Thought for the Day: How social are ‘social’ games?

Historically, a social game is one that you played with friends so that you could socialise while you were playing. Board games, card games, RPGs all involve having a group of people in the same room and even if you took your gaming extremely seriously, there would be time to chat between rounds.

The social part of MMOs is grouping. Again, you’re tackling the game with a bunch of other people and if they are also friends then you can chat while you kill mobs together. Even if you aren’t grouped up, an evening in the MMO for a social player means chatting to your mates via various text channels while you pursue other goals in game. But in a facebook-type social game, you interact with people without talking to them at all. Just send someone a virtual cow along with a virtual poke and maybe they’ll respond later.

So I wonder, how social can any game really be if you don’t talk to anyone? Are we heading towards the ironic situation where Bartle-type social players dislike ‘social games’ because they aren’t social enough and you can’t really get to know the people you are playing with?

14 thoughts on “Thought for the Day: How social are ‘social’ games?

  1. Farmville and Mafia are games that should be burned at the stake. OK, too much hyperbole. Let me explain.

    They are not social. You even have a more “social” relationship with a Tamagotchi. Because it does not matter to you whom you add, you just need someone, anyone to get YOUR stuff done. My cousin for example remembered me as he needed someone for Farmville.

  2. I read a very interesting comment on one of the recent Why Warhammer failed blog posts stating that despite everyone grouping no one talked to each other. You could just join someone’s group do your pq or scenario and off you go without knowing or caring who you had been playing with.

    I thought that was very interesting.

    A lot of the social spaces in MMOs have been related to features that by themselves seem terrible. 10 minute shuttle waits. 5 minute zeppelin waits. Slowly running across a huge landscape that would take you an hour to get to where you wanted to be (eg Night Elves to Westfall in vanilla WoW).

    In SWG it was even explicit, a couple of social classes were created with the role of curing mental damage and the healers cured wounds in hospitals. To get cured combat characters had to go there and wait around chatting.

    So as we get rid of “boring” features are we also losing the social side of these games?

    • Muckbeast once had a very similar idea that was related to downtime after combat. People often socialized during the forced wait. I think designers nowadays spend much time thinking about copying repgrind, creating new instances – but thinking about the social side of the game and how to improve it seems to be rather rare.

      And yes, game mechanics and features can reinforce socialization or prevent it.

      • How it effects the game seems to vary from game to game.

        But in SWG I’m convinced that all those downtime elements helped it and as they got “improved” out of the system the game became less fun.

        Even in WoW I enjoyed it more when it was less efficient. I can see that most people love the slickness of the new WoW, click to teleport to your dungeon, click to kill boss, click to accept loot but it floats my boat less.

      • I think even people who enjoyed it on their first or second alt find the downtime palls when they’re on their fifth and just want to get to max level.

        That’s the real problem with these things. But I like the idea of Star Wars, I really wish I’d played that game when it came out.

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  4. I think the problem is that there is no social definition of social. I dislike the word because I don’t think it conveys are real meaning. One nice thing about Gevlon’s blog is that he has a clear definition of what he means by “social” (even though I disagree with that definition). Both introverts and extroverts are social people though they *express* that sociality in different ways. Likewise, it is entirely possible to an extrovert and ‘anti-social’ at the same time. Then there are differences in the amount of sociality such as the difference between association and intimacy.

    I don’t think that on-line games are any less social than boardgames but there sociality is of entirely different type that is more likely to appeal to some people and not others. But whether one is talking about a difference in degree or kind ultimately comes down to how one defines “social” and that definition frequently boils down to “people who are just like me”.

    • I’m probably being a bit disingenous with the question (I only realised that when I spent more time thinking about it though).

      There are two types of social player (and they can overlap). There’s people who enjoy games which involve social interaction as part of the core mechanic — so they enjoy the forced groups and guilds and community organisation, they’d enjoy mechanics that meant you had to win IC votes and so on. That doesn’t have to mean direct interaction, they might enjoy facebook-style indirect interaction just as much, it’s the idea of playing with and against real people that is interesting to them.

      Then there’s also people who are looking to socialise and make friends with others who share the same hobby. (Same way people join any hobby-based group, really.) I know enough people who’ve met partners online to say that even if they don’t play with the sole aim to make friends, they have to be at least open to it or else those sorts of relationships can’t form. This is where a lot of the friendly guilds that Gevlon despises come from — people who basically want to chill out and play the game AND meet people. It’s certainly where a lot of the mature or LGBT guilds come from also; people want to meet and play with people who share their hobby and have other things in common too.

      So a game that doesn’t allow that opportunity to socialise won’t be any good for the latter, even if it’s OK for the former. And the second type are the ones who’ll draw people into the game and form the strong network of relationships that keeps a community going under its own steam.

      • This is a tough issue Spinks because you are an extrovert and I am an introvert and it’s difficult for each of us to see beyond out own mental biases in that regard.

        I’m tempted to respond that I think you give too much weight to the contribution of the most social types but the reality is of course you do, that’s what makes a social person a social person. Likewise, as a person who prefers indirect interaction it’s easy for me to discount the most social types because I find them an annoyance.

        So I think the better approach is, rather than arguing about which group really is the key to gaming, to just recognize that both have a role to play and the the game as a whole would be poorer if either group were to go away.

      • I’m now intrigued as to successful MMOs which didn’t have a community that was based on strong guilds. I suspect you may be right and it isn’t necessary (although it’s very key to me personally enjoying a game) but I wonder if that’s been seen.

  5. Something that’s been on my mind after listening to the Foe the Lore podcast when they were discussing DAO.

    my thoughts are how many people actually play WoW as an MMO, and how many play it as a solo game that has other players in it.

    I think I spend a lot of time in WoW my own story and the other players often get in the way… Guess I’m not as social as I thought.

  6. Hrm. Interesting thought, but it seems to follow a very similar course of logic as, “OH GOD WE’RE GETTING RID OF GROUPING CONTENT.”

    To my knowledge,the hope is that socialization will sprout out of increasingly easier ways to hook up. PQs saw very…varied, results to my knowledge as Role Play actually started to shoot up early on…and soon after, pure silence when everyone did it the second or third time and subsequently became a course in farming. Although I don’t feel qualified to answer the question, I present another one.

    Is it the games that are becoming less sociable, or are the players being attracted becoming less so?

    • I think it’s a different breed of player, the casual. I would like to think the game is big enough that it can accommodate people of fundamentally different views without each group whacking each other over the head in a desperate cry to mommy of “me first, me first”.

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