The maths and psychology of Social Games – Facebook games are digital crack dealers.

I have never liked social games. They do not, in general, satisfy me. If a game is not a challenge, if I can buy my way out of an impasse, i put it down.This is one of the reasons I play multiplayer first-person shooters (FPSs) – remove the violence aspect for a minute – you’re competing against other human beings each with their own quirks, and personalities and habits. While an individual player may be predictable. A whole team may operate as a dynamic that is simply too much for me to anticipate. Add my own team-mates and the possibilities are just so much fun — to me. Add the spacial dynamics of a well designed map that creates challenging but not impossible imbalances and the whole thing is deeply satisfying. Problem solving on the fly, combined with twitch reflexes – that is what keeps me coming back.

But for many a game is just a pass-time. I get that. But playing a game on a social network has become a very lucrative business. The article I just linked to recalls a pitch by game developers to a corporate board.

You teach the player how to play the game in one minute. Within that one minute, you give them in-game money. You make them spend all of that money to buy an investment that will begin to earn them profit. They build a thing. It says: this thing will be finished in five minutes. Spend one premium currency unit to have it now. You happen to have one free premium currency unit. The game makes you use it now. Now you have a thing. Now it says to wait three minutes to collect from that thing. So they have a reason to stick around for three minutes. When those three minutes are up, you tell them to come back in a half an hour. You say, ‘You’re done for now. Come back in a half an hour.’ The phone sends them a push notification in a half an hour. Right here, you’re telling them to wait. You’re expressing to them the importance of patience. They’re never going to forget the way it feels to wait a half an hour after playing a game for one minute. They’re going to forget the second time they wait for a half an hour, and the third time, and they’ll then not forget the first time they have to wait for four hours, then twenty-four hours. This is why they’ll start to pay to Have Things Right Now.

In short – crack dealers.

who killed videogames? (a ghost story) | insert credit


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: