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Current Social Games Aren't Fun, Says MUD Co-Creator 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the gain-eight-experience-points-for-each-comment-to-this-post dept.
Speaking at Gamerlab 2011 in Barcelona, MUD1 developer Richard Bartle had harsh words for the current state of social gaming: "The big thing about social games that they don't like to tell you, is they're not actually social. Games played on social network sites is what we mean by social games ... These games are categorized more by the platform than that they are social themselves. The way they engage their players is not through interesting gameplay, it's done through extrinsic rewards — basically bribes. ... The difference is, social games rely on the extrinsic rewards so as to be compelling. People keep playing the game because it keeps giving them things — rewards. This has led to gamification. In the hands of designers, this has a great deal of potential, but unfortunately it's not in the hands of designers, it's in the hands of marketers."
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Current Social Games Aren't Fun, Says MUD Co-Creator

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  • by DMFNR (1986182) on Friday July 01, 2011 @06:53AM (#36631884)

    It seems like the people making the games these days are focusing less on the actual game play and the "fun factor" and more on achievements and hooks too keep people coming back. It's the easy way out for them, they know a lot of people will keep forging on just to get that next achievement and post about it on their Facebook wall. I know it worked for me when I was younger with Pokemon! Even though the gameplay was incredibly boring and repetitive, I keep trudging through it just so I could get the next Pokemon. The only "social" factor of these games are all of the item requests and such that are posted to friends walls, making them feel like their left out if they're not playing, or even making them feel like they need to play because hey, "Tom needs to plant his seed and needs a hoe". These new social games are just a big scheme to get people to play so they can watch the ads, or spend extra money for in game purchases. Until people stop playing these games it's never going to change, they think we're eating their shit and loving it. I actually think a lot of people do. It's a casual kind of gaming for them, and it seems like the people who play a lot of these games don't get out much, so they stick with it because they're hanging with their buds too I guess.

    • "Tom needs to plant his seed and needs a hoe".

      I don't really understand what sewing has to do with prostitution.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You mean like Slashdot's achievement system? Like being modded up and the people who give kneejerk and/or slanderous comments to get modded insightful? Or how about relationships, being a friend of a foe?

      Yeah, why do people tolerate this crap? And I'm not saying that your comment is either kneejerk of slanderous. I am saying that Slashdot works on the same scheme and we eat it up just as much here. That's one reason that political articles are so big and hard science articles normally get little pla

      • by Ruke (857276)

        Slashdot "Achievements" are a tongue-in-cheek joke. They rolled out on April 1, and stuck around because, well, people liked them. And, unlike social games, people are actually communicating and forming relationships on Slashdot. A message board system by it's very nature has to be more social than those games; there is literally nothing else to it.

        I'd wager that political articles see so much energy because everyone feels like they are qualified to participate, and there are multiple valid-yet-contradictor

      • by sabt-pestnu (967671) on Friday July 01, 2011 @01:19PM (#36635418)

        Perhaps you missed the history behind some of these things on slashdot.

        Achievements were an April Fools joke that got left in place.

        Moderation has the utility of allowing filtering. And you can use elements like "friends", "tags", etc for further filtering, increasing/decreasing effective score - and thus what is displayed to you.

        Don't like how people moderate? Suggest a better method. Don't like moderation as a concept? Ignore it.

        Friend of a foe? er, what? I can't speak for others, but I barely use the "friend" or "foe" features of Slashdot at all.

        Political articles get lots of comments and attention largely because there IS room for comment about them. Science articles? By definition, there aren't going to be a lot of people able to provide informed commentary on breaking science news. Would you rather more uninformed comments?

      • why do people tolerate this crap?

        Here, because I get news out of it. I gave up on farmville, because I got nothing from it.

        That's one reason that political articles are so big and hard science articles normally get little play.

        I disagree. Political stories have a lot of nuances and spur a lot of arguments while to science stories (being one of the main reasons I'm on /.) my comments would be something along the lines of "cool," or "huh." I could make such comments, but the reason they would not be modded up is because no one would care to read them.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Are these the kind of games that appeal to a console gamer or someone who's playing Starcraft, or is savvy enough to even know what a MUD is? Absolutely not, and guess what, you're not the target demographic. I know, its crazy, you're a gamer so all games certainly must be made with you in mind right? No.
      The demographic of games like Farmville and Bejeweled Blitz (Bejeweled surprisingly moreso) is absolutely dominated by the 30-50 female crowd. Stay at home moms, empty nesters, whichever, but a demograp

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday July 01, 2011 @09:25AM (#36632754)

      I don't know why you guys are complaining. Ads have the electrolytes your body craves.

    • It's all about the Benjamins.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      They're not in it for the love of making games anymore. They're in it for the money.

      The reason Farmville and its ilk are crappy games is the same reason that EA makes crappy games. They're made with bad intentions (in the sense of game design) from the start.

  • by tyrione (134248) on Friday July 01, 2011 @06:55AM (#36631890) Homepage
    The interaction even in such basic times created groups of friends on quests to raise their levels and use their imaginations. Games like Farmtown, Farmville, etc., are dull as hell.
    • by Aladrin (926209)

      You'll be surprised to learn that others think the opposite!

      I played a MUD called DragonRealms for a few years. It was quite an amazing game, but eventually the daily grind just got to me. It was the same thing over and over to claw my way up another level. The social aspect was the best part at that point, but the developers destroyed the community with an insane price hike. -sigh-

      I've searched for years for another one that I would enjoy as much, but haven't found it.

      Facebook games hit me almost exact

      • by dentin (2175)

        I hate to be a shill, but if you're actually in the market for a MUD you might want to take a look at Alter Aeon. In my opinion, we can easily hold our own against DR.

        • by Aladrin (926209)

          It sounds interesting! Of course, I can't really tell until I play it, but I'm definitely going to check it out. Thanks!

    • by Elbereth (58257)

      To be fair, a lot of MUDs were highly repetitive, boring grindfests. After MUDs and their tropes had been firmly established (with Diku and Circle MUD), one MUD was pretty much the same as any other MUD, with the exact same, boring gameplay and areas. In fact, I remember playing on some MUDs where you were handed a bag full of the best low-level loot, so that you could get to the drudgery right away, without having to expend any creative thought. Sure, there were exceptions -- I remember one custom MUD t

      • by mcvos (645701)

        A very interesting middle ground between the all-combat MUDs and the all-social MUSHes was Dune MUSH. You could actually die there, and I believe you even had stats, but death meant make a new character. I didn't play it much because I was too involved in another MUSH, but for something resembling a real, story-driven RPG experience in MUDs, this one seemed to have the most potential.

      • by jaymz666 (34050)

        Then you should have leveled to wiz and coded new and more interesting challenges....

      • "The alternative was arguably even worse -- stories that were more interactive and interesting, yet full of people who wanted to RP every breath they took, with no actual game involved. You want to actually kill a monster? You want to gain a level?! Powergamer! Ban him!"

        Sounds suspiciously like the roleplaying servers that people set up for NWN. The ones that think that in order to have proper rp and immersion, you need glacially slow levelling and miniscual amounts of magic.

        • by Elbereth (58257)

          Yeah. Online NWN was very heavily influenced by MUD/MUSH culture. I tried a few NWN persistent worlds, but I found that they were usually a bit too social or too combat-oriented for my taste, so I ended up playing the single-player modules more than anything else. There were a few servers that had a decent mix of both action and RP, but they were often a bit underpopulated, as people gravitated toward the more extreme servers. While I'm generally more a fan of the action side, I like a compelling story

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I helped run an LP-MUD for awhile. It was relatively easy to extend this and we added new areas all the time, without even having to reboot. Meanwhile every time I visited a Diku or Aber MUD (those most closely related to Richard Bartle's game) they all seemed very similar to each other. The difference I believe is that it was much more difficult to do extensive modifications to those games and you relied on a smaller set of trusted people to touch the source or add objects to a database; but in a game w

  • by alphatel (1450715) * on Friday July 01, 2011 @06:56AM (#36631894)
    Social Game should really be another way to say "lead generation marketing gaming". The goal is to get you to buy more fun stuff, by offering you lots of fun perky stuff to keep you interested. Very little of it requires any effort or quest-solving to attain, and it immediately unlocks the next slightly more expensive fun perky thing that you must have.
  • I have noticed this, and there are social multiplayer games. The thing is, I am wondering why some of the legacy titles, such as Zelda don't get multiplayer online variants. (A Link to the Past with 4/8/16 Links anyone?)

    A Good example of this is Mega Man: 8 bit Death Match.

    • I have noticed this, and there are social multiplayer games. The thing is, I am wondering why some of the legacy titles, such as Zelda don't get multiplayer online variants. (A Link to the Past with 4/8/16 Links anyone?)

      Zelda has had mutliplayer versions, they just weren't online.

      Four Swords (GBA, required a copy of the game and a GBA for each player) and Four Swords Adventures (GBA + GameCube, required a GBA for each player plug a GBA->GC link cable) were the names of the two.

      Four Swords is about to come to the DSiWare shop for free (for DSi/3DS owners) so we'll see if they add online play to it.

      The other catch for multiplayer Zelda games... Four Swords explicitly limited each player to being able to carry one item, al

    • by Eudial (590661)

      Back in the day (est. 2000), there was not very subtle Zelda: A Link to the Past clone called "Graal Online" that was multiplayer. The gameplay mechanics and graphics were very similar to the SNES title, except there were hundreds of people running around doing random quests (and the lore was different).

      It was a lot of fun in the day, but it sort of went down hill and slipped into obscurity (even if a cursory googling sugests it's still around). Partly from competition from emerging MMORPGs like WoW, but al

  • He's right (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mcvos (645701) on Friday July 01, 2011 @07:04AM (#36631920)

    I completely agree. There's nothing in modern social games that draws me. I used to love MUDs, and especially the more social ones: MUSHes and the like. Playing together and establishing some kind of community inside the game is awesome. Having a community outside the game see your achievements in some lame grind game is not so exciting.

    Yet I do think it should be possible to do something much more interesting with social networks and games. For example, nearly my entire RPG group is now on Google+, and with its circles, you could have some online game and play it with that circle, without all your other contacts getting annoying messages about it. That's certainly something we intend to explore.

  • by Veetox (931340) on Friday July 01, 2011 @07:10AM (#36631938)

    In the hands of designers, this has a great deal of potential, but unfortunately it's not in the hands of designers, it's in the hands of marketers.

    Bartle is probably a little biased, but he is definitely right... about more than just gaming. The marketing department tends to be in control of to much. Marketing has a simple goal: make products more desirable to the target consumer. This is supposed to involve pre-design data, and post-design constructive criticism.

    However, many companies let the marketing department control the entire design process. The accountants tend to have their way with the product as well. In the end, the consumers only get choices between poor-quality products with a shiny vernier. I have no data for the following statement, but personal observation is that this process has made a few people dumber as well...

    Designers are important, not only because they aim to produce a creative and unique product, but because they find ways to challenge customers in one way or another. Believe it or not, surmounting challenges are what keep us coming back for more.

    • In my opinion, Batle is very biased and frankly, a bit dinosaur.

      He is the guy that argues that "Permanent Death" is good thing for MMO (and only hated because of bad past implementations and that intelligent player can be convinced it is good thing for him).

      Then, it goes downhill. He is basically all about trying to convicne people that good old hardocre muds were fun and if you do not find then fun, you are stupid. Any innovation is, of course, stupid too because it dilludes old and superior design. He is

  • by Anonymous Coward

    While I agree with the author and find games like farmville and mafia wars completely unfulfilling, I never found MUDS that enjoyable either. This comes from the fact I'm a visual person. I learn visually, I experience visually... you get the idea. Games like Everquest and World of Warcraft appeased me much more. Story is always important and with MUDS it's absolutely essential to have a good experience.

    With WoW or EQ, not only do you have a good storyline but you get to see the combined creative 'juice' fo

    • I like movies 100 times more simply because I can SEE what the author meant.

      No, you're seeing the director's interpretation of what the author meant, as constrained by the producers, budget, ratings system, skill of the actors, etc.

      Even with the adaptation of comic books to movies (both visual mediums), some authors (eg, Alan Moore [filmcritic.com]) have made comments on how they are effectively two different stories, as how the reader/viewer interacts with the medium is different. (pause the movie, and go check out what h

  • by retroworks (652802) on Friday July 01, 2011 @07:51AM (#36632106) Homepage Journal

    A) He isn't having fun in social games

    B) He makes statements like " This has led to gamification. "

    C) He also had no fun at the prom. He found it had led to dancification and kissification.

    • He should play Recettear so he can have yayifications.

    • Gamification is a very useful term for what we think of as "social network gaming"; not just an indicative that someone isn't enjoying the formula. "Gamification" is basically taking the elements that make someone play a game or engage in certain behavior and applying them to other applications - The yogurt shoppe near me punches a card every time I buy so much froyo, and provides a free item when the card is full. That's no different than an "Achievement" that unlocked a perk. The business thinks, "If

      • by delinear (991444)
        I have no strong feelings either way about social gaming (I don't play those games and I'm not particularly drawn to them), however, to say they're not fun because they're addictive and habit forming and are a means to get more money from users is like saying alcohol is not fun for the exact same reasons (it's addictive, it often relies on the fact that your friends are doing it, and the producers will do anything to sell you another bottle, after all, they care more about making money than producing a cult
        • if people didn't enjoy the games, wouldn't they move on and find other ways to amuse themselves?

          Short answer - no.

          Slightly longer answer - you can exploit human behavior in such a way that they become obsessed with doing something, even when all the actual rewards (fun) from that behavior have disappeared. If I create an activity with the goal of it being fun, and some people become addicted to where they participate long after it's still fun, you might forgive me. I have done some harm (through causing addiction) but it was accidental. If, however, I create an activity with the goal of forming addict

    • Have you played any number of "social games" on Facebook? I have, mainly at the behest of my girlfriend. Normally I play FPS, RTS, RPG type games, starting from the late 1980's. And I've played a fair few MUDs since the telnet days. Facebook games are OK-ish for a while, but the "social" is only skin deep, and every game uses the same types of interaction. There's little attempt to really explore the possibilities of multi-player. It's like every player creates their own little single-player farm/bakery/ci
      • by Toonol (1057698)
        I've done a little programming through the facebook API, and there is no inherent limitation there. You could basically drop in a flash module that would allow full interaction with other players... like Dragon Quest, or head-to-head arcade games. There's no restriction, really, on what or how information can pass between clients. (There's limits on passing certain types of personal info, but not any sort of game info.)

        I think it's not being done because it's harder and more costly to program, and the
      • by Peeteriz (821290)

        " There's little attempt to really explore the possibilities of multi-player.'

        On the contrary, companies like Zynga have explored and researched the possibilities of social interaction a hundred times more that most game designers, tweaking all the tiny elements to an optimum range that works on the hairless apes on Facebook - that is then copied to all the games.

        All these shallow elements that you mention - they work. They keep the most amount of players coming back. The recovery rate of "energy levels" an

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday July 01, 2011 @07:52AM (#36632108) Homepage

    Solitaire games are still among the most widely played games on computers. I can't say they can be classified as "fun." They are particularly good at being a distraction, clearing the mind and passing time. Playing games is often used for those moments when such things are desired.

    Some games are even the source of anger and frustration -- is that "fun"? I am quite sure a few people will answer "yes" but for most people, that's actually not the case.

    For most people, they seek "reward" after a challenge. Having the reward is fun for people, but to road to getting there is quite often not fun.

    So what is "fun"? I like riding my bicycle. Some games are genuinely fun to me... perhaps this weekend I will load up an old computer with Win98 and set up XWing vs Tie Fighter or something similar. THAT was a fun game. But fun for me and fun for others are different things.

    • by dristoph (1207920)

      Having worked in social media and social gaming quite a bit in the past, I've heard this and the other side of the argument on "social gaming" many times. Yet no one, on either side of the argument, even those active in the industry to this date, have actually admitted that they themselves play "social games" such as Farmville or Cityville. They have no desire to play the very games they create. They tend to prefer games with deeper strategy, storytelling, or action dynamics. Indeed, Smash Bros and StarCraf

    • by tyrione (134248)
      Games like Hearts, Spades, Pinochle and more is what made Yahoo Games so popular for so many years. They were extremely social as everyone chats to each other while taking their turn.
  • "it's not in the hands of designers, it's in the hands of marketers."

    Would you rather make more money? Or a better game.

    If your reaction is to ignore the entire sentence except for the word "money" you shouldn't be the guy who takes the decisions about how to manage the money that investors have lent you.

    If your reaction is to think that a better game makes more money than a game designed to make more money... Well, it's not going to be me who pops the pretty pink bubble.

  • WoW? I heard it's pretty "social" (the way he means it) and it's full of micro-rewards that aren't really worth much. Even more "social" games nowdays apparently tend to offer the player virtual extremities bought with real money as "rewards" ... Perhaps the players have changed more than the games on the market.
    • You should read the article. He did say specifically "games played on social network sites", i.e. Facebook flash and Java Applet games is what we're talking here. Boot up Frontierville, Baking Life, Chocolatier, Cafe Life. That sort of thing. Play those for a few weeks, then get back to me. You'll know what he's talking about then. Or, if you want something more "manly" try Battle Stations, Kingdoms of Camelot, Legacy of a Thousand Suns. Those are a little better, but not as "popular" as the type listed ab
      • by Toonol (1057698)
        This may sound archaic, but I wonder if the reason social games seem so terrible to anyone who knows games, is because girls.

        Those games are for them, not us.
  • The interesting question is where they keep getting their money to create such PoS that have been driveling into the gaming industry for the last six years. They can cop out and just copy/paste the latest shinies into their game that keep the mob at bay, but never make anything truly amazing. Even the better game developers have realized how easy it is to just stop putting so much effort in and start producing steaming piles of crap. Even more so when you realize a lot of game developers aren't even pushing
    • by delinear (991444)

      I personally want to get into the game industry just so I can have something fun to play in my leisure time once again...

      Good luck with that. From what I gather, if you get into the game industry you won't have any leisure time.

    • by dentin (2175)

      I'm in the game industry, and I know exactly where they keep getting their money: investors looking to make a quick buck. Gaming is becoming the new rage, and everyone is trying to get a piece of the pie. Anyone with minimum competence and a business plan can get a couple million dollars these days. I've personally tracked a couple of these games (Earth Eternal springs to mind) from creation to destruction to see what was going on.

      It's really just another bubble. It'll seethe and froth for a while, but

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday July 01, 2011 @08:59AM (#36632530) Journal

    OK, so some designer says that a simple system of semi-addictive task/reward dependencies isn't "fun".

    That's self-evidently not true by an objective measure. Lots of people play them, ergo, to many people it IS fun.

    I don't think running on a treadmill (or any running, frankly; I *am* posting on slashot...) is "fun" either, but I'd expect that a significant number of runners would disagree with me.

    It's more like he's complaining that the task/reward system is so dull and transparent that it is uninteresting. That may be true, I certainly don't find them fun myself. But for a good 6 years I played WoW intensively, which is only marginally more complex in essence (although a great deal more varied). I was having a lot of fun, although in retrospect I have trouble understanding why, even in my own personal context.

    Arguing over what's objectively "fun" is like arguing which is "better", orange or blue.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      You assume the only reason people play games is because they are fun. That's not necessarily the case. They may be playing because it was fun in the past, and expect it to be fun in the future. Or they may be playing because it's easy and occupying which can be rewarding but falls short of fun.

    • by dentin (2175)

      WoW is one of the few games that I persistently lost players to. WoW really does have nearly everything - an actual social environment, huge game world to explore, hooks to keep you leveling, stuff to do, stuff to learn. WoW isn't the juggernaut because it's the largest; WoW is the juggernaut because they built a damned good game that appeals to a lot of people.

      • In fact WoW or MMO's in general are NOT the targets of Bartle's complaints. He's taking aim at facebook flash games which are hyped as "multi-player" but are really just repetitive single-player games with a thin veneer of linkage to your "facebook friends". They really blackmail you to keep logging back in, i.e. "log in at 4pm or we'll kill your crops"
    • That's self-evidently not true by an objective measure. Lots of people play them, ergo, to many people it IS fun.

      Kind of a false assumption. Lots of people could play because they feel compelled (I want to stop but can't). They could play because they feel pressured (I don't really like the game, but all my friends are doing it). They could play because it smooths relationships (hey, thanks for watering my pumpkins). Or they could play because they feel driven to complete things (gotta catch 'em all).

      A quick rule of thumb is that if you won't look back on the activity fondly in a few years time, it probably never was

  • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Friday July 01, 2011 @09:01AM (#36632550)

    They are not supposed to be fun, they are supposed to make money.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Friday July 01, 2011 @09:12AM (#36632640)
    It was mostly a lot of tintin clients running around attacking mobs below their level and never interacting. Until I discovered a item cloning bug (related to what I believe was a really slow sync on a HDD) on my favorite dikumud, I never had enough time to to do anything except gather gold for the "rent". The infinite diamonds allowed me to just sit around the inn and role-play, which was actually fun if a real person stopped by.
    • by twocows (1216842)
      I second this. My experience with MUDs was never that great, and it got worse the more players began to leave. They seemed like they wanted to be both a social experience and a game, but failed at both.

      Conversely, my experience with modern games has been great. There are plenty of great games these days that are tons of fun to play (I think I put somewhere upward of 700 hours in Left 4 Dead 1 over the course of about a year, Team Fortress 2 is probably even higher), and Steam is exposing me to a lot of ind
  • by Bieeanda (961632) on Friday July 01, 2011 @09:12AM (#36632642)
    I said the same thing months ago, but I don't have anywhere near the developer cred that Bartle does. These games are 'social' in the same way that leaving a post-it note on the fridge, asking your roommate to take the trash out, is social. Contact is brief and through a silent third party, with no opportunity for extended communication (negotiation, clarification, etc.) without going through a totally different third party such as e-mail, telephone, or Facebook messaging.

    The platform may be social, but the games in practice quite often are not. Players perform an end run on the 'beg other players for X of Y material' mechanic by registering shill accounts to work for themselves, or applying themselves to vast lists of other players that they don't know, who end up merely pressing the occasional button for one another without pursuing contact beyond those mechanical benefits.

  • There might be fewer than 15 years ago but there are still plenty around - as a quick Google will show - and there must be a new generation discovering them now as they do have quite a few users and I can't believe its 30 and 40 somethings doing the same quests over and over again that they were doing in their teens and 20s back in the 90s.

  • I understand completely what Bartle is saying, and I don't just see it in facebook games. A lot of MMOs seem to be going the same direction - emphasize item collection and checkpoints over actually having a fun game. The down side of this is that the MMO and social game space are incredibly full of games like this and it's hard for truly original, independent games to get noticed. The up side is that I've been watching these games drop like flies for the last four years. The psychological tricks and 'ne

  • I was recently cured of social games by the micro payment craze. A very nice tower defense game on an unnamed social network was completely hamstrung by the fact that to advance at a decent rate you would be charged about $2.50 for a upgrade gem which might work or might drop your tower level back multiple levels. Also after doing some basic math i found out they had an option to buy a new type of tower for $200. dollars no that's not a typo. Now don't get me wrong it was a great game that i would have pur
  • It seems like a social network has some good infrastructure to run a campaign with a pencil and paper style game - has anyone seen any of these incorporated into their social network of choice? The ability to talk with friends in tandem with the ability to push out posts to any device, be it computer or cellphone, seems like it would be an easy way to both log your session, craft the literary details of your world, and also to keep everyone in the game in sync with where the story/party is in. Does anyone r
  • I agree with Bartle about the facebook games. It blows my mind that the most popular SOCIAL NETWORK has games in which the most social interaction that goes on happens by having annoying requests piped though the walls of people who mostly don't give a crap. And I also think they're ultimately boring. I think you can have a successful game with enduring popularity if it's also a social one. A lot of people back in the heyday of MUDs used to chat more than they played. I made a few modifications to Gala [galtrader.com]
  • I refuse to play any game that requires your friends help to play, like the so called games on Facebook. I do play a couple simple MMORPG's to relax, where I can casually chat with friends and peeps I bump into all over the world while I play.
  • Sid Meier might have the answer. He's bringing a version of Civilization to Facebook. My respect for him is enough to take a look. That will total exactly 1 Facebook game I've ever tried.

  • Yeah, I agree with this article because I had so many boring experience playing those games in facebook.

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