CityVille social features fueled by selfish interests, game designer says

CityVille is fueled by selfishness
CityVille is fueled by selfishness

The incredibly rapid growth and potential success of CityVille has not only piqued the interest of the media, but folks in the field as well. Game designer Tadhg Kelly, in the second half of a two-part feature on Gamasutra, claims to have discovered the secret to the game's success. And it's not exactly pretty.

According to Kelly, the social features in CityVille are "all incentive driven." He goes on to say that at every turn, the game prompts players to make use of their friends with the incentive of Energy, coins, experience points and more. "In each case, the dynamics exist to tantalise a player with a tangible reward," Kelly asserts. "If you visit your friend, you get a prize. If you send them a free gift that costs you nothing, they might send you one back. If you set up a bakery in their town, you will both gain from that. If you harvest their crops for them, you will gain reputation points."

Because of this, the designer claims that social games aren't actually social. That type of interaction is useless to the developer, so instead these social interactions are built as amusements, Kelly claims. "Socialising in amusements is more akin to having spare Poker chips at the table that you give to someone else, and maybe they'll give you some back later," Kelly says. "It is reciprocal trade, assistance for incentive, not charity. While this does not preclude the possibility that some players will engage in acts of charity for personal reasons, the social dynamics are not created with that in mind. They are built to work with self-interest."

The poignant feature goes on to explore CityVille's financial model and how it works, but more importantly, it goes on to explain why social game developers have little hope of combating Zynga in the social games race. In his eyes, Zynga won a long time ago. Comparing Zynga to Google, he finishes with the claim that social game developers aren't going to beat Zynga at its own game, advising them to utilize different strategies for personal success.

"Hearing a social game company talk about how they are going to spend $300k on development, making their own cheap knock-off games, and then become The Next Zynga is like listening to small startups convincing themselves that they just need to make a better search engine to take down Google."

Do you agree with what Kelly has to say about CityVille? Do you think it's possible for social games to succeed on a level comparable to Zynga using a different strategy? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.