Human beings are social creatures by nature and most individuals not only crave the attention of their social peers, but tend to search them out. Take the prominence of social media in today's society for example. I dare you to find someone, anyone, who doesn't use social media, notable exceptions include grandparents and really young children. Most of the writers and staff here at C&G are quite active on social media. All of us except the perpetually anti-social Wayne Santos are very active on Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Instagram, Raptor and other networks.
Heck, even the aforementioned Mr. “I don't get Twitter” Santos has at least a Google Plus account. With social networking everywhere it's no surprise when it starts ending up in games. Videogames, specifically casual and mobile games, were early adopters of social media and have been running with it for years now. These days even AAA games are coming with at least some form of social network integration built into their interface. Other games like Sword & Sworcery have encouraged the use of social networks to enrich the experience, while others like Rock Band Blitz have moved core features like competing with your friends entirely over to social networks like Facebook.
Personally, I don't have much of a problem being social, either through social networks or down to earth face to face interaction but where I draw the line is when it's forced upon me. I was not impressed during my review of Rock Band Blitz when I found out all manner of Score Challenges and Score Wars needed to be done over Rock Band World, an extension of the game done through Facebook. I didn't like how if I wanted to challenge someone I knew to a Score War not only did they need Rock Band Blitz but they, and I, also needed to link our Rock Band accounts to Rock Band World on Facebook. I don't like it when game developers make me jump through hoops to play their game. See my previous column titled Digital Right Malarkey for more on that nagging issue. Due to my love of Rock Band and my desire to destroy all of my friends at Rock Band Blitz I managed to get passed my distaste and ultimately enjoyed the game and challenging my friends even if it did require me to go through Facebook. Small little hoops I can deal with but when my my actual game progress is hindered by the integration of social networks it goes from a distaste to unbridled vitriolic hatred. Nothing has brought about more uninstalls to my mobile gaming than forced social networking in the games.
I play a lot of mobile games, specifically on my iPad. For the most part, I enjoy a good number of them, but the first time a game demands that I pester my Facebook friends or Twitter followers with invites it's a quick non-stop trip to uninstalls-ville. I can't even count the amount of times I have been tapping away, completing quests on some village building island adventure game when a quest will ask that I invite five friends to play the game in order to complete it. If I’m really enjoying the game I’ll just ignore that particular quest but sometimes not completing a quest will prevent you from getting other quests. At that point I normally look for an option to either abandon the “pester your friends” quest or skip it. Unfortunately, with most cases in the mobile freemium realm, skipping a quest is a privilege that normally costs you money. In my experience, in order to skip a quest games require you to pay, gems, bolts, gold, or whatever in-game micro-transaction currency the game is using, to do so. Sure, you can normally earn the small amount of cupcakes, coins, or whatever by playing the game and completing quests but wouldn't that currency be better spent on something useful that may help me along my adventure? After all, it was I who earned the dust bunnies, cobwebs, pocket lint or whatever useless item the game calls currency. Every time I spend in-game currency to skip one of these quests I always think to myself, “I sure hope my friends appreciate the sacrifice, I really could have used that golden pickaxe.”. To my friends I say, you're welcome.
When developers integrate social networks into their games they tend to walk a very fine line. I've seen it used successfully in games like Dirt: Showdown and Just Dance 4 but I've also seen it used poorly or in an annoying manner like in mobile games or Rock Band Blitz. I'm not really sure what the solution is but one might be to consider your audience. If it's the hardcore gamer market your after? Put the social networks right in the game interface and don't make them have to leave the game or even the device to continue the experience. However, if it's the viral, heavily connected social networker you're after just take the feature out all together because nobody and I mean nobody wants to brag about how many coconuts they've collected to make a swing for their monkey's tree house.