Here’s one from the archives, appearing about this time last year, the last time I taught the course.
Last weekend I wrote about how the big social gaming companies are making hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue on Facebook and MySpace through games like Farmville and Mobsters. Major media can’t stop applauding the companies long enough to understand what’s really going on with these games. The real story isn’t the business success of these startups. It’s the completely unethical way that they are going about achieving that success.
In short, these games try to get people to pay cash for in game currency so they can level up faster and have a better overall experience. Which is fine. But for users who won’t pay cash, a wide variety of “offers” are available where they can get in-game currency in exchange for lead gen-type offers. Most of these offers are bad for consumers because it confusingly gets them to pay far more for in-game currency than if they just paid cash (there are notable exceptions, but the scammy stuff tends to crowd out the legitimate offers). And it’s also bad for legitimate advertisers.
The reason why I call this an ecosystem is that it’s a self-reinforcing downward cycle. Users are tricked into these lead gen scams. The games get paid, and they plow that money back into Facebook and MySpace in advertising, getting more users. Who are then monetized via lead gen scams. That money is then plowed back into Facebook and MySpace in advertising to get more users…
Here’s the really insidious part: game developers who monetize the best (and that’s Zynga) make the most money and can spend the most on advertising. Those that won’t touch this stuff (Slide and others) fall further and further behind. Other game developers have to either get in on the monetization or fall behind as well. Companies like Playdom and Playfish seem to be struggling with their conscience and are constantly shifting their policies on lead gen.
The games that scam the most, win.
Do you play any online games?