How Social Network Gaming Forgot About the Gamers

By Victor Oshiro | Posted September 29, 2012 at 03:04PM

I think I was a pretty typical Facebook adopter when I joined three years ago. Having always been a gamer I became interested in the games people were playing in their social network circles. Seemed cool and there were even news stories on NPR and television about games like Farmville so I said I'll give it a shot.

First Impressions

The first game I tried was Farmville. Lots of old friends from school were playing it so I figured I had a built in group to play with. Immediately I was blown away how puny my farm was. You literally start the game with about the farm size of someone's living room. You have to start somewhere I figured but then I started checking out friend's farms. Talk about impressive! I quickly learned the secret to any of these games was having to request others send you items or visit your farm/city/village/you get the idea.

Ground Control to Major Tom

No other word brings anxiety like the words "new mission” to people who play these games. Originally missions came occasionally and could be done in a couple of days. Then the mega missions began. No longer could you play the game for 5 or 10 minutes a day as a casual player. Now you had to spend serious amounts of time trying to work your way through these missions. Worse, you have to send countless requests out into Facebook land for items which only annoyed anyone not playing the game.

I started noticing that all the casual players were starting to drop like flies. So what did companies like Zynga do to try to alleviate this situation? They added larger missions which often included all new farms/cities/ etc. to manage. It wasn't enough to keep your farm working, now you had a second farm to travel to that required just as much time and requests for items. The players who were moderately active began to drop like flies again.

So again requests went out to cut back on missions. To alleviate this situation the game creators created mega missions! Often these were centered on holidays and required even more active playing.

Gamers Don't Count in Social Network Gaming Business Models

Maybe I'm missing something but if something isn't working repeating the same thing over and over doesn't seem to be a strategy for success. This is the basic strategy the companies are using: The car has no gas in it but we'll keep turning the key hoping it will come to life. If that doesn't work let's add a second car without gas and see if that helps to bring life to this situation. Sounds like a great idea right?

So what drives this disconnect from the people making the games and the people playing the games? As far as I can tell these companies have employees who get paid to program. As more and more people played these games the staffs probably increased. I think the strategy was something along the lines lets make the game interesting to everybody. So you ad d Halloween missions, adventures in new lands, etc. If these guys would have actually bothered to play the games with the people out there they would have realized that people didn't pick and choose which missions to take on. A new mission arrived and they dived in. Until they were burned out that is.

All these people playing at the peak doesn't explain what the business model was. Unlike many sites that make their money on advertising (yes there was in game advertising) that isn't a very good money stream in social networking. Usually companies use their Facebook page to drive business to their websites. I'd imagine all this advertising on Facebook profits Facebook and not the people whose page its displayed on.

Some companies sold apps that allowed people to play the game on their tablets and phones. Seemed like a great idea. Charge a couple bucks for people to play a game they normally play for free. I downloaded the Farmville app for my iPhone hoping it would save me from sitting in front of the computer so much. The load times were horrendous – up to 3 minutes just to get to my farm. Then there was the lag playing the game. I tried it a half dozen times and deleted the app. Waste of money and time. Did I mention all the side missions weren't available on the app?

The Verdict

Would I recommend these games? I'd say if you really are interested in a game make sure you have enough friends who will play with you. You need to click their requests and hope they do the same for you to complete missions. These games are not designed for someone with only a few friends trying to play casually. They expect you to spend measurable time and as you level up things only get more complex as you have that much more stuff to maintain. I had hoped I could see all my animals go feral at a point just to see the cows trying to eat chickens as the buildings burned down.

If you don't have this kind of time to invest there are great apps available for mobile devices and for browsers that don't require you to have an army of avid friends. As far as the current situation for gamers on social networks I'd say it's a definite not recommended situation.

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