The core principles of the OSG genre lay the foundation for some of the best in-game social interaction between players. More recently, casual games integrated with a social network such as Facebook or Myspace have hijacked the term “social game”, even though the in-game interaction between players are usually trivial. Now, several OSG’s including Evony, Kingory, and Lords Online have started integrating with social networks as well and are adding some of these meaningless mechanisms on top of the standard OSG principles already in place.
Recently, the first game to come to mind upon hearing the term “social game” is usually Zynga’s Farmville or any one of its clones. Although these games come with a players’ friends already in tow, they really offer very little in terms of in-game social interaction. This usually boils down to clicking a button to send all your friends some in-game item, or spamming all of their walls to inform them of the most recent level you’ve gained. None of these actions actually affect your own game though. In Evony Age II, a message pops up every 5 minutes or so saying that you’ve found some buried treasure, felled an excess of lumber, or some such nonsense and suggests you send some to your friends. In reality, you did not find any such treasure on your own, and sending it to your friends only adds one more to the ever growing list of tiny gifts that they must mindlessly click through to accept next time they log on.
To realize the rediculousness of this game mechanic, and perhaps all the wasted potential, imagine if all your Farmville friends, instead of connected online, were sitting around a table playing in real life. In a classic board-game such as Monopoly, there would be trading, debate, laughter, and if you are anything like my own friends, a lot of yelling. In these so-called “social games”, however, all of you friends are merely staring down at their own hand of cards, each one occationally exclaiming “hey, I gained a level” or perhaps giving everyone a small item for no reason at all. When it comes down to it, you aren’t playing the same game at all; rather, you are each playing your own copy of a single-player game, and merely updating each other as to your progress.
In the traditional OSG, the in-game social interactions are far more meaningful. If you send another player 2,000 of your own lumber supply, or send your army to attack him, that’s a meaningful in-game interaction. Players can help each others’ empires grow and flourish, can protect each other from enemies, or can become enemies themselves and battle to the death for months on end. There’s a rich system of trade and combat, of alliances and diplomacy. With such a foundation, it’s curious why any OSG would add such a trivial mechanic. In my experience with Evony it was just annoying, and in my experience with my Facebook friends, they would much rather I help defend their village against raiding hordes than spam them with my account updates every day.