Are Social Games Evil?
"There's no other word for it except evil. Of course you can debate anything, but the general definition of evil in the real world, where there isn't... the villain in the mountain fortress, is selfishness to the detriment of others or to the detriment of the world. And that's exactly what [most of these games are]," Blow told PC Gamer.
And he's not talking about the players -- they're more like smokers, while developers like Zynga are more like Phillip Morris. "It's trying to take the maximum amount while trying to give the minimum amount. So that's an ethics of game design question," Blow said. "To me it doesn't matter if people feel like they're having fun or feel like they want to play the game, because the designers know what they're doing."
Blow's comments are making the rounds on gaming blogs, often without a great deal of context. But at the core of his message is an important truth, not just for game developers, but for all marketers. Social games are in a very nascent state right now, and developers can get away with asking players to do a great many different things for advancement, including evangelize the games to their friends lists for in-game advantages. But consumer opinions will eventually turn against that behavior, as it has against many other forms of marketing.
The only real way to steer clear of being "evil," as Blow puts it, is to ensure that the experience you're creating rewards in equal measure for what it asks from them. This means, for example, when you ask for a consumers' attention with a TV ad, it needs to be at least entertaining enough for them not to feel like their last 30 seconds was a complete loss. When you're building a Facebook fan base or a Twitter follower base, your messages can't be constantly promotional and lacking in consumer value. Any action a marketer asks consumers to take needs to be rewarded, or they'll simply ignore your message in favor of marketers who have something better to offer.