Tobold's Blog
Friday, October 14, 2011
The value of Facebook games

Stabs asked an interesting question yesterday: "Do you think Facebook has any value to gamers now? Would you get another account if privacy were not an issue?" The short answers are yes, and yes. But as that makes a boring blog post, let me give you the long answer too:

First of all you need to get the idea out of your head that there is only one sort of "Facebook Game", and that it is somewhat similar to Farmville. Judging all games on Facebook based on Farmville makes about as much sense as judging all PC games based on the most-played PC game of all times, which is probably Solitaire. There are good and bad Facebook games out there. And then this is "good" and "bad" when viewed with the eyes of a "gamer". A lot of Facebook games which are "bad" to me and you, aren't necessarily "bad" to everybody. I know a woman who is playing a bit of World of Warcraft, but finds WoW very hard. But she rules in Cityville, a game I found far too boring.

Because the target audience for Facebook games is often people who do not otherwise play games, finding a game on Facebook which is "good" for veteran gamers means sorting through a lot of dross. Maybe there is a guide somewhere out there, but I haven't stumbled upon one yet. Most sites discussing Facebook games just list popularity by millions of players. And that strongly favors the least complicated games, which are played by non-gamers in their lunch break. That doesn't necessarily make the "bad" games, but it makes them unsuitable for the likes of you and me. It also creates a vicious cycle for game companies: Zynga recently published a game which was more complicated and more interesting to gamers than their usual fare, and the game promptly tanked.

The second major caveat is Stabs' limitation of "if privacy were not an issue". Privacy *is* an issue on Facebook. Playing most games on Facebook under your real name with your real friends has serious drawbacks, unless your real friends are *all* Facebook games fans. Facebook games produce a lot of spam, clearly "outing" you as a gamer on Facebook. And many Facebook games are "social" in that you need your friends to cooperate to advance. Or pay crazy amounts of money to replace the "free gifts" your friends could send you.

Now for many people this "social" feature of many Facebook games makes Facebook games not worth playing. That is a totally understandable and valid point of view. But as a game analyst, I tend to separate game play and business model. That is basically the same thing as whether a hypothetical PC game costing 1 million dollars to buy a copy of is any good: The game might well be very good, but the cost is unacceptable to most of us. If you have a real name Facebook account on which the friends are your real friends and relatives, you might very well decide to skip a good game because the social cost of having to spam your real friends to advance is unacceptable to you. It sure is unacceptable to me, which is why I got banned for having a false name account and lots of fake friends with which I had a kind of mutual spamming acceptance deal. I basically refused to pay the social cost of Facebook games, and Facebook banned me for it. It might even have been my blog posts about this possibility to avoid the social cost that led Facebook to ban me.

Now Facebook does have some games which aren't using a "spam friends or pay big bucks" business model. And if you have only friends who already know that you are an avid gamer, and your profile has all the privacy settings correctly set to protect you from people you don't want to know about your gaming habit, then you could play Facebook games. Different games have different amounts of social cost, and if you are willing to pay that social cost, there are some good games to be found. Just don't dive in without thinking and end up sending your boss a request to help you click on a cow during work hours.

Hmmm just suggesting a "social network experiment": have you considered creating an account which is perfectly reasonable (i.e. a completely fake, but consistent "persona"), which you use for your facebook activity (and thus gets a lot of facebook "real" friends, who happen to play the same games as you)?

Of course facebook might find out and threaten to ban you, asking for some proof of identity. At the same time, it's not like they are the police and they have any kind of official mandate, so I'd be surprised if it were a felony to send them a nicely photoshopped I.D. card...

Not that I'm in any way endorsing such a horrible abuse of social networks... it's just a random idea :)
Given that Zynga is about to launch their own gaming portal, I guess the question is whether Facebook games have to be tied to Facebook or not. For all we talk about the power of the social network etc, it seems a lot of gamers don't really want to play with their actual friends, cos their actual friends aren't interested in games to the same extent.
To avoid "mass spamming" you just need to add your playing friends in a specific group (I used to call it "Zynga players"). Then, when you play any FB game, just set the spamming stuff to be viewed by that group, excluding anyone else (real friends). Problem solved.

That said, the real problem is that FB games keep using/abusing the same formula: spend xx energy every hour and get constantly spammed with a big "BUY CASH" / "BUY ENERGY" button.

I wouldn't define these games "social" either. To me, social means you interact and actually DO something with someone. FB games are mostly populated by random players able to say 1 thing only: "ADD ME"... "ADD ME!!!".
Huh, you used dross. I would have figured you would use dreck.
Did Facebook ban you outright, in a single notification? Or was there a warning of some kind first?

If you were banned for inappropriate activity one might have expected a warning first that would allow you to modify that activity to come within acceptable parameters. If you were banned as a result of a complaint against you, one might have expected that you would have some right of appeal. If you were banned for using a non-real life identity, one might have expected that you be offered the opportunity to convert that identity to an acceptable "real" one.

How extreme and sudden a "banning" was it? Were options offered to mitigate the removal of service from you that you chose not to take up, or were you removed outright with no option of redress?
"Social Cost" just sounds like a horrible thing to even have to think about when I want to do some gaming. I recognize facebook as a valid gaming platform because the social connections add something unique, but dealing with this cost is not worth it to me personally.
Did Facebook ban you outright, in a single notification?

It would be even more correct to say I got zero notification. Not a single e-mail from Facebook. It's just that when I log in, I land on a page saying "your account has been disabled" with a link to possible reasons why, which list both the false name and the playing with strangers. So I'm not 100% sure which one of the reasons actually got me.
The amount of effort to play these 'games' is amazing to me. Who knew a 'free' game required so much pre-planning, account ducking, and such serious 'impact' (getting fired thanks to cow-clicker spam). Glad I play far less hardcore games that just require $50, 40 hours a week, and herding sociopaths. Hopefully FB gets more accessible to me at some point.

With each of your recent Facebook posts, I've come to feel an increased bitterness over the sad fact that the "Toboldgate" moniker is already taken! :)

Seriously, keep up the good fight!
If I were running Zynga I would be completely outraged that Facebook was doing this. Facebook created the space for facebook games, but facebook games did a lot to popularize Facebook. Shutting down the accounts people use to play games is a direct assault on their customer base.
Food for thought, thanks Tobold.

Oddly I'm more interested in playing one of these games now than previously.

Quick question: is it permitted to use an unusual expression of your real name? Would Ernest Gary Gygax have been allowed to create an account in the name Ernest Gygax when the world normally thinks of him as Gary Gygax?
Quick question: is it permitted to use an unusual expression of your real name?

As in cases of dispute Facebook is asking you to send a scan of a government issued ID, I think any name which is on your ID should be fine.
why get tied down to a company like facebook when there are plenty of alternatives? there are more free to play games than you can shake a stick at, there is no reason to support facebook.
Would not attempting to thwart the mindless bots policing FaceBook "Real Names", be a game in itself?

It would get old for me because I know how to fake out most of algos.

Case in point, if you want to be anonymous on the internet where is the best place to live and WiFi?

A University Town... preferably in the Eastern or Western US Or Uber Liberal EU polity of your choice... I personally like Czech Republic but to each their own.

Charles U. FTW!

Plenty of people showing up for <6 months
Plenty of people changing IP addresses like undergarments
Plenty of people changing friends and leaving undergarments

Rapid status change from committed to single.

(FYI - If you want to make a fight into a breakup all you gotta do now is change your FB status to Single... because it INSTANTLY spams your friends with your new "Status"... boy Marriage Counselors are going to have a field day with this one)

But I digress

The best way to put it is that one of the hardest places to track down "real background" info is high traffic locales. Frankly, if someone has a permenant address that is a Mail Drop in and around a campus it's nigh impossible.

Most automated Residence vs Commercial address checkers fail spectacularly in high density urban environments.

But of course this takes so much effort that most of the people on the escalator to Orwellian Nirvana would think is too much trouble.

Freedom isn't free

But for those of you who DON'T want to be the easily marketed too... AKA Sheeple... It might be a good idea to develop the skills.
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