Lucent Heart is a social, massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). Developed by Taiwan's PlayCoo (PCC) and published by Gamania Digital Entertainment, it originated and flourished in Japan, utilizing innovative social features and a dynamic development cycle to continually serve and adapt to its player base.
Lucent Heart was attracting casual and social gamers years before the worldwide Facebook phenomenon began, providing insight into how to successfully merge the casual social gaming space with the free to play (F2P) MMORPG genre.
Basic Social Design and Dynamic Development
PCC attracted an audience by integrating social features into Lucent Heart's basic game design. The goal was to ensure players can connect quickly and intuitively while rewarding social behavior at all levels of interaction.
PCC found that building powerful rewards into a variety of social systems resulted in a number of key benefits: an environment is created which fosters positive interaction and loyalty, the barrier to entry for new players is lowered due to an inherently helpful community, and systems that actively connect people together increase player retention.
Because social systems are more successful when there are a large number of people using them, PCC had to be reactive to its community during development. Rather than building a game and hoping it was what players wanted, PCC capitalized on the freedom that comes with a F2P model.
The developers realized that they didn't have to provide everything in the beginning of the development cycle, and could continually adapt to their growing player base, only focusing on features that players desired.
For example, player versus player (PvP), a staple in the U.S. F2P market, was hardly being used weeks after its release. However, a number of new social features that were introduced at the same time exploded in popularity. PCC saw this and immediately shifted development resources away from PvP to generate other social content. This idea of dynamic development dramatically increased player retention because PCC remained in tune with its community and were willing to integrate requests within a very short timeframe.
Social Design and Dynamic Development Examples
The Cupid System
The "Cupid System" is social design at its best. It's an extensive matchmaking system that was implemented with the goal of building new relationships within the community. Players in the game are able to be randomly paired based on level, zodiac sign, and other interests, and once they're matched they can play together as a "couple".
While there are matchmaking systems in other titles, these are usually sideline features that have little to no effect on the rest of the game. What PCC did is integrate this social feature throughout Lucent Heart and its RPG gameplay. Couples can use romantic emotes that allow them to interact through kissing, hugging, or even dancing.
There are huge incentives such as double experience while questing together. Special "lovers emotes" grant stat buffs for battle. Unique items can be created using accumulated "match points". And a couple can even get married, complete with a large wedding event with hand delivered invitations.
These rewards keep players engaged in the social system and lead to many additional benefits for the game. In this case, players that used the "Cupid System" were more active, the retention rate was much higher, and it even helped grow the player base due to the community inviting their real life friends or significant others into the game.
The Zodiac System
The "Zodiac System" came about largely because of PCCs reactive development cycle.
Seeing the large number of people interested in Zodiac signs and horoscopes, PCC decided to implement it in a meaningful way. Calling on an expert astrologist, PCC added genuine horoscope readings for each day of the year for all 12 zodiac signs; forming the basis of a new "Zodiac themed MMORPG", which had never been done before.
These horoscopes directly influenced players by changing the luck of their avatar through daily fortunes, affecting five main stats: love, wealth, work, battle, and drops.
Adding to the social element, players were rewarded for pairing up with those of compatible signs, offsetting both players' negative fortunes and encouraging them to work together.
The Prayer System
PCC noticed that some players were not interested in questing or raiding dungeons. They spent the majority of their time in-game chatting with longtime friends, or keeping up with their guildmates. Instead of ignoring these players that were often AFK or didn't quest, PCC realized that keeping inactive users logged in was still beneficial from a social standpoint; it kept the community strong and their friends in-game.
As a simple solution, PCC rewarded players for coming into the game and going AFK using the "Prayer System", which allowed AFK users to select a friend and boost their daily fortune through a "blessing". Using this system, even when away from the game, a player could help a friend or guild mate and contribute to the community.
The Caramell Dance, for those unfamiliar with it, was a Swedish song which picked up popularity in Japan for its quirky, repetitive, and cute style. It was one of the first emotes to be implemented into the game, and proved to be a hit among the community based on the large number of Carmelldansen parties and events that were being held by the players and staff members.
Capitalizing on this, PCC set out to expand the idea of in-game dancing. It hired a choreographer and developed a fully functional dance and music creator that could sync to a player's locally-stored mp3s. The result allowed anyone with little to no experience with music software to easily create a fully customized dance to their own music.
Expanding this to the entire community, PCC added the "imitate" function, which allowed anyone to copy someone who was dancing, and "dance battles" for the community to compete against each other through DDR style controls. The result was viral; players customized and created their own dances, posted them online, shared them with friends, and created all-new dance parties held by hundreds of players at one time.
While the social interaction and sharing between friends was a reward in itself, PCC still made sure to add specific dance rewards for using the feature, making it even more meaningful and worthwhile.
With success found in implementing creative ways for community members to interact with each other on an individual basis, PCC decided it was time to take a macro-view of player interaction. System-wide events were the result.
These are daily events that let everyone on the server participate in a group activity at the same time. The first example, Knowledge Master, pulls from a bank containing thousands of staff-written, multiple choice questions.
Two times a day, the entire server can take on this twist of Trivial Pursuit and attempt to outscore each other. Top players earn rewards, but everyone who plays earns points redeemable for in-game prizes.
Dance Master, a similar type of server-wide event, allows everyone to dance together and play a Dance Dance Revolution-esque minigame for prizes. These events result in social interaction throughout the entire community.
And most importantly, because they're so accessible (a player is not required to initiate contact), participation helps encourage players to try out other, more involved social features.
Originally, Lucent Heart consisted of difficult, high level dungeons that often required a full six person group and exceptional coordination to complete successfully. But eventually, two "soul mates" that had met through the randomized in-game matchmaking system accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of clearing one of these high level dungeons by themselves.
The matchmaking system had worked, bringing together two individuals who otherwise would have never met or played with each other, expanding their potential as a pair -- to the point where they accomplished something together.
PCC, intent on capitalizing on opportunities that might enhance players' social experience, saw this and developed a "dating dungeon" feature, a couples-only dungeon that would further encourage interaction and growth between players. PCC followed how players used the initial social system and rewarded them with a specific feature that matched that usage, allowing them to direct future development,
When Lucent Heart came to the U.S., it opened up the opportunity to add features specifically for this new, growing player base. Staying true to the idea of developing for the community, the team continually communicated with players and watched how they interacted with the game's social features.
A unique issue eventually emerged, which had not been brought up in other versions of the game: what about same-sex couples? Wanting to expand Lucent Heart's social experience to all members of its community, the team went directly to the players and had them vote on implementing this feature. With a majority "Yes" vote, it was soon built into the game. This feature not only made the Lucent Heart more accessible to players of varying sexual orientation, it reinforced that the team was committed to its players' needs and was developing for the community.
By closely following its community and remaining reactive, PCC has been able to evolve Lucent Heart the way that players wanted it to evolve. While this took trying a plethora of different approaches and mixing and matching seemingly random social features (with some failures along the way), because development stayed community driven Lucent Heart has consistently been able to satisfy the needs of its player base.
Many successful social features were added, expanded upon, and most importantly, implemented in a way which rewarded players for using them, creating a successful social product that fulfilled players' desire for meaningful interaction at all levels of gameplay.
The lesson to take away from PCC's experience would be this: the MMORPG space is a sandbox in which a successful F2P game must be built from the ground up with flexibility and the community's interest in mind. When implementing social features, it's difficult to determine what a group consisting of different backgrounds and demographics will gravitate to, so a developer can never be afraid to shift direction; the community, not the developer will determine which social features are hits.
PCC quickly learned that by continuing to be community focused during development and rewarding social interaction in meaningful ways, the resulting success and growth outweighs any risk associated with trying something new.