Defining social games

There has been much quibble about defining social games. What is a social game? Aren’t all multiplayer games social? Are board games social games? Aren’t MMOs social games? Isn’t Xbox Live social? Isn’t StarCraft social? Hm…it seems like “social games” is a bad definition. After all, it was coined by the industry to give a positive impression. Our studies have found that most people play these so-called social games out of habit and generally have very low social motivations to play the game, but for a certain subset of users, play can general positive social outcomes over a long period of time.

That is why my colleagues and I stopped using the term “social games” and opted for “social network games.” We first used this term at CHI (here and here) and made a more explicit definition for a paper to be presented at HICSS in January (see reference below) and another currently under review. The definition “social network game” makes it so much easier to explain games such as Farmville and other Facebook games. Since the academic publishing cycle is ridiculously long, here is the simple definition:

Social network game: A game that uses network data from a social network site. (for definition of “social network sites” see boyd and Ellison) Most often, the games are embedded in the social network site.

Wohn, D. Y., Lampe, C., Wash, R., Ellison, N., & Vitak, J. (2011) The “S” in social network games: Initiating, maintaining, and enhancing relationships. Proceedings of Hawaii International Conference of System Sciences. Kauai, HI: IEEE Computer Society


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