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How I Gamed GDC’s Top Social Game Developers (untoldentertainment.com)
89 points by surlyadopter on Mar 6, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

The rants session at the GDC conference had an element of gaming in it so it seems silly of the panelists to arbitrarily change the rules because it was not what they had imagined. But then again the author of the article could be seen as having to broken an implicit social rule don't lie, don't cheat - that permeates most societies. No wonder they labeled him as a cheater.

"We like to brag about how the games industry brings in more money than the film industry, but as soon as someone like Zynga makes enough money to trigger our envy, we invent interpretations of the game rules to say it’s not okay."

I seriously doubt that the criticism against Zynga were due to game developers being envious of Zynga. Frankly, this is a straw man and avoids the valid concerns people have about games and their addictiveness. It's not about rules that have been broken, but what responsibilities game developers have.

"Meanwhile, we are breaking the very same rules: the addictive qualities of Facebook social games can be found throughout all our games."

Maybe it's not a question about if games should have addictive qualities but rather how much and where you draw the line? Games can have a profound effect on a individual and affect their behavior and if the gaming industry doesn't routinely discuss the various ethical and psychological effects of gaming, they risk being seen as irresponsible or oblivious towards the well-being of gamers.

"Jane McGonigal bent the rules to bring her buddies up to share her rant time, but her shenanigans were sanctioned by the industry guard."

McGonigal was "sanctioned" because conferences, like most other IRL interactions, need order to function. Maybe the conference panelists were unnecessary strict and actually caused a loss by stopping McGonigal from talking, but many interactions would become difficult to participate in simply because people gamed them to their benefit.

I think you're missing the point.

As far as I read it - he wasn't so much critiquing or defending the gaming industry for their social games. He was offering a parody of their inability to apply the standards to themselves that they apply to others.

To play a "social" game of any sort is to play a game that is automatically rigged against you - since the perception of success will change depending on the status of the person playing (whether they are the creators of the social game, or in league with them).

What's wonderful about the story is that he demonstrates neatly how to win such games. Create your own. As he says - the time he had spent online social games could have been spent building one. If, however, you are stuck in a context where you can't get outside their game (like a conference) - your only move is to perform the action which is most like creating your own game...


The best summary of HN submission ever, well played.

Thanks! :)

The coin game introduced chaos into the event. If the desire was to maintain order, providing an open ended game play mechanism where players have to game one another doesn't promote a system of order.

This guy did a great job of gaming the actual game and did what players in real games do all the time. Find the easiest way to competitive advantage through the available mechanics, even if it is through a loophole in the rules.

Maybe they would have been happier if he had traded his credit card for the bag of coins instead.

Maybe customers should decide for themselves what they want.

There are industries - alcohol, cigarettes, gambling - whose products can have a major negative impact on the lives of people. So major that most societies have created strict regulations and a system of abuse prevention and treatment to protect people. To some small extent the same applies to gaming. We have, for instance, laws that prohibit resellers from selling violent games to minors. Do you then think it's so improbable that societies in the future treat the addictiveness of gaming as the addictiveness of alcohol or cigarettes? I can, for example, imagine a future where game boxes have bright and imposing stickers about the dangers of excessive gaming.

So what I am saying is that the industry must keep having serious discussions about the ethical, social and psychological implications of gaming - otherwise populists and crooks will set the tone and agenda.

If future societies treat so-called game addiction like they treated alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, they would have learned nothing from the past. Not only would there be a backlash against it and further disregard for the law, but if it becomes illegal to be gaming or sell games, this will create a new criminal class.

I agree, for reasons that have made me sad since the late 90s, when cookie-cutter FPSs arrived on the scene, clinging to the coattails of iD et al, soon to be followed by cookie-cutter MMOs, and finally, the miniature Dark Ages of the industry: sequels, sequels, sequels, and in-game advertising. Quirky, unique games and games that are very difficult just don't sell as well. I think it was in GameFan (RIP) that I read the quote that summed it up: "The hard-core are never catered to."

Game companies started to broaden their reach, to expand their demographic. The same is happening with Facebook. I watched my mother play game after game of Bejeweled. Facebook's reach is huge, well beyond the demographic usually thought of as gamers, that 18-35 male collective cash cow. I'm not on Facebook, but my mother is, my aunt is, the sort of person that kinda likes clicking cows. Zynga's games are close to their tolerance: easy, always there, not too deep. The gaming equivalent of a Will Smith summer blockbuster, the type that upsets the people that really love movies. A McDonald's burger, a Mariah Carey song, Marlboro Lights, Windows XP, Zynga: the suburbs of their industry. It may not be loved by critics, but damned if you can't make more money selling to a broader demographic than to a smaller group of devoted genre fans.

So, on a much larger scale, we're seeing the games market broaden and develop, the same way that we saw it happen 10 or 15 years ago. There's hope for the future: you can still get rich making an iPhone/Android $2 game or a Minecraft, so we still have some sort of vibrance, sparks flying from the souls of the passionate and creative. But the way things are, there's more money in Farmville. I've stopped being angsty and dropped my elitism: you can't fight basic laws of commerce or Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crap").

I value my time, so I don't play social games (unless you count GitHub), but the customers have indeed decided what they want, or at least what they'll pay for.

...Where's my copy of Ninja Gaiden? I still haven't beaten it in two decades.

'Winning' was his priority, so Creighton found a way to win. Congratulations to him. Taking a risk like that in front of people you respect is tough, especially when it results in everyone in your industry remembering you as 'that guy'.

Edit: Better mirror, courtesy of reddit user FunkyFreshFlow: http://rorr.im/reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/fya4n/

Mirror here:


(although the images are broken)

The article is well worth reading.

A brilliant and insightful read.

Game developers should embrace and reward players that think outside of the box and subvert the game to add their own rules. I can recall MissingNo. from the original Pokémon games as a great example of players subverting the game and in essence creating a cult following to this "cheat".

Having been there, I can vouch that this is what happened (though perhaps a bit exaggerated). It was pretty entertaining. I was pretty shocked that the panelists voted against him -- I thought what he did was exactly in the spirit of the entire thing.

I also have to say Jane McGoningal's "rant" was incredibly lame "rah rah we're changing the world" stuff. I wish they had given this guy more time -- honestly the panelists have mostly been the same people saying the same things the last few years, it'd be nice to hear some new voices.

Thumbs up. I thoroughly approve of both the strategy and the resulting rant.

As someone who works in the industry, my thoughts during the first half of this essay were 'this is normal, Players ALWAYS find ways around the rules'. I was shocked that the designers didn't instinctively get this and pronounce him the winner.

Yes, I was surprised this wasn't exactly what they wanted. I would have been delighted with the kind of outcome.

I think he also made a deft mind flip, turning it into an example for his own talk. I'd have thought the entire thing pre-staged, if I'd been in the audience, it's so brilliantly full circle.

I guess it's a good example of human behavior in general: If someone doesn't play how we want them, as "Owner" of an event or product or game, we get pissy. And then, from outside, it just looks sad. Of course the author could simply be an unreliable narrator.

Now that's a hacker.

People like that are the true gamers. (cue a grumpy Scotsman).

The ability to see the rules, see past the rules, and see into the structure of the question, then deal with that are the real hallmarks of what makes the hacker culture great.

Play to win.

503 - Service unavailable? Copy anywhere?

Lost me at "It was exactly like this, except that i had pants on. …. and i have a much bigger cock. "

Did you read the article cached, or with images? It makes more sense in context.

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