Social Gaming Design Requirements

Over the past few years, social gaming has become very popular. Many of the games don’t encompass the elements I believe should be present to make your game a larger success.

* Easy to learn. A game that takes minutes to learn the simple mechanics will attract clients. Design the game to have a moderate progression that can be sped up with the addition of virtual cash. Alternatively, the game can be a blitz version of a full-length game that can be purchased.

* Visibly show friend’s scores on the playscreen. Having a list of the top 10 Friends ordered to make it plainly visible where the player is compared to friends is a must.

* Long Tail Game. A game that is very engaging at the start, but, requires less time to maintain as time goes on. This can be done through game or item upgrades that take longer to obtain as the level increases. A penalty for abandoning their empire — even something as fatal as making the player start over after seven days of inactivity is enough to keep a somewhat casual user engaged. Don’t overdo it as someone that loses everything is unlikely to return. 90% of your revenue is earned within the first week of the player joining the game. However, in the event your game has multiple rounds, a player might play for free, learn some of the strategy and then make a purchase for the second round. A player that doesn’t understand the rules early on and makes mistakes also has a much higher chance of purchasing in-game currency now that they’ve figured out the game.

* Friend linking. Prevent progression without spending virtual cash or recruiting more friends. Limiting gameplay to a subset of the entire game or giving bonuses based on the number of friends recruited allows new players to be brought in which bring more potential income. Those new players have the same limits and must grow their pyramid in order to advance. Encouraging social play grows the game much more quickly. If you allow a solo player the ability to advance at an increased cost, you might entice them enough to invite friends.

* Make it easy to invite friends. Some games require you to link your real account with ‘friends’ in order to grow your social circle. While this appears to be beneficial, your real goal is to bring in the total number of users. Some people aren’t comfortable adding friends just to grow their social circle and will remove them. If you have a number of games, it might be advantageous to require the friend connection so that you can see other games that your ‘friends’ are playing. The downside to this is when a player cleans up their friend list and removes the friends they added specifically for the game.

* Notifications. Letting a user’s friends know that they have gained a level or gained some special item or promotion instills a sense of competitiveness when someone obtains a rare loot item or achievement while the friend hasn’t been playing.

While there are other aspects to Social Gaming, designing your game with these six points in mind will enable you to monetize your application more easily. Unless you’re building the game purely as a hobby, your goal is to make money by engaging users to purchase the in-game virtual currency. It’s a numbers game. A small percentage of your users will actually pay to play and you need to cater your game to increase that percentage as much as possible.

When you first deploy your game, you will need to know many things about your visitors. You want to know how many people hit the front page, how many hit the join page and where they came from. You want to track the number of people that actually sign up, how much activity each one has, and which people convert to a paid subscription. Track your adbuys, track views/impressions, clicks, and click to signup/click to paid subscription. Understand those numbers and learn how to manipulate them by changing your signup process, modifying the game or adjusting how your in-game currency is used.

Writing the game is a minor piece of the battle. Building marketshare without thinking about revenue is a fairly fast way to go into debt and leave yourself in a situation where you quickly grab any VC/Angel money and give up too much of the company. Think about how you will monetize it and start charging early on. If your clients are used to a ‘free to play’ environment and you suddenly switch, many of your clients will abandon the game.

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