Lately I’ve been giving thought to how UI design influences social game design, and vice versa. This relates to the so-called core mechanics, i.e. the actions players take in a game repeatedly. For example, in FarmVille, the procedure of harvesting and tending the crops, plus shopping and planting, constitutes a flow of play that typically characterizes an individual play session. As a result, play sessions of social games can be seen as the cycle of clicking on a set of game elements in a certain order, while observing the consequences through feedback both in terms of the UI, and the game as a system of rules. Because of this, the cycle of clicking might slightly vary from time to time, but the core mechanic is there.
As in any kind of rhythm, this play activity also creates a rhythm that can be very pleasurable in itself, regardless of what happens in the game. Therefore I see the craft of designing such a flow as a key part of game design in social games. It is a qualitative matter, i.e. some games do it better in their design than others: A particular game is able to offer a more intuitive and accessible flow than a game hindered by game or UI inconsistencies, etc. Thus, the quality of the design has important consequences for the engagement factor of the game, and consequently retention.
I have tentatively dubbed this design concept as ‘clickability', drawing from the more familiar ‘playability’ that is often used to describe a well balanced, enjoyable gameplay. Rules of thumb for clickability in social games are clearly in the making, even if they can certainly draw from general usability principles, and the conventions established in, e.g., strategy games for the PC. My interest is to look into the matter more closely in the future, but for now my point is that clickability is something that social game designers should play attention to, as one aspect contributing to a failed social game might be due to flawed clickability that hinders retention. So: Design for clickability!
A working definition:
Clickability = the routine yet enjoyable behavior of executing a set of game actions, with the mouse, and intuitively responding to the UI feedback, during a single social (Facebook) game session