Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Why I'm Quitting Empire Avenue

I've been playing Empire Avenue for the last 10 months.  At first, it seemed an intriguing idea; as a social stock exchange, EA would provide a measure of social "worth" based upon one's online activity, engagement within the Empire Avenue community, and the buying/selling of "your shares" by other players.  In other words, gamification was the rule of the day; one earned 'achievements' and could purchase 'luxury items' with one's virtual money, or 'eaves.'  Over the last few months, however, I have come to the conclusion that EA has several significant flaws that, as I see it, are not easily remedied:

1) First and foremost, moving into the top echelons of the game requires an INSANE amount of online activity.  Thus, many players have daily statistics that defy the rational mind.  For instance, here are the activity numbers for two members of the "share price leaderboard" for the current 24-hour period:

These people either live online, have automated/duplicated a LOT of traffic, or spew LOTS of filler (more on the two latter points later).  This brings me to the second critical Empire Avenue flaw...

2) The game makes no adjustments for the fact that people have real jobs.  Sure, they throw in a sop--"vacation mode"--which purports to accommodate absences from the game, but it takes WEEKS to recover from an EA vacation, unless one resorts to activity inflations as described above.  (Did I mention that one must purchase vacation time from one's virtual bank account?)  If one holds a job that requires long work days, attendance at conferences/tradeshows or what I call 'digital isolation' (e.g. working at a customer site with little/no time for social media), one simply cannot perform at a consistent level in Empire Avenue.

3) Gaming the numbers used by EA is a ridiculously simple matter.  Use a Twitter client that automatically posts to Facebook, and your EA score for Facebook will rise.  Use a service like Twitterfeed to announce blog entries on Twitter, and you'll see higher EA scores from that traffic.  Tell EA to announce your Empire Avenue transactions via Twitter, and...you get the point.  EA tried to address this by limiting the total points available per platform each day, but they just can't seem to hit their stride in this department.

4) For all intents and purpose, EA defines "engagement" as "traffic."  Since one earns EA points for Twitter followers/retweets/mentions, Facebook friends/likes, and YouTube subscribers/likes, many players just throw a constant stream of filler into the digital ether.  I set up a 'shell' Facebook page some time ago (no, I don't actively participate in Facebook) just to enter contests, and I decided to use it to "engage" EA folks as well; I'm amazed by the steady stream of random quotes, "motivational" proverbs, and outright fluff/filler that streams through my feed.  Of course, there's no way for EA to distinguish fluff and filler from actual content, so I doubt that this point can ever be addressed - so, yes, I'll get EA points for the two people who retweeted my dog-fart comment this morning...

5) As a followup to #4 - many players spend LOTS of time begging for (or paying for) traffic.  When EA introduced the concept of "missions," we soon saw a steady stream of "go like my YouTube video, subscribe to my channels, my dividends will improve and you'll get more eaves for the shares you own!", "retweet me", and "vote for me in this contest!" missions.  Of the hundreds of missions I've received (I have 24 sitting in my inbox right now), only about 5% have been for anything other than "here are some eaves, send traffic my way!" bribes.  Bleah.

6) EA's stock-market metaphor does not account for players who treat it as an investment game.  With so much value predicated on activity, there's no place for the player who sees the game in terms of "identify good investments, manage the portfolio, and profit."  This is, of course, a mirror of the speculative frenzy we see in "real world" stock markets every day, but it's still disconcerting.  There should be a place for the long-term-investment player.

7) Finally, there's no real engagement outside of the dicussion forums.  I can honestly say that I have not been 'engaged' at the individual level, even in the purely conversational sense of the word, by more than a handful of EA players over the last 10 months.  To be fair, I have enjoyed many of the discussions in the various forums - but I can get that from any number of sources without the headaches of buying/selling, share price fluctuations, and worrying about dividends.

In conclusion, EA has many aspects of what could be a fun stock-market game, but there's precious little value there for anyone who doesn't live or work in social media 24x7x365.  Participation in social media is valueless when forced or coerced, but several major 'game points' of Empire Avenue effectively do just that. 

If you want to check it out for yourself, I've provided a link below - but, after 10 months of play and rising to the top 5% of my EA "index,"  (e)WESMORGAN1 is off the market.

Empire Avenue | Build Your Empire