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Free for All: Why the term Facebook game should fade


Last week, in the comments section of one of my other columns, a player described Glitch as "kind of like a non-violent, Facebook version of EVE Online." I was confused by the Facebook part, so I had to ask him about it. He responded by saying that it was "sort of like saying a themepark MMO is very 'World of Warcraft-ish'. So the meaning is likely going to vary from person to person and cover a lot of things: browser-based, more simplistic."

He makes a few good points. (I have the smartest readers!) At the same time, his truths shine light on a couple of very disturbing trends. Click past the cut and let's discuss them!

Facebook screenshot
What that reader said was pretty much on the money. People do use the term "Facebook game" as shorthand, just like many people use "WoW-clone" to describe a game that is similar to World of Warcraft. The problem I have is not with pointing out people's habits but with the people who use those terms. To someone who is attempting to use more than a few words each week to describe how he feels or what he experienced (like I am), internet users' love for shorthand is the worst thing possible.

If we look at "Facebook game" more closely, we can see just how and why the term came about. Of course, I could be wrong in my interpretation, but generally I think the fault lies with games like FarmVille or Mafia Wars. The latter grew in popularity before FarmVille showed up. I remember people asking me to join them in the game, looking for additional members for their thug armies. I wasn't a fan, but not because I was suffering from some sort of game snobbery. I simply didn't enjoy the MUD-like mechanic of Mafia Wars. Then, FarmVille came along and charmed almost everyone I knew. For a while, anyway. Looking back, I think the game was brilliant. It invited in all of those obsessive players who like to collect and organize more than play, it was awesome at getting people to spend money, and it facilitated a guerrilla tactic to spread its message across the entirety of Facebook. Of course, the game itself took the blame for all of those people who spammed the hell out of all of their friends on Facebook (the spam was the players' choice from the very beginning), but that never stopped people from thinking that all games on Facebook forced players to send out thousands of messages.

So the term "Facebook game" is often used to describe games that spam, games that are so simple that a baby macaque could play them, or games that will force players to open their wallets. All of this misunderstanding and generalizing came from the hate for one or two simple yet very popular titles. Notice that in the reader's remarks above, he admitted that the term was going to cover "a lot of things," i.e., he was generalizing and using fewer words to describe more things in gaming. This is the disturbing part.

When we use such shorthand to describe our games ("Facebook game," "WoW-clone") we are not doing anyone any favors, especially ourselves. Reducing this hobby and lifestyle down to one or two words encourages more of the same. The worse we become at describing new titles to other players, the less those players will learn from us. New titles need new players, not misrepresentation.

Facebook screenshot
Maybe it's the fact that I am now 37 years old and I didn't grow up with the internet. I have found that the internet is the greatest place on Earth for communication. The internet is a writer's dream. Gaming culture, however, has popularized quick, all-encompassing words or terms that slowly but surely are used to categorize all sorts of things that have no business being described by one or two buzz-words. I can literally feel the energy seeping out of some readers and gamers. They simply do not want to read what you say and do not want to discuss it. "Tl;dr" or "meh" works for them as much as "Facebook game" or "WoW-clone" works for others. If you can't text it, it's not worth saying.

While I understand how harmless these quick-fire conversation pieces can be much of the time, I can see the damage when I visit any official game forum or article comment section. Any developer will understand my pain when I say that I have witnessed some of the most awful and short descriptions of some of the best games out there. Fallen Earth, for example, is described as a post-apocalyptic third-person shooter. While that description does fit much of the game, it's only describing some of the mechanics and general settings of the game. Remember, we're talking comment sections and forum posts here... places that allow for all the time and space needed to describe how a game plays, looks and feels. "WoW-clone" refers mainly to gameplay and graphics, but there is so much more to a game like World of Warcraft. There are layers and layers of lore, miles and miles of varying landscapes, thousands of quests and hundreds of NPCs to interact with.

This attempt to lump every game into a convenient category bothers me for so many reasons. I've been guilty of using the terms myself occasionally, but generally I have forced myself to take the time to spell out what I mean. If someone tells me about a "Facebook game," I have to ask exactly what she means. The term is now being deployed to describe any game that features optional Facebook connectivity! If you have an option to sign in with Facebook, then people refer to it as a "Facebook game" and go on to describe how they will never touch a Facebook game because of all of the spam. I have seen this sort of rejection for so many games.

The truth is that Facebook is a wonderful collection of optional customers for your game. Allowing players the choice to sign in with their Facebook accounts or embedding your game on Facebook (using Facebook as a delivery tool, not a gameplay mechanic) is actually pretty smart. If someone describes Facebook as nothing but a spam-fest that features games like FarmVille, then either he did not take the three minutes to figure out how to say "no" to spam and to adjust his privacy settings or he is just referring to something he read about Facebook.

Let's make a pact, OK? Say it with me: If we haven't played a game, we will not describe it by its launcher. If it offers Facebook connectivity, we will understand that this does not mean that a player will spam the hell out of her friends (unless she is an idiot). We will stop using one or two word terms to describe a game. If we have the time, we will be honest in the scope and depth of our experience.

Thank you. Now, would you like to be my neighbor in...


Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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