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Gamelab 2011: MUD Creator Bartle: 'Current Social Games Are Not Fun'
Gamelab 2011: MUD Creator Bartle: 'Current Social Games Are Not Fun'
June 30, 2011 | By Brandon Sheffield

June 30, 2011 | By Brandon Sheffield
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    12 comments
More: Social/Online, Design, Production



"Today, 20 million people will play CityVille," said Richard Bartle, co-creator of the MUD, and father of the MMO at a Gamasutra-attended Gamelab 2011 talk in Barcelona. "And 100 million will play it this month. My question is, what will these people be playing five years from now?"

"The big thing about social games that they don't like to tell you, is they're not actually social," he says. "Games played on social network sites is what we mean by social games ... These games are categorized more by the platform than that they are social themselves."

Most games on Facebook, "despite being called social, are basically solo games, with a veneer, just a simple layer on top where you ask your friends to do something for you in the game," says Bartle. "You're not going to make new friends, you're not going to form alliances, or do anything like that playing FarmVille."

The social aspect of it gives validity, he says, to let you know other people are playing it, so "it proves you're not absolutely mad." Most games get their players now from having advertised to players of previous games.

"The way they engage their players is not through interesting gameplay, it's done through extrinsic rewards - basically bribes." These are badges, pats on the back, and so forth. As he explains; "I'm level two! That person over there, who started playing five minutes ago, is level one! I'm better!"

Sometimes these games do have things mixed in which are actually fun to play. "The difference is, social games rely on the extrinsic rewards so as to be compelling," he says. "People keep playing the game because it keeps giving them things - rewards." This has led to gamification.

"In the hands of designers, this has a great deal of potential, but unfortunately it's not in the hands of designers, it's in the hands of marketers. I mention this because my player types have been used in gamification in spite of my never having touched it."

"Most game designers are not a fan of social games, and indeed, I as a game designer am not a fan. Surely, if you play a game, you must be able to lose somehow." Bartle says the backlash against social games comes "because they lack gameplay, which leaves this impression that people like games, but these aren't really like games. And they're called social but they're not actually social, so why do people play these games? Because of the rewards."

Human beings are actually pretty smart, Bartle asserts, saying we're good at data processing and pattern matching. "People who play games will notice patterns in those games. The problem with social games is people will recognize those more."

By way of example, he pointed to children. "When you're a small child and you're given a star, you think it's pretty good." But then when you start realizing you get stars for things that aren't that good, your friends no longer value it, and then you subsequently don't value it, and then you start to actually not want stars. "The bad aspect is when people realize, 'this game is boring,'" he says. "You do one task, you finish it, and you're given another task. You're just making more work for yourself."

"What will people be playing in five years? Not CityVille," he said. "They'll be playing something else. Not only will they not be playing CityVille, they won't be playing a game that's like CityVille, because they'll recognize why they stopped playing it."

So what will they be playing? People understand if something's fun to play versus just rewarding them. Unless it's actually fun to collect the things you're collecting in games, even in MMOs, they'll be worthless as soon as expansions come out, and you have to do it all over again. It becomes work.

People will want something "better," which means different things to different people, he said. "Today's players of social games will not want to play more social games," Bartle asserts. "There's no gameplay to them, they rely on extrinsic rewards. So what we have to give them is more games."

"The reason I like [social games] is that I see it as a way to make non-gamers become game-literate," he says. "There will have to be a way to migrate from extrinsic rewards to intrinsic rewards, because that's what makes games fun. ... Social games are beginning the education of people who started with small games, and are turning into people who actually want real games. Games that have gameplay."


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Comments


Marcus Miller
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Nothing like playing Uno on Xbox Live with a bunch of strangers with microphones. That is some social gaming.

Jonathan Murphy
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The consumers decide if they buy on a whim or a long term investment. A fad can make just as much money as a franchise. This can be gain or loss, depending on how a product was made, and it's affect on industry.

Jeremie Sinic
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This makes sense, and I like Richard Bartle's way of putting it. "Social games" have reached to large untapped pools of users who were not gamers but might soon feel bored and be looking for more substance.

Abel Bascunana Pons
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I posted along the same lines last year http://stalyan.com/2010/02/23/social-vs-multiplayer/

The most lapidary sentence of Brandon's comments is:



The social aspect of it gives validity, he says, to let you know other people are playing it, so "it proves you're not absolutely mad."



LoL

Luis Guimaraes
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Strange how that line makes all the sense.

Alan Youngblood
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"It becomes work." I think this is the problem I've personally found with most achievement systems. A lot of times developers put in even dumber achievements like the "congrats you bought and played our game" achievement. That IS an achievement, but one for the company making the game, not the player. The player need not be bothered with that.



"Gamification" is a new buzz word for an old thing - serious games. The problem comes in when people fundamentally lack the understanding to know how and when this should be done. I would not suggest using games for non-game purpose when there's an easier or more preferred method. Also you have to preserve what makes games what they are (fun) in order to do it right.

Patrick Dugan
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Most games on Facebook, "despite being called social, are basically solo games, with a veneer, just a simple layer on top where you ask your friends to do something for you in the game," says Bartle.



Solipsocial.

Philip Michael Norris
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"social games/gaming" has itself become a buzz word and the concept is nothing new. I agree with you in that FB games aren't social just because they are exclusive to FB, though the majority of its players seem to think so.

Nicolas Lamanna
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So basically, social games are Gateway games.

David Serrano
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Lol, I actually began writing a blog on that topic a few months ago but never finished.



The answer is no, but you have the right idea. Right now we have casual - mobile - social - free to play games on the far left and core - hardcore games on the far right. But there's very little between the two extremes. What's missing from the equation is Gateway games. Games which stage by stage, allow casual players to advance (become addicted) to deeper, more complex or immersive types of games. Which is why core developers should have "model lines" similar to the auto industry. Auto makers don't only sell economy cars or luxury cars. They sell economy, luxury and many other models which progressively increase in complexity, features and price between the two extremes. But core developers and publishers gave up on converting casual players before they ever tried. Yes, they may not convert every casual player into a core player. But they should at least have other models of games to capture their business at any stage they decide to progress to.



It's also worth mentioning largest auto manufacturers buy and sell pre-owned cars.. just saying.

David Serrano
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With all due respect to Mr. Bartle:



"Surely, if you play a game, you must be able to lose somehow."



He's saying without the risk of losing, there is no conflict. And without conflict, game play cannot be meaningful or fun. This is simply untrue. I've been a core console/ PC player my entire life and the most meaningful and satisfying game play I've ever experienced did not take place in a core or hardcore game. It took place in Second Life. Players do not win or lose in SL. SL also has no required conflicts, no score, no goals, no objectives, no combat or competition and no predefined difficulty or challenge levels. So maybe its time to reexamine the definition of a "game?"



"Human beings are actually pretty smart, Bartle asserts, saying we're good at data processing and pattern matching. "People who play games will notice patterns in those games. The problem with social games is people will recognize those more."



Which is actually a bigger problem for core gaming in the short term than it is for social gaming. My gut, and a huge amount of reading both tell me aside from hardcore fanboys, many core players are sick and tired of the same thing (patterns) in game after game. I know personally, I've just about had it with the state of core gaming. I think, this may be the year it finally catches up with the industry. Don't be surprised if MW 3 or BF 3 don't sell nearly as well as projected later this year.



"You do one task, you finish it, and you're given another task. You're just making more work for yourself."



Well, this describes every game ever created. Because the reality is games are simply a series of tasks and or actions. The only major difference between the structure of social games like Farmville and "traditional" games is, Farmville doesn't have a defined ending. As Richard said, players can't lose... but they also can't win. Allowing them to win or lose increases the possibility they'd stop playing. Not saying I agree with it, but it is why they do it.



"Social games are beginning the education of people who started with small games, and are turning into people who actually want real games. Games that have gameplay."



And... exactly who decides what a "real game" is? And who decides they can decide for everybody else? I mean, there are AAA games on the market I don't feel are real games. I also don't think the people who play them are real gamers. It doesn't mean I'm right and my guess is the developers of these games would disagree with me. As I said earlier, Second Life doesn't have designer created missions or objectives so does this mean it also doesn't contain game play and it is also not a real game? People in the industry should just remember the goal is to sell games to as many people as possible, not to wage class warfare between the different segments of the market and audience.

Scott Macmillan
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Honestly, his criticisms above are so over-generalized (same as many of the reactions in these comments), they hold almost no water. If CityVille is the object of his ire, he should say that. Instead he's hitting everything with an incredibly broad brush.



He sounds extremely similar to a lot of the armchair pundits that criticize games in general without really taking the time to engage with them... although how much in the way of social games Mr. Bartle has played is, natch, not something I know.


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