Anatomy of a social gamer

Chris Caceres · March 12, 2010 · Short URL:

GDC 10: A student, two unemployed, and a BART operator share their social gaming habits

I witnessed an interesting panel at GDC in San Francisco this week, in which four social gaming enthusiasts sat on stage and shared what it is exactly that keeps them hooked on one of those social games, like Farmville, Mobsters, or Sorority Life we've all become familiar with.

An overview of the gamers - Two of them were unemployed, one was a full-time student, and the last was a BART train operator.  The BART train operator was a married man in his late 50's, the student- a single young man probably in his mid 20's, and the two unemployed were both married and seemed to be middle aged.  One thing they all have in common - they all take their social gaming pretty seriously.

The first and most obvious question asked was, what was the first video game you ever played?  Being that three of the four people on stage were middle aged, they all started off with classic Atari systems and Pong.  The student said he was first introduced to video gaming with Duck Hunt on his father's '88 Mac.  Today, all of the panelists play social games daily.

So what sparked these people to become daily social gamers? For the unemployed, they both admitted pretty much right after they lost their jobs, they got bored and started playing games online.  The student started playing pretty much for fun and because his friends were playing.  The BART operator plays during his free time and likes to make new friends through social gaming.  

Feeling like an episode of celebrity rehab, the moderator asked the panelists if they ever plan their day around their games.  The most interesting answer came from the unemployed married man who shared he gets up at seven, lets his dogs out, then immediately goes online to check his games.  He admitted he played farm games and times accordingly to his day.  So during his first morning check in, he plants certain crops that take a certain amount of time to grow.  His wife leaves for work and he can go back and check the crops based on the timing of his wife's work schedule.  Before she gets home, he makes sure to have all his crops set up so he can cook dinner and spend time away from the computer until the early morning when he goes back.  

On the other hand, the busy student which plays mafia games said he makes sure to play at least 10 minutes a day, although it may be sporadically scattered throughout his hectic schedule.  He also admitted he'd change his avatar shirt four times a day because he liked the graphics and how it looked when posted to his Facebook wall.  

But what keeps a social gamer coming back or leaving forever?  Elements such as being able to help their friends or steal from others kept the gamers playing.  Also, addicting features like new items and constant game updates keep the users playing.  Basically anything to keep the game fresh and engaging.

But in the end, if features like the above aren't constantly coming in, the gamers admitted they will walk away due to lack of updates, lack of challenge and lack of overall interest.

Image source - Damo Suzuki's Flickr

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