MiYon Richardson, a mother of two and a digital scrapbooker in Texas, says that after her network ballooned for Zynga’s Mafia Wars, her news feed and E-mail box became cluttered with game-related messages. “I get so much spam now,” she says. “I very rarely see an update from my real friends.”
Where is the breaking point? I personally move people into separate groups and hide messages from applications I don’t care about or want to see (hi Zynga!) but most users aren’t that sophisticated or care to take the time. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about the half dozen people a week who add me on Facebook whom I’ve never met or talked to whose note just says “mafia wars”. Adding these people leads to exponential growth in spam unless managed as more fake friends play more social games.
The mechanic of friends-as-currency makes a ton of sense on the surface for social games – the companies want more people playing, players want to be able to interact with their friends in some way. But the effects of this mechanic are widespread – not only does it make these games unplayable by people who don’t have large networks, it incentivizes the destruction of the very platform it needs to leverage by making the value of real friends (whom you can influence – which has bottom line implications for the developer) identical to the value of a stranger who happens to be connected to your node in the network.
But developers don’t care because more happy players today means more money today.
And players don’t care because incrementally it is hard to observe the negative effects.
And Facebook doesn’t care because it gets them page views.
But they are the ones who should care the most because it is a short term bump leading to a burnout and exodus. People first came to Facebook from Myspace in waves because the former was garish, unusable and ugly while the latter was utilitarian and clean. And if they lose that utility thanks to something as basic as spam status updates, they are going to find the Next Big Social Network eating their lunch.