ADOTAS – About 15 years ago (man, I’m getting old), my dad heard about the first-person shooter craze in computer games and asked me to show him Doom. Pimply, mop-haired geek I was at the time, I had the full version and knew all the cheat codes (incidentally, I was in an instrumental prog rock band that recorded a song called IDKFA).
I opened up the game and let him start firing away at various mutants, aliens, whatever else you fought in that game. I even showed him how to blow a bad guy into tiny, gooey bits by shooting a nearby barrel of toxic waste.
“That’s absolutely disgusting,” he said, eyes wide and jaw unhinged.
“Yeah, it is,” I laughed and tried to exit out of the game.
“What are you doing?” he said, somewhat offended. “I’m still playing.”
I looked at him quizzically, shrugged and left him to killing aliens. For an hour he was glued to the monitor until nausea (a common side effect of first-person shooters) forced him to lie down. After that, I’d occasionally hear the sounds of gunfire and mutant guts being dismantled via chainsaw emanating from his study — usually late at night when he had “brought some work home.”
While fulfilling residual violent masculine urges through first-person shooters during those awkward teen years made sense, people who are hooked on Farmville mystify me. But as my experience with my father showed me years ago, anyone can get hooked on a game — even if they think it’s grotesque or stupid. The chief reason I’ve never tried Farmville is I’m deathly afraid of becoming addicted — and how embarrassed I’d be admitting it.
Just like drugs, social gaming addiction can prove devastating for one’s career. The city council of Bulgarian city Plovidv (do not ask me how to pronounce that) has voted off committee member Dimitar Kerin after he was caught playing Farmville during a council meeting. Even better, he was using a laptop paid for by city taxpayers and taking advantage of the refurbished city hall’s state-of-the-art wireless network.
Kerin had been warned before after several council members were caught tending their virtual crops or counting their digital chickens or whatever the hell people do on Farmville during budget meetings — apparently Plovdiv not in the best economic shape, so this quite outraged the locals.
Interestingly, 20 voted to sack Kerin while 19 people were against it — he apparently had numerous sympathizers. His defense was weak — he claimed he wasn’t the worst addict as he’d only reached Level 40 while one of his peers was at Level 46.
I’ve written before about technology has the potential to turn us all into media junkies and why that might not be a good thing for marketers, even if they are encouraging/encouraged by the behavior. Online social gaming is not all that new — I failed computer science in high school because I spent all my class time battling peers in Quake — but Farmville is a bit of a phenomenon because it illustrates social gaming’s mass appeal. Ironically the evolution in gaming has led to virtual farm-tending that requires very little skill, but the people love it.
Last night during the keynote at a Pontiflex event (look for more on that Monday) JP Morgan analyst Imram Kahn mentioned how astounded he was by the Internet cafes in southeast Asia, where people of all ages and demographics gather to game on social networks. Are the U.S. and other Western countries headed in that direction? Are we already there?
I haven’t played Doom in more than a decade (though I did watch the movie when I was ridiculously hungover — it did not make me feel better) and something tells me Kerin might shut down his virtual farm after it cost him his job. Farmville still has that new-fad thrill to it that will fade, but social gaming is certainly now a component of this digital life.
Opportunities are abundant in the social gaming channel, but advertisers need to discover sustainable and smart ways to engage gamers. Offer marketing is a shadow of its former self not only because of scams. What methods are working? What techniques treat gamers as users instead of trying to take advantage of addiction/obsession?