November 1, 2010

I clicked a cow and I liked it!

It seems that disagreement between traditional game developers and their social gaming colleagues is gradually increasing. The very different approach to game design and elementary concepts of the play feels like a schizm in religion.

I mentioned in my previous post the term cow clickers. It comes from Ian Bogost's Cow Clicker - “a Facebook game about Facebook games” as he describes it. It's a minimalistic social game where you have one cow and you have to click on it in fixed time intervals to gather points. Points buy you an awsome looking
cow to impress your friends clicking on neighbouring pastures. You can also spend some mooney to progress faster or just stop wasting your time. This Facebook app is nice example of theory in pratice. In typical social game player just activates timers.

Of course Ian Bogost is more pundit than regular game developer, but he is not alone who publicly attacked "social" trend in online gaming. Jonathan Blow (Braid, Indie Fund) in his talk on the Rice University labelled game designers of such games as drug dealers which create artifical obligations and waste users' time in the real world. There is an evidence which supports such strong statement in recent news - A mother killed her baby for crying while she played FarmVille. Focus of Jonathan's talk is wider and he points out that not only these games, but most of present games and other entertainment media as well are free of any meaningful idea. Paraphrasing Alan Moore "Artists should give the audience what they need and not what they want."

Overuse of metrics and achievements is an another big dispute. Psychological research showed that external rewards actually decrease intristic motivation. This fact explains why even dull tasks are so enjoyable for players of social games, but without rewards (ie. XP) there is no motivation to do them, or in other words, play the game. I recommend reading Chris Hecker's post on achievements.

A popular boardgame in my country is Ludo. You just move a four pieces across the board by rolling a dice. Only decision is about which piece to move and winning or losing is just by luck. Well, the golden era of this game was in times where choices were quite limited (Communism), but I noticed people actualy like it because there is fun from the play without burden of mental activity. It's quite similiar with the massively successful FarmVille which had once 85M users. Users who don't really want to be challenged or participate in some meaningful interaction. They just want to click, level up and be told, that they are better than their friends.

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