Social is a Cancer

Two events recently have set me off on what could well end up being a rant.

The first is Kara Swisher’s comments (HN submission and my reply). I firmly believe that the collective brain power and money being spent on social (in particular social “games”) is, well, sad.

The second is the Steam Summer Sale, an annual PC (and Mac and even Linux now I guess) game markdown event where one can pick up games as little as 2 years old for the price of iOS games. I’ve recently gotten back into playing PC games as a distraction and have bought a bunch of games in the last week.

Some are old favourites like Civilization 4 (especially with the superb Fall From Heaven 2 fantasy mod) and the excellent Grand Theft Auto series.

What you notice in playing recent releases (up to 2-3 years) versus older games is one big addition: social. Here is a partial list of what I’ve had to do across various titles recently:

  • Log onto Ubisoft’s much-hated U-play to play Heroes of Might and Magic 6, a franchise I was once very fond of. Demand probably related to Steam was enough to cause intermittent Uplay outages making single player games unplayable. HoMM6 wouldn’t even let me play until I’d logged on to Uplay at least once. Playing it while on Uplay leads to incessant nagging about connecting with friends, sharing my progress and so on;
  • Playing GTA IV involves logging onto the Rockstar Social Club and then Windows Game Live, two separate registrations. Windows Game Live needed to install an update that it failed to on two successive occasions, It only succeeded at all because I happened to notice a background confirmation box that needed to be OKed;
  • Diablo 3 of course only works while online;
  • A friend bought Burnout Paradise on Steam but Steam… ran out of keys. Say what now? How is this not simply a case of Steam being able to generate their own keys? Why is this not a service? and
  • EA, Origin and Kalypso each had their own “social” centers to log onto before you could play the game.

I refused to buy Anno 2070 because its social platform/DRM also included limited activations based on hardware changes. Screw that, screw them and screw the horse they rode in on.

Compare this to GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas and Civ4, all of which simply worked. Emancipation.

Now part of this is the game industry’s obsession with piracy. Making life difficult for consumers who are paying for games is the surest way of all to create software pirates because I guarantee you that the pirated versions don’t have these problems.

Who really shares “achievements” (you can’t really call them that) with their friends on 17 different social platforms or shares the news on Facebook or Twitter? Who really wants to? Does this really add anything to the game? Is it in any way, shape or form more likely to sell more copies of the game or keep people playing for longer?

“Social” is a cancer and it has to stop.

More accurately this kneejerk obsession with social has to stop. Not everything is “social” and-this goes beyond games—don’t ruin your customers experience by foisting “social” on them and then nagging them about it when they simply want to play or use your product.

And don’t get me started on “social” games. They’re simply some combination of the idea of self-expression (“look how I arranged my farm!”) and inciting compulsive behaviour that’s really not much different from being addicted to gambling. I’ve seen iPhone apps were people have clearly spent thousands of real world dollars. It’s nothing more than an exercise in who spends the most real world money. There is no challenge or end result.

It’s simply a constant cycle of compulsive behaviour and big data analytics to identify what works best in creating addicting behaviour.

Social is a cancer. It’s killing the PC as a gaming platform. That makes me sad. It needs to be irradiated, poisoned and excised before it kills the start-up scene too. Instagram is worth more than the New York Times? Is greater than the development budget for SpaceX’s orbital launch vehicle? Give me a break.

Stop it. Now.