Braid Creator Calls Social Games "Evil"

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Braid Creator Calls Social Games "Evil"

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Social games encourage people to use their friends as resources, says the outspoken indie developer.

Jonathan Blow, the auteur developer behind indie hit Braid, has weighed in on social games, and as usual, he's not mincing his words. Blow described social games as "evil," not in a mustache-twirling, Saturday-morning-villain kind of way, but as a more genuine expression of selfishness.

What's more, Blow though that name "social games" is actually something of a misnomer, because players usually couldn't meet anyone new. Blow said that games like World of Warcraft or Counter Strike were actually much more socially orientated, as players could forge new relationships with the members of their clan or guild and then work as a team. He thought that social games largely just exploited the friends list you already had, and were more about using your friends as resources, rather than working together.

Interestingly, he said that the players weren't really to blame for letting themselves be taken advantage of, as he didn't think that they were aware that it was happening. He said that social games were designed to be inviting, which made it difficult for people to realize that they were being exploited. Instead, he blamed the developers, who he said were degrading the quality of the players' lives.

He thought that the design philosophy of social games was to find new ways to siphon cash out of the players' pockets, and no effort was made to add anything to their lives. He said that it didn't matter to him if people were deriving pleasure from the game, because they were unethically designed and all about exploitation. Blow said that there was no other way to describe social games other than "evil," which he defined as, "selfishness to the detriment of others or to the detriment of the world."

It's impossible to deny that social games are designed to make money out of their players - Zynga's recent multi-billion dollar is a testament to how effective that design is - but to call them evil seems a little excessive. Blow might not like social games, but to say that they degrade the people who play them is verging on hyperbole.

Source: PC Gamer

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And he's right.

Taawus:
And he's right.

Second that notion.

As far as Facebook games go, they have absolutely no redeeming values, and the friend exploiting mechanic that ranges from pretentious to cruel (depending on the amount of friends you have) is just icing on the cake.

I do agree, to an extent.

But maybe that's because I've long since grown tired of people sending me various digital items in an attempt to lure me into the game as well.

Evil? No. But effective, yes.

Besides, some people actually have fun playing social games. I do, for instance. I enjoy Playfish's Restaurant City for the most part.

I'm not getting into a philosophical argument on the nature of evil. But if we exchange the word "evil" for "bad" or "problematic", then I'm very much inclined to agree with Blow.

ciortas1:

Taawus:
And he's right.

Second that notion.

As far as Facebook games go, they have absolutely no redeeming values, and the friend exploiting mechanic that ranges from pretentious to cruel (depending on the amount of friends you have) is just icing on the cake.

Thirded.
Although not all of them are evil (just most). Echo Bazaar is a "social game" that adds a lot to my life. I love the way it is written. But I am not meeting anyone new there. Oh well, I never do.

I have to say im always surprised how successful theses "games" are considering iv never spoken to anyone who has plunked down real money on them

Kinda what I felt regarding the new guild system in WoW (have to invite bunch of random people to reach "max xp per day")... At least you invite new people then, instead of exploiting using those you already know as resources :D

OT: Couldn't agree more.

bahumat42:
I have to say im always surprised how successful theses "games" are considering iv never spoken to anyone who has plunked down real money on them

Not to sound cruel to possible members of this community, but I'll be honest. It's because you don't hang out with morons.

I really do agree.

Oooo I'm a stayin' outta this one...

I'm very on the fence about these games.

This reminds me of something I was saying about Persona 3. People in that game are just resources for leveling your Persona. Youre pretty much using people as tools. Except in Social games youre using actual people rather than NPCs

Raiding a dungeon IS much more social than watering crops.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say 'evil', but I wouldn't exactly disagree either. Thoughtless maybe. Although the games don't add anything to people's lives I don't know as they take much away. I doubt the end goal is to hurt people. Irresponsible, sure, but 'evil' is a pretty strong word to be bandying about.

bahumat42:
I have to say im always surprised how successful theses "games" are considering iv never spoken to anyone who has plunked down real money on them

They still generate money with advertisment revenue, all these crappy facebook games request access to your personal informaton from you profile before they let you play, information which is passed onto advertisers who in turn inundate your facebook with advertisements relevant to the information in your profile.

I love how people are saying the games aren't evil because "some people have fun playing them." People having fun playing the games doesn't automatically make his claim that they are evil invalid. Evil can be fun. If it weren't fun, it wouldn't exist.

These games, though, are completely mindless entertainment. They tell no story, develop no skills, encourage no growth, and thus have no redeeming value. They are a mind-melting time waster, like twiddling your thumbs or masturbation.

And if someone you knew spent as much time masturbating as most of these people spend playing social games, you'd probably be concerned, wouldn't you?

So he's right. These companies have created a socially acceptable way for people to mentally masturbate, for several hours a day, in public. Rather than do something constructive, informative, or at least actually pleasurable, they're doing this. Productivity decreases, and stupidity expands.

Both the player and the human race are worse off, all because someone figured out how to use psychology to make a game that would make people continue to play, and continue to pay, because damn it, they can almost reach that carrot.

Evil.

I agree to an extent, while I dont think theyre evil I do think theyre shit and anyone who has the unfortunate chance of playing them should get what they deserve.
MASSIVE DEATH A shitty game experience.

Seriously though hes right.
Theyre just massive wastes of time that lure people in.

Surely the point of a game, is to give the player a fun experience. If the player is having a horrible time of it, they turn off. Simple. Why over complicate that concept? Maybe he doesn't like it because these games are free, and therefore don't really fund the industry in any way?

P.Tsunami:
I'm not getting into a philosophical argument on the nature of evil. But if we exchange the word "evil" for "bad" or "problematic", then I'm very much inclined to agree with Blow.

This. And although he cites WoW and Counter-Strike as being slightly better, that's really only a relative thing. They're all still just abhorrent tools of exploitation, whether that be by player money, player time (in a time-based subscription environment), what have you. Many TCGs suck players into this trap as well.

When you really get down to it, actively exploiting players is almost the cardinal opposite of what good game design is, ostensibly, supposed to do -- express an idea, instill an emotion, convey an experience . . . give something TO the player.

As soon as you begin designing a game in such a way that it will INCREASE what the player has to invest outside of the normal scope of gameplay in order to play it optimally -- again, whether that's time spent farming tusks, money spent buying the good packs of cards, what have you -- you are committing a game design sin. These would just be 'bad design' on their own. Attach them to a mechanism where the input of time/money suddenly transforms them into 'good design', and it becomes something else altogether.

It's parasitism, and it's all the more insidious when it's the core of an otherwise well-designed or especially addictive framework.

See also:
Magic: the Gathering.
Pokemon.
Maple Story.
Neopets.
Farmville.

Yup! 100%

The two things social games need to get over is the crowbar need for real payment to progress, and the friend spamming.

JediMB:
I do agree, to an extent.

But maybe that's because I've long since grown tired of people sending me various digital items in an attempt to lure me into the game as well.

Well the team of behavioural psychologists they have on staff whose purpose is to study and implement game features that enforce addictive behaviour aren't on the side of rainbows and happiness.

manythings:

JediMB:
I do agree, to an extent.

But maybe that's because I've long since grown tired of people sending me various digital items in an attempt to lure me into the game as well.

Well the team of behavioural psychologists they have on staff whose purpose is to study and implement game features that enforce addictive behaviour aren't on the side of rainbows and happiness.

Sometimes I wish forums had an applause sign.

Verlander:
snip

It's also about having standards. You can have fun watching the latest Cliche Derivative Romantic Comedy No.2391, doesn't mean it's not exploiting people who don't know any better.

And have you read what the guy said? It's bad because it's an effortless money grab. It's bad because it's exploitive. It's bad because it appeals to the wrong human, how shall I say, attributes. It's bad because it doesn't add anything.

Hell, you can have fun with anything, enough of this bloody apologetic nonsense.

I couldn't agree more, it's good to see someone going ahead and calling the devs out on it.

finally someone...

I agree - I see nothing rewarding about playing one of these "social" games.

Outspoken as he is, Jonathan Blow has uncovered a nugget of truth. I've always somehow guessed that there was something inherently wrong with a game in which your friends are only meant to build your own stuff, as well as to admire it, and try to build a better garden, or farm, or whatever.

Hell, it's the "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality in game form! And that, my fellow Escapists, is simply institutionalized envy.

Logan Westbrook:
Blow said that games like World of Warcraft or Counter Strike were actually much more socially orientated, as players could forge new relationships with the members of their clan or guild and then work as a team.

This is assuming that the players are actually GOOD at the game and have good chemistry...there is a reason that most of the teams in CEVO/ESEA right now will be disbanded by next season, with most of the players on a new team anyway. Assuming everyone will have perfect chemistry with eachother and be of equal skill level is a very uneducated assumption.

You can't say that having a more "socially oriented" game will make people magically love eachother...

I think he's working from a pretty solid definition of evil - and, by that definition, he's correct. The only tweak to his argument I would make is that evil is about the corruption and mockery of something good - despotism is a mockery of law and order, rape is a mockery of love and sex, domestic abuse is a mockery of familial bonding, etc. Social games take friendship and twist it by making interpersonal connections into a commodity (not that this is the only venue in which this happens, of course).

A lot of these titles are misnomers. A lot of hardcore gamers are more casual than "casual" gamers. "social" games may be a misnomer, but it's in strong company there.

"Social" gaming's invite system is no more exploitative than chain letters. Although chain letters are pretty darn evil.

Actually I think he's right, and there is a lot of supporting evidence going by the words of the guys like Zynga executives.

So called "social games" are designed to prey on the lowest human denominator. They are designed to hit an odd sweet spot of low quality and addictiveness for the target audience. What's more there are subtle design elements incorperated into them to get people to spend money as they play more, or simply to waste the "free" points people get through intentionally bad menu design. What's more as we've seen in case of kids racking up bills worth thousands of dollars, they also seem to be designed with intentionally bad security so children can "accidently" invest a ton of money without realizing what they are doing, or to simply exploit the stupid adults that make up the lowest human denominator.

It's kind of easy to be dismissive of morons when your smart enough to realize a problem, but honestly when I get past the elitism I don't think that there it's the fault of stupid people for being stupid, it's like discriminating against skin color on a lot of ways. There are limits to what you can do while maintaining freedom, but yeah... I think people DO need to be protected from their own stupidity, and this area is as out of control as various fine print/contract scams, or the gimmicks/deceptions that were being used to lure people into buying property they couldn't afford, causing a massive market crash. Heck, I'd even argue that in the USA at least our country is founded on the idea of protecting the stupid from themselves which is why we have inalienable rights that people can't sign away, even with a smarter elite pressuring them.

I'm in a place right now where I pretty much feel cash shops and social-gaming "virtual property" businesses should be pretty much banned entirely. I think it was a worthy experiment, but like the drug trade it's just too easy to exploit. I see it very much as being like those "foreign pay line" scams from decades ago run through the phone system. The very fact that Zynga has made billions off of things like "Farmville" is indicative of the problem and demonstrates exactly why such things should be banned. Especially when a company admits that they design their games to addict stupid people, that's just like using subliminal and hypnosis techniques in advertising which was also banned.

I don't play these kind of social games, but from what i know about them, he does have a valid point. If these games didn't involve money, i would have a harder time to swallow his argument, but their involvement tips the scales (by showing how these games are DESIGNED to take people's money).

All true. Although I wouldn't exactly say social games are "evil"- that suggests they can make moral choices.

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