Social Games are like… TV?
Are you having trouble adding story to your Social Game? Think it’s futile to even try, since Social Games are in a perpetual beta that is constantly evolving? Don’t despair! If you’ve been modeling your story writing after retail console or PC games, you’ve chased yourself down the wrong rabbit hole. Go watch some Television instead…
Social Games are Alive
Social Games are living, breathing animals that react to their players week after week. They have no shrink-wrapped guidebooks that lay out all possible outcomes. Social Games don’t even have real “endings” to their stories, because the game never really ends. The story possibilities in this open environment are a lot more like TV shows than either movies or books, let alone traditional console or retail PC games. Let’s look at some of the similarities between TV and Social Games…
Feeding the Dragon
TV shows have a voracious appetite for content. Whether it’s the weekly schedule for a sitcom or drama, or the daily schedule of news or pop commentary, writers are constantly feeding the insatiable monster that is the TV schedule.
Social Games have the same pressure. Players expect new content every week, in the form of short quests and missions, and also from more substantial releases of new functionality or major quest lines.
In order to support this flow of content, TV writers are working to deadlines all season long. Since each script can be a multi-week project, they’ll have several episodes in various stages of progress, juggling each of them further down the pipeline every week.
Social Game writers also benefit from following a repeatable process whereby new content can be approved, tested and shipped, in order to keep multiple projects in the air at once, each on their own timeline to launch. This planning ahead is especially important for any new functionality that needs extra programming or for experimental quests that need A/B testing prior to wider release.
TV writers are sensitive to how their audience reacts to specific characters or story lines. Through focus groups, fan site lurking, and other market research tools, they keep an eye on what’s working and what’s not, and can incorporate this feedback into future episodes. Minor characters at the start of the season can become part of the core cast by season’s end if the character is unexpectedly popular — and the reverse can be true if a character (or actor) is falling flat.
Social Game writers have the luxury of highly detailed performance metrics to see aggregate details of how players progress through the game. Reviewing the player behavior dashboard over morning coffee should be every writer’s daily ritual of analyzing success and failure, and post-mortems on major functionality releases should be incorporated into the roadmap of future features.
Rhythm of Consumption
TV show stories are structured around commercials in an individual episode and around a weekly schedule between episodes. Writers have all sorts of tricks in their kit bag to get viewers to come back after the commercial break or to come back next week, like the ever-popular cliffhanger. An especially powerful or unexpected cliffhanger at the end of the season can keep the fan base buzzing all summer long!
Social Games also have a rhythm. The vast majority are asynchronous, meant to be played in fits and starts throughout the day. Game mechanics like Scheduling and Energy have evolved to take advantage of and to reinforce this rhythm. Stories in social games should acknowledge this structure, knowing that a single quest is not likely to be started and finished in one sitting, and a story line of several quests chained together could be a week-long project for a player.
Support the Revenue
TV writers are acutely sensitive to who’s paying the bills: advertising, DVD sales, syndication, etc. A show with a highly tuned demographic appeal, especially if that demographic is a hot target for advertisers, makes it very popular with the accountants. Once the writers have captured that demographic, they are committed to maintaining the story template that the audience has come to expect, lest they lost that audience.
Social Game writers are acutely sensitive to sales of virtual goods. Constant experimentation and iteration of the catalog will inform what a particular game’s audience wants to spend their virtual dollars on: aesthetic decorations, energy, shortcuts to quest completion, power-ups, etc. Once the analysts have zeroed in on these successes, this informs the writers on how to structure future content releases.
As the Social Game marketplace matures, will we see even more echoes between TV stories and writing for Social Games? Perhaps longer story arcs that feel like a TV show’s season-long theme. Perhaps timely quests that incorporate the past week’s news events. Perhaps recognizable story templates will evolve that define and differentiate games like a TV procedurals. And perhaps we’ll see professional TV writers branch out into working in the Social Games industry…（source:plotluckgames)