I ended my previous rant on social games with dismissing the classification of games to social, casual and hardcore. I feel the need to rant a bit more and flesh out my argument and to link to that video of that guy “playing” that Kinect racing game.

In addition to the industry genres I listed, there are serious games, or games whose primary goal is not to entertain, but for example to educate or which are used in simulations. I think Wii Fit matches those conditions. However, it didn’t make the cut for Wikipedia’s article on serious games, unlike most flight simulators. Which is a bit pretentious, I’d be quite willing to bet that most Microsoft Flight Simulator players bought the game solely for entertainment purposes.

While there might be some justification for “serious” games, “Social games” is in my opinion a rather empty neologism. What it in practice means is computer games that are run on top of a social networking site1, mostly using Flash and allows some interaction between friends. Was it not for this social network aspect, most of these games would be classified as “casual games”, because most of them do not involve much learning, skill or (mental) commitment.

The wikipedians have apparently ended with the same conclusion, as it only differentiates with (hard)core, casual and serious games. In my opinion the “serious” games is such a niche whose existence on that list can only be explained by the elitism felt by that crowd.

Another place I looked for a games ontology was Quora, because its more start-up focused outlook on things. And I was not disappointed. Looking at Quora’s2 Games topic’s ontology, we can see such monstorities as Serious Social Games, Casual Social Games, Synchronous Casual Social Games. What, of course, is missing is Synchronous Mobile Casual Social Serious Games.

However, I picked a group of games and tried to do completely subjective comparison of each games’ social features. The end result is in no way scientific but I hope it still shows how silly the meaning of “social games” is.

Comparison chart of games
I didn't have space to add quotation marks around the genres. Also, no asynchronous/synchronous classification.

It might be look like I’m trying to be harsh on Plants vs Zombies, but I was just trying to find a popular game that was generally thought as “casual”, but not “social”. Anyway, what’s wrong with online “casual” games? Maybe because there was no money in all those game portals of yesteryear. “Social games” gives a new, shiny brand.

Sure, maybe the current batch of “social games” is just the first generation that will eventually give way to more “social” experiences, but that remains to be seen.

  1. Paradoxically this does not include pure gaming social networks like PSN, Steam, or XBox Live.

  2. Yeah, I’m cool, hip and all that.