Over the weekend, The Gray Lady (my hometown newspaper) ran an editorial that talks about the surprise move made by Disney over the past two weeks: selling Miramax Films and buying social gaming company Playdom. It's certainly a point worth making, and the perfect way to launch into a larger article on how the movie industry is facing serious competition from all forms of media -- HBO, Showtime, Hulu, video games and, now, Facebook games. Instead, the article skips this conversation and jumps into hating on (for lack of a better term) FarmVille and social games in general.
Following are a few choice quotes from the piece:
"But what is being farmed isn't only the virtual crops. It's also the users social connections, their attention and ultimately their credit cards. The basic gaming is free, but sooner or later many players spend real cash to buy game cash. And you can't really play FarmVille without roping in your Facebook friends."
I have to question how much time this author spent playing FarmVille or any of the other games mentioned in this piece. Case in point, this quote: "The game involves starting a farm. You get your friends to help you water and fertilize crops and harvest them, earning play money to spend on new items." You only have to play FarmVille once to know that you assist neighbors with fertilizing crops, but there is no way to harvest or water other players' crops."It's a touch dismaying that social gaming is a world where players are festooned with gratuitous awards, sold trinkets for hard cash and reap rewards for dragging in their friends. It's lovely to pretend that the game reveals an inner agrarian instinct in all of us, but we would like the invite all 60-some-million FarmVille players to consider growing some actual plants."
Second, the article intimates that players are suckered to pulling out their credit cards to play these games. That's a serious overstatement. It's common industry knowledge that 1% to 5% of people who play freemium games on Facebook actually spend money on them. The majority of players don't spend cash, and that's why social gaming companies are standing on their heads trying to convince more people to pay.
The writer also talks about how you have to 'drag' in friends to play these games. There's an argument to be made about not spamming all of your friends with social gaming updates on Facebook, but it's pretty difficult to convince friends to play FarmVille if they don't want to. And, say you convince reluctant friends to join FarmVille, but then they stop playing -- that isn't going to help when you need them to send parts for your new garage. Some of the more devoted players have opted to create a second Facebook account just for gaming, and are making friends with new people who also play FarmVille, et al.
It's disappointing that The New York Times would run such a reactionary piece that misses the bigger point about media and technology -- it's always changing, and consumers are always looking for the next big thing.
Oh yeah, as for growing actual plants, I do that too. I have several that have lived in my apartment window for the past decade, and the hour or so a day I spend playing FarmVille hasn't interfered with that. Not yet, anyway.
Read the full NYT article here >
Do you agree? Was the Times way off base in its criticism of social games? Or not? Leave a note in the comments below.