Goodness me, these quote-by-quote posts are getting lengthy. I'm going to have a stab at brevity. If you think I've omitted a response to something really important, let me know
You are trivialising a serious issue by characterising it as an extreme situation when it's more nuanced than that. The problem is:
- we know people repeatedly do things in life that they will tell you that they'd prefer not to do. Typically we refer to this as addiction.
- we also know most of these things are originally done "for fun". Thus it's not just about subjectivity, but about a sliding scale of where something crosses over from "fun" to "compulsive".
- we know enough about psychology - or at least the behaviourist approximation of it - to know how to create stimuli that specifically pushes behaviour into the bounds of compulsion. This has been empirically studied.
- we are seeing games that are beginning to resemble these behaviourist experiments - as we always have - but where there appears to be little narrative or ludic justification for this.
- worse, we are seeing games where these approaches are coupled with microtransactions to convert successful compulsion into payments.
Surely you can see how this is a cause for concern, at least?
Yes, I do see it as a cause for concern, which is why I bothered reading/replying to the thread in the first place. I agree that a bunch of the games we're talking about are vastly more simple than what we're used to, and when combined with the use of these psychological techniques, they warrant questioning. What bugs me is that the discussions about this stuff seem to be coloured by our ("our" meaning us as longtime gamers and designers) fear/incomprehension of the success of new platforms like Facebook in the same way that every new media has been reviled by those who considered themselves experts in the existing media. We know how games are reviled by the existing media, in the same way that paperback novels, cinema, TV, Rock & Roll, comic books, D&D, Punk, Heavy Metal and the Internet were in the past, and we know how nonsensical all those arguments are. Now here we are, active defenders of some of those media, and grown-up enough to be way past being concerned about others, and we're suddenly finding a new target to rail against ourselves. We'd better be damn sure that that target is worthy of genuine concern, because otherwise we're becoming the next generation of "Get Off My Lawn" dinosaurs.
Yes, we should be constantly double-checking ourselves about the ethics of our designs. And yes, I think it's valid to have a discussion about how the current state of social games is, frankly, a bit crap. But I don't see evidence of actual harm being done. We should be talking about how to improve the genre, not how to vilify it.
You make it sound as if it is done to be nice to the players. I assure you that it is not. It is done primarily to reduce costs, by getting people off their servers and back on the Facebook infrastructure which is essentially free for them.
Of course it's not done to be nice to players. But the end result is a game designed to keep people from spending a long time hitting their server is also a game which slots nicely into small chunks in players schedules, which attracts a big audience of people who don't have a lot of time to sink into games. It's kind of win/win.
Spamming people who aren't already playing the game? Yeah, that's pretty crappy.
But that is, of course, the absolute only reason this stuff exists. It's to spread the application virally by making your players spam their friends in exchange for benefits. Whereas a less antisocial game like Minecraft relies on you thinking that it's really cool and choosing to spread the word with no benefit to yourself.
Uh, that's why I said it was pretty crappy. We're in agreement here. As I've said, I think game mechanics that utilise people's social graphs could become really cool one day, but right now they're pretty exploitative.
It happens all the time on MMOs. You see someone with certain kit, so you want it. It doesn't have to be a PvP game for that. People covet cool stuff. Nothing wrong with having a game that shows cool stuff and lets other people want it, of course. What matters is how you, as a developer, choose to advertise that to players, and how you capitalise on their resulting desires.
If you've got a game that's monetised, entirely or partly, by microtransactions, doesn't it make sense to find a way to show the have-nots what the haves have? The iPad is powered by Magic, and owned by Hip and Trendy People, and I should feel bad for not being able to justify the cost of one, and my girlfriend should find me less sexy because I don't own one. It's shitty, but it's the world we live in. You can't pretend games invented advertising.