Tag Archives: gdc11

The Flip Side of the Coin

i feel like i set off a firecracker in the Internet boys’ bathroom with my story of how gosh-darned clever i was, lying and cheating my way to GDC rant victory. i posted the article Saturday night, and by early Sunday morning, i’d been featured on the front pages of Reddit, Hacker News, PCGamer, and Kotaku. Two days later, the story was on Gamasutra and Ars Technica.

WYSI(N)WYG

There’s a flip side to everything you see at events like GDC. This year marked my sixth trip to the hallowed halls of gamedom. Over the years, i’ve seen mobile game development crawl up from the abyss to a privileged position as the only thing anyone ever talked about at the conference. i’ve witnessed the rapid rise and fall of kids’ virtual worlds, the decline of the casual downloadable market, the explosion of digital distribution, and the Godzilla-like devastation wrought by the likes of Zynga.

The people who take the mic at GDC are almost always the people with success stories to share. These are the people who draw the crowds and the numbers. But the success they tout in their sessions may not be all it’s cut out to be, and it may not even last until the following year’s conference.

Pair o’ Dice Lost

For example, one year i heard a guy speak about all the money he’d made on his game. i was impressed, and more than a little jealous. i thought “man, what i wouldn’t give to have all that money.” And then i envisioned all the things i’d do with it: giant robot races, playroom made of Nerf, Rolls Royce that plays “Dixie” when you honk the horn … and despite myself, before i even realized what was happening, i started vigorously rubbing my thighs. By the time i snapped out of it, i was being asked to leave the conference hall.

The next year, i learned that the very same guy who’d hit it so big with his game was on the financial ropes, and that his house was in foreclosure.

Home foreclosure

Ehm … perhaps we should have sold more virtual hats?

One year at the seldom-publicized conference portion of E3, i heard MYST designer Rand Miller talk about his plans for the upcoming MYST multiplayer game. The game launch was a famously massive flop.

i try to catch Raph Koster every time he speaks at GDC. Despite his brilliance, he’s no stranger to failure (Star Wars Galaxies, anyone?). Most recently, i saw him introduce his new venture, Areae/Metaplace. One (maybe two?) year(s) later, Metaplace had completely tanked, and Raph was on to something new.

Raph Koster

Raph inappropriately mimes “tappin’ dat ass” during a stuffy corporate event.

Two Plastic Pennies to Rub Together

So the other side of me, the guy holding all the coins (albeit plastic ones), is that i don’t have many coins to hold, plastic or otherwise. i’ve been running my independent game studio, Untold Entertainment, for over three years, and have struggled to release a single game through all of the service work i’ve been trying (and often failing) to land.

Sad violin

So it was in that spirit that while i was at GDC this year, and i saw a nickel on the ground in front of me, i picked it up. It was just underneath the chair in the next row up , where i sat waiting for a session to begin. i glanced around furtively to see if anyone had dropped it, or had even noticed it, and then scooped it up inconspicuously and slid it into my pocket.

Secret

i did this in the midst of GDC, a conference for which the alumni pass set me back $1300. i was surrounded by very wealthy people (or so they seemed), some of the biggest movers and shakers in the game industry.

Squirrel Fishing

The next night, i went to a party hosted by Canada, my home and native land. While strolling around looking for someone new to meet who could help me figure out where i was going wrong in my bidness, i noticed a quarter on the ground. i figured “why stop now”, and stooped to pick it up. As i did, i kind of worried that the people sitting in a nearby restaurant booth had planted it there to see what kind of desperate sad-sack stopped to grab it. i half-expected the coin to be jerked out from between my fingers, tied to an invisible piece of thread, as my imagined tormenters laughed and pointed at me. And then the biggest one, the guy they called “Titan”, would dump his milkshake over my head and put his arm around Jenny Jenkins, who was wearing his high school sweater.

Charles Atlas

But nothing like that happened. i just grabbed the quarter, and into my pocket it went.

The Value of Bending Over

The tidbit of info that runs through my mind whenever i stoop to grab a penny or better comes from The Straight Dope, a weekly collection of ponderables by Cecil Adams featured in various North American newspapers. In his article Is it Worth it to Pick Up a Penny?, Cecil writes:

The Scientific Research Team here at Straight Dope HQ has proven that a proficient penny-picker upper can probably pick up a particular penny in five seconds. On an hourly basis this works out to $7.20 per hour. As of 9/1/97, minimum wage will be a mere $5.15 an hour.

The minimum wage in Ontario is now $10.25, but i think the point is still reasonable. It can’t hurt to grab an errant coin … unless it hurts your ego.

Third Time’s a Charmin

The day after i snatched the quarter at the party, my “teeth were floating”, so i walked into one of the GDC conference restrooms to “drain the tank” by “compressing my bladder and excreting urine from my urethra” (so to speak). There, on the top of the urinal, was a small, tidy stack of coins: a few pennies, and maybe a nickel and a dime. i thought fate was playing a cruel trick on me. i mean, i don’t believe in punitive Greek-style gods who watch mess with us for their own amusement, but come ON. What was this all about?

Gods

“Queen’s Kamikazes to Pearl Harbor three.” “You sank my battleship!”

As a stream of hot me flowed into the bowl, i stared at the little stack of coins. How … i mean, how low would i have to be to pick up those coins? They were probably dirty. Did the guy who left them there put them on the urinal before or after handling the goods? And … well, what did it matter, really? Money is filthy. We all know that. What harm … ?

But NO. No, no, no. Maybe i picked up a couple of lousy coins around the conference. Fine. But i was NOT going to snatch toilet money. i mean, it was toilet money. There’s a difference between picking up money that someone drops on the floor of a convention centre or restaurant, and taking money that some dude piled on top of a john because …

… because why, exactly? Why exactly was the money on the urinal, anyway? Did the last guy put it there because he was worried it would fall out when he dropped trou? Or did it FALL IN the urinal, and he fished it out, and thought it would be weird to throw money in the garbage so he just LEFT IT THERE?

Jack

Can’t decide … can’t decide BRAIN ANEURYSM!!

i stared at that little stack of change long and hard, friends. And then, as the last lingering drops splashed on the ceramic basin below, i knew i had a decision to make.

What i thought to myself was this: “when was the last time someone paid me seventeen cents for taking a pee?”

Then i grabbed the change from the top of the urinal and put it in my pocket.

i Don’t Actually Have All the Coins

What you see is not what you get. i appeared to many of the conference delegates, and to the people who read the article afterward, as a guy who really had it together, you know? A Robin Hood figure – a folk hero who had all the coins … when in fact, i have so few coins that i’m not above grabbing them off the ever-loving toilet.

This makes sense, though. It’s consistent with my personality. What is the Pimp My Portal series, if not a sad attempt to scrounge together $33 in pocket change every month to cover website hosting?

Or maybe it was the madness of GDC that made me do it? When it comes down to it, maybe i was simply attending a conference about video games, collecting coins?

Do Social Games Exploit the Mentally Ill?

From reading my surprise guest rant at GDC this year, you might think i’m a card-carrying member of the Zynga Fan Club (a club which forces you to re-confirm membership every fifteen minutes, and which sells you an auto-re-confirmation cantelope for $2).

i think a lot of what motivates people to gripe about Zynga stems from either jealousy, or the fear by core gamers that Zynga will become so popular that their precious triple-A first-person-head-exploder games will fade from existence and they’ll be forced to decorate bunnies and rescue little lost restaurants for the rest of their lives.


Don’t cry, little boys: these games will be around for a long time to come.

i think the money Zynga makes is well deserved, and that players should be able to decide for themselves when a game becomes too rote or too addictive without it offering them enough value for their time or dollar. But i don’t give Zynga or its competitors a license to exploit. There’s one area in which i feel that social game developers need to act far more ethically, and if they fail to do so, i may even advocate the same type of government regulation that limits the use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs, gambling, and any other addictive substance or activity.

A Moment with Mitchell

A few weeks back, i was at a very small gathering of students at the Herve Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined, where i used to teach until they fired my ass. The game development students run a club, which offers everything from Magic: the Gathering tournaments to 3D speed modeling competitions (in which the students use all three dees).

Magic: the Gathering

Ah, youth.

This particular week, the students had invited Mitchell Smallman to speak. Mitchell is a writer for a social game on Facebook that’s raking in money left right and centre, as Facebook games are wont to do. Throughout his talk, Mitchell tried to dislodge the students from their biases against social games, and making games (of any stripe) with profit as the main intent, his first bullet point being “get over yourself.”

This was all fine and dandy. But toward the end of Mitchell’s rant, he dropped a megaton bomb: Mitchell Smallman said, in a clear but apologetic voice, “the problem with social games is that they exploit the mentally ill.”

Going Off the Whales on a Crazy Train

To explain himself, Mitchell began describing his game’s “whales”. This is a term borrowed, uncoincidentally, from the gambling industry, which decsribes enormously rich people who jet in to Vegas, drop a disgusting amount of cash at the tables, and jet back out again having had, one supposes, tons of fun.

Las Vegas

What you happen to spend in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Mitchell talked about some particular whales in his social game: two Bay Street (Wall Street) investment bankers who were competing to knock each other off the high scores list, and in doing so, dropped over ten grand apiece. We had a good, if nervous, laugh over this.

Piano Movers

Last time i dropped a grand, i was a piano mover and i … lame joke. Abort.

But Mitchell’s tone turned serious when he confided in the group that a good number of the whales he sees are actually people who spend an alarming amount of time in the game, and who spend an enormous amount of money not necessarily because they’re having fun, but because they feel they have to. These are the first people to angrily harass the live team when the game is down, or when something doesn’t work as they expected it to.

And simply from the timbre of their forum banter, Mitchell said he could tell these folks weren’t of sound mind.

Michael Jackson post

Um … lame comment? …. abort?

At this point, of course, you can interject that Mitchell Smallman is not a licensed psychologist. But come on, friends. We regular people can smell crazy on our own just fine. If we couldn’t, we’d all be wearing Snuggies out on the street like they’re haute couture.

Snuggies

Well Katie, it’s Fashion Week here in New York, and …

Let’s Agree to Agree

With Mitchell’s confession in the back of my brain, i attended a GDC “debate” on the validity of social games, called “A Debate: Are Social Games Legitimate?”. i put “debate” in dick quotes because, like many of the panels in the conference’s social games discipline, obvious croneyism kept the session from being truly worthile. The panelists were three developers who made social games, and one academic who had made a satirical social game but was nonetheless doing well by it.

So that’s three “fer”, and one sardonically “agin”. That’s supposed to be an argument? That’s like asking four members of the Wu-Tang Clan to debate the merits of “peein’ on bitches.”

Ol' Dirty Bastard

The Chair recognizes the Right Honorable Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

The debate unfolded with all the ferocity of a sorority slumber party pillow fight, with the only true opposition coming from Ian Bogost, who gently massaged the other panelists with soft suggestions of how they may be gently bruising the industry, if you please.

Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates), who i figured was supposed to be quasi-oppositional (merely because his game wasn’t on Facebook?), clamped up pretty early in the debate when he very visibly realized that any criticism leveled at the Facebook developers could easily be aimed squarely at him, and at point blank range to boot. (Daniel said he would be “personally distressed” if his game relied too heavily on gambling tricks, and despite being a fan, i wondered what planet he was on? Puzzle Pirates hosts regular POKER MATCHES, ffs)

Puzzle Pirates

Thank God our game doesn’t rely on GAMBLING HOOKS …

By the time the back-patting was over, i was still hoping to see a little fur fly. i took to the mic during the question period (as i do), and laid the groundwork with Mitchell’s initial whale stories. Then i asked the panelists point blank: do social games exploit the mentally ill?

Getting the Heck Out of Dodge

Nabeel Hyatt from Zynga performed a classic dodge: “What do you mean by ‘mentally ill’?”

Ah. Would this be an argument over semantics?

“You know – mentally ill,” i said. “Like manic-depressive, schizophrenic, or obsessive-compulsive. That type of thing.”

Nabeel gave it another shot.

“I … don’t understand the question?”

i reiterated: were social games primed to exploit, or even promote, players’ mental illness to encourage them to play more often and to spend more money than they really should?

What followed was a bent-over-backwards dodge of Matrix-esque proportions. The panelists, primarily Nabeel, began by redefining mental illness as “fandom”. “i used to collect a ton of comic books when i was a kid,” said Nabeel, “was i mentally ill?” To my dismay Ian Bogost, in what i saw as an abuse of his intellect (and sole devil’s advocate status), came to Nabeel’s aid, asking (with patronizing pedagogy) whether enthusiasm for popular culture didn’t border on madness?

Heavily Medicated Beatlemania

My time at the mic was up, but i thought No, you creeps – i’m not talking about Bieber fever here … i’m talking about the kind of people you watch every week on Hoarders. Actual, real people who can’t, like the rest of us, reason their way out of playing an addictive social game because it’s eating up too much time, money, and sanity.

Straightjacket

Please – just one more bushel of Smurfberries!!!

Of course, no social game developer in his right mind would suggest that these types of people need to be limited in their play time and spending. These are their whales, after all. These are the people pushing up their ARPU and scoring them the cash. If anything, social game developers would do well by attracting (or even CREATING) more mentally ill players, because only someone out of their mind would spend real money on things that don’t really exist (as the panel’s moderator Margaret Robertson suggested, jokingly).

Your Stand on Instanity

So, the question: should companies like Zynga and Playdom be regulated by the government to limit time and money spent when players cross a certain activity threshhold? Or should the governemt stay out of it, and should these companies voluntarily develop these limitations borne naturally of their own corporate ethical policy? And if these companies continue to be left to their own devices, will these innate ethical practices ever emerge?

We regulate and legislate smoking, drinking, drugs, and gambling, but we don’t throw shopaholics in prison. Aren’t these people just online shopaholics?

COUNTERPOINT! Isn’t the key difference that we’re not tracking the every move of brick-and-mortar shopaholics, but we ARE tracking every move of our online players? Since we already know everything they’re doing, isn’t it incumbent upon us to act to prevent them from harming themselves?

REBUTTAL! Die in a fire, Ian Bogost! (panelist Curt Bererton tears his shirt open and leaps across the table, his splayed fingers aimed at Bogost’s tender face)

Moderator: FINISH HIM!

Kirk vs. Spock

Erm … sorry about that. i got carried away. Knowing that social games aren’t leaving any time soon, let me know if you think social game developers should be externally limited, whether they should be self-limiting, or whether they should be free to gouge as much time and money from as many people as they like, crazy or sane, as our God-given free market allows. And also, please let me know who you think would win in a bare-chested pit fight between Ian Bogost and Curt Bererton. i’m writing the Bogost/Bererton slash fiction as we speak.

UPDATE!

Mitchell Smallman has responded with a wonderfully thoughtful take on whales and the damage they do to player communities, and the responsibility of designers to create games that strive for more than vapid box-ticking as a mechanic.

Holding the Bag: How I Gamed GDC’s Top Social Game Developers

When i circled the Social Game Developers Rant in my GDC schedule as a must-see session, i had no idea that i’d wind up improvising my own rant in front of the thousands of attendees. The story of how that happened is an interesting study in the attitudes of the game industry’s top iconic figures, and how their influence flavours the way the rest of us see the social games space.

Game Developers Rant

Image from last year’s rant unceremoniously ganked from Jason Della Rocca’s blog and used here without permission.

Respect is Earned

“No F@%$ucking Respect! Social Game Developers Rant Back” was held in one of the largest spaces at the Game Developers Conference: room 3014 in the West Hall, which seats roughly a billion people. The lunch time session promised informed, thought-provoking and entertaining rants from a line-up of the usual suspects:

  • Ian Bogost, wry academic and creator of the Cow Clicker parody of social games
  • Brenda Brathwaite, opinionated champion of (sometimes manipulatively) emotional games
  • Trip Hawkins, a cool and collective business maven who happened to found Electronic Arts
  • Chris Hecker, game graphics guru and indie advocate
  • Steve Meretsky, best known to me for his work in interactive fiction back in the day
  • Brian Reynolds, comparitively mild-mannered designer of some pioneering 4x games (and token Zynga panelist)
  • Scott Jon Siegel, a Playdom designer who was billed as the panel’s youngster, but who actually had more experience in social games than anyone else on the panel (a point he made abundantly clear in a loud, fast-paced, and HILARIOUS “bonus rant”, my favourite moment in the whole session)

Floating in the background was Jason Della Rocca, former IGDA chief who, i should point out, knows me. Moderating the panel was the equal-parts energetic and abrasive Eric Zimmerman.

Pay to Play

As i entered the room, a CA (volunteer “conference associate” who checks badges and collects session feedback forms) was handing everyone a plastic coin from an orange bag. i was intrigued, and rubbed the ersatz booty between my fingers while the first delegates slowly trickled in. A slide on the A/V screen explained the point of the coins: the person who collected the most coins from the other players in the room by the halfway point of the session would be invited to the front to do a “guest rant” on social games.

Yes

i didn’t really want to rant, dear readers … but i DID want to win the game. i looked around the room at the hundred-or-so delegates and quickly calculated the amount of glad-handing and baby-kissing i’d have to do to amass enough coins to win. i knew i was up against the likes of Jane McGonigal, who despite being featured in two or three other GDC panels and talks that week AND a recent Colbert Report episode was nonetheless salivating over the chance to grab the mic yet again. i knew i was no match for Jane’s celebrity, eagerness, and feminine wiles. What chance did a chubby nobody with lunch stuck in his teeth have against a Colbert alum?

Clearly, my only recourse was to use social engineering to win the social game.

The Game Was Afoot

i strode back to the entrance, to where the deliciously young and impressionable CA was handing out the coins. In an urgent voice, i said “Excuse me! Chris Hecker, one of the panelists, said he only really wants about half the room to get these coins. He sent me to get the bag and run it up to him at the front of the room.”

Then, with no skepticism or suspicion, the CA pleasantly purred “sure,” and handed me the bag.

Gasp

He HANDED me the bag. The bag with all the coins. i had all the coins.

My heart racing, i rushed back to my seat at the other end of the cavernous room. i have never shoplifted before. i’ve never possessed an illicit substance. i’m known to my small segment of the industry as being unfailingly honest, often to my detriment. And here, through the uncharacteristic use of cunning and deceit, i had snatched the entire bag of plastic coins that GDC’s social games industry powerhouses needed to run their social game. i tried to judge how best to cram the coins into my body cavity to hide them, and decided instead to furtively stuff the bag into my backpack before giddily awaiting the coming storm.

A Vote for Jane

Meanwhile, my impromptu nemesis Jane McGonigal had started campaigning for coins. At that time, she apparently didn’t have a rant idea either – she, like me, just wanted the coins. She came closer to my row, and appealed to the crowd to give her their coins. i, mad with secret power, tried to look casual as i turned to face her in my seat and said “you’re not gonna win.”

“Why not?” she said, annoyed. This was Jane McGonigal, after all. Why wouldn’t she win?

“Because i’m gonna win.” It was a bold claim from a guy casually kicking back in his seat, surrounded by delegates who still had their coins. Deciding not to waste any more time on my cryptic claims (which were just my misguided attempt at good-natured smacktalk), she spun around to bring her coin campaign to the delegates in other rows.

The Jig Was Up

Meanwhile, at the front of the room, i heard either Jason or Eric snap “what do you mean someone stole the bag??” Oh crap. The doe-eyed CA, realizing he’d been duped, started scanning the rows of seats for me, patrolling them like a prison warden. i kept my head low and stared at my backpack on the floor – the very backpack that burned with ill-gotten gold. Soon, my pretties … soon, it would all be mine.

Hiding

i exhaled heavily when the rants finally started. Only about an eighth of the attendees had actually received coins (thanks to me), but Eric never let on. He cheerily explained the rules a few more times, never letting on what had happened, and then the ranting began. Panelists after panelist took to the mic to plead their cases on the validity of social games. At the halfway point, Eric announced that it was time to learn the results of the game: who in the room had collected the most coins from the other players?

A few murmurs of “i have five coins” and “i’ve got a couple” kicked things off. Jane McGonigal jumped up and proudly presented her handful. Eric seemed pleased that the winner was someone he knew and could trust not to be an ass on the mic.

And then i stood up.

On the chair.

And, holding the orange plastic bag aloft like Perseus presenting the head of Medusa, defiantly proclaimed “I HAVE THE ENTIRE BAG.”

Perseus

It was exactly like this, except that i had pants on. …. and i have a much bigger cock.

The room erupted. Some people laughed. Some jeered. Some guffawed. i was beaming, incredibly pleased with myself, like a toddler who’s just learned to take off his own diaper. i fully expected Eric and the other panelists to smile along with me. Aha! We are social gamers, this was a social game, and somehow this delegate had managed to convince, through social contrivance, the impressionable CA to hand him the bag of coins.

It recalled the massive coup in the MMO Eve Online, in which social maneuvering led to a devastating take-over of one of the game’s most powerful cabals.

Taking Crayons, Going Home

Through my squinty smile, i scanned the faces of Jason, Eric, and the panelists. It was not a pretty sight. They were scowling. Actually scowling. “You took the whole bag?” they said, disgusted.

“Well … yeah!”

“That was against the rules, though.” This last came soberly. “It was against the RULES.” Zimmerman petulantly wagged a finger at the slide.

“No it wasn’t. It was a social game, and i gamed it socially. The CA handed me the bag.”

“B… but you have to get the coins from other players.”

A hurried debate broke out about whether or not the CA was a player, and whether or not i had taken the coins “legally”. My interpretation of the rules was that the player with the most coins wins, and i had the most coins. Someone else spoke up and said “We don’t even know he has any coins, though. He’s just holding a plastic bag. He might not have ANY coins.”

The weight of the coin bag pressed heavily against my palm. i was irked. Not only did the bag contain coins, but it contained nearly ALL the coins – enough for the hundreds in attendance and then some. And they were MY coins. Not only was i denied my hero’s welcome and a pomp-filled invite to the front of the room … now i was being accused of CHEATING, and worse … of not even having all the coins.

Someone in the audience shouted out “Who do you think you are – Zynga??” The crowd laughed.

“Show us,” said someone on the panel. “Show us the coins you supposedly collected.”

My fist tightened on the orange plastic bag. Through knitted eyebrows, i raised the bag over my head and showered myself in a cascade of gleaming, glittering plastic coins. It was like that scene from Flashdance, except with a chubby fully-dressed nerd instead of half-naked Jennifer Beals. When the torrent of winnings finally dripped dry, i casually tossed the empty bag on the coin-littered floor and held my hands out plaintively to appease the room.

Eric spun to address the panelists. “What do you think? Should we let this CHEATER do a guest rant?” To a man, every single one of the panelists gave me a thumbs down.

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s McGonigal

i had been robbed. And Jane McGonigal, flaxen-haired upholder of the game creators’ true intent, was named the winner.

Stephen Colbert vs. Jane McGongical

McGOONNNNIGAAAAAALLL!!!!

Jason J Kee Twitter

During the session, a few Twitter friends rushed to my defense.

Two twists in this story came one after the other: Jane was invited up to speak, and brought two friends with her. i later learned that the organizers considered this a cheat as well. In another unexpected turn, Eric came up to me during the rants and mouthed “Do you still wanna say something?” i mouthed “Sure.” Then he mouthed “Okay, but keep it to ten words or less. TEN WORDS. Ten.” He held up ten fingers. “Ten.”

“Sure – okay.” i nodded. Had he actually said what i thought he’d said? He was going to let me do a rant? And he wanted me to keep it to ten words? What could i possibly say in ten words??

10 Things i Hate About You

In Ten Words

Eric stayed true to his promise. Just before the final ranter, Ian Bogost, took to the stage, Eric announced that “in the spirit of mischief”, he was going to let me do a SPECIAL MINI-RANT. The key word, of course, was “mini”. i jogged up to the front and grabbed the mic, then turned around to face the enormous crowd.

Woodstock crowd

i looked at Eric’s eager face, at his pleading eyes, and remembered his rule: ten words or less. i felt the metal of the microphone that had been burned up, spat in, and blessed by the panelists before me. And as Eric made the hand-over-hand “hurry up” motion frantically from the front of the room, i decided to break another rule. i gripped the mic and said to myself “from my cold dead hand, Zimmerman.” And then i proceeded to rant for as long as i damn well pleased.

Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison

Sing it, Jim.

Given the same opportunity, what would you say? What kind of rant could you improvise in front of a room stuffed with some of the most talented and well-known game developers in the business, and at GDC, the Mecca of your industry? The scheduled panelists had months to write and practice their rants. i had moments. Predictably, nothing i said was particularly Earth-shattering, but the point i tried to get across was this:

We like to brag about how the games industry brings in more money than the film industry, but as soon as someone like Zynga makes enough money to trigger our envy, we invent interpretations of the game rules to say it’s not okay. Zynga is standing on a chair in the middle of a crowded room showering itself with coins, and instead of applauding them for their ingenuity, we’re crying foul and pointing to the ways in which they’ve broken the “rules”.

Meanwhile, we are breaking the very same rules: the addictive qualities of Facebook social games can be found throughout all our games. i talked about how i had skipped three real-world Hallowe’en parties to stay home and collect the spooky furniture set in Animal Crossing, and how i had spent an ungodly number of hours chasing after the legendary dogs in Pokemon Silver. In both cases, i had to decide on my own that these games had become a chore rather than a source of fun and entertainment, and i stopped playing them.

Animal Crossing

In the amount of time i spent playing Animal Crossing, i could have MADE Animal Crossing.

But this is a case of the pot calling the kettle addictive. Zynga is no more culpable for introducing addictive hooks in games than any other developer. At GDC, years before Zynga’s triumph, the Casual Games Summit speakers all talked about how they needed to make their games more addictive. One of the most popular and profitable game portals for tweens, AddictingGames.com, makes absolutely no bones about it.

Jane McGonigal bent the rules to bring her buddies up to share her rant time, but her shenanigans were sanctioned by the industry guard. i, a relative newcomer, bent the rules by taking all the coins, was accused of cheating, and was barred entry into the club. Tellingly, for all the complaining we do about Zynga, their GDC session on developing games for 43-year-old women was standing room only.

For all the spectacle, for all the drama, and for making an enormous ass of myself, i don’t regret a single moment of it. If anything, bucking convention and winning the coin game reminded me that the greatest gains are made by subversion, disruption, and going against the grain.

In short: break the rules, get the coins.