I don’t like shrimps. I don’t hate them I just don’t like them. I don’t hate people who like shrimps I just don’t see what’s so nice about shrimps. I could probably eat shrimps if it was the only thing on the table but I don’t like shrimps.

I don’t like social games.

I don’t like “social games” I should say. I don’t mind games with social features as long as these features are not pushed down my throat. But when we’re talking about “social games” we’re not talking a web game with some scoreboard. We’re of course talking about Facebook games that get you to click to harvest, wait, click to plant, wait, click to repeat. Maybe they are city games maybe they are farm games maybe they are something else but that’s what currently comes to mind to most people when we’re talking about “social games”. Or Facebook games… whatever.

Social games VS “social games”

What’s wrong with social games? Nothing. What’s wrong with “social games”? Everything surrounding the game. In fact I should say “everything that SHOULD surround the game but is instead part of the core gameplay”. It might be unfair but just like we tagged some games as “Flash games” (as we’re still doing) that’s currently the only interpretation the flagships of this genre are giving us.

You killed 10 rats! Tell your friends about it!

My last memories about “social games” were getting old so I decided to give them another chances after the recent discussions about Cow Clicker here and here just name a few.

So I went on Inside Social Games and searched for those “most popular Facebook games” list and picked 3 just to refresh my memory. My first one was Frontierville which seems to be quite popular. The game has quite some amazing and lovely graphics I must say but then at my 6th click in the game I see this…

What the?… I’m just getting started and you already require me to spam my friends about this game I still don’t know anything about? Oh wait! That “Skip” button is gray but I can still click it… Wow… I guess it’s just some honest mistake from some guy that is colorblind. I’m sure they were not trying to let me think I couldn’t click that button… No!

So I click the “Skip” button and 2 clicks later (yes 2) here’s what I see.

So the gray “skip” button wasn’t a mistake! Let me think about it. Having work on some applications in the last 10 years as an analyst-programmer I’m pretty sure that a gray button means that the option is disabled. Were they trying to get me to think the option was disabled so I could spam my friends about a game I have only known for 8 clicks? Seriously? I don’t even had the time to get to know the game but it seems someone is already trying to use me as some free marketing. What about letting me play the damn thing before suggesting me to invite some friends…

Ok so Frontierville was just a bad example. Let’s switch to a very popular game with a very popular theme: Mobsters 2. This game looks like it’s very popular so at worst I guess I can have 10 minutes of fun with it. That’s still not bad for a free game I guess. But wait… What do I get on my very first click after creating my character? This…

What? I just did the first mission offered to me (without having much of a clue of what I was supposed to do) and I’m already solicited to post that junk on my Facebook wall? I mean it’s the first mission. Isn’t that like a tutorial or something just so I can get to know the game a bit? Who cares if I’ve been able to beat the tutorial of some game. I wasn’t even supposed to fail in the first place!!!

At least this one doesn’t try to fool me in thinking that I can’t do anything else than posting that crap to my wall (it is crap… it was the first mission in the game… what’s the point…).

Ok so that was just bad luck. Let’s try another one. Let’s try the game that won Best Social Game this year at GDC Online: Social City. Doesn’t get more social than that I guess. The name tells it all! Well this one didn’t even let me click once… Here’s what I first saw when getting into the game (red arrow added by me to be fair…)

I had enough. I left. I just had enough of being considered as an idiot. You know I don’t mind much flashing ads all over a webpage because I know we all need money. But when you’re giving a game item for me to watch some publicity (that could be irrelevant to me as a Canadian…) than you’re just laughing at me. You didn’t even gave me the chance to experience the game before throwing cheap in-game ads at me. Ads that have an impact (somehow) on the game. I don’t even know what’s the deal about having a custom branded Honda Dealer in my city because I DON’T EVEN HAVE A CITY YET!…

So I gave up at that point. I didn’t pick obscure games nobody ever heard about because frankly I only have so much time to waste in a day. I picked well-known games and even one that won an award this year! Is this what “social games” are about? Pushing me toward spamming and ads before I even get a taste of what the game is about?

I’m not part of the targeted market but I’m not an idiot either

Maybe those games have some clever design in them but they just didn’t give me a chance to enjoy it. People will tell me that if I’m reacting this way then I’m not suppose to be part of their market. But from my point of view it’s much more than that. I was completely considered like some meat able to click a button to create some artificial viral effect. That’s honestly how I felt. Good or not the way those games were sold to me was a total disaster.

I don’t mind farming games or city building games. Just don’t turn the whole thing into a bad joke before I even start to play… Surely there’s a way to have social games without slapping me over and over with social features. Is this the only way a social game can survive? If yes it just sounds to me it’s just some camouflage for an empty experience that try to get new users as fast as possible…

I want a social experience and not “social games”

These games keep calling themselves “social” yet the only people I can interact with are the people in my friends list. Is there no way I could interact with other people already playing these games and ask their help? I mean a social game should probably give me a good reason to interact with other people no? When you’re forcing me to ask my friends to help me in my game you’re just asking me to sell this game to them. That’s YOUR job not mine. What about getting me in touch with other players instead? They already know the game and could even help me to perform better.

Oh I see… That’s the whole point. Social means “trying to artificially go viral”… Got it! Thanks but no thanks. When something goes viral it’s because there’s something that makes it viral. It’s not because of some artificial stimulus. The reason for going viral might be awfully stupid but it comes naturally. These things are not holding anything hostage to get viral. I won’t start working for free for some game company to make the game more popular when I could very well be working at that company for a salary for building such game…

What about building a game that would benefit from social features instead of making these social features the main component of the game. I hate web games that are giving you a game breaking advantages because you vote for them on some website. For me it’s exactly the same pattern as “social games” that are trying to push into your face “sharing” and “friends” systems before you even get to enjoy the game. However if you give me the tools to have a social experience once I think the game deserves more attention than I’ll be more than happy to tell my friends about it. I haven’t seen that so far though. It’s all “get your friend here ASAP and we don’t care if you actually enjoy the game”.

There’s nothing wrong with social games

No really. That’s just how those games are using the tools they are given that’s bothering me… and probably a lot of people who don’t like social games. Just like a lot of people don’t like DRM or stalking features like Steam or that stuff about Starcraft 2. Let us opt-in on our own will without pushing it in our face. People are good to put their own life on the web anyway so it shouldn’t be a problem if they’re really into your game. However if your game need to resort on such features to remain alive then I’d ask myself some serious questions…

I’d like to see a game that is using wisely social features without making them some kind of pyramid scheme or gimmick. Just because you are putting your game on Facebook it doesn’t mean you have to use cheap tricks to spread the word about it. Maybe it doesn’t bother a lot of people but that still doesn’t make it clever. That just make it cheap. Cheap is fine… But cheap like that I’d rather not do myself. People are making money out of this so I guess they’ll just keep doing it. I won’t.

What about making me feel better about social games and offering me a job to work on a social game that isn’t built around such gimmick. Show me that social games are more than just getting you new users. I’m a hard worker, a quick learner and proved I can finish game projects so offer me a job and show me that social games are something more than a “post to your wall” button. I’ll pass on non-paid jobs however as I have plenty of non-paid work ahead of me so don’t count on me for free labor.

Send your offers to dave@machine22.com

Can’t wait to start working for you!