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“You aren’t a gamer until you’ve had your first X vs Y sneerfest, for fun or profit”

By on September 13, 2010
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Last week, I wrote a post about the sneering attitudes core gamers have towards social games. The genesis of the post was a deeply-prejudiced article in the SF Weekly about Zynga’s business ethics.

I didn’t take issue with the ethics question. I think it is good that an investigative journalist is shining a light into dark corners (dark corners like these, and these).

I took issue with the sneering, prejudiced and elitist attitude to social games that were relentlessly described as “cretinous”, “inane” and “simplistic”.

GamaSutra logo

I cross-posted the article to GamaSutra, expecting to get a response. And boy, did I got a response. Over a hundred prejudiced comments, with only a tiny smattering of more thoughtful views.

One commenter, Slade Villena, was sufficiently incensed by my post that he wrote a response entitled Criticism != Elitism, Culture != Metrics, Gamers == All Grown Up.

(I imagine the irony of writing a post that says gamers aren’t elitist in language that only a programmer would understand escaped Slade).

The title of this post is a verbatim quote from the post. Other choice snippets include:

  1. Just about every part of this industry gets a salvo of sneering.  Part of the territory. 
  2. Destructoid sneering at ‘art games’. Ebert opening his mouth about games. The Console Fanboi Wars. WRPG vs JPRG. WoW vs FFXI. DRM vs Common Sense. TifaXCloud vs TifaXAeris. Insert-Big-Studio-Name-Here. Bobby Kotick’s ‘joke’. Everyone. Everything. Every widget, and every line of code.  
  3. In fact, I’d like to think of it as a prerequisite; you aren’t a gamer until you’ve had your first X vs Y sneerfest, for fun or profit. This is an integral part of the territory; hardcore gamers have all grown up having their own opinions, misguided or otherwise, including all those nasty comparisons, calling things ‘cretinous’, developing a vocabulary and art for it.  Gamer culture has grown up to include debate and refinement, and yes, it also means putting things down, and talking smack.

Or this deeply peculiar definition of the mass-market

Lets look at the ‘mass market’ for the Final Fantasy franchise. It has games in almost every platform, from the original PlayStation, down to today’s current gen consoles. It has a global following of Cosplayer’s, fan art, fan fiction. It’s chief musician, Nobuo Uematsu, has his own festival, which includes orchestras from all over the world, playing Final Fantasy music, selling out tickets weeks, if not months, in advance. Final Fantasy has also produced 1 MMO, and has been the most prolific MMO in Japan. When we say ‘mass-market’; we mean that. A market in different aspects of culture, fandom, community, music, art, games, cosplay. Everything.

Or this, my favourite:

Hardcore gamers are the stewards of this craft,

If you are interested in reading a manifesto for prejudice, arrogance and snobbery, you would struggle to find better.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • Sync

    You should come to PAX or Gamescon, and see if your “niche backwater” definition holds water.

    Actually. Don’t. We don’t need your types there.

  • Cow clicker only indentifies some of the elements. It’s clever, but there is much more to learn.

  • I linked to your post in the fifth paragraph (when I first mentioned it)

    I don’t agree that hardcore gaming is the steward of the craft. In fact, like most unions or interest groups, I think it holds back the advance of the craft, tries to exclude those it does not feel have “paid their dues” and has been responsible for endless iterations of FPSs and RTSs that have not moved the medium forward.

    In short, I think we fundamentally disagree as to whether hardcore gaming is the apotheosis of gaming, or a niche backwater.

  • Sync

    “Although, unlike you, I think that some of the designs of social games are marvels of technological, psychological and gameplay understanding. Seriously, pretty well every game designer should be required to deconstuct the gameplay mechanics in Farmville, Pet Society and Restaurant City before they design another game.”

    Cow Clicker. Deconstruction complete, performed by Ian Bogost.

    I have officially passed the “Nicholas Lovell Qualification for Gameplay Critique”.

  • Sync

    “Although, unlike you, I think that some of the designs of social games are marvels of technological, psychological and gameplay understanding. Seriously, pretty well every game designer should be required to deconstuct the gameplay mechanics in Farmville, Pet Society and Restaurant City before they design another game.”

    Cow Clicker. Deconstruction complete, performed by Ian Bogost.

    I have officially passed the “Nicholas Lovell Qualification for Gameplay Critique”.

  • Sync

    It might help for people if they read the entire article I wrote, instead of cherry picking, and ‘putting context’ where there is none.

    http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/SladeVillena/20100910/5949/Criticism__Elitism_Culture__Metrics_Gamers__All_Grown_Up.php

    And also, Mr. Lovell, if you’re gonna try to troll gamers on these kinds of topics, it would be very appreciative if you can actually grok where we are coming from.

    Yes, hardcore gaming is still the steward of this craft. The same way the NBA relates basketball. That’s not really a statement of ‘elitism’; where else can you get “better game design”? A marketroid statistic? Or a gamer who’s been exposed to years of culture?

  • Font

    I’d say it’s not the gameplay mechanics that count there, but how they are applied in a social context and what’s communicated to other players. The raw mechanics themselves aren’t that sophisticated or clever. The economies of time requirements, interaction requirements and currency distribution, however, are – but my issue here is that these are not in the interest of game design as an art, but in game design as machines for compulsive play. I think that’s probably the major issue most sensibly analytical critics have.

    Sure, the social gaming fad offers great insights into stickiness, player retention and so on, but when these boil down to raw prods at primeval instincts for the sake of upping a monetary conversion rate, I feel some distancing from the traditional genres of videogame design is important. Maybe it’s akin to the difference between artful erotica and raw prostitution.

    Nonetheless, I’d hate to see that attitude to the players and the starting principles of the Zynga model have any meaningful influence on traditional games.

  • Hello Font,

    Actually, I wasn’t arguing against the criticism. I would happily see a review that took a balanced approach to these games.

    But the original SF Weekly article was sneering, prejudiced and and biased. That’s what I was arguing against.

    Although, unlike you, I think that some of the designs of social games are marvels of technological, psychological and gameplay understanding. Seriously, pretty well every game designer should be required to deconstuct the gameplay mechanics in Farmville, Pet Society and Restaurant City before they design another game.

  • Ouch.

    I do talk about the dark corners. I’ve commented on Zynga’s approach to suing its rivals for plagiarism, (http://www.gamesbrief.com/2009/09/why-suing-your-rivals-makes-good-business-sense/) and asking whether the company is just buying its success (http://www.gamesbrief.com/2009/09/is-zynga-just-buying-its-success/)

    I haven’t delved into Scamville, although I did discuss it in my book, partly because it was covered so well on TechCrunch (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/10/31/scamville-the-social-gaming-ecosystem-of-hell/) and partly because, like the Crazy Frog scams on mobile, I think they are symptomatic of a temporary Wild West mentality in social games – a mentality that has, in my view, passed.

    More broadly, I don’t think social games are better. They are different. I strongly dislike those who sneer at people who like The Da Vinci Code or McDonalds.

    I am not sneering at literature or Heston Blumental. I am sneering at those who sneer at those who prefer The Da Vinci Code or Heston Blumenthal.

    I don’t agree it’s inverse snobbery: it’s about disliking snobbery in all forms.

  • I need to do a post on why fewer than 25% of players like killing/fighting/beating games, but that overwhelmingly those people work in the games industry, which is why those types of games dominate development. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Font

    ^^ I agree wholheartedly with Allan’s post and I’d like to chip in with this quote of you, Nick:

    “So the difference between us is that I believe that games like Farmville, Pet Society and Happy Aquarium bring entertainment, fun, enjoyment and, yes, even joy, to millions of people.

    And you don’t.”

    But I thought you were arguing against criticism that the games were inane and simplistic?

    I’m struggling to find anything in your recent writing on the subject that demonstrates the social gaming fad has produced anything but games that are, almost by necessity, simplistic interactive designs. The fact that they’re deeply tied to the social function of Facebook – or brilliantly compartmentalised as part of the average Facebook user’s daily profile admin – is a testament to how cleverly they’re deployed, but I think the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate the raw game design worth of these games beyond, say, the average scratch-card lottery or 5-min-lifetime advergaming Flash title. I’d argue heavily that the necessary compartmentalisation, tied to the need for reminder-spam demonstrates how clumsy the designs actually are. What’s more, I’d argue that Farmville-class titles *are* simplified, compartmentalised copies of the core design of Harvest Moon, only with more restrictions added in to provide monetisation avenues.

    I’d love to see you support this dismantling and rampant commercialisation of one of the greatest farming games of all time as being evidence of worthy interactive design, valid enough to be seen on a par with the finely-crafted work of Treasure, Bungie, Gearbox or just about any contemporary hardcore game studio that excels in the field. As it stands, I’ve yet to see a supporter of the Social Games design philosophy even draw comparisons with games they’ve borrowed from. Harvest Moon gets completely ignored in 90% of Farmville discussions.

    Finally, shouting and foot-stamping at the most vocal, hardcore demographic doesn’t help your case in any way. By all means point fingers, but I can’t say relying on raw popularism as your proof convinces anyone that what they’re enjoying is anything other than trashy commercialism.

  • Allan

    Distilling this down to the basic crux of your argument: volume = good – regardless of the market in which you trade – accordingly you’ve endorsed The Da Vinci code ahead of literature, and McDonalds ahead of Heston Blumenthal.

    That’s also known as inverse snobbery

    You’ve then posted those views on a website that basically endorses the opposite viewpoint and unsurprisingly provoked a reaction.

    That’s also known as trolling

    I thought this was a business website (“The Business of Games”) that would – as a result – be more interested in the “dark corners” that you give backhanded reference to and their potential impact on customers long term trust rather than generating cheap traffic but I’m obviously hoping for too much.

  • You did ask for it, trying to convince the most hard-core market on the planet that anything other than hard-core games have merit! Here’s the typical statement that sums up the author’s opinion: “I don’t logon to EVE Online because a billion Goons are in Jita, I logon because I wanna kill every single one of them”

    Yes, only games that you can kill people in or humilate them are deemed hard-core and worth playing. Oh dear, oh dear. Which century are we in?

    I am, of course, being synical. IMO Social Games are where the opportunities lay, I don’t mean games on Social platforms, I mean truly social games that connect people and enable everyone to share their experiences together. Most people don’t want to kill people or be humilated, they desire connections, entertainment and engagement.

    Keep up the good work.

  • B Gates

    you don’t really mean ‘taking smack’ though, right?

    “it also means putting things down, and talking smack”