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Communal Discovery in Social Networking Games

How game designers can use the communal discovery game dynamic to create a great social networking game that thrives on teamwork, competition, and mechanics that leave players thinking long after the computer is shut down.

[Originally written by Dylan Woodbury on 6 September 2010 at www.dtwgames.com.]

Most social networking games, like FarmVille, are lacking. Sure, they have millions of daily players, but they are not completely utilizing the social networking half of the genre.
Seth Priebatsch gave a very interesting Ted talk (here) in which he described four game dynamics: appointment, influence and status, progression, and communal discovery.

The appointment dynamic requires one to go to a certain place or do a certain thing at a certain time (crops in FarmVille). Influence and status involves changing someone’s behavior through social pressure (John just became a level 80 plantation owner, and I need to do that too). The progression dynamic is when progress is measured through the completion of tasks (ribbons in FarmVille, along with the experience bar at the top).

The fourth game dynamic Mr. Priebatsch listed was the communal discovery dynamic, in which a community works together to accomplish something. This has only recently been implemented in FarmVille, the biggest Facebook game, in the form of co-op farming, in which friends must grow a certain amount of something to succeed in a given time. I have to applaud Zynga for taking risks according to game design theory, and the feature did what it set out to do. But this dynamic is far more powerful than that.

A game which anchors itself in communal discovery and teamwork, if done correctly, could skyrocket. Imagine a game in which each person picks a team to join and must carry out a job important for the team. Where the FarmVille co-op farming fails is its lack of competition and its less than interesting mechanics.

Team-based competition produces many sources of fun. You are not just playing for the levels and experience (progression dynamic), but also to out-do your friends (partially influence and status) and become a part of something bigger than oneself (communal discovery).

Now think about dynamic mechanics. Farmville’s mechanics are very dull, as they are clicking a button every few hours, but they are fun as they use the appointment dynamic, among other things. What if the mechanics themselves involved teamwork and thought?

This leads me to my example of a social networking game which uses the dynamic of communal discovery, among other things, to excite the player, keep them coming back, and, something very important for social networking games, make them talk about it when the computer is off.

The game: Enterprise, a social networking game with the theme of the company. From the start, you have two options: to start your own company in a certain category, or to join someone else’s. You can join your friend’s company, and the owner will assign you a job.

Depending on how large the company is (or how much your friend likes you), you can be assigned a job anywhere from labor (with FarmVille-esque gameplay), to ideas (well received pitches and ideas tend to attract more investors), or maybe even research (taking polls to test ideas), advertising (spreading the word), communications (collaborating with other companies), management (to oversee others), and many more.

Individual workers get experience points for completing tasks, performing well, or as bonus rewards for recognition from the owner. You are paid weekly, according to the salary assigned to you by the boss (every job has a minimum salary), and things get interesting.

Not only are you working as a team to increase the company stock quote (changed weekly), but are struggling within the company too. At any point, the owner can fire, hire, give a bonus, promote, or demote any worker. On the other side, workers can decide to pull together and protest, stopping work until certain wages are met.

As the company grows, new jobs and options open up to allow the company to grow, including working with other companies to make even more money. If a company’s stock continues to rise, people (both friends and strangers) may invest their investment money (must be invested in order to make money one can spend in the game). Companies can offer dividends and send progress reports to investors to attract even more investors, which is one of the factors in the company’s stock quote.

What’s great about this game is that a huge sense of teamwork is formed, a very important dynamic that would lead to debate outside of the game. At work or school, people can talk to other players, discussing strategies, companies, making deals, etc. Everyone’s working in the same boat, while also striving for personal experience and making a good track record for when they apply to a bigger company or start a company on their own.

Anyways, that’s how one can use the communal discovery dynamic in a social networking game while also keeping the elements of personal achievement and progression. I hope this shows you how exciting a game like this could be, as well as make you think about how one can create meaningful game mechanics that lead to near infinite paths of possibility, as well as spread the game by word of mouth.

link to page: http://dtwgames.com/design_articles/Communal%20Discovery%20in%20Social%20Networking%20Games.html

Go to www.dtwgames.com for daily design articles. We are new, and plan to be the center for video game design, history, industry, and more.

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