Zynga: forget games, let’s just do viruses
Zynga is notorious for borderline tactics, from the first Farmville scamville stories to its very agressive use of Facebook’s social channels. There is a difference between making something intrisically viral - think Draw Something or SongPop - and behaving like a virus doing actions on behalf of the user without the user even realizing or authorizing it.
Why it matters to all social developers
The trouble is, all this is affecting heavily other developers on Facebook, who might be more respectful of their users’ privacy for example. These developers, big and small, have to put up with Facebook itself changing the rules of its social channels time and again as it tries to protect its users timeline against the social games spam. Zynga is far from being the only publisher that has less than exemplary ethics and methods, but due to its reach and the example for success it sets, it should be held accountable for practices that are actually hurting the whole social gaming ecosystem.
What’s more Zynga manages to just keep on bending the rules to fit its short-term objectives, ensuring Facebook will eventually feel compelled to crack down on social channels abuse again. When that happens all the other social developers will suffer, courtesy of Zynga’s practices.
The Farmville 2 Virus
Consider the two following examples. Sure there’s been worst in other games who just ignore Facebook Platform policies, but their scale remained a drop in the ocean of Zynga games.
Look at this first screenshot. Most users will click ok and not even realize they are sharing something on their wall. The box is below the action line of the design, the contrast between the tick and the box is weak, the font is very small. On top of this, the okay button just calls on the player to say “okay I want the rewards” without realizing a publish will be made.
The user never agrees to publish the story, yet a story is published. Reminds you of virus-like behavior yet?
Here’s the second screenshot. It’s a devious little psychological ploy to force players into making a decision they might not have agreed with.
The workflow here is in two-steps. First this screen, then a classic Facebook authorization screen asking for app publishing rights. The trick here is that while it is possible to disagree at the second step, there is no way to disagree to this first step. The player can’t interact with the game anymore until clicking the okay button. Once “Okay” has been clicked once, what do you think happens? People become more likely to just click ok again to get back to the game, thinking they’ve agreed to let the app “post [their] game news faster” already.
So, when in fact the first ok simply takes them to the actual authorization page, players are made to believe that clicking Okay means:
a) that they give their agreement
b) that the agreement given has to do with speed of posting rather than choice of posting
This way, when they get to the actual screen where clicking yes matters, and where there actually is a “no” option, the players have already been tricked into believing the deal has been done, and can’t wait to just click yes and getting back to playing.
It turns out that clicking this second yes actually means that the user agrees that the app can post whatever to their stream without their explicit consent, and the first screenshot showed just how twisted the definition of explicit consent was to start with.
There are certainly a lot more of these dirty little behavioral tricks in Farmville 2, if these two screenshots seen in just an initial 10 minute playtest are anything to go by. So:
- Players beware the unfriending
- Developers beware the backlash with yet less discovery for quality games
- Facebook, STEP UP and stop your big partners from hurting your product, users and whole ecosystem once in a while!
HN discussion here
btw, we’re an indie startup, and our game is launching, so try Flirtatious on Facebook, and let us know what you think. All feedback will be read and thought through.