Social gaming: I am a traitor to the cause!

In the past I’ve been very critical of Social Games. I don’t like them because they’re spammy. I don’t like them because they’re hardly games. And I don’t like them because they’re scammy.

But recently I’ve been coming around. It turns out the truth is more that I don’t like Facebook games; the fact that most Facebook games are Social Games is almost a coincidence.

I’ve been playing two Social Games. The first is Pocket Empires on the Droid (or any Android device). I’m way too early in the game to review it, but here’s a look at it from Android and Me. They call it an MMO; I’m calling it a Social Game; maybe it’s both. I’m still building up my city (building/upgrading takes place in real time) and haven’t really started heading out to do battle, nor have I found any allies yet. It just *feels* like a Social Game though; you buy gems for $$, then spend gems on perks to speed up your advancement through the game. You have to check in on and off through the day to make sure everyone is on track and you aren’t wasting build time.

The game is definitely still a work in progress, and I’m not even sure I’ll like it over the long haul, but for now its fun.

The other title I’ve been playing is GodFinger. This is a quirky little game for the iPad (and soon I think, the iPhone/Touch) that has you running a world. It has a whiff of Populous to it, and yes, some very Farmville-ish aspects too. Your early actions mostly involve positioning clouds and the sun and using your mana to bring down rain, lightning or sunshine. The world below responds accordingly (lightning is basically a “Smite” spell). As you gain levels you gain followers, and you can put them to work building and working farms, which generate gold. But the little dudes get worn out, so you have to provide areas for them to rest and recharge.

You have to log into the game to pick up the gold they produce, or to drag them from their work place to a nice soothing fountain or warm campfire to recharge.

As to the Social stuff, once you get your friends to play you can go visit their planets and “enchant” some of their followers, which earns you some exp and a trickle of gold. You can name your followers after your friends, which gets them some small bonus. A co-worker invited me to play the game and we find ourselves sitting side-by-side, checking in with our silly little people a couple times during the day.

In this one, you buy Awe for real $$ and can spend it on various powerups or on in-game gold. The game spams you and your friends, but since it runs on a ‘closed’ iPhone/Touch/iPad social network (called Plus+) devoted to games, the spam doesn’t seem bothersome (and you can turn it off easily enough). You can also send notifications to Twitter (which I’ve been doing) or Facebook just to help get the word out on the game. So while you could spam Facebook with it, that isn’t really the point here.

Anyway, here’s a review at IGN that I felt was pretty accurate.

I’ve whined and whinged a lot about how busy I am these days; I’m plodding away at FF XIII but I’m still under 20 hours there. I’ve been getting in an hour or so of EVE each week. And that’s all my gaming, except for these little ‘hop in, play for 3-5 minutes and hop out’ Social Games. And I’m finding they’re great stress relievers and work well as ‘rewards’ for myself when I deserve a break in the day.

They’re Social Games (I guess… maybe my definitions are just screwy) but they’re fun. The decision making still boils down to resource management, with real-world time one of those resources. But they still feel more like real games to me than Vampire/Mafia Wars. GodFinger, in particular, is a quirky delight, but that has as much to do with presentation as mechanics.

At first I felt…y’know, DIRTY, for playing these games. But I’m not seeing an evil side to them, they way I do with Facebook games. Costs are all pretty upfront, there’s no “Take this survey and win Awe” stuff going on (though there IS a “look at this ad and get a free Awe” feature in Godfinger, but that’s as far as it goes. Open the ad, then close it again) and no one is getting spammed or scammed.

We’ll see how long they hold my interest. I have to admit, I’ve considered buying some Awe in Godfinger… 🙂

If anyone happens to be on Plus+, you can friend me there. My username is pasmith

6 thoughts on “Social gaming: I am a traitor to the cause!

  1. Ah, so that’s what Godfinger is, was wondering after seeing your Twitter messages earlier today.

    I have to agree with you about separating “social games” from Facebook. After hearing quite a bit about how Farmville and other games work, it’s not much different from Echo Bazaar, except that it integrates with Facebook where EB integrates with Twitter. Game-wise the mechanics aren’t all that great though, Echo Bazaar keeps me interested because of the writing.

    Godfinger sounds pretty fun, too bad I don’t have an iPad.

  2. I do not like these games too much. They are quite often scammy as you said and Dusty Monk got it right as he said they offer you to pay optionally to avoid having to socialize and progress faster and all that.

    But there are similar casual browsergamers, disconnected from facebook and money, that are not called social games and they are quite nice. I did not try Echo Bazaar, but I once played “The Arena” where you were a Gladiator fighting in ever higher tiers. Totally text based, you got informed by mail if someone smacked you.

    What really rubs me the wrong way is that so many MMO designer superstars jump on this silly train. I do not know if Raph Koster is developing a facebook social game, but he was quite a lot talking about it. Richard Garriott participates in the development of some kind of social poker game on facebook. It really disappointed me that the man who created UO/Britannia now focuses on such things.

  3. Pete, I’ve have found the Words with Friends game for iPhone to be a great way to play a scrabble like game over the phones gps or internet connection. The free version of this game,too, has a ad pop-up to deal with which is not spam. Not sure if it’s avaliable on Ipad. Have you played We Rule from the same company that produced Godfinger, ngmoco?

  4. @Longasc, yes, Raph Koster’s “Metaplace” now does a Facebook game called, iirc, Island Life, or My Island, or something. It seems very Farmville-ish to me.

    And I agree with you that its sad seeing designers who we know can build awesome things switching over to these smaller games.

    But I’m going to keep playing Godfinger. 🙂

    @DM — I’m going to try We Rule next. Send me a friend invite if you like!

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