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

Droid thoughts

Werit isn’t the only one who got a Droid this week. I did too. I’d been coasting on a pre-pay cell plan using a Razr (which I *hated*) for about a year. Hated the phone, but loved spending only $15/month on it.

But I felt the siren-call of smartphones, and yet I knew I didn’t want an iPhone (I’ve gone from complete and total Apple fanboy to not really trusting the company or their hardware, though I do still like OS X). Windows Mobile seemed dull and Palm OS feels like it’s going to go *poof!* any day now. What was feeling new and exciting was Android, so I was waiting to see what came out of Google’s mobile OS. When I first heard about the Droid I kinda fell in love with the phone but I wasn’t really ready to a) be a trailblazer or b) take on a $70/month phone bill.

However I was headed towards a gadget crossroads. My iPod was on its last legs…the connector was going on it, the battery was shot and it needed replacing. And I was really starting to want a small camera to carry around, and to be able to upload images to twitter or facebook from the road. And again, I hated my phone.

The Droid solves all these problems. It has a 5 megapixel camera that takes OK shots for what I wanted (stupid things like “Look at this cheeseburger I’m about to eat” twitpics — see example below), it plays music and more importantly, podcasts, and it’s a nice phone and a great geeky toy. Oh and as a bonus it does a great job as a turn-by-turn navigational system.

And of course it runs Android, which is a platform that’s much, much more open than the iPhone. No, there aren’t a million apps (or whatever the iPhone is at now) but there’s 10,000 and more all the time.

Still, I was holding off, until Werit ordered his. I knew my willpower wouldn’t stand up to hearing him tweet and blog about his new toy, and I had a trip coming up where I’d be far from any internet connection: the perfect test for a Droid. So last Wednesday I went out and got one.

And so far, not the slightest hint of buyer’s remorse. I love the thing (though I do have some nits to pick). It worked great on our trip and I was able to get myself into trouble by uploading pics of Angela being tired and grumpy, and take dumb snapshots from the ferry and share them on twitter. I was able to show my mom (who is in her mid-80s) Facebook for the first time, pointing out a shot of a guy who is now probably 45 that she last saw when he was about 10. Heh, exposing my mom to Facebook was probably worth the cost of entry right there.

I downloaded a nice podcast catcher/player so I don’t even have to sync the phone; I just d/l the podcasts right to it. I haven’t bothered to move much music to it since it has a Pandora app. I found a nice little e-book reader app. Of course snagged a few games. A twitter client. Shazam, which does that “What song is this?” thing that Midori does on the iPhone. A barcode scanner…

Anyway, haven’t had it for even a full week yet so no ‘review’ at this point, but early signs are positive. My one real gripe is ‘waking’ the thing up. When the screen goes dark (to save power) I have to hit a tiny button on top of the unit which wakes the screen, but the screen is still locked. I then have to do a swipe on the screen to get the unit to a fully functioning state. That’s 1 step too many, IMO. I did find a neat little app that will prevent the Droid from going to sleep mode when certain apps are running, and that works great (this was a big deal mostly with the podcast player…if I missed something and wanted to back up, the player has a nice easy 30-second rewind button, but first I had to unlock the screen to access it, which wasn’t a great idea while driving).

The Android app market is still really young and I’m confident that as developers get better, little rough spots like this one will get smoothed out.

For now, I’m a Droid Fan.

Taken out the window of my car. Resized/cropped to desktop size