Monday, January 3, 2011

Social Game Design: Virality part 2 - Gifts (part 1?)

Happy New Year!

When I was very young, I received many gifts on certain holidays. Being a child, I didn't have much control over these gifts, and because my family wasn't wealthy, I didn't ask for much. I got everything from socks to bicycles, and I loved the surprise of opening something and not knowing if I was going to get something really awesome. (Also, for a kid, "really awesome" has a much wider range than it does for adults.)

It's not like that anymore. I ask for specific things, and I get them. If I don't make a list, telling my family what to get me, they become cross with me! When I was a kid, it was easy for them to guess what I wanted. Being a kid, I obviously wanted things that were fun to play with. (Plus, I grew out of my socks on a regular basis.)

As an adult who earns a hearty income, I can now buy most anything I want, I don't have to ask for it and hope it will come to me as a gift. It's nice to be able to do that, even if it means discipline is required, and that I know there are some things out of my reach. I miss the old days, when gifts made me happy, when they were not just a shopping list I had to write - of things I would just be buying for myself if a gift-getting occasion were not approaching.

Perhaps that's why I hate this so much:

Don't pretend you haven't seen this, or something like it. In this example, Frontierville blocks your forward progress with a lot of "gifts required" obstacles like this one. Each time you try to add an important building to your homestead, they show you this popup. You cannot add the building until you collect 40 items. These 40 items can only be acquired in two ways. 1) demand your friends send them to you as "gifts" or 2) buy them for yourself.

I'm not sure why I hate it so much in Facebook games. It certainly seems to work - there millions of people who are more than happy to send a gift to 50 friends each day, and go through the tedious process of collecting their gifts and sending more back, day after day. Also, for the players who have 50 friends playing the same game, it's trivial to collect all the hammers and nails they need, but for me, it's impossible. My friends don't play Facebook games, so this becomes a pay cash or leave scenario for me. So I leave whenever I encounter this "mechanic."

Giving a gift should be a personal expression of me thinking about a friend and deciding there is something that they would really like, and out of love for my friend, give of myself to get that gift for them (by making it or buying it). Sending out 50 identical gifts to all my friends, whether they want it or not, every day in a routine, without affection, and with the express purpose of getting them to send me something in return... that's not gifts. It's a spam.

So I am on a quest to figure out how I can incorporate the idea of gifting into future social games in a way that isn't an evil spam engine. The companies making these games (such as Zynga) respond to the analytical data they collect about the players. They put in spammy mechanics like this "gifting" because in the short term it leads to better numbers in their games. The need to get these gifts makes players spam their friends, and the constant reminders to come back to the game are helpful. But wouldn't it be better to have a fun reason to come back, not a spammy reason?

I'll let you know what I come up with. Please tell me if you have any good ideas!

1 comment:

  1. They're virtual gifts, chosen with virtual love and virtual care for a friend's virtual benefit.

    One might be tempted to sub in the word "fake" for "virtual."