Social Dark Patterns

Social dark patterns use your relationships with friends and family to benefit the game.

Many modern games are online experiences that we can share with friends and family. It can make them more enjoyable when we share a game with other people. However, there are some tricks that game developer can use to exploit our social connections to make us play a game for reasons other than enjoyment. Game developers can also abuse our friends and family members for their own selfish purpose of getting more players.

One way that games get us to play for reasons other than enjoyment is by giving us a social obligation to keep playing. If you and your friends play the game as a group, and you stop playing, you will be letting your friends down. You don't want to let them down, so you keep playing even when it's no longer enjoyable. Or, maybe the game allows trading or resource sharing and this makes you feel a need to play the game to reciprocate with your friends.

Competition is also a very powerful way to make the game more challenging, and often more exciting, but it can also make players feel negative emotions when they lose to another person. If the game allows powerful players to pick on weaker players, this can become quite discouraging as a new player and may incentivize some players to pay money to improve quicker. People may start playing out of envy, greed or the accumulation of power and status. It's possible that the game could even encourage players to exhibit anti-social behaviors.

If a game is under continual development with new content being added at regular intervals, then the fear of missing out can cause people to play the game, even if it is no longer fun.

Bad games sometimes abuse our social connections by spamming our friends or tricking us into recruiting them in a social pyramid scheme.


Social Pyramid Scheme
You get a bonus for inviting your friends and then they have to invite their friends.
Social Obligation / Guilds
To avoid letting down your friends, you are obligated to play when you don't want to.
Friend Spam / Impersonation
The game sends spam to your contact list or social media account.
Feeling obligated to return a favor, share resources, trade an item, etc.
Encourages Anti-Social Behavior
The game incentivizes players to lie, cheat, or backstab other players to get ahead.
Fear of Missing Out
If you stop playing you'll miss out on something or be left behind and unable to catch up.
The game makes you compete against other players.