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The (Unused) Social Games Secret Weapon

In previous posts I defined "Social Media" as a product that leverages its community. In this post I'll go a bit deeper into how to leverage a community, and how this is a severely underutilized tool in social games.

Justin Nearing

July 20, 2011

5 Min Read

Reprinted with permission from VancouverSocialGames.com

In previous posts I defined "Social Media" as a product that leverages its community. In this post I'll go a bit deeper into how to leverage a community, and how this is a severely underutilized tool in social games.


Groups are Power



The vast majority of games out there, even social games, are centered on providing gameplay on a player-to-player basis. This is absolutely important, as providing content to the individual is critical to that individual ever playing your game in the first place. However, building a system that allows users to form groups with each-other can be a critical step to inspiring long-term players.

Groups have long since been held (at a research/academic viewpoint) as a core part of social networks. In particular, the ease of creating user-defined groups is a strong indicator of how successful a social network will be. Most social game are a social network (ones that may leverage an existing social network, like games on Facebook), so logically a game with built in hooks to create and maintain groups is going to help the long-term success of your game.

These groups are so important for long term success of a game. In more than a few cases, a user who is not as interested in the game itself anymore will continue playing just so they can continue to interact with their friends. That is a huge statement- groups inspire people to continue to invest in your product even after the novelty of the game wears off.


Facebook already provides groups outside of games, where users can privately share game items, fulfill requests, and interact with eachother. However, if groups are baked into your game from the very beginning, you have a very powerful channel for retaining users. It also allows for some very interesting design possibilities- as long as its implemented as a core part of the game. As developers have learned with monetization and virality, "tacking-on" these features can look slip-shod and actually hurt your game.

So implementing groups from the very beginning is important. But how would we do it?

When thinking about groups, you have to deal with some questions.

- How many groups can a user belong to? 
- Being allowed into one group will affect your game differently from an unlimited amount of groups. You could monetize this by having a number of "free" groups the user can be a part of, but have to pay to join additional groups.

- How do you deal with group control/hierarchy?
- Properly handling group control and hierarchy is very important. For instance, defining who in the group can allow new members to join. Who can kick members of the group? What powers does the groups owner have? What powers do officers have? Control of the group affects group hierarchy, and you want to have the hierarchy defined by the user.
- Give the user as many tools of control as possible, you want to give people a real sense of having power, and the ability to abuse that power (creates drama, we'll get to that).

- How do groups directly affect the game? 
- In order for groups to be core components of a game, they have to directly affect the game. Most social games have an individual user in control of a city, or a farm, or some kind of business. Basically, the game is a micro-economy controlled by the user. Plugging a group feature into the economy creates a macro-economy controlled by the group.
- Sharing resources and funds on a macro level is a lot more complicated (resource value becomes dynamic, based on the supply and demand of the resource in the group, gets even more complicated if you have group-to-group trading). However, it also makes this economy infinitely more social, as you have to coordinate with other people in order to maximize your profit.


But why create groups at all? What makes groups so much more social?

Groups are basically people interacting with eachother on a day to day basis. The thing with people interacting on the internet is that pretty quickly some drama is going to start. People will disagree with eachother, and this being the internet, the possibility of a disagreement turning into full-out war is likely. This kind of drama is so compelling for people- they will come back to the game (even if they can't do anything else in the game today) just to see if buddy has replied to their last post declaring them an idiot.

If you have a grouping feature baked into your game, where users can easily join and leave groups, these disagreements can be leveraged to directly affect the game. For instance, say a number of group members disagree with a decision made by the group owner. The disagreement escalates, and the rebel users leave the group to create their own. Two groups that hate eachother? Now you can provide gameplay on a group-to-group basis, which is a very powerful motivator for the players of both groups to keep playing.


Having groups in a game can be a very powerful motivator. It directly grows an in-game community, and incorporates that community as a game feature. Since social games are all about the community of users playing, so it's a no-brainer that tapping into this as much as possible will be a huge win for your game.

Good luck out there,
Justin Nearing (currently looking for a job!!)

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