/// Why I Hate Social Games and You Should Too (Gamasutra)

October 20, 2011  |  2011, Blog

This is going to be a little dry:

Before I start, I just want to say right off the bat that I am a United States American democrat. I feel it is important to say this because I believe there are significant differences in values and experience between democrats and republicans in American Society. Often people try to hide there political leanings because they don’t want to be seen as biased but I think that just leads to disagreements and confusion that could have been avoided. I believe our views about government, business and society are so fundamentally different that there are certain things that we should not waste the time to debate extensively – because there are things we can actually agree on that we need to focus on. In addition, I believe people often mask their political leanings so that they can more covertly push their political views on other people. So please take this rant with a grain of salt depending on your political leanings.

Businesses GENERALLY throughout history have exploited people. Not because they are evil necessarily. Not because they are malicious necessarily. But certainly because they are like everyone else in our society; they are more likley to act in their own self interest than in the interests of other people.

Being a democrat, people often assume that I am against business or that I think businesses are the “bad guys”. That is not true. The free market and competition are important parts of our society and I DO NOT think that should change.

However I do realize that DEMOCRATIC government is MORE LIKELY to act in my interests than INDIVIDUAL businesses are. The reason is because democratic government is motivated by the need to get re-elected. Whereas businesses are motivated by usually shorter term profit. This pretty much leads to my fundamental view of the relationship between business and government.

Now that we have established(whatever your politics) that businesses will screw you if they get the chance, we can apply this view to social network games. (otherwise known as “social” games).

“Social” games want your money. One way they try to do this is to mislead you about the actual cost of their product.

1) What if someone offered you an apple for free? But halfway through eating it they told you that each additional bite would cost a small amount of money.

This is comparable to “social” games.

Do you really know how many bites of the apple you are going to take? Once you start eating an apple, do you find that it is hard to stop(or if you don’t like fruit think of a Big Mac or a chipotle burrito or better yet potato chips)?

If they told you from the beginning how much you would pay if you ate the whole apple, you probably would be OK just eating half of it or maybe you would just go and buy a full apple for a set price. But that expectation that you are going to eat the whole thing, that is going to influence you significantly. And in essence that expectation is based on a lie.

Here is a much better metaphor since apples are not art. Movies are though.

1) What if someone offered to let you watch a DVD of one of your favorite movies for free. Imagine you are watching it for the first time. Imagine that you can ONLY watch this movie through them. But halfway through the movie, at one of the most suspenseful parts, they say you have to pay a fee for every additional five minutes of the movie they let you watch.

This is comparable to “social” games.

Would you have even started watching the movie if you knew that you would have to pay to continue watching. Now that you have started, you have to finish – we have all had this feeling. But think about how your initial expectations were based on a lie. And think about whether or not you would have even started if you knew you would eventually have to pay to finish. Maybe you would have just watched a different movie that was sold at full price.

They are trying to get you attached to the story through a lie. So that they can jack up the price of their product later on.

Social games allow you to play their game for free initially. They don’t really tell you how much it will cost upfront to keep playing. Once you are into the game, you want to keep playing. Then they can jack up the price.

This is actually very similar to Facebook itself. When Facebook started it was a completely advertisement free product. There was an implicit expectation that it would stay that way. Now that everyone is settled and using it, they can jack up their prices(by adding advertisements and spam).

This is actually also very similar to banks and credit cards. Once you start using a credit card or a bank, you don’t want to switch over to another card or bank every time they jack up the rates. This happened recently with Bank of America when they jacked up debit card fees. Fortunately, people seem to have been good consumers and just today JP Morgan Chase surpassed Bank of America as the larget U.S. bank.(I am actually not sure this is related but it is certainly concidental.)

This is not a moral discussion. I am not asking you to boycott social games. I am NOT advocating a government program to round up “social” games developers and put them into camps or farms that we will ironically call farm-villes. I am just trying to explain to you one example of how we can be smarter consumers, which is good for everyone. Because if we are collectively better consumers, businesses will eventually get tired and realize they should stop trying to screw us as much. And if we don’t pay as much attention to exploitive marketing, companies will use that money to create better products, instead of using it to create prettier looking advertisements. At least it will force them to be a little more creative in the ways that they try to screw us.

What we really need are companies to be required to state whether or not their game is actually free. If they say it is a free trial it should be a free trial. They should not be able to list their games in the free category on any platform. That is false advertising. They should not be allowed to put their games in the free category or call their games free if unlimited playtime requires the payment of more money. That is not free. That is an old 80’s arcade machine that says it costs 50 cents to play, but when you get to the point where you have to put in more money they jack it up to a dollar.

Really this discussion is completely about false and/or misleading advertising.

In conclusion, businesses are finding new and creative ways to screw us. We have to be ever more vigilant in our struggles to make our way through the labyrinth.

And in conclusion, at least make “social” games companies give you a whole game. Not half a game. Half a game is even worse than no game at all. It is a complete waste of our time. And time is money.

(and yes that was my attempt at having a good and memorable conclusion – thank you 5th grade english class.)


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