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 Braid 's Blow: Social Games Are 'Not Very Social'
Braid's Blow: Social Games Are 'Not Very Social'
February 16, 2011 | By Mike Rose

February 16, 2011 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC

Jonathan Blow, developer of hit indie title Braid and upcoming The Witness, believes that games like World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike are far more social than "evil" social games.

In an interview with PC Gamer, Blow said that social games are more about "exploiting your friends list" than actually being social.

"[With certain social games] it’s about the game exploiting your friends list that you already made, so it’s not really about meeting people." he said. "And it’s not really about doing things with them because you’re never playing at the same time."

"It’s about using your friends as resources to progress in the game, which is the opposite of actual sociality or friendship. Maybe not exactly, but it’s not the same thing, right? They’re really just called social games because they run on social networks".

The developer explained what he classes as being social in gaming. "A game like World of Warcraft or Counter-Strike or whatever is way more social. Because you actually meet new people in clans or guilds." Blow said.

When asked whether he thought social games were evil, he stated "Yes. Absolutely. There’s no other word for it except evil."

"Of course you can debate anything, but the general definition of evil in the real world, where there isn’t like the villain in the mountain fortress, is selfishness to the detriment of others or to the detriment of the world. And that’s exactly what [most of these games are]."

Gamasutra talked to Jonathan Blow recently about upcoming adventure game The Witness and the challenges in switching from 2D to 3D.

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Yannick Lott
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100% signed!

If someone is able to read German, here is my blogpost on this topic:

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I agree with this wholeheartedly. Sure, you may not be socializing with your aunt in *insert clone here*Ville, but you're still socializing (at least for me) with a guild or your friends.

Whenever we play WoW, or a shooter we often just chat on what's going on in our lives anyway. Or we'll talk about how we have to have those levels done, etc. It's much more fun than, say, chatting in the IM while tending to crop.

I don't know if anybody else does that, but it's just been that way since Xbox Live for us. Our game time is the new water cooler if you will.

(Note: We still love our water cooler).

Luis Blondet
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That's like saying that MMORPG are not social just because you can go solo.

He obviously hasn't played enough social networking games, and thus, doesn't know what he's talking about. His argument comes from a place of ignorance.

I play social games and I make friends all the time, you have to be in a group in order to gain the best advantage.

Andrew Hopper
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Do you have to actually interact with that group? Or just put the group together as a series of bonuses for your guys? Are you making those friends IN games, or outside of the games?

Luis Blondet
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Hard to make friends outside of the games since they are scattered all around the world, but the Social Game called Mouse Hunt has lots of local get togethers and I even saw once that my friend go together with her Mafia Wars clan and baked a cake with the MW theme for one of their members.

You can be anti-social in SNGs, but it won't get you very far. You have to work together as a team to get ahead, in the process, camaraderie takes hold.

Sean Kiley
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Making money is not evil. I hate those social network games too but they've learned that they can make money from getting people to "cowclick", and that's what they are doing, making money.

Now hacking someone to death with a broadsword, that pretty evil ;P

Caleb Garner
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yea i agree... i think it's terribly short sighted and ignorant to label and entire genre of games as evil just because they don't like them.

we have a project we're working on in facebook that is bucking a lot of trends you see in facebook and hey maybe we'll fail at it, but maybe people will like it.. that's the beauty of these games. The players can really connect with the developers and help us know what people enjoy and don't... this is so much harder for other development models to do.

Some companies can be called evil for their practices, but to group all developers of games in that space as evil sounds more like envy and / or fear.

you want to talk about evil? talk about companies that sell user information, clone game ideas or companies that trademark words in the itunes store.. that is some evil stuff.. and yes much of this is on facebook, but not by everyone.

I don't like dress up games and i'm not a big fan of any mmo other than wow try as i might... but i would never call them all evil for being made and making a living for their developers.

The social game space is not being forced to be played to use facebook. it's not evicting people from their homes and absolutely none of them are hacking someone to death with a broadsword...

people obviously enjoy them even if they don't meet certain developers sense of what a game is...

ron carmel
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while there are a variety of social games, the majority are currently CrapVille style games and are nothing more than glorified slot machines. the average user sits there and performs repetitive tasks, and slowly loses money. i don't find CrapVille games (nor slot machines) to be of positive value to society. they suck money out of the bored and weak willed and offer not much in return.

i hope that one day non-evil social games will change the stigma that social games have today among game designers who value something other than maximizing profit.

Andrew Hopper
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Making money isn't evil, but giving money to those with evil purposes IS. If a game developer is not contributing anything to society other than mindless entertainment, how do we know that they're going to use the money we give them to do something good? If a game has heart and soul, I can take comfort in the fact that the people making money off the game will also have a heart and soul. If your game's heart and soul is "money making" then your money is probably going on top of a pile of socially irresponsible accumulated wealth.

Seth Sivak
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I disagree with this for two reasons:

1. A game doesn't need to be synchronous to be social.

I have a been playing strategery ( with a friend for months now and we never play it at the same time. We talk about the games when we are not playing, but we rarely sit side-by-side and play. I consider this to be social, it enhances our relationship.

2. Social does not mean making new friends.

It turns out that many people do not like playing games with strangers, this stigma is strong with parents of children especially. Most people just like playing with their friends that they already know and social games give them a new avenue for enriching their relationships.

Yannick Lott
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(QUOTE)"1. A game doesn't need to be synchronous to be social.

I have a been playing strategery ( with a friend for months now

and we never play it at the same time. We talk about the games when we are not playing, but we rarely sit side-by-side and play. I consider this to be social, it enhances our relationship."(/QUOTE)

I definitely have to agree and to disagree at the same time. I think, that it more anti social if you don't play simultaneously. Because of this one point: communication. Sure you can talk about the game afterwards, but the communication of many social games while playing them is barely excitend. That you feel socially integrated, I don't doubt that. I also agree with your second point, partly.

To sum this up: Social Games are good and bad for the industry, as well as for long time players. Social Games are getting more and more people into this entertainment genre and will develop over the years. You can't really put them into a "real" genre yet, nor can you compare them with "million dollar productions". What many companies missed in the last years: While developing quadruple "A" games, they forgot to touch other target groups. There have been some Sims here or puppet games there, but common social networks have been there for a while. And the barrier to play games while already being online is extremly smaller than buying a top end PC or a console, than buying a game for 70 bucks and take 20 minutes watching an intro and than start to play.

Andrew Hopper
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You can talk about single players with your buddies afterwards too: Who hasn't waded into online FF6 versus FF7 fan debates? Yet that doesn't mean the game itself is social. Warcraft requires socialization as a function of (high level) gameplay. Asychronously socialized games may occasionally hit a nugget of sociality, but they're not particularly social.

Bryan Wagstaff
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You say you disagree, but is that from reading the actual article or from just reading the gamasutra quotes?

His argument is about all companies, it's just that the forum he was at asked specifically about social media.

He specifically griped about designers who think more about the bottom line than the games they make. His central point was: 'What these designers do – and this is why I always go to it from the design standpoint – they very deliberately design the game to not give the player everything that they want ... [they think] "My goal is to get people to think about my game and to put more money into my game and get other friends to play my game to the exclusion of all other games and all other things that they might do with their free time." That is the job description of those designers. And that’s evil.' (quote from his article.)

The sentiment is very old. You or your parents will remember arcade games that seemed designed to force you to keep inserting coins. In more recent history of MMOs, many games died because they were focused more on keeping subscriptions rather than keeping the game fun. He's saying exactly the same thing, only the discussion happened to be about social media companies. In each case the designers and executives were focused on the company's income rather than the player's experience.

His focus was on improving the player's experience rather than emptying their wallet or using the customer as free advertisement, and I agree with that. Build games because you want to encourage fun, charge for it because you must pay your bills.

Steven An
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I see WoW and FarmVille much like cigarettes and fast food. The proper way to deal with them is through education. People need to be educated about the potential side effects of over-using WoW and Farmville. But I don't see a need to call them "evil." They provide a service that some choose to enjoy, and that's just fine by me.

I do personally think they're f'in stupid, though.

Matt Mihaly
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This would have been an interesting POV three years ago, but it's been said a million times already.

Matt Cascio
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Now, I'm going to start by saying I've never personally played any "social games" but I do have a basic understanding of their mechanics/concepts. To this degree, I agree with Blow. Mr. Sivak, you said that some games we choose to play with just our friends, or what have you, and that is very true. I play with my two friends with frightening consistency on Halo(2,3,ODST,Reach) and CoD (name one..) and we always make a private party and don't talk to anyone other than each other. To this degree you could say these games are just like social games condemned by Blow, right?

I'd have to disagree. While yes these games offer the option of simply bolstering our relationships with current friends, they inherently foster the interaction with strangers and new people. These social games do not do that. I met my two compatriots originally online, via Halo 2 proximity chat. This kind of interaction is not available to people playing these social games. The only option is to interact with (or exploit, depending on how you look at it) our current friends.

Just a last thought. Forgetting textbooks definitions of the word, how "social" would you consider it to be for two friends to go to a big party and when they get there they simply speak to each other, disregarding the social atmosphere around them? May not be the best example, but, just a thought that came to mind.

Robert Boyd
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Seeing as how the goal of many of these social games is to create addicts, I would say that evil is a valid description.

Carlo Delallana
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I think today's games are barely scratching the surface of enabling meaningful social interactions. Is the game i'm playing improving my social interactions? If No then maybe its time to play a different game.

Being social means finding common ground. I have zero interest in farming so I get a little ticked-off when I get requests from them...sometimes to the point of annoyance. This makes me wonder if the game itself is hurting my social interaction with these folks. Maybe if I knew how much the game mattered to them I would oblige but the requests for help tend to have a very generic tone to them. They don't do a good enough job of letting me know if they really love playing the game.

What passes for social interaction is being oversimplified and distilled into a short "i need something" request. We know what happens to people that just keep asking for shit, you start to pull away from them.

Moving on to WOW and Counter Strike, what's interesting about those examples is the element of skill needed to play those games as opposed to FarmVille. The social bonds formed when playing those games are stronger and I believe it has to do with the specialized skills needed to play those games. There is this common ground that binds these players. The pursuit of a common goal as opposed to satisfying an individual need. Specialization that allows members of a team or community to play a specific role or function that feeds into this overarching goal. Success and failures are shared.

Simply put, these games are "WE" experiences while the social games i've played to date are all "ME" experiences.

P.S. - to my good friends who play FarmVille, I still love you...but would it hurt to talk to me about non-FarmVille stuff once in a while? :)

Sean Currie
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Keep in mind, we're running into the problem of genre here. When people think of social games we tend to think of the more classic Farmville-clones. That's perfectly reasonable considering how ubiquitous they are, but that doesn't include every single game on Facebook. I wouldn't call Bejeweled or Scrabble a social game, but they are Facebook games and there are elements of asynchronous multiplayer in Scrabble.

When Blow refers to "social games" he's really referring to the biggest subset of the category: that being the Farmville clone. And I've played many a Farmville clone and there is absolutely nothing social about them.

It's debatable, but I wouldn't refer to Strategery as a social game in any sense of the word. But again when I think "social game" I think Farmville.

Steven Ehrensperger
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I'm tempted to throw a gauntlet in the general direction of the gaming press – to find some better genre labels for games. “Social Games” and “Casual Games” – have to be among the least effective descriptors ever.

I’m reminded of “New Wave” music in the early 80’s which somehow included Joy Division, A Flock of Seagulls and Huey Lewis and the News.

If the gaming press doesn’t take the lead, the upcoming generation of game-academics will do it for them -- a decade later.

Joe McGinn
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Couldn't agree more. I won't play Facebook games ... because I'm not anti-social! I refuse to annoy and use my friends as game resources. I almost feel insulted every 10 seconds playing Cityville when it pops up yet another message with a great big button inviting me to annoy my friends.

WoW is a social game. I play it with my friends. "Words with Friends" (Scrabble clone) on iPhone is social.

I have yet to find any remotely social game on Facebook.

joelle Hadfield
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Blows' view is very interesting and is right for the most part, however I also think he has generalized social games.. for example, Yazino is a Live Social Gaming company who's games are social because they are played in real-time and designed to be multiplayer.

Being social is about interacting with friends- when games are multiplayer, you are therefore always interacting with your friends and other players!