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Facebook: The Advergames are Coming… and they are bad.

January 26, 2008

On the heels of Parking Wars (a game developed to publicize A&E’s new Parking War reality series), comes four new games from H&R Block. Their Facebook page complete with said games is here.

Developing games for Facebook isn’t as easy as it looks. The myth: people are so into Facebook and its games that they’ll play any game. The reality: bad games are still bad games, particularly when those games are bad single player games that either a) don’t take advantage of the network or b) take advantage of the network, but in uncomfortable ways.


A couple things to note before I explore the games:

  1. Player propagation of these games is achieved through newsfeed advertising (pictured above)
  2. These games are playable on the H&R Block page . The Deductor may be placed on the player’s page
  3. The page offers real-world rewards (5 fans a week will receive a free tax return)

For businesses, the challenge in offering games to bolster your IP or to attract a new market to your IP is that a bad game can actually make your IP look less than flattering. Unfortunately for H&R Block, that’s how I was left feeling after playing these games. They felt rushed, haphazard, a bad match for the potential market and… well… like a hustle. When companies throw games at players hoping to hit that “young professional” marketshare, bad games actually have the potential to become insulting. “Did they really think we’d like that?” “I hate when companies do shit like this.” I hear it all the time from the hundreds of college kids around me. Worse, they also have a similar effect on the many 30+ and 40+ game-hungry individuals on Facebook.

The Deductor

I played The Deductor two times, and I have no desire to play again. You seriously need to, though, to appreciate what I’m saying here. I really do mean that, too. This game is that bad.


The controls are abysmal; the worst I’ve seen on a Facebook game. If you blow the controls of a game, it doesn’t matter how good anything else is. But nothing else is good. All they had to do was take Jetman and reskin it, or any of the other games that follow the old Helicopter dynamic. Maybe it’s more artful to reinvent the wheel wrong.

The Financial Match Quiz

The idea: take a popular Facebook app paradigm, apply your IP and presto, no? No. Though 60% of this game’s audience accesses this game daily, that audience equals 34 people.

While this game is perfectly in keeping with the IP, it’s a bad call. Finances are the number one source of strife in marriages. They’re things we tend to keep from our friends. Many people are in debt. Some feel ashamed about the state of their finances. College students (the bulk of the Facebook market) are notoriously indifferent to finances. All of that aside… seriously, you want to take a financial quiz and match the results? Why! Why would a player ever want to do this?

Sometimes, I discuss things like “lead’s blindness.” It’s when you are so into your idea that you can’t see the obvious flaw. In this case, when someone said, “Do you think people will play it?”, someone should have said, “Dude, no.”


The Block of Fortune

This app is entertaining, but not in the way it wants to be. For the record, I did not make this screen shot or answer up. As a bonus, it’s also buggy. Once you ask it a question, if you highlight the text in the text box and delete it, you cannot input text correctly again until you click in the main box or perform some other clickage.


Tax Fact or Myth

A common trait of game designers is our curiosity to learn about everything we possibly can. We get deeply involved in a particular topic, research it diligently and move on. Just recently, I’ve researched Irish history in Boston in the 1870’s, Aristotle, Brenda Laurel’s take on Aristotle, Michael Mateas’ take on Aristotle… and well, you can see where this is going. While you might not call those topics riveting, they are to me. This is not:


It’s rare to find a topic that bores a game designer. I love MS Excel, math and economic balancing. I’m cool with that. However, taxes are even less interesting to me than rubricks. I pay other people to do my taxes for precisely that reason.

The Big Picture

In a nutshell: H&R Block’s new games don’t feel like they were developed by a game developer, and they also don’t feel like they were tested by a game player. Parking Wars, by contrast, offers quirky and compelling fun that keeps people coming back. It’s fun to ticket your friends. It may have been fun to audit them, too.

IP looking to enter the Facebook platform would do well to consult with game developers.

Words on a Page

A statement by the developer of these games: “360i is an independent metrics-driven agency that serves as strategic digital advisors to large brand marketers. Recent recognition includes being named one of AdAge’s Hottest Independent Digital Agencies Around and OMMA Magazine’s Search Agency of the Year.”

I am sure this means something important to someone, but not to the audience of these games.

While I’ve been harsh in this analysis, the games deserve it. At the same time, 360i made the right call in getting H&R Block onto Facebook. I just wish for these games and the advergames to follow that they’d worked with a game developer (and there are many working in this space).

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2008 5:21 pm

    Wow, you weren’t kidding. Talk about out of touch.

    At least they’re trying… I guess?

  2. January 26, 2008 6:40 pm

    Wow. The “fact or myth” one sounds good in theory, since there are all these movie and pop culture quizzes floating around. But then if you step back for a moment and really think about it, do you really want your newsfeed to broadcast this to your friends:

    “Ian just scored 20% on a quiz about money, so if he ever asks to borrow any from you then you should think twice. Want to proclaim your ignorance to all your friends too? [Yes/No]”

  3. danwilkins permalink
    January 27, 2008 2:36 pm

    Fortunately, I haven’t received a spam wall of invites to play any of these yet! hah!

  4. January 27, 2008 10:21 pm

    @Dan – All you need to do is click the link in the main article. It’ll take you to the games. Lucky you.

  5. January 30, 2008 6:09 pm

    What about the reverse of advergame? What about product made after items created in games? I saw an article long time about about this but can’t locate it…

    One great example may be the “Final Fantasy Potion” energy drink they made as a promo for the game, which was only about few thousand bottles. (I hear they were sold out very quickly.)

    Think this kind of franchising is very under explored and full of opportunity..

  6. January 30, 2008 9:09 pm

    Great post and I agree with everyone you said. Late last year I wrote a couple posts on why…

    “Why Launching a Brand on Facebook is like Gardening Part 1”

    At this point I think its better you do it right the first then try and rush everything and fail this badly.

  7. January 30, 2008 9:12 pm

    @Peter Park

    I believe they also covered that idea in the NYTimes after the Simpsons movie came out. It’s something rarely done,.. but when done right it works. We’ll see more of it as time passes by I’m sure. The only problem is you’ll want an item people consumer often enough and that goes after more then a small audience, so as to make it worth your investment.

  8. February 3, 2008 12:57 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for this post – smart analysis.

    Found your blog through a Google alert for gaming topics. Glad I did – just added you to my Google Reader.

  9. February 15, 2008 11:08 pm

    Definitely stinkers. Phew!

    I’m afraid the Facebook people will throw people for a loop though. Fact is, bad games are bad games. All the casual games portals have their share of them, and Yaris on XBLA is a personal favorite (in the sense that its so bad).

    There’s a systemic issue at work here, where advertisers approach agencies, and agencies are incented to tell them what they want to hear, and to turn a crank. Good design takes time. The fine tuning of gameplay takes even more time. etc. etc.

    As for games on Facebook, you are correct that its a whole new playfield and different design criteria are at work, only complicating the issue.


  10. Larz VanDam permalink
    March 7, 2008 12:18 pm

    The Deductor game looks clinical. Design-wise it is consistent with the homely H& R block look, that is — dry and unfriendly. The icons are boring and homogenous.. symbols on bubbles. The silouette of the surfer dude is pretty sucky– like clip art. On the whole the game has no visual appeal. It looks like it was cranked out by a designer sitting in a cubicle. uggh…. no fun at all.

  11. July 14, 2009 1:14 pm

    Any thoughts beyond – don’t make bad advergames? Isn’t that kind of true for any platform?


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