Trends, commentary, and insightful rants from the bleeding edge of advertising, content & branding.

Don’t Hate the Players. Hate the Games.

Add me!: dearleader

There are two kinds of trends. The first kind of trend is the kind you know are going to burn out pretty quickly, and so you ignore and/or mock them until they go away. Instances of these trends: Crocs, dot-com millionaires, Blockbuster Video stores. All annoying in their own way, but retrospectively we’ll all look back on them and say, “Remember when we walked to Blockbuster in our Crocs to rent The Boondock Saints right before our second round of venture capital funding? Good times, good times.”

The second kind of trend is more insidious. These trends are more permanent, and reflect a tectonic shift in our attitudes toward life and technology. These you cannot ignore, and you must find a way to embrace or make peace with them. Otherwise, you become that guy in the corner of the room who scoffs at iPads and vows to write his new novel with pad and paper, “like nature intended.” Examples of these trends include the MP3, cargo shorts, and the Palin Brood. For better or worse, they’re not going anywhere, no matter how intense the desire to destroy or replace them.

Social gaming is a tricky little bitch. It looks like the first kind of trend, mostly because of FarmVille, which has singlehandedly taught most Facebook users how to hide their friends’ updates. Aside: Somebody has to tell these companies that automatic Facebook updates are killing their brands. Same with unearned re-tweets: if it isn’t funny, disgusting, or transcendent, you’re a corporate shill with a secret agenda and I’m automatically unfollowing you. /Aside.

Social gaming smells like bullshit, right? Somehow Zynga has convinced America that mindlessly clicking on stuff on your screen is somehow better than your actual job, which usually includes mindlessly clicking stuff on your screen. Now, Zynga’s not wrong. FarmVille is probably better than 90% of most of our jobs. Nobody yells at you, you reap the direct result of your clicks, and you get to keep all of what you produce. It’s probably the most fulfilling part of someone’s day right now, and if that keeps them from killing a random stranger, well God bless Zynga.

But let’s be honest. FarmVille sucks. It’s like earning frequent flyer miles in real time. And the worst part about it is that it’s spawned a thousand imitators, each of which is trying to pretend they didn’t just rip off the FarmVille code and plaster it into their fantasy/sci-fi/pornstar worlds. Playing social gaming right now is like voluntarily checking into a Thai sweatshop.

Look, as a group of recovering Dungeons and Dragons players, we understand the appeal of “leveling up.” It gives you the illusion of forward progress in a life that usually just waves you forward in the inevitable slouch toward death. It’s great to feel that you’re succeeding at something, even if it is poking your phone with your index finger six hundred times a day.

But we’re trapped here, as a culture. We’ve been “leveling up” since we developed loyalty programs. We can’t move beyond it. And social gaming is bigger than this. Social gaming puts a fun veneer on the tedious parts of life that make us want to blow our brains out. The pieces are starting to form with location-based services, and they’re only going to get better from here.

Social gaming is a trend that’s not going away. We love to compete. It’s going to take over every aspect of our lives until we can’t remember a time we didn’t race to find the easter egg in the 7-Eleven, or when we weren’t mayor of our favorite bar.

But we’re begging someone to come up with a new paradigm for social gaming that doesn’t involve leveling up and/or building some sort of quaint business in an industry that doesn’t exist anymore because, you know, capitalism. Something that actually makes you want to go spend money instead of actively hating the brands involved. Something distracting, immersive, increasingly challenging and ultimately rewarding, in a way that doesn’t make us wonder what we did with all the time we wasted when we were young.

Not that we’re against wasting time, mind you. We just want to remember it.

Filed under: social media,


crop blight has destroyed everything, time to sell your children

Farmville had over 70 million daily users as of last December.  70 million. That, as famously noted, was (at the time) bigger than Twitter.  Yep, over 70 million folks doing some fake farming And yet, it must die.  Why is the rise of ham fisted social gaming going to end in flames?  Is it the insufferable, overly cute Tokyo-pop graphic style? Is it the inherently limited appeal of a “game” about “farming”? Is it the Second Life style dead end of virtuality? Yes to all of the above.  I suppose Farmville is fine in a web 1.0 kind of way but it falls into an uncanny valley of being both TOO social and NOT social enough. No I don’t care about the sad-eyed Piglet you just found on your farm.  Yes I think a fake farm is a disconnect in a social network based on real world connections (yeah it’s diverging some now that it’s huge but we’re not interacting in some SIM land with purple skin avatars).

My grandfather was a farmer (sharecropper). He got up at the crack of butt every day of his life to wrestle a living out of a hundred acres of crops and two  hundred head of cattle.  Hey, there’s an idea, we’ll launch a competing social game called “Sharecropper” or “Dustbowl!”, with more realistic game play.  Sample updates would include: “Three of your fifteen children just got the bloody flux,” or “Your wife’s foot was just crushed by a plow.” Of course, this wouldn’t solve the real problem with these games (yes I realize they are hugely popular), which is how fundamentally anti-social they actually are.  The facebook platform manager posted recently about how the killer social game app has yet to be launched.  He’s right and whatever kind of game that turns out to be (that gets everyone playing) it will probably involve more real world engagement. Think Fourssquare or Groupon.  The opportunity is for what you do in the world of the game to have an “entertaining” or “meaningful” or “valuable” implication outside of the network. Kind of the Wii-fit premise.

Here’s where I’d bet my money. That the first person/organization to figure out social gaming 3.0 will either be a small fry app-style developer or a big brand (entertainment or product).  A brand could add the kind of value to the interaction that takes social gaming beyond an exchange of cartoon animals. “Rise Humans! Rise!”

UPDATE! Just watched a purposely provocative TED talk on social gaming and how it might be harnessed to address real world issues (hunger, homelessness etc.), and thought it worth an add to  this post.  At a minimum this TED talk tackles the idea of “how do we grow beyond” the sort of dumb and narcissistic type of social gameplay popular now?  Can a social game be about something bigger than just “hey look! I have a new cow!” Is her suggestion that we dramatically increase the amount of online gameplay (oooh! counterintuitive) reek of TED talk point scoring? Yep. But social gaming 2.0 is going to be about exactly this kind of linkage.

Filed under: brands, facebook, supergenius llc, Trend Spotting, Uncategorized, , , , , ,


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