Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Social games, unsocial methods

There is a current huge growth in ‘social’ games and ‘free forever!’ online games. I’ve seen a lot of online discussion trying to persuade people to jump on both bandwagons. I’ve never really liked them, or their methods, and today I encountered this:



A typical scam: users are offered in game currency in exchange for filling out an IQ survey. Four simple questions are asked. The answers are irrelevant. When the user gets to the last question they are told their results will be text messaged to them. They are asked to enter in their mobile phone number, and are texted a pin code to enter on the quiz. Once they’ve done that, they’ve just subscribed to a $9.99/month subscription. Tatto Media is the company at the very end of the line on most mobile scams, and they flow it up through Offerpal, SuperRewards and others to the game developers.

This does not surprise me. I had a go at super-popular ‘free’ social facebook game ‘farmville’ yesterday, to see what the fuss was about, and got a bad vibe from it immediately. This game is ‘free’, but that’s not strictly true. The game is totally designed around selling you in-game advantages by buying game-cash with real cash. In other words, it’s a grindfest where you can pay to avoid the grind. The game is also VERY insistent that you constantly let it spam updates to your facebook status on how you are playing, and you can only really do well if you drag your other facebook friends into play the game as your ‘neighbours’.

This is both a great piece of game design, and a terrible piece of game design. It’s great in that it achieves it’s objectives, cunningly encouraging you to market the game yourself in order to get gameplay advantage, and trying to maximise the amount of money extracted from you.

But, Its a terrible piece of game design in that the objective of the game designer was marketing and money, not fun. That really sucks.  I actually ‘disapprove’ in haughty terms. Someone’s business model has to be pretty cynical for me to say that, as a lot of indie developers consider me to be too hard-headed and business like, and not as much of an ‘enthusiast’ as the typical indie dev. I think that’s reluctantly true to a point. I live in an expensive part of an expensive country, and can’t afford to take my eye of the bank balance. I’m the sole breadwinner, so it’s not like I’m enjoying a sabbatical or a subsidised hobby. I need to run Positech like a business, or else I’ll be flipping burgers.

But! my business model is defiantly old-school in one respect: I aim to design FUN games, that people enjoy enough to pay me money to buy copies. I don’t look upon the people who buy my games as people to be milked of cash, exploited, or ‘leveraged as marketing assets’. To me, the positech games buyers are like a big extended club or enthusiasts group. We all like the same sort of games, and I’m lucky enough to be in the middle actually making the things, and shepherding the feedback and the enthusiasm so that games get made that everyone enjoys.  There are other indie devs with a similar attitude, such as wolffire,2DBoy, taleworlds etc. I think that you don’t get rich this way, but you get to enjoy making fun games for a really positive community.

I wish the more cynical people who are just trying to squeeze facebook profiles to extract cash would go off and do pyramid selling and boiler-room-sharedealing scams instead :( Leave game-dev to people who really enjoy making fun stuff.