It hit to me what social games are. They are not platform specific (aka “Facebook games”). Nope, social games are games that have become multiplayer in a funky way.
Here’s a very simplified chart about multiplayer games (not about social games):
NHL ’93, which me and my bro played same time, in the same room (place). It is an offline simultaneously played multiplayer game.
NHL ’11 can be an online multiplayer game, played same time (among many other things). My bro is sitting in his home, me on my home and we both play the match (and I win of course). Different location (or “place”) and “same time”. If he goes away, playing stops.
Farmville player are located in different places, and play on different times. I’m simplifying this a “bit” I know. I cannot play NHL ’11 with my bro unless we play it same time. But I could play* Farmville with my bro, even though we’d play it in different times. This gives Farmville the aspect of being an online multiplayer game, played in different time
*maybe in some parallel universe where gravity has been turned upside down and people born 92 years old, getting younger from there on.
World of Warcraft can be played online with my bro simultaneously, but we can also choose to play it on different times and there are things that we can do to interact (I think we can collect resources on our own time and then later exchange them with each other or something like that I think). WoW can be viewed as online multiplayer game that can be played both same and different time.
There’s also the black spot, which I don’t know if it’s harvested, but at least to me this is one way to look at multiplayer games and also get some thoughts about what social games can be.
And I know, I wouldn’t pass academic argument, but for the sake of not going too deep into things… just let’s say that’s a pretty okay way to view differences.
But that’s not enough…
But social aspects in games are more than just “time” and “place”. I think there is huge amounts of things to learn from social games. I could imagine very many single player (resource gathering) games that could all benefit from many mechanics social games have to offer.
Platform is irrelevant.
Let’s say there’s a deer hunting game that you play solo (offline, single-player experience). It might be fun to be able to trade weapons with buddies, check their rankings against your own ranking, perhaps even assign them “jobs” where you say that “I’d need deer horns, can you get me some”. And number of other things. All these could help make the single player experience more social.
I know I made huge simplifications in this blog post, and if you want some good stuff, check out Raph Koster’s blog: see GDCOnline: Social Mechanics talk (2010) and GDC11: slides for Social Mechanics talk. These one go much deeper into multiplayer mechanisms… and what multiplayer even is.
This is where I started thinking why “social games” definition is so blurry. Sometimes a way to define things is to look from opposite direction. For example, the opposite of “online” multiplayer could be “non-online” aka “offline” multiplayer. And opposite side of “multiplayer” could be “non-multiplayer” aka “single player”.
After all, if your game isn’t social, is it then “non-social” or “anti-social”? I doubt it. Humans are social animals (or beasts) and share their findings. There are social elements in games and different games take advantage of them differently.
It’s quite useless to classify “social games” as evil, rather I think we all could take a good look at what they really are and how they work… and see if there’s some good stuff to be used *cough* in real games.
Please notice: you might not want to take so seriously the last words in that previous line.