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Mar 04, 2011



I think you mean "touted" rather than "flouted" in the first paragraph.


"Will players eventually vote with their feet (or mice) and leave games that are simply treating them as a unit of monetization?"

This is kind of ludicrous actually. Here's how the conventional game industry works: You lay out $60 on the basis of a review somewhere, with the prayerful hope that the review is accurate, and it doesn't totally suck. A lot of the time, you are wrong.

Here's how the FTP model works: You pay nothing, zip, nada, until and if you want to. Of course, you're invited to do so constantly, and you're also playing 'whack a mole' with a million pop ups inviting you to spam your friend and spread the thing virally. But unless you are an idiot, you ultimately spend far less than on a conventional game.

I'm not debating the quality of current social games, which are mostly poor; but the idea that these are uniquely monetarily exploitative of their audience is absurd. Yes, they have annoying characteristics, but if you make the analogy that conventional videogames are like the movies (pay flat fee for entrance) and FTP games are like TV (accept that you will be subjected to tedious commercial blandishments in return for free access to content), I think you'll see that FTP games are not evil. Braindead, catering to the lowest common denominator, and perhaps lots of other things -- but by no means financially exploitative of their players.


"Will players eventually vote with their feet (or mice) and leave games that are simply treating them as a unit of monetization?"

This is kind of ludicrous actually.

Here's how the conventional market works: You lay out $60 for a game on the basis of a review and TV marketing and maybe a crippled demo, in the prayerful hope that the game doesn't suck--and often find out that well, actually, it does, and you've just blown $60 on a coaster.

Here's how the FTP market works: You pay zip, nothing, nada, until and if you want to. And yes, you're subjected to commercial blandishment to encourage you to pay, and have to play 'whack a mole' with pop-ups that want to spam your friends, but you are accepting the crap in order to play for free.

It's a lot like TV, in other words; you deal with the commercials to get the free content.

There are problems with these kinds of models -- appeal to the least common denominator, business dominance by suits focused on monetization rather than quality, and so on and so on; yes, indie film is better than broadcast TV, and indie (not mainstream commercial) games are more interesting than social games -- but the way in which 'free' monetizes audiences is not one of them.

In that regard, FTP is far less exploitative than application sale.


Some points.

1st. Metrics-driven design does not necessarily mean "what exists now."

2nd. Metrics-driven design does not necessarily mean "bad design."

3rd. There are metrics other than profit-driven ones.

What HAS happened is a few games entered a fairly new space and met with a degree of success. The metrics that they have tested have frequently (as far as I can tell - I could be wrong here) been *within the contexts of these games.* The players they are testing have been well and truly trained in the facebook game mechanic, and as any good behavioralist knows, past experience drives the vision of the future.

We have not actually seen what might happen if a developer/designer showed up with a GOOD game that satisfies both the rat-pedal needs and other, more interesting needs of any given human.

That, and yes - I do believe that at some point in the near or far future, click fatigue will set in. We are, for the most part, talking about a new audience of gamers. Those response centers are still willing to respond to "SHINY STAR! CLICKY!" (Oh, I wish I did kid.) Give 'em a year or two; those stars will start to look a hell of a lot more like a chore than a bonus.

I mean, the truth is that the games are AWFUL now. They're just terrible. If someone has an exception they would like to nominate, please do so; I haven't found one. The secondary truth is, in my opinion, they do not HAVE to be awful, there is a ton of potential there to make great, profitable games - but it is not, currently, happening.

(also, behavioral economics tends to supersede nash equilibrium in some cases; nash equilibrium can result in multiple feasible outcomes, more recent behavioral economics methods can actually be more precise - see Advances in Behavioral Economics [edited] by Colin Camerer - nor am I certain that it is precisely the model to look to here - who are the decision makers in this equilibrium? The players? the companies? More of a pedagogical aside than anything - I get the gist.)


Greg & Katie, thanks for the comments they are well taken.

My point here is not to say that the social games business model or even social games design aided by metrics is evil. I think Greg makes a good point in saying that the current business model where you can't try things for free is even more risky for consumers. I suppose my question is one of development cost versus revenue. I think it is a reasonable question to ask if games of the future might end up in a situation like fast food. Where we are feeding people things that are basically not good for them because it is a profitable enterprise and based on human evolution these are the things that a sizable portion of the population finds appealing or even addictive.

I personally hope that people want more from social games than what they are currently getting. I also think that we can use the behavioral economics and psychology to provide them with things that actually give them and enjoyable experience. I guess my point here was that I could envision a world where people are in a suboptimal outcome because evolution has designed us to desire games that are complicated slot machines. I am not saying this is true. We don't know the answer yet, but I think the prevalence and success of casinos might suggest this kind of outcome is a possibility.

Katie, I agree with you as well on your point that we are in the early phases of gaming in this space. Better games will come out games that are more creative and interesting and as that happens these users will hopefully migrate toward those games.

Finally, for Katie. I want to clarify why I used Nash Equilibrium. The axiom of rationality turns out to be a bad one for human beings. Especially, when you have communication and repeated play. However, the Nash Equilibrium that I am speaking of is the one that profit seeking firms would reach in a market for attention. I think since I am not speaking about human beings it is safe to make the assumption that firms will seek profits and so we can use utility maximization as a means to predict the Nash Equilibrium.

Thanks to both of you for the comments.


Lol. Yes.


I very much find myself agreeing with katie's three points; that's pretty much what I wanted to reply.

Coming from more of a general software engineering background, I find it slightly ridiculous NOT to verify designs with metrics, and alter them according to the results. Metrics-driven design is the great equalizer: it lets you listen to the silent majority of gamers, rather than only the vocal minority.

They're not a silver bullet, of course. There are tons of difficulties in using metrics to drive design, and not everyone will use them properly: first, you have to find the right things to measure. Then, you have to interpret the results correctly. There be dragons in both.

Lastly, and I think that's probably why people discuss metrics so much, metrics do not make good design, they just help you see existing flaws. It still requires creativity to remove those flaws whithout regressing to the mean.

In that sense, by all means, use metrics. I wish game designers would use metrics more, really.

And yes, using metrics for refining a business model also makes perfect sense to me, for much the same reasons.

I think the question that should be asked instead is whether game mechanics and business model should be strongly coupled. That's where I see the problem with so-called social games today, that in those games they are.

More traditional games tend to take the approach that the business model is selling an experience, and game design is concerned with creating the experience, but otherwise there's not much of a connection.

This has nothing to do with using metrics to improve either, though.


One: most of these social games are, in fact, awful. I've tried a few of the FTP MMOs and they basically suck. I've tried Farmville and the various clones. They're not great games. This from someone who likes both hardcore, traditional games (Civ, Mass Effect, WoW) and casual games (word games, puzzlers, tower defense). I think that using programmatic, statistical methods (I like "rat lever" as a descriptor) to maximize the input/output of gamers is, frankly, a bit disturbing. I'm also a socialist who believes very firmly in protecting "The Commons" where it exists.

All that being said, the competition for players' attention is nothing like a Tragedy of the Commons. If it is, then all commerce is, too... since people have a finite amount of income, and you can argue that when they do "bad" things with that money, it is harmful to the whole of society. If I buy a $1,500 TV for my family instead of piano lessons for my kid and better, more healthy food... I'm robbing "the commons" of a healthy, talented musician.

That's not realistic. And players' time for playing games isn't a fixed commodity anyway... if it was, then they would have been spending that time playing a different game in the past, which we're pretty sure they weren't, since they're mostly new(er) gamers. Go back far enough in time, and we simply didn't have time for as many games anyways. Leisure time has, generally, been expanding, especially if you view it over more than a century. Time playing Farmville doesn't subtract from time playing Dragon's Age; it subtracts from time watching Laverne and Shirley reruns (shudder).

And as bad as the FTP games are... they're still an order of magnitude better than that.

And if the social games don't get better, people will do something else with their time. Like play slightly more complex, less irritating games.

It's not a tragedy of the commons. It's the definition of competition. And while I'm a socialist, I'm also a capitalist, and I think that competition -- for time or money -- is good. A resource may be scarce or finite without being part of a common or club good.


The way I see it, we have a naive audience of people on social networks who are not understanding of the Ways of Games. We're giving them simple games to play, and through those they are becoming slightly more aware of the Ways of Games; they are becoming more discerning of their game experience. Once they grok what they're being asked to do, they will look for something more sophisticated. Sure, this won't be as sophisticated as what born-and-bred gamers play, but it'll be an improvement on what they are playing nonetheless. When they find those games, they will play those until they understand those, too, and then they'll look for more.

Basically, they're being educated in the Ways of Games.

This is a transient period we're in. If you're a start-up designing games for game newbies on social networks, well you already missed the boat on that one. You should be designing for what those 100m people will be playing 2 or 3 years down the line from now. We know where the audience is going, because we all followed that path ourselves; it's just a case of waiting for them to be bootstrapped up to a point where the games they want to play are as involved as the games we want to design.



way of games...lol naive audience?

slot machine players DONT all of a sudden play CRAPS or TEXAS HOLDEM.

and the MS games that came with accessories 25 years ago. did not create the WOW player.

Billions of Dollars are spent each year on Lotto Cards and Bingo games at Church.

Digital has brought "quantity" of reach.. not "quality" of purpose in both its games and games makers/business.


Games may fade, mechanismms/dyanmics might stay the same...


Also business diversity, character creation, resource management, dungeon keeping, identity permutating, etc. A sophisticate's games.


I wish I could have attended these talks. This was definitely on my radar of important subjects I wanted to hear discussed amongst the industry.

Perhaps I should have brought a glass with me, and sat outside the hall with the open end pressed against the wood paneling making up the temporary enclosure, and the solid end firmly against my ear! How cartoonish would that have looked?

As it was I felt the power of this as well just wandering the convention center. As I gave the first pitches for my organization and what we do I received warm reactions from folks over at Frogster, from small time developers, and from educators --- and cold reactions bordering on hostility from a few representatives from other free to play industries. One individual went to far as to ask me how I planned on representing the avatar... flatly denying any sort of crossover between the virtual world and the real world despite all points existing to the contrary.

At any rate at my first GDC conference ever I left hungry and wanting more, and this was one of the areas which I am sorely disappointed to have missed!


"Here's how the FTP model works: You pay nothing, zip, nada, until and if you want to. Of course, you're invited to do so constantly, and you're also playing 'whack a mole' with a million pop ups inviting you to spam your friend and spread the thing virally."

Excert for Runescape where a player can play an entire game without popups and you don't get invited to spam friends. )


I play games to have fun... to enjoy the game's content and evironment which may or may not include pvp.

Content is about color flair and the player enviorment (nights on teamspeak etc). I should be able to access all of that content as much as those paying extra , and even if I get to it a bit slower, if the game is designed at a pace of enjoyment for players paying the basic fee, my experience will depend on developer content, not speed of accessing it relative to other players.

Developers make enjoyment choices all the time without rmt considerations.. ie how quick do you gain experience, skills , level etc...how high a level you need to access which content etc.

As for PVP, the key is the matching of opponents, and the structure of pvp.

Evenly matched (and outfitted) oponents will have fun no matter how they aquired the character (and the one that didn't buy it will have more player experienc in optomizing the characters skills and win more given equal game execution ablities)

Group pvp between uneven numbers of characters with uneven equipment and abilities is still fun depending on how it scales and if game mechanics make it so 3 low level oponents can defeat one of the very highest level opononents and perhaps even 1 or two could accomplish that with very poor execution by the higher player and supreme execution by the lower.

The joy of competition comes from doing what you can with what you have got. Near miss victories against someone higher ranked can be satisfying despite a loss and a win like that can be worth 5 wins against even players .

Of course there are some players who just want to be better and would even be willing to cheat to get there. If those players don't cheat but buy their way to the top they'll get what they want, and but that shouldn't effect others like me as long as I have other opportunties for good fights.

It seems all about game design to me....no reason relative stregnth should determine relative fun, and a game should be about the path not the destination . (EVE works great in an asynchronous skill way)

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