Top Ten Things to Understand about Social Games
by Nicholas Greene
Social gaming is big business. After all, There are a great many reasons why you’d want to develop a social game. Although profit is chief among them (if your title catches on, you can rake in some serious coin), one should never underestimate the amount of publicity a well-designed game can net a brand. It’s a great way to bring in new customers, improve perception of your organization, and maybe even make ab it of money in the process.
Making a social game isn’t exactly a simple process, though. It’s nowhere near as easy as some people would have you believe. It’s not a matter of just assembling a team, painting out a few vague objectives, and turning them loose. There are a few things you’ll need to know about game development if you’re going to succeed – particularly in the high-stakes, cutthroat arena of social game design.
User Engagement is The Most Important Factor
The first rule of any social game is that it needs to engage the user. There needs to be something about the title which keeps them playing, something which compels them to keep coming back. Farmville, for example (though I’m hesitant to call it a game) has features such as Wither, which forces people to log on regularly lest they lose the crops they’ve so lovingly tended. While I’d say it’s preferable that your players keep coming back because they genuinely enjoy the experience, I suppose there’s something to be said for getting them hooked, as well.
However you do it, you want to keep your players compelled.
Monetization Shouldn’t be the Only Pursuit
Money shouldn’t be your number one concern if you’re going social – an obsession with monetization has led to the death of many a social game developer, including Zynga. What’s more, those developers who set out to design a game with the express purpose of making money tend to fail more often than they succeed. After all, caring about nothing but how much cash you can pull in tends to make you lose focus of what’s important. It tends to throw a wrench in the gears as far as planning goes, and drives players away in the long run.
Content walls are a perfect example of what not to do. Yes, they’ll be guaranteed to net money from the “Whales” – people so hopelessly addicted and obsessed that they’ll pay anything just to keep playing. At the same time, they’re also guaranteed to drive out the vast majority of the more casual players, leading to a massive hike in churn (the amount of players who stop playing a social game). Players should never feel like they have to shell out cash just to keep playing. That’s just poor planning.
Speaking of planning…
Short Term Profit Should Never Trump Long Term Planning
So, you’ve got a great idea that’s going to make you a nice, fat wad of cash. The only problem is that you haven’t really thought it through all that much. It might well end up costing you some users. It could severely damage your brand’s reputation. It might even end up losing you money. But who cares, right? At least you’re going to make some good cash.
As a general rule, if you’ve formulated an idea that’s going to make you huge short-term profits, but could cause some damage in the long term…don’t bother implementing it. That’s the whole reason the social games industry is in such dire straits right now: everybody’s interested in getting money now, with no thoughts about cultivating consumer relationships or working towards any clear goal. It’s all about the present.
The Market is Extremely Competitive
Social gaming is a profitable arena, even if it is a bit of a hazardous one. Nowadays, it seems like every organization on the block wants to get into game development. As a result, the market is positively flooded. Consumers as a result have an unprecedented level of choice regarding what games they play. Yours will need to be incredibly unique or eye-catching in order to succeed.
The Development Environment Moves Fast
Particularly when Churn enters the equation, the development environment in social gaming moves at a breakneck speed. It can get fast enough that even larger, fully staffed devs are unable to keep up. Users will keep demanding more content, and you’ll need to keep on top of customer complaints and concerns if you’re going to keep them engage. Should you be planning to involve yourself in social game development, you’re going to need to put a lot of work into it. Just like running a social campaign, it’s a full time job.
Talk to Advertising Partners
Consider inspiring people to start playing your game by offering them rewards through advertising partners (or, if you’re a marketer yourself, try looking for a few social game developers who might be interested in talking shop). As an example, I tried my hand at a social game which offered a large quantity of in-game currency as a reward for signing up for Netflix. I did so, and I still use the subscription to this day – I also ended up playing the game for quite ab it longer than I would have otherwise.
People will Pay for “Cool”
If you’re going to monetize a social game, you don’t need to install content walls or give players who pay an unfair advantage. It’s honestly enough to just give them something cool or completely aesthetic in return for their cash. As demonstrated by titles such as League of Legends and Team Fortress 2 (though neither of them are social games) people are perfectly willing to pay for something which does little other than make their avatar look cool. Take that lesson to heart.
Don’t Ape Other Games
Zynga is in the toilet right now. That’s no secret. One of the reasons for the fall of this social game development titan – among many others – is CEO Mark Pincus’s insistence that they simply copy other, more popular titles. ”I don’t f***ing want innovation!” Pincus snarled. “You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers.”
I think I’ll let that quote speak for itself.
Metrics Exist: Know Them
While you shouldn’t allow yourself to become completely consumed by metrics, you should be aware of them. Keep a close eye on how many users you’re losing, how many people are playing on a regular basis, how often (and long) they’re playing, whether or not their play leads to clickthroughs, and the demographic that most commonly plays your title. Monitor all relevant information, just as you would in any other marketing pursuit.
You Need to Define your Objective
Last, but not least, don’t just develop a game for the sake of developing a game. Make sure you’ve a clear-cut objective before you set out along the development path. Know what you want to accomplish with the game, just as you would before starting up a marketing campaign.（source：socialmediastrategiessummit）