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Social gaming

I'm generally skeptical of social networks -- they seem to me primarily ways to commercialize and monetize one's presumable bevy of friends and get competitive over how social you are -- but I find this trend (via Marginal Revolution) toward using them to play games heartening. It makes me understand for the first time why people bother to sign up for them. (I don't understand why so many people play Scrabble on them though, a game I find to be no fun and very nearly antisocial.)

Games have become some of the most popular applications to be introduced. While some programs have quickly flamed out, games have drawn repeat users who keep coming back for more. And games have steadily amassed new recruits as players invite their friends.

Unlike traditional online casual games, users playing inside a social network aren't competing against strangers who happen to be online at the same time, but against their friends. It's a significant distinction: Segal said he had tried playing backgammon online in the past, but didn't have a good experience. If he played well, his opponents sometimes would just abandon the game and disappear. That doesn't happen among his friends.

Social gaming has become yet another means to keep in touch.

"It delivers the message, 'I'm thinking about you' without having to think of something to say," said Jeremy Liew, a general partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, who has blogged extensively about social gaming. "You can't always instant message (your friends) or write to them, but playing games with them is one way of expressing that they're important to you."

I completely relate to that last part. I used to play bridge (wished I still was playing bridge, actually) and part of the pleasure was definitely the structured social activity, which allowed conversation to be subordinate, and fill in the gaps naturally. It's very hard to make an activity out of "keeping in touch" -- it ends up feeling forced and off-putting; there's just no context for knowing what a friend who is not integrated into your everyday life would want to hear about. How I went to the hardware store to get screens for my windows? How I spent hours combing over fantasy baseball news? These were among the big personal events for me recently. But a game obviates the need for pretexts, lets a connection exist without contrived chitchat.

I don't quite get this though:

San Francisco startup Serious Business, founded by 23-year-old Alexander Le and 24-year-old Siqi Chen, believes that a new genre of games could be mined from tapping into social networks.

In November, the duo created Friends for Sale, now one of Facebook's most popular games with nearly 700,000 daily players. Users buy, sell and own their friends, as though their friends were pets or stocks. Owners can control their acquisitions, forcing them to do or say things, as well as sell them and turn a profit. Those being bought and sold are also part of the game, going up and down in value.

This sounds like Slave Trade, the home game.
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