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User research: How do players in competitive games socialize?

Generally, in MMO, SLG and other types of games, the social relationship between players is extensive and deep, and we can even say that it is social activities that allows many MMO games to stay in market for a long period.

Yongcheng Liu, Blogger

September 14, 2021

11 Min Read

Generally, in MMO, SLG, and other types of games, the social relationship between players is extensive and deep, and we can even say that it is social activities that allow many MMO games to stay in the market for a long period. And the friendship among many players is transferred from online to offline activities. In contrast, socialization in action, card games, and other types of games are much weaker, and players are less dependent on socialization and more focused on improving their strength and experiencing the core gameplay.

In recent years, with the continuous development of the mobile game business and the trend of taking different gameplay into the process of developing a game, game development teams have made great efforts on their social activity design to provide players with a harmonious and friendly social atmosphere as much as possible, so as to extend players' playing time and retention time with rich social functions. In this article, we will start from why players need social connections in games and take competitive game players as an example to talk about their views and needs for social features in games.

1) Why to socialize in games

Socialization in sociology

Socialization is a basic human need. Group living is in the blood of humans, and people need to connect with others. And in order to generate, maintain or strengthen such connections, social behavior emerges. That is to say, to socialize is to engage in a series of interactive behaviors in order to generate, maintain, or strengthen relationships between oneself and others.

Socialization in games

Socialization is generally divided into socialization with people who are known to you and socialization with strangers. In the process of a typical game, players will spend more time and energy focusing on the content design and gameplay in the early stage of the game, including the world view, theme, graphics, stories, etc. This fresh part of the content gives players the desire to continuously explore, learn how to play the game, and get the positive feedback given by the game system, including but not limited to defeating bosses, getting rewards, improving character abilities and ranking, etc.

In the later stage of the game, the content provided would be gradually consumed, and after the freshness of the game passes away. When players get enough satisfaction and sense of achievement, they will more often want to obtain the recognition of other players and communicate with them, which is the needs of emotion and belonging, being respected which are mentioned in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. As the saying goes, it is better to be happy with others together than to be happy alone. In socialization or competition, players' satisfaction and achievement are further strengthened.

However, in recent years, due to the expansion of channels to spread information about games, socialization has become an increasingly early intrusion into the player's game experience, becoming an important part of the player's early game experience. Some players passively learn about the game from their friends, and from the moment they enter the game they are connected to another veteran player who helps and teaches them about the game.

But in any case, the socialization function is still a later-experienced element of a game, which is not necessarily present in the design of the original framework of all games’ early stages. Just as primitive society residents gather together as they live in groups for food, the social gathering in games is also closely related to their core gameplay goals. It is unlike social matching apps’ core function, which is pure communication, the social behavior of gamers in games always has certain intentions.

2) Different types of socialization in games

Games have socialization within in nature, and that provides enough topics to sustain social connections and activities. Socializing meets the needs of communication and allows players to better experience the game.

NetEase Game Academy states about how players socialize in games:

There is a theory called " The Differential Mode of Association " in sociology which is introduced by Fei Xiaotong, a Chinese anthropologist and sociologist. The theory states that the socialization association which occurs in kinship and geopolitical relationship takes oneself as the center and spread away like water ripples. It produces different circles with the change of time and space in which one is located.

The in-game social network also has its "Differential Mode of Association ". We can also establish the social relationship chain of a specific player, and it can be divided into three types of social behavior.

When players are just new to the game, it’s more like "profit-driven socialization", and the player social object is more inclined with whom is very good at playing the game. And then the socialization activities began to process with clubs, team matching, etc., and The Differential Mode of Association gradually transits to "geographical socialization", where players tend to play with skilled people, not necessarily tops, but their teammates must be a person or team to match themselves; gradually, " profit-driven socialization " and " geographical socialization " will progress to "kinship socialization". At this stage, players tend to pay more attention to play with whom they are familiar.

3) Socialization features in competitive games

What are competitive games?

At a time when all games are going in multiple gameplay mixed direction, it is difficult to define any game with a single word. Referring to the definition of Baidu Encyclopedia, competitive games are matchmaking games (i.e. pvp-based) built on a fair, equitable gaming platform, mainly including shooting(FPS, Battle Royale), MOBA(DOTA2, LOL), and action games. The essence of competitive games is player confrontation.

The main difference between competitive games, which are more oriented to competition systems, and other types of games (online games, single-player games) is that there are higher requirements for players' individual control in game and team cooperation.


The unit of a competitive title is: a game

This is a feature that clearly distinguishes competitive games from other games, and it has a clear endpoint. In MMORPGs, although there is a level cap, players still have equipment and abilities to upgrade, which takes a very long process. Competitive games, on the other hand, have a clear endpoint of "kill everyone" and "destroy the opponent's inhibitors". Of course, this is not the end of players in the game, higher levels, more gallery, is the goal of players to continue to pursue.

When analyzing competitive games, we can use "a game" as the dividing point, in which the in-a-game is the core and the out-of-a-game is the secondary.

The spirit of eSports

The spirit of e-sports is simply one word: winning.

In the early days when UNO Mobile Online was released, we got some similar feedback from players, saying "Can you make a voice chat system because I want to talk to my teammate. I just want him to change color when it’s necessary!" Behind this feedback lies the player's most fundamental need: they want to win the game. Because they want to win, even if they don't know their teammate, they still need to communicate to get the cooperation of teammates.

The social features in competitive games are largely to serve the players' demand for winning. In game, it can be voice and text communication; out of game, it is to find a reliable teammate to win with the player together. Of course, even if it is in a competitive game, players are not always pursuing victory, and sometimes "companion", "showing off", "killing time" and other goals are also the reasons why players play a game. This is especially true when the players of a competitive game become more generalized and can attract a group of players who are initially considered non-target players. Their activities in game help the development team to consider the needs of players in a more diverse way to improve the experience of different types of gamers. In the following discussion, you will also see the impact of this group of players on the game design.

Designing social features in competitive games is not an easy task

The environment of competitive games is really not very suitable for the development of deep socialization features. On the one hand, players pursue victory and do not have much time and energy to stay out of game to chat; on the other hand, a game after a game matchmaking makes the relationship established by players in game is short-lived, and it is difficult to continue after they leave the game.

Take "socialization with strangers" as an example, a game needs to provide a faster and more effective social environment for players. In the preliminary research of a competitive game, we learned that about 20% of players mainly play solo and do not socialize, while the remaining 80% have potential social needs.

We can start by thinking about the philosophy of some successful titles on the market when designing social features:

Case 1: Apex Legends-inmmersiveness of short time

As we talked about earlier, the core of competitive gaming is "in-game", and Apex is a game that makes the most of in-game immersion. One of the main paths the game achieved this is by enhancing the convenience of the in-game voice chat system.

For example, when a team wipes out the opponent team, the characters will automatically say in voice: "We took out the whole squad! When a teammate is attacked it will say automatically, "I've been spotted, I'm under attack!" Also, this information is displayed in the screen via text.

The ping system in Apex is pretty convenient, players use the middle button of the mouse to mark a spot or an enemy so that teammates can see ping and different voice messages will prompt.


Therefore, by combining these two features, players can fully communicate with each other without the use of a microphone in Apex without barriers. Players are fully immersed in playing the game and they let the character speak and communicate for players. As a game full of international players, the language barrier makes the microphone sometimes useless, and automatic voice not only solves the problem of communicating via microphones but also prevents players from talking too much with those who do not want to socialize in Apex.

However, Apex’s simple social features also create some problems. If you and your teammates are fighting well together at the moment, you can choose to invite them back to the lobby for another game right away. But after a while or if you team up with another player, you become a stranger to them again without remembering to add them to your friend list - there's no way to get them back unless you remember their name exactly.


Case 2: Game for Peace (PUBG Mobile) - "from “in game” to “out game”

Relatively speaking, Game for Peace is a mobile game with a more generalized player base, and a significant portion of players may not play other battle royale games besides it. There are three ways to help players in Game for Peace convert strangers to friends.

1. recruiting teammates when teaming or before teaming: which is to join someone else's team; 2. playing with teammates you have previously contacted: the most effective way for players to screen who is better to play with is to play a game together. 3. nearby people, friend recommendation, friends sharing, etc., including some game communities

As you can see, Game for Peace's development team designed these features to encourage players to find friends in the game and build friendships with strangers, rather than simply play a game after a game alone. They have created a multi-channel social atmosphere for players, which in part will also increase retention.

Players' feedback on social features in competitive games

There is no best design, and social features design needs to be optimized and improved by the design team based on players' needs and feedback.


In the process of communicating with players, we found some common feedbacks:

1. Even though most games now provide the recommended teammates function, the actual teammates which are recommended by the system are not always the best (not skillful enough, do not cooperate with teammates). Especially in MOBA games, teammates recommendation easily causes conflicts due to the selection of a position, and in battle royale games, there are also cases where teammates are left alone and it easily becomes fighting with fewer firearms.

2. compared with veteran players who eagerly want improvement of their skills, new players are more common to get more communication in game and get hands-on the basics of the game. They do not want to be completely isolated or be frequently beaten by veterans. Instead, they need to get real help to quickly improve their understanding of the game, the DOTA2 new player server is helping newcomers to achieve this purpose.

3. Most competitive players want to show off their highlight moments and exciting controls. The name card system is an important way for players to do so, and it also helps players understand the ability of teammates.

The concern of players for social features in competitive games is increasing gradually, and their needs for it are diversifying. When designing socialization features in game, it could be better to communicate more with players to understand their needs and that would potentially bring a more successful socialization environment.

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