Monday, April 12, 2010

Facebook Social Networking Games

What is a Social Networking Game?

Over the past year, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I was an avid Mafia Wars player. If no one is familiar with Mafia Wars or similar games like Farmville, these games are simple games developed to pull you into an almost sub-culture of gaming. It starts innocuous enough. They provide you with a limited amount of energy to utilize on tasks. As you accomplish tasks, you earn points to expand your energy and build your cache (in Mafia Wars its weapons, protection, vehicles, properties, etc. ). The more you play it, the more you acquire, the larger your energy builds. It is an addictive cycle that draws people in.

An additional component that is imperative to the game is the social networking part of the game. For Mafia Wars, you grow your Mafia. Tasks and game objectives are accomplished by recruiting your Facebook friends in becoming your Mafia. The more friends that you recruit, the more tasks that your friends can help you to annihilate. If anyone on Facebook that has spent 5 minutes on it, you have probably been asked to join a Mafia, start your Farm, been given a virtual hug, or even been given a virtual Dunkin Donuts’ donut (I’d prefer the real ones).

This Social Networking aspect of the games is both the reason that these games are popular and the reason why so many “Facebook”ers are sick of these games. Over the past year, Mafia Wars (and I’d venture to guess Farmville, et al) has evolved. When I started playing this game a year ago, the emphasis was to grow your Mafia. So like many I sent all my Facebook friends a request to join my Mafia. Then when I wasn’t able to reach my limit of 500 people in my Mafia, I searched online forums. These fan forums basically created an area where you could post your information and recruit for people, unknown to you, to join your Mafia. This meant that they had to be your Facebook friend as well.

Privacy is in the eye of the beholder, right?

My belief is that this is one of the reasons that Facebook is constantly changing their privacy settings. Hundreds of thousands of strangers were strangling Facebook’s internal email system through these requests. Plus these same people were littering Newsfeeds and requests boxes with these solicitations. For every Facebook update or change, these game developers seemed to have a fix. At this point, I am sick of “the games” that these game developers are thrusting at you so that you can play these games.

Let me buy myself a Mafia!

Another nefarious aspect of these games are the add-ons. When you accomplish so many tasks (how many, I have no idea), in Mafia Wars, you are given Godfather points. I believe this is a similar approach on the other games as well. You accumulate these points and when you get a certain amount, you can upgrade your character or world in some fashion. Those that do not want to wait to grow your character through natural game progression can also purchase these points. The last time I heard, about one quarter to one half players on these games have purchased these incentives on these free gaming platforms. I feel that this practice is very similar to using cheat codes in other games except your game status is only limited by the dollars that you spend on this game.

Additionally, Zynga, the maker of most of these games, contracted with hundreds of companies to offer Godfather points. The catch was that the player had to sign-up for a service through these companies. Many were considered predatory in nature. Zynga felt a backlash and eliminated many companies from this practice. However, it is still one of their business models being used. This preys on our anything-to-get –ahead culture.

Feeling withdrawal symptoms!

As of now, I have stopped playing this and other games on Facebook. They are too intrusive. I do not want to flood my friends anymore with these requests. You can’t play a game on Facebook without being asked to recruit friends or post your information on your profile I’ve quit cold-turkey and, as of right now, I feel liberated. . Until these rules change, I will feed my gaming addiction somewhere else. Now I have to go, Spider Solitare is calling my name.

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