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A Resurgence of Fun

It seems that every couple of weeks, the social games industry is thrown into upheaval as Facebook announces a new change to its policies on social and viral channels. This piece highlights the changes and the effects on the game development community.

It seems that every couple of weeks, the social games industry is thrown into upheaval as Facebook announces a new change to its policies on social and viral channels. With each pull of the reins, it becomes increasingly clearer that a new priority is needed in social games.

The following priority paradigm may not be the easiest proposal to move through your studio’s business or monetization department, but deep down, as game creators and entertainment artists, we know in our hearts that this is how it should be:

Priority Number 1: Fun!

Remember fun? Remember the joy of sitting down and drawing up plans for the most fun game ever? Remember when the only consideration in making a game was whether or not it was entertaining, compelling, and addictive?

Those times are back.

With developer-driven social and viral channels becoming increasingly inaccessible to social game developers, true-blue word of mouth has become essential for the success of the modern social game. Compelling core mechanics, engaging feedback loops and innovative features once again rule the day.

Priority Number 2: Retention

With social game publishers no longer able to rely on churning massive amounts of users through their games, the only recourse is to make our games so deeply entertaining and rewarding that users will want to keep coming back, game after game. Whether through long-term feedback loops, persistent progression, narrative content, or player-customizable avatars, spaces and gear, the onus is now on the game designers to make their games stickier than ever.

Gone are the days where social game developers could simply dismiss gamers’ long-term interests, confident that they would be replaced by thousands of new players every day. In today’s new social games landscape, games that do not keep players invested in the game by providing long-term gameplay hooks will find their retention numbers dwindling as players migrate to stickier games.

Priority Number 3: Social/Viral

Just because the social games industry now faces a moving target in its largest social platform doesn’t mean we should completely forget about the social element of our games. While existing social mechanics are being increasingly restricted, new mechanics like Discovery Stories now promote social play amongst existing gamers in all new ways and have the potential to fundamentally change how players think about social games.

Additionally, the knowledge that players will only be sharing wall posts from the game with friends who are also playing the game removes from players a significant fear of “spamming” their friends, thus making social game players more likely to engage in social game mechanics. The next generation of hit social games will properly utilize this new avenue, while being increasingly intelligent about the use of existing social channels.

Priority Number 4: Monetization

If you build it, they will come.

Monetization drives the social games industry and is an undoubtedly important aspect of social games. However, without a fun game, you won’t attract a significant number of players. Without enough players, your game will get stale, your viral mechanics will go unutilized and you’ll never reach critical mass. Bottom line, if you don’t have players, monetization is rendered useless.

However, if introduced correctly and fully integrated into the player experience, monetization can be a rewarding mechanic in and of itself. While players are fundamentally hesitant to invest real-world funds in virtual-world products, those that do often take great pleasure and satisfaction in both the act of investing in something they want and ascribe value to, and also the ongoing utilization of that item as a tool in gameplay.

If, as designers and developers, we can craft virtual items that give long-term gameplay value to the player, and truly reward players for their purchases, we can more effectively monetize our player bases and remove reliance on churning through thousands of members in order to find those willing to make one or two unsatisfying purchases.

In Conclusion

With the fluid, iterative nature of the platform we develop for, it is inevitable that conditions will continue to change. However, there is one element of games that will never go out of style, never cease to motivate sales, and never be disabled by a sudden platform change.

Fun.

If we go back to the drawing board and focus on making fun, rewarding, innovative games that players want to keep coming back to, the social, viral and monetization elements will find a much clearer path to success.

That is, after all, why we make games, right?

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