OPINION: Where should publishers draw the line with viral promotion?

OPINION: Where should publishers draw the line with viral promotion?
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

April 15th 2011 at 3:00PM

Publishers wish to use your role as a trusted influence to interest your friends

Would you like it if a friend of yours bought a new car and then proceeded to send you a string of overzealous messages telling you to buy that car too?

Game publishers have been encouraging exactly this behaviour from players with some of their titles. But is the forceful, viral approach damaging the player experience? I think so.

Last year, EA rewrote the idea of an invitation from a trusted friend with spam.

Several of their popular EA Sports titles, including Tiger Woods, NHL and MMA, had the ‘invite a friend’ feature.

In return for more in-game experience points and other ‘unmissable’ bonuses, players have the chance to send pre-written messages like this:

“Download Tiger! It has a cool new XP system that lets you begin earning experience that can be applied to your character in the full version of the game!!!”

You could argue that MMOs have been doing this sort of thing for years, giving players bonuses for introducing friends to a game. But in the world of connected consoles and social networking it’s far more intrusive.

Monetisation is happening everywhere on these platforms, so the last thing players want is sleazily promotions from their friends.

This has become a common practice in social games. They are built around the need to ask for help, thus spreading the game to new users. But begging for help from others to lend you seeds and gardening tools isn’t social - it’s just annoying for all involved.

Yet console players are being cajoled into sending these invites, which, along with pre-order bonuses, are part of the wider issue of fragmenting game content.

Not satisfied with causing players undue disapproval from friends, their access to a game’s full content is under threat as well.

Again, EA is one of the culprits putting a wall around content, such as pro combat uniforms in NCAA Football and, bafflingly, fighting champ Randy Couture in MMA, unless users invited their friends to download the demos - and this looks to continue with PGA Tour 12 and other EA titles this year.

Experience points are one thing, but to restrict access to elements that are a core part of the play experience puts players that wish to enjoy the full game in a compromising position.

If publishers wish to bring the ‘spam culture’ of the web to console games, they’re going the right way about it with systems that punish both sender and receiver.

Players shouldn’t have to choose whether to lock themselves out of content or lose friends. They should be given back the freedom to recommend the games they wish.