China Social Games Analyzing Chinese Social Networks and Games


Cutthroat Competition in Chinese Social Games

The Chinese government seeks a harmonious society. But it’s Facebook’s social games that are cooperative, while China’s closer resemble the Ultimate Fighting Championships.

9x as Competitive as Facebook?

Of China’s top 10 social games, 9 feature competitive actions that hurt other players (see graphic); the one exception is Renren Restaurant, an exact copy of Playfish’s Restaurant City on Facebook. Of Facebook’s top 10 games, only 1 features competitive actions. Chinese players cherish intense competition.

3 Case Studies: Schadenfreude, Stealing, and Status

Case #1: Enslave and Humiliate your Friends

Slave Manor copies the original Facebook game Friends for Sale! but takes the competition to another level. White-collar workers flock to the SNS Kaixin001 to hire their boss as their virtual slave—upon which they can make him shovel shit or marry an extremely ugly girl. Female slaves can be assigned to different hardships: serving as a “special hostess” or marrying an old black slave. The punishments on the original Facebook game were likely far tamer.

Case #2: Bombs in the Hospital

Nasty game actions at friend's hospital

One might expect a hospital game to be benevolent, but Wonder Hospital (荣光医院) has some nasty features. When visiting a friend’s hospital, players can enforce fines, steal patients, throw rubbish, let a dog loose, park a truck to block access, and ‘mystery mischief’ indicated by a bomb icon. Home-grown games by smaller developers, like Wonder Hospital, tend to be especially competitive.

Case #3: Looting at the Farm

Mischief Accomplished: worms added

Farm games are tops worldwide: Happy Farm in China, FarmVille on Facebook. A major difference is that Chinese editions feature stealing or “picking” from others’ farms. Many Chinese white-collars log-in religiously to steal and avoid being stolen from. The QQ Farm edition even allows users to add worms and weeds to friends’ farms.

Facebook users express adamant moral opposition to the addition of a stealing feature in game forums:

“I don't approve of stealing whether in real life or virtual. It's wrong either way. I worked hard to get where I am in life and in Farm Town and I don't want somebody coming in stealing anything that I have worked for. You want it… you work for it like the rest of us have.”

“I hate stealing etc. these kill the joy from this CHILD FRIENDLY game. What would you like to teach the kids who playing this game? Stealing is good? Stealing is fun? Let's do it my son!”

Facebook: A Moral Utopia?

Fiercely competitive games certainly exist on Facebook, but developers and players tend to select more benevolent options. In the Whopper Sacrifice, a marketing campaign by Burger King, users received a coupon for a whopper in exchange for sacrificing 10 Facebook friends. When the campaign gained popularity and attention, Facebook shut it down. Barn Buddy, another farm game on Facebook, offers competitive options, but is far less popular than Zynga’s FarmVille. With the notable exception of Mafia Wars, the most popular Facebook games are all child friendly.

China: Regulations on the Way

The Chinese government will start to police social games in 2010 for objectionable content. The most competitive game on Facebook, Mafia Wars, is already blocked in China. And Happy Farm recently voluntarily switched terms from stealing to picking crops. The competitive world of Chinese social games may soon be censored, or in government terms “harmonized.”

But for the time being, social games still offer Chinese white-collars relief from their boredom and revenge upon their colleagues.

Kai Lukoff is an analyst at BloggerInsight and an editor on China Social Games. Follow Kai on Twitter

Comments (3) Trackbacks (5)
  1. Great post, really interesting. I’m especially mortified by the hospital game, I mean what is going on with those bombs! Reminds me of that Chow-Yun Fat film, Hard Boiled, and the killing spree in the hospital at the end.

    What I findmost shcoking though is how normal, well intentioned, intelligent young professionals are addicted to these kind of games, especially the farming one – is it some kind of release for them from the stresses of daily life?

    I was just wondering how these violence games and the surrounding culture compare with Japanese youth culture in forms such as Manga and the whole doomsday scenario, broken, isolated society that gave rise to films like Battle Royale and those thriller-horror flicks (and horror porn!) that seemto be quite big. A bit of a generalisation, I know, but I’m sort of looking at the bigger picture.

  2. Unclear to me how Happy Aquarium can be cutthroat, but then again, I don’t play it that much….

  3. Disagree. What you don’t understand here is that Chinese culture is innately playful. Even if we play around with each other aggressively, it still just a simulation or a game to them. They are doing something that is normally considered inappropriate in reality.

    We are aggressive to each other because we can take the abuse. We know we are better than that, because we are so friendly to each other already.

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