The 10 Principles of Social Game Design — at last, the DEFINITIVE LIST
There’s been a lot of speculation about how to develop a successful social game. Now, after extensive research, I can present to you the definitive list of game design principles that will guarantee you social game success. Just apply the 10 principles below and you’ll have herds of players ambling to your game like so many dumb cattle, ready to let you squeeze the milk of monetization out of their swollen, distended udders. (And if you don’t, it’ll only be because you didn’t apply them properly, all right?)
If you’ve already got a game concept in mind, run it past these 10 Principles and see: If your concept naturally fits each of these principles, and whether you can refine your game so that it meets these principles better — will doing so make the game better, or worse?
Without further ado, here are the 10 Principles of Social Game Design:
1. Nesting not questing. In most computer games you manage resources in order to keep playing so that you can compete “quests” — for example you conserve lives, health, and ammo so that you can progress further without getting killed, shoot more baddies, and finally defeat the boss. In social games the quests are simply a means to gain resources that you can use to “feather your nest” in the game world. Imagine a shoot ‘em up where the main goal was to amass ammo, health, and lives — and killing baddies was only a means to achieve that. That’s what social games are like. If you’re designing a social game, turn the relationship between nesting and questing on its head.
2. Single player mechanic, social dynamic. The most successful social games are at heart a simple, open ended single-player game. Built around that core game is a social dynamic — which can be as simple as a high score table, but is usually far more elaborate. If you’re designing a social game, build a 1-player game at the core, then look for ways that social dynamics can feed into and off the central single-player game.
3. Compete with strangers, co-operate with friends. Social games tend to have high score tables that feature all players, and most social game players focus on moving up the general table, not beating friends. On the other hand, friends love to help each other out in social games — and giving non-players ways to “help a friend” in the game can be a great way to introduce them to the game. Look for ways to let friends help each other in the game — let non-players give gifts and support to the game addicted friends.
4. Player self-expression. As well as getting help from friends, social gamers want to show their achievements to friends too. Let your players arrange and display their “nest” in a way that they’ll want to show off with their online friends. Design your games so that the main incentive and prize for succeeding is something beautiful or fun that players can display on their profile page or give to their friends.
5. The game never ends. A social game should never be “completed”. The player should always be able to continue engaging with the game, continue to increase their score, continue to amass and invest new resources. Design your game so that there is no definitive conclusion. If you can still give the player a sense of purpose and narrative then that’s a bonus, but not essential.
6. Easy to learn, easy to make progress. The basic mechanic of the game should be something that players can “get” in a matter of minutes… or less. Include loads of in game prompts to guide readers through their first play. No matter how badly your players play on their first go, give them a prize for taking part. And never put them in a position where they feel like they’re “stuck” — keep increasing something every time they play.
7. Accessible to all. Social games don’t require fancy hardware or the latest OS. Anybody with a PC should be able to play your social game if they want to. Design your game so that it’ll work on a $200 netbook with a 10 inch screen, as well as a $2000 Apple egobook.
8. Virtual currencies and virtual purchases. Most social games feature a fictional currency that you can earn in the game, and a different currency that you can only get by buying it with real dough. They get players hooked on “buying” stuff with the fictional currency, and then show that it’s much easier and more effective to just use real money. The trick of getting the right balance is to choose the right “real money only” virtual items so that players can do enough to get hooked without them but still have a strong incentive to cough up when the time is right. Choose a whole range of “virtual products”, and design for three different acquisition methods: in game “earned” currency, real “bought” currency, and gifts from friends.
9. Rewards for checking in. Successful social games want to encourage players to engage with the game regularly. It doesn’t matter whether the player is playing well or poorly — any engagement with the game is valuable for the developer. Therefore, social games often provide an incentive to the player just for turning up each day. The truly ruthless games (which also tend to be the most successful) will even punish the player for not coming back regularly — denying them access to money or resources that they rightfully earned. Look for ways to encourage your players back frequently, but try not to alienate people by punishing them TOO hard if they don’t.
10. Light hearted and fun. Importantly, most Facebook games are not especially realistic, violent, or “deep”. They focus on simple ideas that most people find pleasant and sweet — cafes, farms, zoos, islands, and so on. Of course, mafia and zombie games work too — but it is best not to get too brutal in a social game. Make sure your game puts a smile on its players’ faces.
What is the 11th principle? What other design concepts do you think are an essential part of the successful social game? Let rip in the comments below.
Do these principles just about cover it? What have I missed? And are these rules just made to be broken by creative, innovative indie developers? Tell me all about it, suckers. (Source: Facebook Indie Games)