Do Social Games Need More Social Chaos?

Something has been bugging me about social games of late. There are a lot of great games out there – I play a lot of them. And you know what many of them have in common? There isn’t enough chaos in most of today’s social games. Let me explain what I mean. I grew up playing two games where bad things can and do happen and they really impact game play. I played a lot of head-to-head Madden football growing up. Every now and then, one of your star players would get injured and go out for the game. There was nothing you could do about that – the player was gone and you had to soldier on. I also played a lot of SimCity. You know what used to really irritate me? When an earthquake would come along and wreck my perfectly designed city. It drove me nuts.

As frustrating as these seemingly stochastic elements were in the game, they made the games more fun. There was an element of chance and risk that was beyond the control of the player. And the consequences of those seemingly stochastic elements was often grave – losing your star QB in the first quarter of a game of Madden can be lethal. Recovering from a catastrophic earthquake in SimCity is not easy and can erase tons of progress. But those elements and risks are always in the back of your mind and they make those games fun.

Why haven’t we seen that in social games? Why isn’t there flooding, frost, drought, locust plagues, and other stochastic elements that can really wreak serious havoc on your farm in Farmville? Island games where volcanoes can erupt and cover the island in ash, erasing progress? Virtual pet games where pets are resistant to training, care, or any attempt to make them obedient? I’ve seen some movement toward light penalties in games, but when will someone really push the envelope and try something riskier here?

The only reason I can see why folks have been shy in terms of integrating these kinds of game mechanics is the belief that today’s crop of social game players have a high degree of loss aversion. Put another way, the belief among social games developers is that putting in real stochastic penalties in games or other forms of anti-progress activities would not be well tolerated by the folks who play these games today. Nobody *likes* losing things in games – it’s not fun. But it can make a game so much more vibrant and complex. I do think there are some players who would rebel against changes like this – but who wants to play a game that’s almost always up and to the right so long as you do what you’re supposed to do? I think we’re missing out on something by not having more random bad things that can happen to you in the current crop of games.

Do you build or play social games? If you have thoughts on this topic, feel free to leave a comment.

PS – Hat tip to Shanna Tellerman for the blog post title and Justin Hall for chatting about it over coffee.

  • I could not agree more. Expect more chaos in our next games πŸ™‚

  • I don't know if it would make the games any more fun, but it would be interesting to see some experimentation with this. It seems like you could throw in some double realism – have some catastrophe hit the farm, then have someone from the government show up with a big check to soften the blow. That would potentially help with the acceptance issues, and if the player has paid money to obtain and/or build things, it would keep them from feeling cheated. Plus, it just reinforces the idea of government handouts to cure any and all problems, so you might win a Nobel prize or something for creating a game that promotes it.

    It might not be a bad idea to throw in some random “you won the lottery” elements. Have a company plant a cell tower on the farm and send the player a monthly check. For even more fun, the cell tower could eventually cause a bunch of the farm animals to come down with mysterious diseases.

  • Todd,

    Ha, that's the first time I've heard someone suggest a government handout in a social game. I do agree that wiping out items that people paid for does have some consequences – if you built it in from the start, I suspect players would adapt.

  • Pingback: Why There’s Not Enough Chaos In Social Games()

  • I believe what you're really getting down to is the lack of “dramatic beats” within social game design. Almost all sources of visual entertainment: films, video-games, tv shows, and literature (non-visual, I know) have a dramatic beat. To quote Wiktionary and inform fellow readers dramatic beat is, “the moment at which increasing dramatic tension produces a noticable change in the consciousness of one or more characters.” Granted, most social games do not have persistent characters (or do they – your friends?) but you do have persistent objects, that you made a point of noting within Sim City, Charles.

    With that said, to cause a dramatic beat you don't need to lose something, cause destruction or malice, you simply need to introduce change. Something which has a consistent pattern of behavior needs to be altered and it needs to be obvious. Take that as you will and apply that as you wish.

    P.S. Great point made by Charles.

  • Christian,

    Sorry for not responding to your comment sooner – it was very thoughtful. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts – I like the way you framed the issue more broadly.

  • I could not agree more. Expect more chaos in our next games πŸ™‚

  • Because of life rhythm accelerated and working pressure increased so that people to pursue a relaxed, carefree mood in the spare time.They won’t suffer trend while seeking a comfortable, natural new packing. Just introduce some websites for you about natural new packing.you can go and see. Sheepskin Boots

  • Because of life rhythm accelerated and working pressure increased so that people to pursue a relaxed, carefree mood in the spare time.They wonu2019t suffer trend while seeking a comfortable, natural new packing. Just introduce some websites for you about natural new packing.you can go and see. Sheepskin Boots

  • yes more chaos is deff needed!