Social media games are games we play in social media networks. Compared with traditional games, they are not only for entertainment but also for relationship building (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 99). Social media games are casual games which can be enjoyably played without demanding high level of attention (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 103). Players of social media games have different motivations and the demographics are changed compared with conventional computer games. Social media games have many distinct characteristics.
Firstly, they are generally easy to learn and you don’t need to be a game master to get involved. You will find it much easier to be engaged and you are less likely to leave the game out of frustration (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 103). Research (Contestabile) shows this is probably the reason why social media games appeal more older demographic (age from 30-60, with the average of 43 years old, female). Because they are easier to grasp and advance through a short period of time. You won’t get hash punishment for failure in social media games. They normally set much easier challenges, unlike those hard computer games and they will reward players for every improvement. There is generally no final winner or loser in social media games so players don’t need to be fear of fail.
Secondly, social media games are light-attention mode of engagement (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 104) and also allow “Asynchronous gameplay”. This feature is also recognised as one of the most distinctive characteristic of casual games. This means players don’t even need to arrange a period of specific time to play. Instead, they can play when they have work break, when they are waiting for the bus, when they are watching television or even when they go to the washroom. They also don’t require players of the same community to play at the same time. So social media games allow players to be present in two different social places at once, thus making boundary between work and leisure blur (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 104). Our life is full of time fragments and this enables us to play social media games at any time, any places and any occasion.
In addition, social media games represent the new economics of game production. They are not only popular but also can be as profitable as PC-based conventional games. They can generate revenue from advertising, in-game purchases and promotional marketing (Shin and Shin, 2011, cited in Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 107). Generally lower cost is required to develop a social media game but the outcome is tremendous. SNSs such as Facebook can provide social media game developers extra benefits. For example, developers are able to gain access to their players’ friends’ lists if they develop social media games for Facebook. This enables developers to collect more data and get access to more potential customers.
Happy Farm was a famous social media game in China. It is almost one of the most popular MMOGs in record. At the height of its popularity, there were 23 million daily active users logging on to the Happy Farm everyday (Happy Farm, 2009). In the game, players can grow crops in their farm, trade with other players, sell their produce and even steal from neighbours. A player can use real money to do in-game purchases for virtual goods such as seeds for their farm. In-game purchases are small payments made by players to increase their utility within their games (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 107). Zynga has said before that in-game purchases can account for as much as 90 percent of their revenue (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 107).
Finally, which makes social media games unique lies in its social dimension. Because such MUDs (multi-user games called multi-user dungeons/domains) can produce online communities and forms of rich online sociality (Reid, 1995, cited in Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 101). For example, players can build forums to discuss games and also develop user-generated content thus becoming part of game creators.
However, it is controversial on whether or not players have more social interaction motivation in social media games. Some believe that social motivation is the most significant reason for people to play social media games. While others argue that relaxation and enjoyment are actually the main motivation to for users to play (ISG study, 2010, cited in (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 111).
This difference also brings out another question: Will social media games really help us to social in the reality? Some argue that social media games may not be as social as they seem to be. Rossi (2009, Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 112) thinks that there are at least two kinds of friends in social media games: real friends and instrumental friends. The latter are those friends only existing within social media networks rather than in reality, playing the role of instrument only to help with the game, instead of building intimate relationship.
However, Hinton and Hjorth’s (2013) case study on Happy Farm shows that social media games do play a significant role in social interaction in reality. They believe that the popularity and success of Happy Farm to some extent relate to the context of Chinese society (Hjorth and Arnold 2012, cited in Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 113). Communist theory, Marxist and Maoist philosophy are still a major part of Chinese educational system and Chines students have a firm understanding of these. While Happy Farm’s design mechanic is a capitalism model. In this game players can equip themselves with the morally questionable practices of theft to increase their personal wealth, which is strictly forbidden in communist theory.
One of the main element of Happy Farm is to steal other players’ produce when they are offline, which is a doubtable moral stand. Hinton and Hjorth (2013) think this could be the main function to maintain Chinese players in the game. Many players will keep the game open on their desktop when they are at work, to avoid their farm being stolen. Social interactions are also encouraged in this game. For example, players who help their friends manage their farms can be rewarded.
The demographic changes in Happy Farm game. Instead of young players, the fastest increasing demographics are parents and even grandparents (Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 116). And research shows that this demonstrates the need of inter-generational communication in China. Young players who don’t have time to take care of their farms all the time can ask their parents, uncles, aunts or grandparents to help them and their families are willing to help in this way. So Hinton and Hjorth (2013) believe that this Happy Farm game reveals China’s reality: the tension between the young generation and their families due to the socio-economic mobility. Because the young generation in China have to work in those big business-centred cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. They are lack of communication with their families and the inter-generational gap between them are larger. In addition, Hinton and Hjorth (2013) think China’s surprisingly high real-estate prices make Happy Farm a nostalgic fantasy which also demonstrates the public’s need in reality.
So are social media games connected or disconnected from our real world? Some scholars believe that games are separate from reality and the game world are only relate to play so players are completely free to try and to fail without fear (Huizinga et. al, cited in Hinton&Hjorth, 2013, p. 103). While on the contrary, Malaby believes that games can be recognised as a mode of experiencing reality (Malaby, 2007). Thus there is no reason to totally detach games from the real world.
All games are developed by human. We are living in a real world and necessarily affected by social factors. So I believe that all games will to some extent reflect reality, especially social media games, as there are more social interactions in social media games. The social influences in reality, such as political model, educational model, moral standard and social value, are unlikely not to be hidden in the games, somewhere in some way.
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media, SAGE Publications
Contestabile, G.B. (no date). What are the primary demographics (gender, age, ethnicity, etc) of the average social game enthusiast? Retrieved from
Happy Farm (2009) Retrieved from
Malaby, T.M. (2007). Beyond Play: A New Approach to Games
Games and Culture, Vol2(2), 95-113.