Misc Blog Post

Hou, J. (2011). Uses and gratifications of social games: Blending social networking and game play. First Monday, 16(7).


The Hou (2011) article is data heavy and presents a brief introduction to Uses and Gratifications theory. This paper uses the uses and gratifications theory to make a connection to casual games and social games as filling specific user needs.

Uses and gratifications theory (Katz, 1959) is interested in why individuals seek out particular mass communication channels for certain uses in order to gratify certain needs. It is concerned with what people do with media as opposed to what media do to people. The great thing about this theory is that it is a lot like Minecraft ( or Terraria?) because you can dig out your own research niche.

One of the criticisms of this theory is that it is too individualistic and should not be used to make generalizations. Another criticism of this theory is that it does not explain the media use and should not be used to predict future patterns, however, the researchers get around this obstacle through the investigation of prospective gratifications or the “expectancy-value models of media uses and gratifications.”

Very interesting…There is a passing mention of “mind-reading” as a social gratification but no further explanation. Upon further investigation this reference was made to support the idea that “increased friendship and closeness (friends vs. strangers) generally lead to an expansion of cooperative acts (Majolo, et al., 2006), mutual support and toleration (Cords, 1997), and greater accuracy of social judgments.” The actual study that Hou is citing investigates the “mind-reading” capabilities (can you tell what the other person is thinking) of strangers, close friends and/or intimate partners.

Social games

  • Key components, which differentiate social games from other computer games, are: (1) social platform–based; (2) multiplayer; (3) real identity; and, (4) casual gaming.
  • Most social games are found on social networking sites and are browser based
  • The game world is persistent much like an MMO, however, the fact that social gamers play mostly with real-life friends may make it different than an MMO whose players may have never met in real life.
  • People represent themselves since most social networking sites require real name registration. However, this statement assumes that people are honest in signing up to begin with. Anecdotal evidence may indicate that some social gamers actually create dual identities on these social networking sites so that they can essentially play with themselves.
  • Do we agree with Hou’s definition of social games? What about asynchronisity? Freemium (i.e. free to play until you pay to pay)? Rewards? Customization? Virtual Goods? Quests/Goals?

Casual games

  • According to Hou, being casual means that a social game is easy to pick up as opposed to an intense and complex hardcore game.
  • According to Michelle, a casual game is one which I do not have a meaningful investment in nor a salient connection to. Games which can be played on a mobile device while standing in line at your local coffee shop.
  • Casual game design commonly features excessive positive feedback for every successful action the player performs
  • See also Juul

SNS Gratifications (Afterall, this is the typical platform…)

  • Urista et al. (2009) – 1) efficient communication, 2) convenient communication, 3) curiosity about others, 4) popularity to become a popular figure among friends, and 5) relationship formation and reinforcement
  • Joinson (2008) – 1) social connection to keep in touch with friends and maintain relationships, 2) shared identities to join friends’ groups to avoid being left out, 3) content, 4) social investigation to see what friends do and to make new friends, 5) social network surfing, and 6) status updating [or self-expression] to update one’s status or to let friends know your news.

Video Game Gratifications

  • Lucas and Sherry (2004) in the order of importance – 1) diversion to pass time or to stop boredom; 2) social interaction to interact with friends through the game; 3) challenge to attempt to beat the game; 4) competition to compete with other players in the game; 5) fantasy to do things that are impossible in real life; and 6) arousal to play the game because it is exciting. Diversion and social interaction were the most important predictors of the total number of hours they spent playing during a typical week
  • Sun, et al. (2006) in the order of importance – 1) diversion, 2) competition, 3) interaction, 4) meeting strangers, and 5) self–expression.


  • SNS based – Expected gratifications for social connection (a), social investigation (b), shared identity (c), popularity (d), and self–expression (e) from social games will be positively related to the (frequency, duration and engagement) of game play and/or game activities.
  • Video game based – Expected gratifications for competition (a), challenge (b), social interaction (c), diversion (d), fantasy (e), and arousal (f) from social games will be positively related to the (frequency, duration and engagement) of game play and/or game activities.


  • Self-administered online questionnaires of Happy Farm players recruited through snowball sample. 93 usable questionnaires investigated with 66.2% female and 33.8% male. Mean age was 25.65 (ranged from 20-37).
  • Facebook imported Happy Farm in April 2009. The game peaked with over two million monthly active players within that year and brought in 30 to 40 percent of Facebook’s monthly revenue.

Consider this: It takes anywhere from $100k to $300k to make the game. Approximately 3-5% of the players actually pay to play. Farmville has over 80 million players and a reported 31 million daily active players. If each of these daily active players paid a penny per day that would be $3.65/person/year. Now take that $3.65 and multiply that across the 31 million people and you get about $113 million/year that Farmville makes. Not bad from a $100-$300k investment…(More)

Results & Discussion

  • The findings indicated that respondents played social games more frequently and became more engaged in different kinds of game activities for the purpose of diversion.
  • Neither challenge nor competition were significant motives for playing social games. It is possible that social gamers do not necessarily enjoy the challenge of “beating the game,” or beating friends. Thus, social games do not enforce winning or competing, rather they accommodate more flexible playing styles.
    Is it still a game if no one can “win”?
  • Social interaction predicted both frequency and duration of game playing, while diversion predicted only frequency.
  • Negative relationship between the fantasy factor and game play intensity. That is, the more fantasy the less intense the play is. How could this affect graphics?
  • Should social games be described as social media rather than as just one category of online computer games?
  • Are social games a “unique venue for socialization in a playful manner”?
  • Do social games provide a new “third place” for social structures? (neutral ground, leveler, regulars, conversation, etc…)

Game Examples

Note: The above were discussion points regarding Hou (2011) for an in-class presentation on the casual game revolution. As a side note, the author is currently working on her PhD at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and is interested in social and cognitive psychology of mediated communication. http://www-scf.usc.edu/~jinghuih/Home.html

Readings – The casual game revolution

WeTopia is a browser game on a popular social networking site that allows players to use their ties with friends to build a virtual city and accumulate “Joy” points which can be spent on donations to charity in order to “make a real world difference.”

These real world differences include donations of food and clothing to various needful areas of the world like Haiti and soon in Africa. WeTopia is a social game developed by Sojo Studios which a  privately-held company that generates revenue from advertisers or from the sale of virtual goods. According to the About section of the developer’s Facebook page, the WeTopia game was launched in May 2010 and released for public beta in November 2011.

I came across this graphic as I was investigating some home energy efficiency ideas. It’s from 2008 and the NRDC was looking at ways the game industry (and console owners) could help the “nation’s electricity bill” by using better power management features.

Source: NRDC Study “Lowering the Cost of Play: Improving the Energy Efficiency of Video Game Consoles.”


…barely had enough content to warrant calling it a new game. The nostalgia wore off after 10 minutes.