I love games. While I did wear a letterman jacket through most of high school, I surreptitiously played Dungeons and Dragons every week with my brother’s gaming group. I’ve played a wide variety of games on every computer I’ve ever owned. I like board games like Settlers of Catan, and (god help me) I even futzed around with Magic: The Gathering.
Like a lot of software folks, I have a secret wish to punt everything, run into the hills, and make GAMES.
So it’s exciting to see this gaming renaissance. Casual games, social games– whatever you want to call them– there are new ways to make money making games and it’s no longer the big budget hit-driven madness that we’ve grown accustomed to.
But boom times like this can be messy and noisy, and this one is no exception. One of the key elements of this new gaming revolution is the potential to be VIRAL. As a developer, it’s fairly trivial to have your game automagically announce itself to a player’s Twitter followers, Facebook friends, whatever. “[friendname] just found a +11 Sword of Evisceration, but he needs your help to consecrate it in the blood of the Celestial Dragon – click here to join [gamename]“. Or, on Twitter, “I’m now the Mayor of Baskin Robbins. Bask in my benevolence! [insert bitly link here].”
The cost of shooting out these messages periodically as a user plays is trivial and there’s only upside, right? If 1,000 users play to that point and they each have 100 followers on Twitter, well– you just got 100,000 free ads for you game, packed with the kind of social proof that advertisers can only dream of.
But, at the end of the day, it’s SPAM. As a developer, they shouldn’t be asking themselves whether the cost/benefit analysis works. Heck, it costs me a billionth of a penny to send an unsolicited email and I’m sure I could craft an email that would convert more than a billionth of the time. WIN! Instead, they should be asking themselves the following questions:
- Does the player WANT to tweet about this? If they do, encourage them but let them opt-in every time and do it in their own words.
- How many of the players followers gives a rat’s ass? If a game auto-tweets on my account, 99.9% of the people are going to get no value. 99.9% aren’t going to find it interesting. I’m looking at you, Foursquare.
- What percentage of the players would, once they realized that they just blasted their friends with this promotional tweet would say, “Ooooh, I didn’t know it’d do that! That’s GREAT that I just told all 1500 of my followers that I’m the Mayor of Hooters!”
Yes, social game makers, your spammer math WORKS. 99.9% of my followers will consider it noise– if they read the tweet, they’ll want their 10 seconds back. But you’ll get your 0.1% clicking the link, and those clickers will convert (some of them). And THEY’LL make noise too and you’ll have your virus.
But because this works so well, we’re going to have more and more of it. If you’d told the first guy that sent an email that 95% of the world’s email would be spam in 2007, I think he’d be pretty horrified. While I tend to like federated models like Email more than walled gardens like Facebook and Twitter, in this case I’m glad there are some sensible folks at the helm who can shut this stuff down (or at least give users the tools to turn the noise down).
For what it’s worth, if I wasn’t in the weird and wonderful world of time management software, I’d be doing social games. Hell, maybe I’d suck at it because I took the high road. But I think I’d just focus on making really fun games, making it MORE fun if people invited friends, and giving them the tools to tell the world should they want to.