Social Gaming (As It Stands) is a BANE ON HUMANITY [GO/YCQMOT]
October 20th, 2011 by Dan

To the abovementioned small man and to others like him, to all the craftsmen of these mommy’s-credit-card-number-snatching games like Tap Zoo and Tap Pet Shop and Top Girl and what-have-you, I offer this lesson from the annals of economics:

“Monetize” is a fucking stupid word.

The idea of a business is to make money.

“To do business” means “to monetize something”.

A “product” is something a business makes.

To speak of “monetizing a product” borders on ridiculous.

If your product is not “monetized”, you’re not in business.

In the modern sense: the only reason to actively talk about “monetizing” is when part of your plan is to trick the user into believing they don’t actually need to pay.

“Monetize” is a word that is nearly synonymous with “to do evil”: to “monetize” a game means to promise the user a “full experience” for absolutely no cost, and then scheme, and devise, and calculate reasons for the user to pay anyway. Then you make them pay anyway. Albeit gently (and shrewdly (and without use of violent force)), isn’t that the same as stealing from people?

-tim rogers. “The Sims Social

Well I think it’s been too long since I wrote about something tim rogers wrote on this site. I finally got around to reading his review of The Sims Social (linked above). It’s long, but it’s vitally important to read going into the future. I’ll wait while you read it.

You back? Okay.

He wrote a companion piece at insert credit too. Read away.

(My favorite bit)

A silence. Now the larger man pointed at me. “He’s run all the numbers on our product.”

The older men looked at me.

“I’ve run them all,” I said.

“It’s totally solid,” the larger man said.

“It’s solid like a rock,” I said.

“It’s unsinkable,” the smaller man said.

“It’s an unsinkable rock. An unsinkable, solid rock.”

-tim rogers. “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)

Ok, we’re back. Do you feel vaguely sick yet? I know I do. Heck, I threw up in my mouth a little. How did we get here? More importantly, how do we fix this?

I don’t think that microtransaction-based gaming is evil. All you have to do is look at Valve and Team Fortress 2. Everything you want to do in TF2 (minus item trading) is absolutely free. Not a dime has to be spent to improve gameplay. Weapons are distributed to you randomly, but at fairly regular intervals and they can be used to construct new weapons. Most importantly, while buying weapons increases your arsenal, they are, overall, not necessary. You can play the game for free and have an equal success as someone who paid for anything. This is fundamentally different than Farmville or The Sims Social where you can pay to have a leg up on completing the game’s goals (loosely defined as those might be).

Sometimes I think, “Who am I to judge the ethical merits of what other people do/create for a living?” I mean, glass houses, right? Then I read a line that is certainly meant to vilify, but also rings hauntingly true:

An ex-drug-dealer (now a video game industry powerbrain) once told me that he doesn’t understand why people buy heroin. The heroin peddler isn’t even doing heroin. Like him or not, when you hear Cliff Bleszinski talk about Gears of War, he sounds — in a good way — like a weed dealer. He sounds like he endorses what he is selling. When you’re in a room with social games guys, the “I never touch the stuff” attitude is so thick you’ll need a box cutter to breathe properly.

(also from “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)”

For all the misinterpreted glamor of Mad Men‘s cast, most viewers seem to miss the point that undercuts the whole show. People despise ad men. Most non-advertising characters in the show despise ad men. The characters sweep racism under the rug, openly lie to customers, and present that life as vapid and meaningless. When Betty realizes that she has been manipulated by an ad in Season 2, she is horrified, insulted, and hurt. She knows how the ad men speak of their marks and is resentful of the manipulation.

People look at the gambling industry with scorn because they operate under the same principles that tim is decrying in his articles. I argue that it’s worse than that. At least in a casino you have a (low) chance of winning money back. This kind of human manipulation just feels dirty. It’s not addictive, in the drug sense, but it preys upon human tendencies and impulses in such a naked way that it is horrifying.

It’s not hyperbole to call social gaming, as it stands, a bane on humanity. The kind of thinking that leads us to develop these systems is inherently selfish and greedy. The companies that are pushing these games are filled with people stealing from you with only two or three layers of abstraction between their hands actually entering your wallets. That’s without dwelling on the kinds of behaviors that these models of play encourage.

There’s a way out of this (or maybe not), but it’s not easy. Don’t ever spend money on those games. Don’t give them their fabled White Whale. Then again, you should just do what you want. Just consider yourself informed now.

6 Responses  
  • Min writes:
    October 20th, 201116:22at

    I lost my house to social gaming.

    • Dan writes:
      October 20th, 201116:36at

      Social gaming killed my best friend.

  • Kailyn writes:
    October 21st, 201113:30at

    Interesting. As someone who doesn’t play games, I don’t feel so strongly about social games. After reading that second piece you pointed to – it sounds like you pay to play (otherwise, it’s waiting not playing). So it’s kinda like a subscription.

    But about not endorsing the product – are the people creating these games even in the right audience? Or are they still the kind of people who want to play Gears of War? The housewives who play Farmville and the Sims aren’t going to be creating those games and they’re probably playing for different reasons.

    • Dan writes:
      October 21st, 201113:43at

      The most fundamental problems I have with the genre of game are twofold:

      1. You’re not really playing anything. Most of these “games” are just pretty brazenly not games. There’s room for free-form methods/styles/definitions of play, but pairing them with nakedly taking your money is…troubling.

      2. They are designed to encourage you to spend money indiscriminately by preying on human tendencies. What worries me most is that many of them are targeting children to influence their behavior in ways that will encourage them to be further manipulated down the line. Without any outright chemical influence (like nicotine in cigarettes) they are trying to encourage addiction and compulsion in their endlessly replenishing audience: children.

      The audience for social games is intended to be everyone. I think the highest percent of players are housewives and young girls who, like you say, are not creating those games. That’s kind of what tim was getting at, though. Heroin slingers are not the right audience. They know better than to touch the stuff, but they market it to people who want it. His point about weed dealers and Cliff Blezinski is that Cliff is creating something that he would want to play. Social game developers are creating games to manipulate consumers into spending ridiculous amounts of money.

      • Kailyn writes:
        October 21st, 201117:23at

        1. Maybe not in a terribly traditional sense, but people are playing them when they’re bored and there’s some competitive/end goal thing that you’re trying to accomplish (sure, it’s really stupid, but it’s there). Pairing with money, it’s not really fair play, but it’s not really a trick, right? They’re telling you that you have to pay X for whatever before they take it. And it’s not all that different than if you had to do something repetitive for hours before you got anywhere (time is money).

        2. I think this falls under basic personal finance (which a lot of people don’t understand). But it is something that you have to learn – in addition to how to make good life decisions. If the game is something they enjoy, is it significantly different than renting movies or a membership to play a sport or always buying the latest Apple product?

        3. What I meant is that if these social game developers didn’t create these games, what would the majority of their audience be doing? They’re not going to play Gears of War – they just wouldn’t play games period. It’s kinda like romance novels – they’re terrible literature, but people love them.

        • Dan writes:
          October 22nd, 201110:33at

          I’m not normally a guy who likes to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do, but this exception feels justified to me because of its brazenness. If you trust tim’s math, and I do, you see that reaching the ostensible goal of The Sims Social is done cheaper by not playing the game and flat out buying your way to victory. Without getting into the American work ethic and how people would see that as inherently cheating or “taking the fun out of the game”, the main point I pull from that is that Facebook/Social games are a tax on people who are bad at math. Know what else is like that? The lottery; which is so “evil” in its raw manipulation of people’s wallets that the government taxes it to hell to get its share of the profits too (instead of protecting us from it).

          All these little pursuits/wastes of money are inherently evil-neutral, I guess, in that if you’re deriving entertainment from them, so what, right? Except that Nintendo proved that you don’t have to be this naked about doing business. The Wii fizzled out in three or four years due to poor execution by Nintendo and other publishers combined with the avalanche of shovelware that flooded the system, but it also spearheaded this Social Gaming movement by proving that housewives and old people don’t not play games because they are above it all, they don’t because games got to be too complicated. I would much rather see a company take a person’s money by providing a quality product to play. Games like Picross and Professor Layton are out there to attract the folks who would otherwise not play Gears.

          Honestly it’s not my business what people do and what people play and whether or not the people making the stuff feel like they’re getting away with something. Everyone’s gotta earn a living wage and maybe it is too much to ask them to earn it by making a quality product, but that’s not gonna stop me from wishing they didn’t make these games.

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