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Social games aren’t games, but they are social

October 11, 2010

For research, I began playing Mafia Wars. Mafia Wars is one of the fancy Social Games.

Before I go on, I should tell you that I’m a gaming snob. I’ve been playing games since you stuck a quarter in them. From Galaga to Tetris to games on the Wii, I love games because they offer a fairly unique problem solving situation. In most games, you don’t even know the problems that need to solved.

Quake (video game)
Image via Wikipedia

I used to play Quake for hours. And I equate quake to a really cool novel. The story unfolds as it is played, with twists and turns along the way. To me, Quake was an awesome game. The actual game needed to be mapped. The characters that were introduced had to be understood. Playability tricks needed to be identified and mastered.

As one played, the game got harder. But not so hard that it was impossible to advance to the next level. I’ve actually written about how Game Theory and Marketing are similar. Games are designed to be just hard enough to keep people playing, but not so hard that someone quits. In marketing, we want to advance people along levels from unaware to purchase using smart marketing that knows where they’ve been, and where they are going. But that’s a different take.

Point is, Mafia Wars isn’t a game in the classic sense of games. There’s almost no playability, the only system to understand is time. Optimizing the game playing landscape means waiting for tomorrow. It doesn’t really get harder. There’s no system to navigate or map to understand. Playability comes down to clicking.

But it does something that my early version of Quake didn’t do. It connects me to other people who are playing the game. So does World of Warcraft, and WoW also adds playability, intrigue and a gaming experience. Other massive multi-player games do all this really well. But on the outskirts are these social games that have a ‘low cost of expertise”. Games like Mafia Wars.

Non-gamers can be Mafia Dons. The only real investment is time. But not in the classic gamer sense of time.

Again, back when I played Quake, I invested time to understand how to progress to the next level. In Mafia Wars, I know that I’ll get to the next level simply by clicking. I don’t have to click a certain way, if I wait long enough, I’ll have enough energy, money and inventory to do the jobs necessary to get to the next level. It’s as simple as that.

However, I can also ask for help from a friend of mine who also plays to advance faster. We can work together to get there.

I’ve often thought there are two kinds of people: gamers and the other kind. Gamers invest time and effort to understand the game, dissect it, master it, and then start over again. Non gamers don’t. I don’t know why they don’t invest weeks into clearing the hard level of Quake. But they don’t.

Meaning non-gamers were shut out of a world whereby getting to another level is a sense of accomplishment. Mafia Wars has that, sort of, for the non-gamer type.

Gamers will rail against these kinds of games saying that without problems to solve, there’s no point in the game. Or they’ll say clicking isn’t playing. I don’t disagree. But these games aren’t designed for gamers. They are designed for the other.

And maybe that’s not so bad.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2010 1:40 am

    Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

  2. February 8, 2014 9:47 pm

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