Some forming social game theories
I started this on twitter, but moved it here. Feel free to add to this list, disagree or discuss. Thanks.
The player should:
Return to the game to good news (game progress, new content, visits from friends, mail, gifts).
Return to the game with a problem to solve (wilted crops, empty supplies, shifts to start).
Have short-term problems to solve (in a session) and long-term problems to solve (multiple sessions). Longer term problems/desires may be aspirational goals, collections or quests to complete.
Always be able to make progress on longer-term goals and complete short-term goals.
Always know precisely what they need to do to solve all problems in the game. These things should never be nested or “discoverable” if you’re clever. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be discoverable things and surprises. There should be (Pocket God comes to mind). However, the player shouldn’t be confronted with a problem that has no obvious solution – that equals a block and goodbye.
Always have an aspirational goal on every screen, if possible (something they want – item/action gated by $, lvl, quest progress), and a clear understanding of what they need to do to reach it.
Have genuine motivation tied into the core of the game which makes them want those aspirational goals (if I get X, it will help me do Y faster or will earn me more $)
Be rewarded for every single click either visually, through XP, coins or some other measure of progress.
Clearly understand how and why every change state in the game occurs. If an NPC suddenly becomes happy, why did that happen? Is it visually obvious? Is the transition from normal state to happy state clear? Is it rewarding? Does the player know what they did (or something in the game did) to make that happen?
Feel like they have agency in the game. Through their direct action, something happens. Without them, it doesn’t happen. If you never plant crops, you never get results.
Understand your UI instantly. If you need to explain it, you need to redo it.
Have a pre-existing mental model of the game before they even play it. I know how a farm, a nightclub, a bakery and a restaurant run, at least at an abstract level. The less you need to teach people about the game, the better. This information should be pre-grokked before they even enter the game.
Feel good about posting something in their feed. They believe what they’re posting will help them and help their friends playing the game, too.
Have a “feel good” endgame state for a session. This is appointment gaming, and people want to feel like they’ve tidied up this session before moving on to the next. That means that they can finish or, in some cases, optimize until it’s not really optimum to continue anymore. If they leave feeling like the game didn’t really let them leave (because there was always something new to do), they leave in a sub-optimal and unsatisfied state and thus are less likely to return.
Have clear dailies including friend grind, playspace grind and bonus progression, if applicable. What do I do everyday when I come back to the game? Do I know that I have finished what I needed to do? How do I know that I need to do it (and no, your last play session isn’t enough).
Be reminded of what they need to do. They’re playing for 2, 5 or 10 mins at a time, and are possibly playing dozens of social games simultaneously. They need visual reminders of what they need to do to progress play in your game. Give them explicit and constantly visible goals, badges, or visual reminders of some kind.
If you nerf their playstate or playfield, the player better understand why and feel like they could have prevented it (keeping their appointment, getting an item by x time or it expires, etc).
Players want direction. Give it to them everywhere: tool tips, quests, pop ups, etc. (Source: Applied Game Design)