The Social Games Rant You Didn’t Hear From GDC

The Social Games Rant You Didn’t Hear From GDC

By all accounts, “No [email protected]*#king Respect: Social Game Developers Rant Back” was a hit at Game Developers Conference 2011. A standing-room only crowd listened to a panel of eminent designers address the virtues of and double-standards applied to social games.

There’s one rant you may not have heard though. It came from one attendee who exploited a social game organized for the audience as they entered the session. His name is Ryan Henson Creighton (pictured), the founder of Toronto-based Untold Entertainment. Here’s his account of it:

Attendees were given a plastic coin when they entered, and were then told that, by the end of the panel, whomever acquired the most coins from others would be given time for a special guest rant. Jane McGonigal, the games designer, author, and recent guest on The Colbert Report, was campaigning strongly on her star power and appeared certain to win. Creighton decided to apply social engineering to the social game to snatch victory.

I strode back to the entrance, to where the deliciously young and impressionable [conference associate]was handing out the coins. In an urgent voice, I said, “Excuse me! Chris Hecker, one of the panelists, said he only really wants about half the room to get these coins. He sent me to get the bag and run it up to him at the front of the room.

Then, with no scepticism or suspicion, the CA pleasantly purred “sure,” and handed me the bag.

When the showdown came, Creighton stood on his chair and announced, “I have the entire bag!” Challenged to prove he had coins in the sack, he dramatically dumped them on his head.

Creighton expected the panelists might, if not approve of cheating, at least acknowledge his ingenuity in exploiting a social game. Nope, after after a debate over rules, whether the CA who gave over the bag was a “player” and other issues, McGonigal was declared the winner and invited up to address the audience. As she did, Zimmerman offered Creighton a special “mini-rant” limited to just 10 words.

When he got the microphone, Creighton proceeded to speak for as long as he pleased. Here is his rant:

We like to brag about how the games industry brings in more money than the film industry, but as soon as someone like Zynga makes enough money to trigger our envy, we invent interpretations of the game rules to say it’s not okay. Zynga is standing on a chair in the middle of a crowded room showering itself with coins, and instead of applauding them for their ingenuity, we’re crying foul and pointing to the ways in which they’ve broken the “rules”.

Meanwhile, we are breaking the very same rules: the addictive qualities of Facebook social games can be found throughout all our games. i talked about how i had skipped three real-world Hallowe’en parties to stay home and collect the spooky furniture set in Animal Crossing, and how i had spent an ungodly number of hours chasing after the legendary dogs in Pokemon Silver. In both cases, i had to decide on my own that these games had become a chore rather than a source of fun and entertainment, and i stopped playing them.

In the amount of time i spent playing Animal Crossing, i could have MADE Animal Crossing.

But this is a case of the pot calling the kettle addictive. Zynga is no more culpable for introducing addictive hooks in games than any other developer. At GDC, years before Zynga’s triumph, the Casual Games Summit speakers all talked about how they needed to make their games more addictive. One of the most popular and profitable game portals for tweens,, makes absolutely no bones about it.

Jane McGonigal bent the rules to bring her buddies up to share her rant time, but her shenanigans were sanctioned by the industry guard. i, a relative newcomer, bent the rules by taking all the coins, was accused of cheating, and was barred entry into the club. Tellingly, for all the complaining we do about Zynga, their GDC session on developing games for 43-year-old women was standing room only.

For all the spectacle, for all the drama, and for making an enormous arse of myself, i don’t regret a single moment of it. If anything, bucking convention and winning the coin game reminded me that the greatest gains are made by subversion, disruption, and going against the grain.

In short: break the rules, get the coins.

Holding the Bag: How I Gamed GDC’s Top Social Game Developers [Ryan Henson Creighton/Untold Entertainment]


    • ‘ALL YOUR BASE BELONG TO US’ – or in this case Zynga. I’m sure there’s more than a little complaining when Zynga can release a game which hard core gamers would class as C-grade yet they make all the money. While big studios spend millions just to fight with each other for 9 hours of game time before a game is returned for the next AAA title.

  • Seems like it also shows, no matter what the game or system, or even the prize, someone will always try and find a way to break it.

  • This new wave of cheap browser based games are like the cookie-cutter pop songs put out by the music industry – meaningless, soulless fluff put out to make a quick buck. Just as the music industry reuses old chord patterns and melodies, these games use addictive elements (without any substance) and existing gameplay mechanics to hook people in. None of these sellout developers have the right to mope about how they’re perceived by the industry when all they do is KNOWINGLY churn out no-style, no-substance turds which prey on the foolish.

    • It’s always been a struggle for artists to balance between artistic interests and commercial applications. Perhaps, ironically, they’re all swindlers in some way. Trying to convince us to buy their new product because of all of the “soul” put into it. You could alternatively contemplate a lump of granite, were you so inclined: You will only ever achieve the amount of satisfaction you build yourself up to receive.

      Should we treat browser-based, “social games” as more disposable, or acknowledge that their market represents an entirely separate approach? Should we ever have applauded ANY games developer for making money, when we’re supposedly concerned with artistic merit?

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!