Back when Facebook was newer and less cluttered by a gazillion clueless numpties, it was both fun and useful. You could keep up with your friends. There were some neat applications, and few fun games to play with people. Scrabble was a particular winner for me.
What the hell happened?
I could see the shape of things to come when my father joined facebook. He had Burmese friends and was very interested in campaigning for human rights in Burma. So before too long I started to get the invites. Join the “March for freedom” group. Join the “Aung Sun Suu Kyi” support group. Join the “random group about Burma” group. It was cool, somewhat spammy but I could get behind what they wanted to do, and I do agree with it, so I joined. The groups didn’t bother me and I didn’t bother them. I went on a couple of marches.
After that, things spiralled out of control. The friend invitations spiralled in and like a fool I agreed to facebook-friend the guys I actually did know, however vaguely. What happened then? They started to send me quizzes and random virtual junk and invitations to groups that anyone with half a brain would have realised I had zero interest in. (Clue-by-four: I do not care about your favourite football club, I do not care about some random TV programme that I’ve never heard of, I do not care about the group you started just because it had a comedy name.)
It was after the guy I only vaguely knew sent me the (virtual) furry handcuffs that I stopped using facebook.
What is it about facebook that turns normal people into crazed spammers?
- I suspect that it is far too easy to select ‘send to all’ and spam your entire friends list.
- Too many of the games and quizzes encourage you to send their junk to your entire friends list.
- You are rewarded in facebook games for the size of your friends list and the number of them who respond to the virtual junk.
- When starting a new facebook group, you are also rewarded for the size of the group — it is displayed prominently.
- There’s no record of who didn’t show interest in the last round of spammage. If facebook sorted out its ‘send’ list firstly into the set of people who habitually replied or responded to the game spam and let you ‘send to all facebook gaming friends’ then the non-interested people might stop being bothered by it.
So Facebook really does reward people for spamming, and doesn’t offer any sophisticated methods for only spamming the people who want to be spammed. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a social gamer these days? It’s a shame, Scrabble was cool.
Many of the social games also offer RMT options for players. They make a lot of money. So getting people to spam their friends with invites (and virtual junk) is clearly a winning scheme.
The Farmville Problem
Farmville is a facebook game where you run a farm. You send virtual farm animals and stuff to your friends who also play and they respond in kind. You are rewarded for how many friends become your virtual Farmville neighbours. Further down the line, there are RMT options to buy things for your virtual farm.
This one came to my attention when I was out drinking with a friend last week. He lives in Argentina. He commented, with surprising verve, that he detested Farmville. It isn’t because he’s a player, it’s because his wife is addicted to the game and Farmville also requires you to water or tend your crops regularly to stop them dying. His wife was arranging her entire schedule around making sure she could log into Facebook when her plants needed to be watered, and giving him absolute hell if for any reason she missed one of the session. (In an amusing ironic way, she also owns an actual real farm.) Now steady on, I thought, this is just a social Facebook game, right?
Wrong. These games make more money than most MMOs. They have millions of players. And some of those players are being jerked around by utterly irresponsible design decisions like this.
Who thought it would be a good idea to force players to log on at regular set periods. Isn’t that the opposite of casual? And of course, if you go for the RMT option, you can buy virtual farm machines which will mechanise the crop tending so you can escape that horrid mechanic.
If this happened in an MMO we would all be screaming bloody murder.