Some time ago we published an article titled the Legacy of Bartle, outlining how Richard Bartle’s influences on game design could be applied to most games that are developed, and how his influences are in turn influencing the games most of you guys end up playing. This highly influential figure has hit out at the current surge in social gaming, looking at the likes of Farmville on Facebook as merely a single player game with an extra layer to make it feel like you’re socialising when in actual fact it’s nothing of the sort.
Over at Gamasutra an interview with Bartle outlines exactly what he thinks of the social gaming phenomenon. Have you been sucked into the social gaming scene? Many core gamers would scowl at the idea of having to visit a friend’s farm to feed the cows, and yet I know of several gamers who consider themselves “hard core” that have an unbreakable obsession with Mob Wars and Farmville and won’t go a day without logging on to check their progress.
Our original article is here, have a look if you haven’t already, it’s interesting stuff.
“Today, 20 million people will play CityVille,” said Richard Bartle, co-creator of the MUD, and father of the MMO at a Gamasutra-attended Gamelab 2011 talk in Barcelona. “And 100 million will play it this month. My question is, what will these people be playing five years from now?”
“The big thing about social games that they don’t like to tell you, is they’re not actually social,” he says. “Games played on social network sites is what we mean by social games … These games are categorized more by the platform than that they are social themselves.”
Most games on Facebook, “despite being called social, are basically solo games, with a veneer, just a simple layer on top where you ask your friends to do something for you in the game,” says Bartle. “You’re not going to make new friends, you’re not going to form alliances, or do anything like that playing FarmVille.”
The social aspect of it gives validity, he says, to let you know other people are playing it, so “it proves you’re not absolutely mad.” Most games get their players now from having advertised to players of previous games.
“The way they engage their players is not through interesting gameplay, it’s done through extrinsic rewards – basically bribes.” These are badges, pats on the back, and so forth. As he explains; “I’m level two! That person over there, who started playing five minutes ago, is level one! I’m better!”
Sometimes these games do have things mixed in which are actually fun to play. “The difference is, social games rely on the extrinsic rewards so as to be compelling,” he says. “People keep playing the game because it keeps giving them things – rewards.” This has led to gamification.
“In the hands of designers, this has a great deal of potential, but unfortunately it’s not in the hands of designers, it’s in the hands of marketers. I mention this because my player types have been used in gamification in spite of my never having touched it.”
“Most game designers are not a fan of social games, and indeed, I as a game designer am not a fan. Surely, if you play a game, you must be able to lose somehow.” Bartle says the backlash against social games comes “because they lack gameplay, which leaves this impression that people like games, but these aren’t really like games. And they’re called social but they’re not actually social, so why do people play these games? Because of the rewards.”
Human beings are actually pretty smart, Bartle asserts, saying we’re good at data processing and pattern matching. “People who play games will notice patterns in those games. The problem with social games is people will recognize those more.”
By way of example, he pointed to children. “When you’re a small child and you’re given a star, you think it’s pretty good.” But then when you start realizing you get stars for things that aren’t that good, your friends no longer value it, and then you subsequently don’t value it, and then you start to actually not want stars. “The bad aspect is when people realize, ‘this game is boring,'” he says. “You do one task, you finish it, and you’re given another task. You’re just making more work for yourself.”
“What will people be playing in five years? Not CityVille,” he said. “They’ll be playing something else. Not only will they not be playing CityVille, they won’t be playing a game that’s like CityVille, because they’ll recognize why they stopped playing it.”
So what will they be playing? People understand if something’s fun to play versus just rewarding them. Unless it’s actually fun to collect the things you’re collecting in games, even in MMOs, they’ll be worthless as soon as expansions come out, and you have to do it all over again. It becomes work.
People will want something “better,” which means different things to different people, he said. “Today’s players of social games will not want to play more social games,” Bartle asserts. “There’s no gameplay to them, they rely on extrinsic rewards. So what we have to give them is more games.”
“The reason I like [social games] is that I see it as a way to make non-gamers become game-literate,” he says. “There will have to be a way to migrate from extrinsic rewards to intrinsic rewards, because that’s what makes games fun. … Social games are beginning the education of people who started with small games, and are turning into people who actually want real games. Games that have gameplay.”
I’ve always thought as much but dude is quite well versed in expressing the thoughts in my head.
Of course social games aren’t social. What I think is interesting is to contrast the “social game” to the console versions. The only one that really qualifies is Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing as it was original conceived on the GameCube is that type of social game. Only there the aspects he speaks about are highlighted. AnimalCrossing is very obviously a solo game with social rewarding. The differences are that AnimalCrossing unlike Farmville doesn’t stand on the social aspects. Animal Crossing as a solo game is still fun. Even the social parts are with people you know engaging in actual social interactions.