I’m a Facebook convert. It took me a while to get into the full swing of things, but I find that I like to check Facebook periodically throughout the day. It’s a low-intensity way to keep track of people I know. It makes me feel like I am still connected to them without all the overhead of, you know, actually connecting with them.
About a month ago I discovered Facebook games. I admit I went a bit nuts there at first. Once I developed a pattern, though, I found it pretty easy to keep up with five or six games in short spurts a couple times a day without affecting my productivity. Much.
Facebook Game Design
There’s a genre of Facebook games that are heavily RPG-inspired and designed to be played for a couple of minutes a day. Indeed, they have mechanisms built in to achieve a few specific behaviors:
- Encourage you to return at least once a day.
- Encourage long-term involvement by restricting how much you can accomplish on each visit.
- Have competing uses for game resources.
- Optional elite items available mainly by mechanisms that send the game company cash.
- Encourage you to sign your friends up.
I’m pretty sure that we’re a couple of iterations in because it looks like variations on a very few core designs have pretty much taken over the player space, most of them by a company called Zynga.
Most of those elements together make up what I found so intriguing in these games. Resource management, building up over time, being able to play for very short periods of time. These are all wins.
Gang vs. Gang
Unfortunately, the main mechanism to encourage you to sign your friends up is to enable unrestricted player vs. player (PvP) activity and make your PvP power dependent on how many players are in your “group”. A player who can only recruit 15 of his friends to play will be trounced by someone who can amass a group of, say, 50.
The effects of PvP vary, but are all annoying when you’re the loser. Generally something along the lines of health, wealth, and eventual XP loss. Logging in to find that you’ve been attacked a couple of times by other players is a minor annoyance. Logging in to find that an individual attacked you a half-dozen times is more of a major annoyance. Having someone attack you just before you make a major purchase (thus stealing a large amount of your cash and reducing your carefully precise change below the applicable cost) is downright infuriating.
And the real problem is that your options here are few. You can develop a thick hide and simply not care—chalk it up to the cost of playing. You can look for people who play the game and invite them to be your friend so that they’ll be part of your group. You can brow-beat your existing friends to play so that you’ll have a bigger group. That’s pretty much it.
Well, I don’t like losing, and I like pimping my friends even less. And the kinds of people who will accept random friend invites in order to increase their game group size aren’t really all that friendly. Which leaves me a little option-less here.
In the last week or two, I find that I dread checking on my games because of the chance that I’ll have been hit by some jerk with inadequate socialization. The anger on finding that some moron went to town on my character like a dog with a particularly tasty bone has become too big a weight to carry. It’s certainly not a weight I’ll carry voluntarily.
It’s too bad that the experience of playing these games is ruined so thoroughly for me by a small contingency of jerks. That said, all the jerks in the world wouldn’t matter if the games weren’t built to encourage, even privilege, jerk behavior.
Well, I don’t like being angry and my personality is such that it isn’t something I’m going to learn to just accept. Which is my way of working up to saying that I won’t play games with unrestricted PvP any longer.
Reporting Abusive Behavior
A word about the palliative offered in some Zynga games in the form of a link on player profiles to report “abuse”. Zynga support is a marvel of incompetence in and of itself (which you’d discover if you ever tried to report a bug or error). This goes double for their “solution” for abuse reporting. Once you dig out the place where you can actually report abuse, an endeavor fraught with peril and misdirection, the report process places a huge burden on the player to “document” (aka clear unnecessary hurdles) the event. Even then, the first two responses you’ll get are quotes from their faq that have no bearing on your actual report. If you press, and you do have to press, their eventual response will be that they can’t tell you anything more due to “privacy issues”. Which is double-speak for “take your palliative and go away.”
My experiences with Zynga were so bad that I’ll be avoiding them and their products in future just on the principle of limiting the impact of incompetence in the universe.