September 16th, 2013

Social Game Studies at CHI 2011 Workshop: Papers

April 8th, 2011

CHI 2011 Workshop: Schedule

Overview | Call for Papers | Schedule | Papers

Here’s the (tentative) schedule for our CHI 2011 workshop on social games:


  • 9.00-9.15 Introduction
  • 9.15-10.45 Paper presentations
  • 10.45-11.00 coffee break
  • 11.00-12.00 Discussion on emergent issues
  • 12.00-13.00 Lunch
  • 13.00-15.30 World Café, w/ 15 minute break
  • 15.30-16.00 Coffee break
  • 16.00-17.30 Presentation of World Café results and general discussion, w/ 15 minute break
  • 17.30-17.45 Wrap-up
  • Dinner


After a brief introduction from the chairs, we will have five-minute presentations from the author(s) of each accepted position paper, plus five-minute Q&A per paper. Then, common themes will be collected and grouped together in an affinity diagramming exercise.

After lunch, the workshop will split into small groups, each with a leader and a major thematic area that was identified. Discussion then follows a World Café format: split into several rounds, and between rounds we’ll move between tables to keep discussions active and evolving. At the conclusion of the workshop, each group leader will give a short presentation detailing the central challenges, questions and opportunities that have been identified along their major themes as being important for future research, visually documented alongside by the workshop organizers. A plenary wrap-up will identify possible immediate next steps.

Overview | Call for Papers | Schedule | Papers

February 2nd, 2011

Call for Papers: The Social Side of Gaming

This CFP just reached our inboxes and I thought we should share it here:

The Social Side of Gaming: International Conference on the Social Aspects of Digital Gaming

Thursday 21 July to Saturday 23 July 2011, University Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany

Deadline: February 28, 2011



In the past decade, digital games have become a widely accepted form of media entertainment, even outside the traditional ‘core gamer’ segment. In tandem with this shift into the mainstream media market, we have seen an increasing interest in ‘social’ multiplayer gaming activities, from both the audience and the gaming industry.

The development of social games is of great academic interest. Wide-ranging studies have been initiated to investigate the sociality of virtual worlds, massively multiplayer role playing games (MMORPGs), multiplayer shooters, e-sports, and cooperation in party-oriented console gaming, yet games research remains a relatively new field. Despite explosive growth in the field over the past decade, many aspects of social gaming still remain largely unexplored.

This international conference, titled The Social Side of Gaming and hosted by the University Hohenheim (Germany), will take a closer look at the various forms of human interaction in digital games. The aim of the conference is to bring together researchers from a variety of disciplines interested in social interaction in games, including (but not limited to) the fields of communication research, media studies, sociology, psychology, education studies, and economics.

Papers and presentations will address one or more of the following conference topics:

  • Theoretical and empirical approaches to social interaction in digital games
  • Forms of communication in digital games
  • Interaction among co-located gamers
  • Game communities and cultures, social interaction in and around games (e.g., clans and online discussions)
  • Avatars, identification, and self-representation in virtual worlds
  • Development of interaction rules and social norms, including questions of ethics, morality, economy & justice in digital games
  • Entertainment through social interaction
  • Design and implementation of social interaction
  • Methodology of research on social interaction in games
  • Violent interactions, griefing, and sexual harassment in digital games
  • Excessive use and forms of addiction related to social aspects of gaming


An extended abstract of no more than 3 pages in length (7500 characters in total) should be prepared for blind review as a Word file (.doc or .docx). When submitting the abstract, please include a separate cover page including the following contact details:

  • paper title
  • name
  • department/organization
  • postal address
  • e-mail address

The abstract should provide a clear outline of the status of the proposed work (for empirical studies: status of data collection and analysis) and confirm that the research will be ready for presentation at the conference. By sending an abstract, the author(s) agrees to personally present the research at the conference.

The abstract should be sent to the organizing committee by email (; before 28 February 2011. The double-blind review process will take place during March, with the results returned on 31 March 2011. Further information on the conference program, including keynote speakers, will soon be available on the conference website at


  • The ERC (European Research Council) project group The Social Fabric of Virtual Life
  • The Sociology of Media Communication section of the German Communication Association (DGPuK)

Additional Information
The conference language is English. The conference proceedings will be published after the conference. Papers selected for the proceedings volume should be prepared for a book publication until October 2011.

December 8th, 2010

Friends: A different kind of resource

It’s now clear that when we’re moving into Social Games, our online friends are a fundamental part of our gaming experience. The fact that gaming is a social activity is nothing new to any games scholar, but how this social activity gets transformed by taking place in social network sites is something that should be further investigated. This was the idea behind my presentation at the IR11.0 in Gothenburg in October 2011 during a panel session on gaming in social networking sites together with Olli Sotamaa and Lisbeth Klastrup.

Quest for Games in SNS context

The hypothesis is that specific social games work using different kind of underlying social mechanisms. A couple of concepts taken from the social capital studies could hep us understanding this point. We usually make a distinction between bridging activities and bounding activities: Bridging activities are those aimed at enlarging the group by bringing in new members or by establishing connections with different groups. On the opposite, bounding activities aim at strengthening the existing group by reinforcing the connections among the members.

If we try to see how these dynamics can apply within social games, we end up with the following kind of distinction:

There are games based on collaboration (FarmVille, Pet Society, etc.) where friends are used as in-game resources: The more friends you’ve got that play the game, the more benefits you will have.

On the opposite, we find games based on direct competition (Biggest Brain, Bejeweld, etc.) where friends are your competitors and you keep playing the game as long as you’re having fun challenging them.

Collaboration-based games seem to work with an underlying bridging dynamic, while competitive games seem to work with a bounding dynamic.

This is what emerges from an online survey on social gamers; it describes two completely different experiences of social-gaming activities among players of competition-based games on the one side and among those of collaboration-based games on the other.

Fig. 1: Comparison of answers between players of competition-based game (Biggest Brain) and collaboration game (Pet Society). Source: Online survey, (n=50).

While both competitive and collaboration games push the users to invite their friends into the game, collaboration games push the users to add new friends “because of the games” (48% of collaboration gamers have added new friends because of the game, against only 23% of competitive gamers).

In comparison, competitive games seem to work better as tools to manage and communicate social status within your already existing network: 50% of competitive game players share their game-achievements with their friends, while only 32% of collaboration-game players do the same.

Can these different underlying social activities be used to explain the time-life of social games and how they propagate through the social network sites? One corollary hypothesis could be that games based on bridging/collaboration spread faster than games based on bounding/competition (which tend to stay within smaller/closer circles of friends). Obviously, social games are always more complex products, showing mixed elements of both collaboration and competition, but I believe that some conceptual tools like social capital are always useful to understand what’s going on.

November 23rd, 2010

Social Game Studies at CHI 2011: Call for Participation

Overview | Call for Papers | Schedule | Papers

A one-day workshop at CHI 2011, May 8, 2011, in Vancouver.

NEW EXTENDED DEADLINE: Submissions are due January 28, 2011. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out no later than February 25, 2011.

“Social games”, defined as games played and distributed on Social Networks, have become a digital gaming phenomenon. The most popular games boast tens of millions of users each month, using simple mechanics to reach a vast audience apparently under-served by traditional digital games. This enormous success raises important questions about game design, interface design, psychology and the social power of online networks.

This one-day workshop will convene academics and practitioners in the HCI community and other fields to share and discuss the state of the art in social games design and research, and how it connects to HCI as a field. Papers and workshop results will be published on, and contributors will be encouraged to participate in the growing community of researchers and practitioners.

We invite you to submit a 2-4 page position paper that reports current work, contextualises social games in existing (HCI) fields, systematizes research approaches and questions, or otherwise relates to social games. Papers will be selected based on relevance and potential contribution to a vivid discussion.

Accepted papers are invited to submit an amended version to a special issue of Entertainment Computing.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Interfaces for Social Interaction
  • Play Practices in Social Games
  • Design for “Freemium” models
  • Social Games Audiences
  • Player Behavior in Social Networks
  • Psychology of Social Games
  • Social Mechanics in Social Games

Please indicate how many authors will attend the workshop (places are limited). At least one author of each accepted position paper must register for the workshop and for at least one day of the conference. For more information, visit the workshop site at

Submission Details

  • Format: 2-4 pages, in ACM CHI Extended Abstracts format
  • Submit: by email to
  • Deadline: 14th January 2011
  • Notification: 11th February 2011
  • Workshop: 8th May 2011

Overview | Call for Papers | Schedule | Papers

October 25th, 2010

Our workshop report is out

About time: Almost three months ago, in July 2010, we convened a one-day workshop rather pretentiously titled “Social Game Studies: What Do We Know, What Might We Learn?” under the following call:

“In tune with the relative newness of the hybrid medium that is social games, this workshop pursues two goals: One, to take stock of the academic and industry research on social games that has been done or is currently being conducted. Two, to identify what (if anything) makes social games different to video games on the one hand and social networks on the other: Which theoretical approaches and methodologies promise to capture these characteristics, which new data sources, methodologies and research questions do social games afford?”

Aki Järvinnen, Ben Kirman, Julian Kücklich, Janne Paavilainen, and Valentina Rao listened to that call at joined us for a marvelous if summer-heated day of presentations, post-its, and bold claims in the halls of the Games Convention Online in Leipzig. Today, the results of that day are finally online for public scrutiny:

Please, if you have comments, corrections, questions – do let us know in the comments, or send us a tweet @sogamestudies. We’re curious to hear your feedback.

October 13th, 2010

Designing Social Games with SoPlay Heuristics - MindTrek 2010 Workshop

Designing Social Network Games with SoPlay Heuristics

The SoPlay Project arranged a full-day social games design workshop at the MindTrek 2010 conference. Eleven international participants interested in social game design participated, and based on the attendees’ feedback, everyone learned something new and considered the session as a success. Thank you all for attending and special kudos for the invaluable feedback!

The workshop was tutored by SoPlay project manager Janne Paavilainen. After introducing the project, focus shifted to the current state of SoPlay heuristics. As a design exercise, the attendees formed groups of two-to-three members and selected a well known game as a base for the design process, which goal was to produce social game concepts with the help of SoPlay heuristics.

The design process started by defining the game fundamentals, considering the key features, interaction loops and offline progress mechanic to name a few. After pinning down the core fundamentals, the attendees worked with the SoPlay heuristics, defining how their social game concept addressed each heuristic. At the very end, the attendees worked a bit with business perspective issues such as acquisition, retention and monetization.

After the design process, the attendees presented their social game concepts, which were then briefly discussed. The workshop concluded with a questionnaire survey and closing discussion. Based on the survey and discussion, the attendees were pleased with the heuristics but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

October 8th, 2010

Mindcraft, or: FarmVille and Minecraft Between Adventure Playground and Total Experience

At our Social Game Studies workshop in Leipzig this July, one recurring topic was that social games tended to afford little emergent gameplay, with FarmVille “pixel art” (see above) being the exception. In his aptly titled (and designed) talk at MindTrek 2010, “Mindcraft, or Why Emergence Makes FarmVille as Important as Minecraft”, Ben Kirman combines that idea with an analysis of surprise runaway success game Minecraft to arrive at astute observations on the importance of “gaps” in the design to afford open, emergent, “paideic” play.

"Paideic", of course, referring to Roger Caillois’ seminal "Man, Play, and Games”, wherein he postulates two extreme poles of games: “paidia”, free playfulness, and “ludus”, rule-bound, goal-oriented play.

Mindcraft - or why emergence makes Farmville as important as Minecraft  

This very much reminded me of another lovely talk given by Kars Alfrink, an Utrecht-based designer of “physical, social games for public places" back at the Playful 2008 conference in London, titled "A Playful Stance" (writeup here, slides here). Basically, Kars’ conclusion is:

So when designing tools for play, underspecify!

I won’t summarise the talk here (do yourself a big favour and read it yourself), but en route to his conclusion, Kars also cites Caillois and Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, specifically the pattern “Adventure Playground”:

The problem statement of Adventure Playground reads:

“A castle, made of carton, rocks and old branches, by a group of children for themselves, is worth a thousand perfectly detailed, exactly finished castles, made for them in a factory.”

And the proposed solution:

“Set up a playground for the children in each neighborhood. Not a highly finished playground, with asfalt and swings, but a place with raw materials of all kinds—nets, boxes, barrels, trees, ropes, simple tools, frames, grass, and water—where children can create and re-create playgrounds of their own.”

Which sounds like an awfully good description of Minecraft to me.

It also reminded me of Adam Greenfield's prescient critique of service design as the necessarily failing attempt of a “Total Experience" – by preconceiving and predesigning a seamless, perfect experience (like Nike+), service designers must constrain and paternalise to a point where the aspired total control backfires into a suboptimal user experience precisely because the user feels paternalised and constrained. The antidote Greenfield prescribes is “beautiful seams”, a term coined by the late father of ubiquitious computing, Mark Weiser. In a nutshell, the idea is to let each part of a designed ensemble of parts “be itself” all the while integrating them (“Small Pieces, Loosely Joined”, if you will), with the individual parts retaining a surplus of features, characteristics and uses beyond what is needed to fulfil its pre-conceived function within the designed ensemble. Play in the sense of “wriggle-room” and excess capacity.

So—emergence, paidia, gaps, underspecification, beautiful seams, wriggle-room.

The trick, of course, is to strike the balance between providing enough open space to allow for emergence, and enough starting points and rails so that people aren’t lost in the opportunities. And Kars again said it much better:

Designing for play is like a holding a bird: squeeze too hard, and it dies. Of course, if you hold it too loosely, it will fly away…

- Sebastian/@dingstweets

September 7th, 2010

Pwned. The Death of the Game Designer and the Future of Game Design (Slides)

In this presentation, game researcher Julian Kücklich takes a critical look at the past, current, and future role of the game designer. Game designers have never achieved the same cultural prestige as “auteurs” of their work like novelists or movie directors – with few exceptions like American McGee or the practice of early Activision to put authors names on the game boxes. In parallel, we see a shift to the audience as authors (UGC) and a decline of the COTS market both in sales and original versus sequel IP. Social games are siphoning off time and money, and in terms of business practice, they epitomise the hegemony of economics and neglect of game designers and game design that is already visible in the poor working conditions of the COTS gaming industry. Discuss.

pwnd View more presentations from cucchiaio.

September 3rd, 2010

History Repeating: or Why Gamers Despise Social Games

In a recent blog post, Jesper Juul reflected on how the media echo of a debate between Ian Bogost and Aki Järvinen was symptomatic for the generally negative reception of social games among ‘traditional’ gamers and game designers:

"Here is the point: Gamer prejudices against social games are verbatim copies of general prejudices against video games. Within video game culture, we have spent decades trying to make video games respectable, but now we are simply taking the prejudices against us, and regurgitating them at a new form of video game, looking down on social games the way that culture at large has been looking down on video games. We have made social games into the video games of video games.”

I think Juul makes a valid point here. But as some commentators of his post have pointed out, rather then merely falling for defensive reflexes, we should try and understand why we see this regurgitating of prejudices. And for that, I believe, we need to contextualise Juul’s observation within a larger historical frame.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had a vivid first-hand experience of the “gamer prejudices” against social games Juul describes. Speaking at a seminar of fledgling game designers in Berlin, once I so much as mentioned the word FarmVille, I was stunned by an immediate, intense aversive gut reaction (and ensuing half-hour debate) of my audience. I almost had to laugh out loud when a student said: “One day, it might go so far as to us having to design social games <grimaces with disgust> instead of real games!”

What amused me was not the obviously heart-felt sentiment. No, it was the fact that I had heard that exact phrase before, when, back in another life, I had to deal with print journalists. Quote: “One day, it might go so far as to us having to write for online instead of real journalism!”

And it’s not just (online) journalism. In my ethnographic research on the German roleplaying subculture, I observed the same reaction when online roleplaying games made their appearance and quickly surpassed pen-and-paper games in mass appeal in the beginning of the 2000s. Roleplayers scowled at early MMORPGs like EverQuest with pretty much the same arguments video gamers now bring forward against social games: They would lack the depth and complexity, creativity and freedom, expressive and emotional nuance of roleplay ‘proper’, and seduce and exploit the young who haven’t developed any judgement or taste yet.

Sense a pattern yet?

To a media historian, all of this comes hardly as a surprise. Speaking with Marshall McLuhan, people socialised within the world of one medium are prone to conceive and evaluate new media in terms of the old one. Hence they often see the new medium as somehow lacking compared to the old, when indeed the new one is transcending the old towards a form that is still in the making, that is not at their cognitive disposal – and ultimately, that will have to be evaluated on its own terms. Certainly, the earliest movies were inferior to the sophistication of then-contemporary theater. But that says nothing about the sophistication possible in movies; nor would anyone today judge the quality of a movie by asking how good a theater play it is, because movies can and do do things differently than theater plays.

And this is not only true for new media, but also for new forms within a given medium – just think of the tremendous evolution of TV genres over the last fifty years, and how new formats were regularly framed as final signs for the Decline of the West. Granted, there’s MTV’s Date My Mom. But also HBO’s The Wire.

My point is that just because the professional and fan communities of one (formerly new) medium like video games grew up with ‘their’ medium being stigmatised and prejudiced by mainstream culture doesn’t make them immune against this pattern of media history. They can help it as little as television watchers and movigoers could when they were confronted with video games, or book and newspaper readers when they first encountered comics.

In his post, Juul compares the prejudices displayed by gamers towards social games to notorious US anti-games activist Jack Thompson, but he might as well have compared them to Frederic Wertham’s classic Seduction of the Innocent. Comic fans reacted in very much the same fashion when they were faced with the influx of printed manga and the different audience it drove to ‘their’ comic shop turf - at least in Germany.

As with other media before, the interesting thing about social games is not how well they will be able to ‘measure up’ with traditional video games. But how, looking back in a few years from now, they will have become a background against which our understanding of traditional games and indeed, the very concept of “video game” might have changed.

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Social Game Studies is a multi-authored blog that collects thoughts and findings from academic research on social games – games that play on social networks Learn More.