page five or six.
posted by meinvt at 7:13 AM on September 30, 2011


I think Tim Rogers is interesting actually, but when I read this article I was just struck with the impression that he didn't think that his critique really mattered. I mean obviously he wouldn't think his article would get people to stop making social games, but it just felt like criticism that didn't even believe in itself as criticism. Also hella unedited.
posted by silby at 7:13 AM on September 30, 2011


Writing quality aside, there's a valid point buried in there. I find it incredibly sad that inventing a new addiction and then feeding it is more profitable than providing anything of real value.
posted by Wemmick at 7:17 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, I would debate that I am getting enjoyment out of this type of game. I'm trying to watch myself from outside the context of the game while playing this game. I feel like I'm in an addiction based need/satisfaction response cycle rather than a game/challenge/enjoyment based "hey that was fun!" response cycle while playing this game.

In a way the feed-the-meter aspects of this type of game have more in common with a slot machine than an actual challenge game.
posted by Severian at 7:17 AM on September 30, 2011


Gah, I need to do more editing myself it seems:

"I would debate the assumption that I'm getting enjoyment out of this game"

Is what I meant to type.
posted by Severian at 7:24 AM on September 30, 2011


everything is numbers

there is no escape from the systems of control, there isnt even anything outside them
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:29 AM on September 30, 2011


But, if the rest of us are discarding the content because of the wrapper... Well... *shrug*

I am discarding the content because trying to read more than a paragraph of white text on a light purple background makes me want to scoop my eyes out with a spoon.

More seriously, though--I don't know anything about the author, but I feel like this article could've been written by someone more... technologically savvy? He tries to make some decent points at the end, but it's so hard to get to them when he spends half the article marveling at how his Sim's bed keeps unmaking itself.
posted by Stephanie Duy at 7:40 AM on September 30, 2011


I was going to roll my eyes at the design complaints until I tried to read it myself

It won't fix the writing quality if you've got a problem with that, but as for the other stuff, Readability is your friend.


Though it would be amazing if there was a bookmarklet that changed the style of an article whose style you didn't like but that had content you were interested in. Of course that will never happen because the greatest minds of our generations are spending their times trying to figure out how to get monkeys to collect coins. (Not sure if I meant, in games or by creating them, maybe both.)

posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:49 AM on September 30, 2011


(For what it's worth, I actually don't have a problem with the writing style, for at least all that I've read so far.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:51 AM on September 30, 2011


also tim rogers talks kind of nutty but i get the sense he actually cares about things, which is nice i think
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:20 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


With few exceptions (Facebook Civ comes to mind), social games are a soul/money/time suck, with little fun or challenge to be had.

I'm afraid to ask. How is Facebook Civ different?

The design on these games is so thin it's threadbare. The emperor has no game mechanic, and yet every company out there is slavering over Facebook games.

I want to be a fly on the wall of some game designers' convention where the Zynga hacks somehow end up crossing paths with the German Board Game people.

GBG designer: "Catan? Do not speak to me of Catan. It was but a necessary evil to divert the minds of North Americans from their Game of Life, their Risk, their *shudder* Monopoly. We shall not tolerate such randomness."

Zynga hack: "Have you tried getting them to click more?"
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:22 AM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


white text on a light purple background

Clicking the button on the top of the page will cycle between different backgrounds.
posted by Bangaioh at 8:59 AM on September 30, 2011


I'm afraid to ask. How is Facebook Civ different?

It's an actual game. That is to say, its players have to weigh decisions and make choices in order to do well at it. Even more fundamentally, the game affords the possibility to DO well or poorly. It's one of the the exceptions to the rule: there can be social games that are engrossing and fun.

I mostly have a problem with the games that take people's money without giving them anything in return but instant gratification (as opposed to delayed). They're empty, zombie games, made for empty, zombie people. Click, click click. No skill, no choices, no thinking. The interesting point that this article buries is that most players aren't that into these games. Casinos are kept afloat by the players who can't walk away from the tables, and this isn't any different. They aren't making money off of 90 percent (or more) of their players...it's the players who are truly addicted who are driving up these IPOs.

Problem is, this kind of "gotcha, sucker" business model is going to hit a wall pretty fast, if these companies don't start designing games with, say, actual content. There are only so many dopes in the world, and their pockets aren't so very deep.
posted by erinfern at 9:24 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry we're dismissing the point as Metafilter snarking but the fact remains that the best ideas in the world will not be digested, much less ingested if they are served up in an unpalatable inedible form.
posted by infini at 9:27 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will say this: this is a bubble, and it WILL crash.

Agreed. It is one of the most obvious bubbles I've seen. Of course, if I told people involved with it this they'd just tell me how old and decrepit I and my opinions are.

At DragonCon I attended a couple of panels given by Richard Garriott, creator of Ultima, and he thinks this is the "third revolution" in gaming, after Solo and MMORPG. I don't know, I mean I haven't been in space and I'm not friends with Tracy Hickman, but that this is a bubble just seems obvious to me. MMORPGs feel faddish too; most of them don't really have that much more in the way of play mechanics than social games.

If there is any saving of social gaming, I think it's going to have to be through adding real gameplay and fun things. The novelty of endless upgrade loops and asking people to pay money for piddly things cannot be endless.

As for Tim Rogers -- I've seen some terribly long and self-indulgent things written by him, but I learned of Katamari Damacy from him, and he wrote an incredibly ringing tribute to Earthbound, so I can't hate on him too bad.
posted by JHarris at 9:35 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry we're dismissing the point as Metafilter snarking but the fact remains that the best ideas in the world will not be digested, much less ingested if they are served up in an unpalatable inedible form.

Tim Rogers is rather an acquired taste, but not everything needs to be for everybody.
posted by empath at 9:36 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


At DragonCon I attended a couple of panels given by Richard Garriott, creator of Ultima, and he thinks this is the "third revolution" in gaming, after Solo and MMORPG.

I can't imagine that anybody who is making these games thinks they're actually producing anything of value.
posted by empath at 9:37 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


RogerB: Thank you for reminding me about that article. Tim Rogers, sticking it to the man by refusing to engage in the 'good morning' ritual. We'll see him standing in front of a tank next.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:39 AM on September 30, 2011


I knew this thread was going to be a test of whether metafilter hates Tim Rogers or Farmville more.

This might be the first time I have read Tim Rogers, so I don't think I hate him. On the other hand, I had trouble finding his point in all the words and weird flourishes. On yet another hand, I like Lovecraft, so perhaps it's rich of me to make that criticism. On the other another hand, I used some of his "spacing out rewards" comments to illustrate a point earlier this morning, so maybe I took away more than I thought. On the other other another hand, "Tap your gorilla!" heeee.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:39 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Metafilter: I can't imagine anybody [...] thinks they're actually producing anything of value.
posted by Fraxas at 9:43 AM on September 30, 2011


That shuld be... The TED talk was on a proposed gamification of day to day living. Where you would get points for making "good" decisions. Such as brushing your teeth, biking to work rather than driving. That sort of thing.

This is what the article reminded me of, too. And you gotta think than gamification will, odds are, proceed more or less like "social games" seem to have. Luckily, I can ignore the gaping maw that is "social gaming;" what about if it starts ensnaring reality?

It'll a) be run by the government, and while I'm a staunch Lefty, the concept of the government directly setting people's incentives, one by one every day is terrifying, even if it's well-intentioned, or

b) run by corporations, who will be solely trying to get people to behave in such a way that they get money.

No thanks.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:44 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, the piece meanders a lot and is a bit precious, but if you're willing to just read the good parts, here they are:

Part 3: on the "energy" mechanic in social games

and

Epilogue, captioned images from The Sims Social, quite funny I thought.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:45 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I got the feeling there were two good essays hiding in there that should have come out separately. One that analyses the way these games are made addictive without being full of polemics, and something you could have people who play them read and that would, one hopes, make them think about whether they are spending their time and money sensibly. And another one with his thoughts about good game design and how to make genuinely engaging and interesting games. As it was, I didn't always know what exactly I was reading, but there were sure a lot of words. But I did come out with some new thoughts, so it didn't all go to waste.
posted by tykky at 9:49 AM on September 30, 2011


I write reviews on my parenting blog and I've been around a while, so pitches are always coming my way, especially ones for games at teens.

Lately I've been turning down more and more because of the Facebook angle. I've tried Facebook a few times and something about it just sets my teeth on edge. Recently, because I had been off Facebook so long, it's demanding my mobile phone number, and I just cringe at the thought.

I know of so many people who have had identity theft issues traceable back to Facebook that even though I have an app to log me out of Facebook automatically the minute I leave the site, I'm still paranoid about logging in at all. I just don't trust them with my personal stuff.

So no way do I want to play a game through them that means they have any access at all to my financial info. It already feels intrusive when my friends and relatives on Facebook get involved in 'social' games and I get notices trying to draw me in. It's like some kind of cult, preying on people's need to connect with each other (maybe my innate introversion makes me more resistant to the brain-washing?).

So now, when I get these offers to try out "revolutionary" or "innovative" social games that require anyone to sign up for Facebook (with a small-print notice about additional in-game purchases), even though I enjoy games, even though I personally could try the game for free and be credited with unlimited gold to do so, and even when the game *seems* to have redeeming qualities for a teen audience, like a focus on environmental concerns or anti-bullying, I turn them down flat.

I tell whoever's pitching me, "Come back to me when all the fees are upfront, and you have a non-Facebook option."

I'm hoping more reviewers and game players will do the same (even if they don't despise Facebook like I've come to).

Chatting with friends over Words With Friends is a social activity. Even trash-talking on Xbox Live is being social. Having to pay money to achieve goals in-game that ought to be won through game play is just extortion.
posted by misha at 9:52 AM on September 30, 2011


Chatting with friends over Words With Friends is a social activity.

I actually just took words with friends off my phone because Zynga is fucking ruining it with facebook integration and constant pop-ups and shit.
posted by empath at 9:57 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually just took words with friends off my phone because Zynga is fucking ruining it with facebook integration and constant pop-ups and shit.

I've moved to HexaLex for all my iPhone word game needs.
posted by acb at 10:01 AM on September 30, 2011


I'm sorry we're dismissing the point as Metafilter snarking but the fact remains that the best ideas in the world will not be digested, much less ingested if they are served up in an unpalatable inedible form.

Yeah, stop wasting my time with all these goddamn vegetables, I mean Christ, mom I have shit to do!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:03 AM on September 30, 2011


Do you say it "Gam-ih-fik-a-shun"?

This article reminded me of old school internet journalism. I liked it.
posted by dobie at 10:06 AM on September 30, 2011


that this is a bubble just seems obvious to me. MMORPGs feel faddish too; most of them don't really have that much more in the way of play mechanics than social games.

Web startups were a ginormous bubble, too, but it doesn't mean that people were wrong that the web startups' industry was of long-term importance. MMORPGs and social games are probably here to stay in forms that are going to mix genetic material with each other, and with ARGs and RPGs and LARPs, and with the gamification of everyday life, and with new things, and will probably eventually bear relatively little resemblance to what we have now. And there will be a trail smoking craters of companies who bet big on bursting local bubbles. These are far from mutually exclusive.

(I say all this as an old stick in the mud who's never played either, unless you count MUDs and MUSHes back in the Pleistocene.)
posted by Zed at 10:07 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the "Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Boost" screencap is my favorite part. Years ago, back when I was playing EverQuest compulsively, a friend and I half-joked that product placement was sure to find its way into the game at some point. This Clarity buff brought to you by... the exciting taste of Cool Ranch DoritosTM! It's all just so predictable that it's hilarious in a sad way. The only real surprise is how long it took to happen.
posted by trunk muffins at 10:09 AM on September 30, 2011


(I say all this as an old stick in the mud who's never played either, unless you count MUDs and MUSHes back in the Pleistocene.)

Best. "Social." Games. Ever. I spent a summer on RetroMUD and I became capable of typing "flee" faster than thought itself...
posted by BungaDunga at 10:09 AM on September 30, 2011


My first instinct was to make a joke about "A long article? By Tim Rogers? The devil you say!" and then saw that not only had someone else made the joke already but that it was the very first comment.

I mean I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, it is my thing, and even after reading Rogers' horrific article about Japan I thought, okay I'll give this a try, but really:

i made my dream girl: she is a black-haired introvert who wears knee-high stockings and running shoes and big black glasses with a stripey shirt while reading a book indoors on what looks to be a perfectly fine day. also, she has that kind of antique, fluffy, gorgeous name reserved for only the hippest cantonese girls.

Aaaauuuuuuuuggghhhh
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:11 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everything happening here happened in the casino industry 15 years ago; it's just taken that long for the research that created crack-like video poker and multi-line video slot machines to leak out into the open world. Building Skinner boxes for people is always going to be more profitable than delivering an actual service or product and expecting to be fairly paid for it. And no, building Skinner boxes for people is not a thing to be proud of unless you're a sociopath.

I would, incidentally, put Facebook itself in this class. Nobody who has both (a) any sense and (b) understanding of how Facebook is monetized would go anywhere near it.
posted by localroger at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thank you for the curated extracts, trunkmuffin

GenjiandProust, how many hands do you have?
posted by infini at 10:26 AM on September 30, 2011


Everything happening here happened in the casino industry 15 years ago; it's just taken that long for the research that created crack-like video poker and multi-line video slot machines to leak out into the open world.

That's kinda interesting, and it makes me wonder what the cost/payout ratio has to be keep the reaction going. I don't see a lot of people sitting down to VLTs with no possible payout, just to see the pretty lights, but they've physically gone there and they're plunking in coins or tokens. A lot of people don't see much of a cost associated with Zynga fare, especially when it's paid in spare moments, especially especially when they're supposed to be doing something else so that it in fact appears to provide the service of boredom relief (for extremely low values of relief).

I used to see people playing solitaire and ask them "Do you love it? If so, fine, but if it's just because it's quick and you don't know of anything better, let me show you..." Now that there is Zynga, I don't even know if that's a conversation to be had.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:31 AM on September 30, 2011


I don't see a lot of people sitting down to VLTs with no possible payout, just to see the pretty lights, but they've physically gone there and they're plunking in coins or tokens.

NPR had a story about a gambling site where the chips are free and you can't cash out, so you're basically just gambling Monopoly money... but people still play and enjoy it as if they were actually gambling.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:39 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Social gaming that repeatedly pumps you for money? WIZARD NEEDS FOOD BADLY
posted by scrowdid at 10:44 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Click on “fun” and he’ll pick up his guitar or sit down at the computer to play games.

Meta.
posted by delmoi at 11:00 AM on September 30, 2011


Social games are corruption, in the sense that Farmvillle is what happens when Harvest Moon starts taking bribes. Oh, it starts out small, just a little gift to the game to make a harvest go well or a plant grow faster. But then the game starts to expect these gifts, and you can't get anything done without greasing some palms. This is why I fear for Diablo III: Blizzard's intentions may be noble, but once a designer starts handing out advantages for money, that can't help but distort the game.
posted by Pyry at 11:05 AM on September 30, 2011


Oh for sure, people will "spend" time on unpaid pursuits. *cough* Another thing entirely to make people throw in actual $ when there's no chance to win anything -- but then that's what a video arcade was, except that you got considerable more entertainment for your dollar. I guess I'm wondering how much the skinner box requires the greed factor.

Do people still cross town to hit that gas station that's $.02 less? People develop all kinds of irrationalities about spending anything but money actually in pocket.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:06 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry; that was a response to BungaDunga.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:07 AM on September 30, 2011


i made my dream girl: she is a black-haired introvert who wears knee-high stockings and running shoes and big black glasses with a stripey shirt while reading a book indoors on what looks to be a perfectly fine day. also, she has that kind of antique, fluffy, gorgeous name reserved for only the hippest cantonese girls.

He just described my RockBand character.
posted by Gelatin at 11:15 AM on September 30, 2011


(It used to be, people talked about a game when they enjoyed playing it. The businessmen whose arms may well be huge pairs of tweezers no doubt saw this and took away the information that “People talking about games leads to increased exposure of the game.” They failed to see — or conveniently ignored — that it was because the game was enjoyable, or interesting, that people talked about it. Now, they force you to talk about the game. Does that, then, make the game interesting? I’m not going to delve too deeply into the good things about social games, though I will say, with a sigh, that yes — yes, it does, ultimately, have just about the same effect as the game being interesting.)

Is there anyone channeling Vance Packard for an update on The Hidden Persuaders?
posted by infini at 11:18 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The stuff about seeing it all as ways of converting between currencies, even from "time" as a currency is interesting.

The bit about the bed unmaking itself is underlining how artificial things become when you apply the same mechanism to every "metaphor," same as the pets in the pet shop producing money without actually being sold to customers.
posted by RobotHero at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2011


This article reminded me to go do tasks in Social City a social game I tried playing a long time ago. Me and a friend had an idea to make a social game, so I figured I should actually try playing some. Most were lame but Social City seemed a little fun at first, but at a certain point the game moves very slowly if you don't spend real money. Essentially you "win" the game by playing through all the free content. All the other 'social' games I tried playing seemed lame.

What's fascinating to me is the fact that the most popular social games are the ones that involve the least imagination. Most gaming in the past has involved fantastic worlds, space games or surreal universes like in Mario. Yet, it turns out that what most people want to do is play a character that sits around in a house and doesn't do anything they wouldn't do in real life. It's kind of bizarre. Or they want to grow a farm or manage a city. It's weird.

From the article
According to lectures I have given small boardroom audiences about the nature of social games, it makes me a person who has never had an STD (among other things) — and it also makes me Not The Target Audience. Here I yank my hand away from the fire: that was close! We almost said that the Target Audience for social games is people who have had, do have, or will have an STD. Let’s be nice: players who, say, weed their yards are fastidious, careful people, who require that even their digital playgrounds be clean up to a certain point.
It struck me as weird, but not surprising from this guy given his article about living in Japan.
posted by delmoi at 11:40 AM on September 30, 2011


All this stuff about addiction and Skinner boxes makes me glad my wife only experimented with Animal Crossing.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:52 AM on September 30, 2011


The casino counterpart to Farmville is the Australian style slot machine. These things typically have dozens of payout lines, in contorted patterns snaking across the screen, so it's really impossible to anticipate whether the reels are settling in for a win. You watch the animated video reels spin, and then the machine starts blinking the paylines you've won; there are almost always some, and you almost never win what you've bet. A typical modern machine might have 50 paylines you bet at 1 cent each, making it a 50 cent slot. You pull the handle, drop 50 cents, and win 43. Over and over, with very little variance.

When you do win a jackpot, since it's on a 1 cent payline it might be $20. This happens with some frequency due to the number of paylines, but there are never any jackpots of the sort that lock up the machine and get the floor manager to come count out hundred dollar bills for you. (Or at least did, before coinless slots; it's been awhile since I was a casino rat.)

Another thing that has taken over is the "mini-game." A certain jackpot-frequency payout will pop up an animated bonus game. I've talked to players who play for the opportunity to play the bonus. And as with simple payout jackpots, the mini-game is seldom worth more than $50 even if you nail it. I have spoken to slot players who admit they play for hours purely for the opportunity to hit the mini-game when it appears, not even caring about what they are winning or losing on reel play.

So what you have with the AU style slots is a perfect Skinner box for people that doesn't even risk the occasional big payout to keep you interested; it keeps you interested and feeding it money purely with lights and pretty animations. The first steps in this direction were being taken in the late 1990's and today they have reached a high degree of sophistication.

I think the analogy to these social games, which lure you in with the pretty then tempt you to start dropping in dollars, is very exact. Pyry is right; once you can get advantage in the game by paying, proper game design becomes a siphon into your wallet. And the casino industry was there 15 years ago, working out the basic principles. The difference is that these new "social" games aren't regulated, and probably won't be. Ironic, isn't it? The machines work on the same psychological principles and nurture the same kind of potentially catastrophic addiction, but if there is a chance the game might pay you back some of what it's taken it's regulated because it's gambling. If the game never pays you at all it's perfectly free and legal, knock yourself out game designers!
posted by localroger at 11:54 AM on September 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Hmm, if you read through the slog of an article, you're rewarded with some interesting math
The highest-priced Social-Points-buyable item (a sort of bed) retails for 7,500 Social Points and nets 10,550 House Value, for a total of 1.4067 House Value per Social Point.
...
If we bought 500 of this Astonish Emperor bed (description text: “Fit for a king? Pah!”), it would cost us a total of 3,750,000 Social Points and award us 5,275,000 House Value (and the title of World Champion The Sims Social Player).

Before you wonder if there’s even room in the real estate allotted to the player in The Sims Social, know that you can keep items in storage, and still benefit from their House Value. Beds, technically, need to be put together to be enjoyed visually, though they don’t need to be put together to enjoy their House Value. So you could have an empty plot of land crammed with disassembled beds, and a storage space full of them, as well, and be the highest-scoring player in the world.
...
The highest rate for converting SimCash to Social Points is 70 SimCash to 1,400 Social Points. You’d need 2,679 packages of 1,400 Social Points to achieve this. That’s a total of 187,500 SimCash. At the maximum rate, that’s 209 packages of 900 SimCash priced at $100 each.

So, the title of World Champion The Sims Social Player would cost us $20,900.00 (or $20,833.34, if they let us buy one SimCash at a time at a flat rate of $0.1111).

Let’s keep running with this extreme example. Let’s say that, instead of buying SimCash to convert to Social Points, you decided to instead earn your Social Points.

....

With a supply of infinite energy, and presuming an average of 2.5 Social Points per energy points (sometimes the more intimate actions yield two instead of three points) it would take the player 4,167 hours and 40 minutes, on the nose, to execute 1.5 million social actions.

Presuming the supply of energy is not infinite, and that the player must wait one hour for every twelve energy points . . . well, you might not like this number: 1.5 million social actions means 1.5 million energy points spent. Earning 1.5 million energy points without playing the game requires (either a lot of sending your friends “free energy gifts” and a lot of your friends sending you energy in return, or) 125,000 hours of vigilant waiting.

...

Now let’s say that you’d rather be a complete balls-to-walls psycho and buy your energy points. We will, for the purpose of this example, ignore that this would require you to use all of the points, which would take the aforementioned 4,167 hours and 40 minutes. You can purchase energy for SimCash at a maximum rate of 1.25 energy per SimCash, which is 11.25 energy per US dollar. At this rate, we’re looking at a cost of $166,667.67 and nearly 4,200 hours of continuous game-playing to achieve The Highest Possible Score in The Sims Social.

Looking over the data, we can see that directly purchasing the currency necessary to obtain The High Score requires $20,833.33, though purchasing energy — the “credits” the player needs to “play” the “game”, the “tokens” or “quarters” he puts into this proverbial coin-eating machine — would cost him $166,667.67.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This was interesting, if long-winded and flabbily constructed. Zygna's games are evil (and ultimately boring) and Sims Social is a Farmville/Frontierville clone, so it will not end well. There's a limit to the amount of harassment that people will put their friends through, and the 'energy' model is particularly annoying.

One problem, though. The assumption that this guy is operating on is that a game has to be 1) completely immersing, demanding a good deal of time and energy (Gears of War, World of Warcraft, etc) and 2) ideally, something that you can 'win' (get the highest ranking, have the biggest vorpal sword, etc). He goes through Sims Social assuming that one would want to 'win': have the highest house value.

This ignores the solitaire factor: people, male and female, have been playing solitaire for as long as there have been card decks. Casual games like Tetris, Bejewelled, or similar little time-wasters are solitaire games. They are enjoyable in and of themselves: they're a pleasant way to kill a few minutes. The attempt to 'monetarize' them is blatant, and ugly: I will not play solitaire if you want me to pay for every deal. But it's wrong to assume that solitaire style time-killers are pointless, or useless in and of themselves.
posted by jrochest at 12:49 PM on September 30, 2011


mention Grand Theft Auto in a room full of people who know what videogames are, and someone will lean in close to you, give a little index-finger motion, and lower their voice like they’re about to tell you a big secret: “You want to know what’s awesome about those Grand Theft Auto games? Just ignore the missions, man. Ignore the missions and just have fun.” In Grand Theft Auto, “having fun” means killing innocent people and blowing things up, because: the programmers concentrated pretty hard on that part. So my friend’s friend said you can “have fun” in The Sims by walling Sims in and watching them pee themselves and die. This is one mental millimeter from then saying, “You know what else you can do?” And then, when you say, “What?” he’d say, “You can kill the neighbor’s dog.” And you’d say, “In The Sims?” and he’d say, “No, in real life.”
posted by Shit Parade at 12:51 PM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


More math:
A summary of the findings of this example is this: if the player pays money to recharge his energy meter in The Sims Social, so that he can continue to use those energy points to perform in-game actions, he will earn 177.75 in-game currency units for each dollar he spends. However, if he pays money to buy the currency directly, he will earn 707.14285 in-game currency unit he spends. In short, the game offers the player a 400% (sometimes 800% (an average 600%)) incentive to not play it (by which we mean, “to not participate in its core mechanics”).
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


@the card cheat

hate abusive games as much as anyone, but if you got beef with animal crossing, we can take this outside
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:18 PM on September 30, 2011


hate abusive games as much as anyone, but if you got beef with animal crossing, we can take this outside

Animal Crossing (at least the GC one, which I played) is one of those few games where everything you do is trivial, but it's so cute and actively friendly that it's actually great.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:30 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thinking that this is a tim rogers piece "about" the evils of social games is a mistake. This is a story about tim rogers' reaction to the rise of social games with some exaggerated characters representing Zynga. I think it's classic gonzo and not meant to be didactic.
posted by thedaniel at 3:09 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love Tim Rogers, but even I couldn't get through that. He's probably right.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:41 PM on September 30, 2011


Tim Rogers? A computer game? I was born and raised on Hourly Daily, and that guy has NOTHING to say about electonic culture. He's stuck with his tried and tested retro sounds throughout his long and successful career, and if the warm sound of valve amplifiers are good enough for You Am I, they're good enough for me.

But You Am I's new guitarist was a game critic.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:42 PM on September 30, 2011


Also, Tim Rogers taught me how to appreciate games based on mechanics, not aesthetics. He praises Gears of War and iPhone games like Jetpack Joyride. The problem with social games is that there's no 'game' there.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:47 PM on September 30, 2011


Social gaming that repeatedly pumps you for money? WIZARD NEEDS FOOD BADLY

Interesting thing about Gauntlet. I don't really know how they do it, but there are players who can play for a long time on a single credit, because they've actually built up the skill. Most social games that I'm aware of have very little skill, but I haven't exactly researched the field.
posted by JHarris at 7:08 PM on September 30, 2011


This Clarity buff brought to you by... the exciting taste of Cool Ranch DoritosTM! It's all just so predictable that it's hilarious in a sad way. The only real surprise is how long it took to happen.

There were branded items and minigames in Neopets 10 years ago. This kind of thing isn't new.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:28 AM on October 1, 2011


I like the way Tim Rogers writes about videogames. I will say that his willingness to just utterly dismiss a game as a game is impressive in a field where that rarely happens. People in the industry are vested in having a good relationship with companies in a way that leads to negative reviews being fairly tepid most of the time. The new Duke Nukem (trash (mechanically never mind the content), if you must play it torrent it so the bastards don't make another one) was pretty universally panned but it was a rare exception.
posted by Peztopiary at 3:22 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


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