Video games are a constantly evolving form of media. Early video games were primarily basic action games that involved moving a small avatar around basic terrain and interacting with various obstacles. As games became more complicated, video games more commonly tried to recreate some real world experience in a digital format. Race car games, war simulations, and computer board games best represented this trend. Technological improvements eventually lead to over a dozen genres of video games ranging from surreal puzzle games like Tetris to interactive skill games like Rock Band.
In recent years a new type of video game has become popular and introduced a new form of gaming. The social media game, best represented by Facebook games is this new type of video game. The new genre of game play can best be described as “begging”. The obvious question for most people is: How can begging possibly be a video game genre?
To understand the answer to that question you need to understand the standard model for Facebook games. Facebook games are, ostensibly, free to play. The game designers make money from the games through optional micro-payments. Players can spend real money on a specific form of in-game currency that can be spent to gain advantages in the game. While the micro-payment model has been proven to be successful, it basically requires an incredibly large player population to be successful.
This is where begging comes in. Since more players correlate to higher income, nearly every social media game rewards players for inviting new friends to play the game. The most common way to reward players for inviting friends is to make items that can only be obtained by requesting that item from a friend. Once the request is made, the friend can gift you that item, without any cost to the friend. Such gifts can usually only be made once a day, which means the more friends you have that actively play, the better you are rewarded.
Odd as it seems, begging has basically become a standardized form of game play. Nearly every Facebook game includes some form of begging mechanic and players that beg successfully do better in the games than those that don’t. In fact, some games, most notably Frontierville, basically prevent you from advancing in the game without begging.
While begging certainly reinforces that the game is a social media game, not a single player game, it also comes with its downsides. The most obvious downside is that less popular games are hard to enjoy, because you don’t have the necessary friends playing to advance in the game. Similarly, people without a lot of social media friends will find these games frustrating. The larger downside is the fact that often, when you beg your friends for help, at least in Facebook games, the game will publish this information to your wall and your friend’s wall. Thus you end up spamming your friends, many of which likely have no interest in the game. The problem has reached the point that Facebook pages exist specifically to gripe about the spam from Facebook games.
Finally, there is one more thing to consider about these begging games. While begging games are clearly a new genre of video games, it is getting more and more questionable whether the word “game” is a fair characterization of the experience. A game is supposed to be an activity that is enjoyable and competitive. The competitive aspect of this experience becomes questionable when everyone playing is providing free resources for everyone else. In addition, begging is not a particularly enjoyable way to play. Besides the annoyance of spam, begging takes time and most games actually make it especially cumbersome in terms of time and effort. Since micro-payments are the only option other than begging, the game publishers would actually prefer you not beg.
All signs indicate that the begging genre is about to become a permanent staple of video games. But, whether these games continue to be classified as games or whether a new appellation is invented has yet to be seen. Until something changes, begging for seeds, fruit, weapons, or workers is the new standard in social media games.