Thursday, April 4, 2013

(empo-plaaybizz) When social games are anti-social (why Robert Scoble's personal concerns with Ingress are valid)

I want to get into an aspect of online gaming that I didn't explore in my 2010 post, The Farmville Sociopaths? It's been bouncing around my brain for a few days, but I finally put it down in written form in response to a Robert Scoble Google+ thread on Ingress.

Scoble started the thread by listing three roadblocks that prevented him from enjoying the game:

1. I don't like playing games (update: unless I can get value out of them immediately, IE I'm a casual gamer, think Angry Birds). Especially ones that require more than a few minutes of commitment.

2. I don't often have time to walk around a city. My first experience, opening up Ingress in front of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, was that I needed to walk up and down the street to hit various things.

3. Lots of people think I have invites. I don't and if I did I don't have time to take the hundreds of requests I have gotten so far.

In a comment, Trevor Schadt took on Scoble's first question.

Well, if you don't like playing games, especially ones that take more than a few minutes, you're not going to like Ingress. Pretty much period.

It's a game, and it takes more than a few minutes. QED.

I then answered Scoble's second question. I'm reprinting the whole thing here, but I'm going to concentrate on just one part of the response after that.

+Trevor Schadt addressed your first point, so I'll confine myself to your second point. (Until "the Bredehoft effect" becomes common terminology, I can't help you with your third point.)

If you happen to have time to walk around a city at some point, Ingress can be an enjoyable way to pass the time. A few weeks ago, I was waiting for a museum to open at noon, so I passed the time by walking up an down Euclid Avenue in Ontario, California visiting Ingress "portals." In addition, if you start Runkeeper first and THEN start Ingress, you can measure your exercise while playing the game. In this case, 0.8 miles walking with visits to 6 portals.

Of course, those who live in and walk around urban areas have an advantage here, since there are more portals in such places. If you're in a less populated area, you have to drive to get between the various portals - and with the way gas prices are going, this makes Ingress an expensive habit.

After playing extensively in November and then pretty much quitting entirely, now I'm playing Ingress on my own terms. Yes, I'm only a Level 3 (a relatively low level) after five calendar months of play ("John, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!(tm)"), but I'm deriving satisfaction from the way that I play it.

Of course, our reaction and devotion to any game can be greatly affected if our IRL friends are playing it. If your IRL friends aren't playing it, a "social" game can become very anti-social.

Let me elaborate on my statement in the last paragraph.

I've played dozens upon dozens of online games over the years on Yahoo!, Facebook, Google+, and other platforms. Of those games, only two of them were consistently played by "in real life" (IRL) friends (in this case, co-workers): Farm Town and Starfleet Commander.

When you're playing games with IRL friends, then playing the game does not subtract from your daily routine. If you're going to see Peter or Craig or Kim or Steve anyway, then it doesn't really subtract from your life to play these games. But if you're playing games that don't involve your IRL friends, then you have to take time away from your IRL friends to play the game.

As of now, I am unaware of any IRL friends who are playing Ingress. So when I play Ingress, I'm doing it on my own.

Whoops, here comes the Correctness crowd:

John, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG(tm). You are supposed to play Ingress as a collaborative game. If your friends don't play Ingress, then it's time to make some new friends.

But if anyone has been in the online gaming world for a long time, they know how this goes.

For example, let's say that a new game comes out called Diseased Obese Wombat. All of a sudden, DOW becomes the most popular game on the planet, Fred Wilson and Michael Arrington are investing in it, and even non-tech publications (yes, there are non-tech publications) are talking about it. And since Peter, Craig, Kim, and Steve are all playing it, I start playing it too.

And things go fine - for a few months.

But after a while, Peter drops out to start playing the American Idol retro game, and Kim drops out because she has gotten really interested in the Pink Floyd Wall game. Craig and Steve also drop out of DOW, but it's unclear whether they're playing a new game, or whether they're doing something work-related that they can't talk about.

So you've run off to adopt a new social game to play with your friends, and after a while you're all alone.

(In real life, I'm not actively playing in the Starfleet Commander universe in which Craig and Steve are playing, and Kim is still waiting for me to answer her SongPop challenge.)

If a game fits into your lifestyle, then there is a much greater chance that you will play it. And that's something that Zynga and EA and the other companies cannot control.
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