Social games: They’re everywhere, so you might as well play ‘em. What is a social game? Technically, any game that involves interaction with other players can be filed under the “social” breed, so that includes the likes of Monopoly and Go Fish. When we speak about social games today, however, we generally mean free-to-play titles that weave gameplay and social interaction. Some of the more popular social offerings include FarmVille by Zynga (find it on Facebook) and Pet Society by Playfish, but there are hundreds of games out there with substantial user bases. Experiment and make them your own!
If you’re just starting out with social gaming, here are ten factoids that will increase your enjoyment of the genre.
Not All Social Games Are for Kids… — Social games are often bright and cheery, but not all of them are meant for a young audience. If you’re concerned about the content in a social game, visit the game’s parent site and look for a summary of in-game content. Even if a game does not contain “adult content” specifically, there may be instances of simulated gambling and drinking.
…But Many Social Games ARE for Kids — The internet is thick with great social games and virtual worlds for children. Two good examples include Moshi Monsters and NeoPets. Social games tailored for kids are monitored, moderated, and generally offer a safe environment to play in, but if you’re a parent, it’s always a good idea to get involved with your child’s online interests. That especially applies to social games, because:
Most Social Games Are Not Rated by the ESRB — Few social games receive an official letter designation from the ESRB that warns parents about potentially offensive/violent in-game content. Often, a game’s website will warn of adult content within, though if you’re a parent, it’s best to scout out the game yourself, first.
Social Games Are Available in Many Genres — The success of Zynga’s FarmVille makes it easy to associate social gaming with farming, but there are social games available in multiple genres, and more are springing to life every day. There are social games that revolve around city building, strategy, maintaining restaurants, monster-collecting, pirates (yarr), car building and racing, and countless others. In other words, don’t automatically assume that social gaming has nothing you’d be interested in.
Most Social Games Offer Content via Microtransactions — Microtransactions, also known as micropayments, are the backbone of social gaming’s economy. Most social games are free-to-play, meaning it doesn’t cost you anything to sign up and play–but certain items, levels, etc, can only be unlocked for a small amount of money. The items and abilities you can unlock via microtransactions varies from game to game, so if you’re interested in something that one particular game has to offer you, read up. Rest assured the game will be only too happy to tell you what’s for sale.
Microtransactions are most commonly conducted via credit cards and sometimes through online payment services like PayPal, but those aren’t your only payment options:
Many Games Sell Pre-Paid “Cash” Cards — Next time you’re hanging out in a grocery store or a pharmacy, take a look at the gift card section. You’ll see a whole lot of colorful plastic that belongs to numerous social games. Yes, you can buy pre-paid cash cards for your favorite social games, which is an excellent option for anyone who doesn’t want to use their credit card online, or who wants to gift a youngster with a set amount of in-game money.
Social Games Can Be Played Solo, But Are A Lot More Fun With Friends — You can play social games by your lonesome, but most of them are tailored to be the most fun when your friends join in. For starters, some games will block your progression until you get a friend or “neighbor” to accompany you. In other instances, your growth and progress will proceed far faster if you have a friend at hand. Just something to keep in mind.
Don’t Limit Yourself to Facebook: Look to the App Store — So you want to play social games but aren’t cool about throwing yourself at the feet of Mark Zuckerberg to do so? Despair not. There is a sizable crop of social games on mobile platforms, especially the iPhone.
Social Games are a Great Gaming Option for Low-End PCs — Some social games are tailored to suck up your PC’s power, but many fall back on simple graphics and sound so that everyone can enjoy them. If you’re hesitant to get into PC gaming because your rig pre-dates the Obama administration, you are certain to find suitable social games as long as you have a broadband internet connection.
Play Wisely — Social games are a great way to pass the time at work–as long as you play during appropriate hours. Reserve playtime for breaks and lunch. Your farm, awesome as it may be, is not worth your livelihood. The same applies for playing at home. Don’t neglect your family, your chores, your schoolwork, or your dog.