Defining #SocialGames = Crap That You Use to Spam Your “Friends”?

I really, truly, madly, deeply would like to know what a “social game” is. One definition I saw was something like:

social games = crap that you use to spam your “friends”

I’ve also heard this:

social game = boooooooring


social game = facebook + “grow the snowball” gameplay

And then something like these:

social games = games that promote player cooperation and has viral aspects to help players to network with other players and their friends.

But, these aren’t really good definitions. For example, by the last definition, NHL ’10 could be considered a social game: it has clubs, team searches, friends lists, and definitely cooperation and collaboration (in case you want to win games). It has tons of the elements of a social game (maybe it is a social game then).

What about World of Warcraft?

It’s been here for 7 million years already and it was considered as a “massively multiplayer online” game. Nobody said in 2004 how WoW is a “social game”. WoW like has every single element of a social game me thinks.

I don’t know how these “social games” differ from “online multiplayer games”, and would very much like to hear somebody to explain this in very simple terms.

What are these “social games”?

P.S. I Aki Järvinen about this, maybe we’ll get a reply from him.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. A little late to this party but happened across it while doing some article research for my own new blog. I came across an older entry on Social Times by Nick O’Neill from July of 2008 when ‘social games’ were just starting to create their own niche/offshoot. He attempted to create a definiton and criterion that seems to be a good working definition. I would suggest viewing the article and seeing if the definition and criteria still apply now that SGs seem to be a much bigger entity/arena.

    from http://www.socialtimes.com/2008/07/social-games/
    Social games are a structured activity which has contextual rules through which users can engage with one another. Social games must be multiplayer and have one or more of the following features: turn-based, are based on social platforms for providing users with an identity and are casual.

  2. social games = facebook/twitter/whatnot games.

    That’s pretty boooooring definition.

  3. I’d say the FB one is about right. A game that is not only “multiplayer” (It really only needs minimal interaction – eg on Farmville, you can visit your friend’s farm, but you don’t do a whole lot there) but is centered around people getting others they already know in real life to play it too. I’d say something like an MMO or Left4Dead is not necessarily played like a social game because you can cooperate with people and you don’t necessarily play it with people you actually know.

  4. What Daniel James of Three Rings said. The name is silly but what they really mean is “games” on social networking sites, not games in which you can be sociable.

  5. Maybe we can see the difference like this:
    – “online multiplayer game” = the game comes first, friends comes after: you make new friends in the game, starting from 0 (or from a tiny fraction of real-life friends, or maybe those from a previous MMO guild).
    – “social games” = the friends come first, from real-life, the game is just a pretext to meet and have fun together. Game design can be then just as low as an enhanced MSN, this is why casual games are spreading on FB.

  6. yesterday: social games were, when i threw my gamepad on my brother because he had beaten me playing tekken.

    today: social game = another word for the same old crap.
    if your game sucks, you have to find new words to cover it. let the people rather discuss what a social game is, then having them see how big of a pile of crap the game in reality is.

    social games should be called desperate games, or “games we wouldnt have sold a few months back because they suck, but now we can charge even more”

    last year it was the DLC, this year its social beatmetomudd and next year it will be games with alternative story lines (hard rain aso).
    all things we had for decades but to be fair, we lacked marketing slogans for them, so in fact all of those stuff is brand new and aweeeesomiie.


  7. A “social game” is a game on a social network. It’s that simple. That’s where the “social” aspect comes in, even though most games have very limited direct social interaction.

    Daniel James of Three Rings has been quoted as saying that he thinks the name is not quite accurate. As you point out, a lot of MMOs are very social, perhaps moreso than games like Farmville.

    Social games may grow into something more interesting, but for now it seems to be mostly “spam your friends so we can brag about having a lot of users!”

  8. I hate Farmville and some of these other “social” games because they are giving social games a bad rep. I think there is a huge potential for actual fun gaming through outlets like Facebook.

    I think the difference between social games and MMORPGs is two parts. One, it is a game that is played through or within a social network like Facebook, myspace, etc… Which inherently leads to two, it’s web based.

    I am hesitant to deny the aspect of social gaming because I think if done the right way (not spamming) there is a huge potential for fun, immersive games.

  9. I would say that all your definitions are correct. It all depends how good your game is in using the “social” aspect and promoting that kind of behavior (as opposed to the lone wolf type of gameplay seen in some MMOs). But at the moment most popular games are “social games = crap that you use to spam your “friends”” just because it a relatively new thing (integration with existing social networks, not social aspects of gaming) and it’s way to easy to abuse it.

  10. Spammy “social” games are easies to make so everyone is doing it. I hope this is only first step and they’ll evolve to something more interesting.

    Pokémon on Facebook with proper design and business model could be goldmine to Nintendo and drug to players. :)

  11. Yes… I like the spam definition. Seems that “social game” is just another modern buzz word, related to FarmVille and making tons of money with it.

    For me, games are inherently social, since most of the time, you play with and against other people. Think of classic games here… on the PC, players solve puzzles when they play against AI or train their reflexes, but with MMO games, we’re back in the classic domain of playing games with other people. Which is always social.

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