但“众包”粘性和留存率Vs.吸引眼球的社交功能依然是促使游戏既富有粘性又趣味横生的有效方式之一。单人游戏是种游戏，社交游戏则是包含各种有趣人际关系的社区：竞争、合作、同伴压力、叛乱、嫉妒及同情等更多因素。在电脑上体验《Scrabble》和《Words with Friends》所存在的差异体现在消磨时间和流行文化现象之别。
1. 基于回合模式的共享游戏：这类题材的例子包括《With Friends》系列，及我的最爱《卡卡颂》。它们在社交性方面表现突出，原因如下：
4. 开放世界的异步游戏：从很多方面看，这是标准的Facebook游戏模式，被运用至《FarmVille》之类的游戏中。这也是包含较深刻社交互动元素的新颖游戏所采用的游戏模式，如《Empires & Allies》和《Backyard Monsters》。他们具有社交性是因为：
Facebook游戏还存在许多非对称社交活动。和邻居机制不同，许多游戏允许玩家直接将自己的Facebook好友添加至体验空间中，无需征得好友的同意（例如《宝石迷阵闪电战》）。在我们Kabam的作品《Dragons of Atlantis》中，玩家可以选择任何一位Facebook好友充当军队的将军，即便他们没有频繁体验这款游戏。
这些类型的游戏比上述邻居机制更为浅显，但由于它们涉猎广泛，因此能够降低互动障碍，在玩家间建立密切关系。在《宝石迷阵闪电战》中，允许玩家查看好友的高分，从而产生追逐心理非常重要。游戏若未融入显眼的排行榜就无法实现此目标。在《Dragons of Atlantis》中，邀请非玩家好友充当将军的优点是，能够通过墙面公告以个性化方式提高游戏在潜在新玩家中的曝光度。
对称vs.非对称描述关系形成方式，但未呈现其发展模式。例如，居于在线游戏约会地点的“Long-term Relationships Only”区域遇见的玩家比在“Casual Encounters”区域遇见的玩家结婚率更高——但情况并不总是如此。最终关系还是取决于初次见面后所发生的情况。密切联系vs.松散联系是衡量社交关系发展情况的简单探索方式，其焦点在于互动深度。
公会则截然不同，它们通常不会影响玩家的核心体验，所以从根本角度看，它们也不是初期游戏体验的关键要素。但只要玩家参与至优秀公会，它所带来的直接社交益处就会直接转变成游戏变化。公会是玩家买卖道具、学习最佳策略及技巧，以及获得法术及其他益处，当然还有结交朋友的地点。我们可以谈论众多有关《Chronicles of Merlin》联盟（例如，公会）成员的个人信息，尽管我们并不知道他们的名字或者从未见过他们。我们甚至还有自己的Facebook页面，会在游戏之外同其他玩家进行互动。
社交消息公告（异步，非对称性）：《亚瑟王国》的消息公告和其他游戏类似，但更着重物质元素，即游戏奖励（游戏邦注：主要通过炫耀）。例如，玩家可以通过分享Merlin的魔法盒符号赢得免费虚拟商品或发布病毒式传播消息“Build with Help”请求，在此玩家的Facebook好友只要进行点击，玩家就能够缩短建筑创建时间、调研耗费时间或军队训练时间。
当在线游戏变得越来越单调时，我们有必要进行更多社交创新。而当我们在Facebook上创建了早期硬核MMO《亚瑟王国》时，我们更加清楚地意识到这款游戏与之前游戏的区别。从那以后，Facebook越来越倾向于MMO，并且出现了越来越多PvP游戏。甚至一些休闲游戏开发巨头如Digital Chocolate和Zynga也加入了这一行列，分别推出了《Army Attack》和《Empires & Allies》。
最后，免费游戏模式也开始影响游戏元素。大多数早前的订阅MMO，如《龙与地下城OL》，《科南时代》，《指环王OL》也都开始向F2P模式转移。而一些非MMO的硬核游戏，如《军团要塞2》也开始使用F2P模式。世嘉不久前也公开了他们针对于PlayStation Vita平台的第一款真正F2P游戏《Samurai & Dragons》，这款游戏取材于畅销iOS游戏《王国征服》。
Lady小姐和我都很喜欢玩电子游戏，这也是我们为何能够一下子变成好友的主要原因。不幸的是我们对于MMORPG的态度并不相同。我倾向于在游戏发行时便踊跃尝试，或在阅读了《Choose My Adventure》系列文章后做出选择。而她总是犹豫不决，直到我跟她说一款游戏是否值得玩。而问题在于，当她最后进入游戏中时，因为我的级别是基于科学计数法进行衡量，所以她并不能给我带来任何帮助，而我也只能通过杀死其身边的敌人去帮助她。
大多数社交游戏都带有一些变量。就像《FarmVille》还让玩家能够送礼物给别人，并且游戏会奖励玩家的这种行为。《Dragon Age Legends》让玩家能够将好友的角色招到自己一方，也就是当玩家在游戏时能够面对一些较轻松的内容。大多数社交游戏都提供了一些小窍门让玩家双方都能够获取利益。
社交游戏？听起来有点意思。我非常喜欢的LARP（游戏邦注：它是live action role-playing game 的简写，指玩家自己扮演游戏角色，在现实场景中玩游戏）就算得上是一种社交游戏（LARP游戏很能促进玩家间的互动，有点像模拟城市游戏，非常适合在纽约一年一度的街头游戏节Come Out & Play上玩）。
多亏了《龙与地下城》这款游戏，我终于没有堕落为一个只知勤学苦读却沮丧压抑的木鱼脑袋，而是成长为落落大方的魅力青年。是它教我成为一个社会人——当然不是秉承这个游戏的制作人Gygax 和 Arneson的旨意，却是出于游戏的本质。
即便允许快速带级，在线网站也还是不能达到要求——在Pogo网站或者Days of Wonder公司的网站上随便就能找到人一起玩，但毕竟是陌生人，怎么比得上和朋友一起玩来得有趣吧。而社交网络提供的信息和共享内容的功能，意味着执行一个允许和真正的朋友一起玩的游戏应该比其他在线网站容易得多。
为了外交，游戏必须既允许玩家互利互助，也鼓励暗中加害，绝对不能像模拟社交经营游戏那样，居然有个得了“孤立并发症”的系统存在。诚然，一些游戏（如《City of Wonder》）允许玩家“攻击”其他玩家（SNRPG当然也允许）——但这类游戏不允许结盟、战略合作或者联合行动等等。
在《Agricola 》中，一个玩家做出了一种行动选择，意味着其他玩家只能做其他选择（所以玩家的“行动选择”也成了实际上的一种“资源竞争”）；在《Puerto Rico》中，所有的玩家都要做出最损人利己的选择。在Steam网络对决平台上，因为游戏的平衡是通过竞拍每一回合的最先入场权来实现的，这使玩家很难估计自己投标的代价和收益是否划算，所以只能先下手为强了。
在《Kingdoms of Camelot》（游戏邦注：以及其他题材类似于《Travian》的游戏）中，它的大型竞争机制设计主要考虑了超级公会之间的决斗这种情况。因为这种机制，玩家群体中难免会有领袖脱颖而出，而其他玩家则沦为默默无闻的小角色，失去了当初作为“基层人员”而为集体做贡献的那种热情。
篇目1，What Makes Social Games Social?
by Matt Ricchetti
When people think about online social gaming, two broad categories of games immediately spring to mind: casual social games and hardcore MMOs. Despite the criticisms leveled by traditional game designers at casual games for their Skinner Box-like appeals to our core psychic compulsions, these games have become wildly popular on Facebook and mobile devices. MMOs, while never as broadly appealing, enjoy multi-year runs and rabidly loyal user bases. One common contributor to the success of both types of games is their unique social mechanics, which might be summarized as follows:
Casual social games:
* Inviting “neighbors,” sending gifts, visiting your friends’ playspaces
* Asynchronous play with asymmetrical, loose-tie relationships
* Forming parties and joining guilds, chatting with guild members, coordinating real-time group battles
* Synchronous play with emphasis on symmetrical relationships that build strong ties
As a current designer/producer of hardcore strategy MMOs at Kabam and former designer/producer of casual social games at Zynga, I’ve become intimately acquainted with both sets of social mechanics. And I find both are very useful in developing sticky, engaging gameplay experiences. Neither is necessarily better than the other.
In fact, as free-to-play (F2P), online, multiplayer experiences make up an increasingly large share of the overall games market, we’re seeing titles emerge that mix and match social mechanics from both the casual and hardcore lineages to great effect. League of Legends is a great example of this: Riot’s DotA redux came from out of nowhere to make tens of millions of dollars by combining social mechanics from MMORPG PvP battles, RTS duels, and more casual F2P games to create an entirely new genre, the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA).
Much of this evolution of what comprises “social” is being driven by the F2P business model itself. Traditional retail games equate to a single consumer decision: to buy or not to buy. F2P games, on the other hand, feature an ongoing courtship between the player and the developer. Because of the low barrier to entry, players are inherently less committed to any given F2P game. This means developers and publishers must do everything they can to keep players engaged deeply and regularly with their games. This can be done with core gameplay and an effective monetization system; the opportunity cost for leaving a game in which you’ve invested substantial time and money is high.
But “crowdsourcing” engagement and retention to the players themselves via compelling social features remains one of the surest ways to make a game both sticky and fun. A single-player game is a game, but a social game is a community, with all the fascinating human relationships one expects: competition, collaboration, peer pressure, rebellion, jealousy, compassion, and more. The difference between playing Scrabble against the computer and playing Words with Friends is the difference between killing time and a pop culture phenomenon.
So, for today’s F2P online social games, “social” is about the user experience AND about business — the two are inseparable. Game designers must determine which social mechanics fit their game’s target market, gameplay, and business model. Whether these mechanics are traditionally found in casual Facebook games or hardcore MMOs is irrelevant.
Instead of viewing social through this limited, binary lens, this article will analyze player interactions using a set of three general heuristics. The advantage of this approach is that these heuristics can be applied to any online multiplayer game. Freed from a specific game design, their functional value becomes more apparent. Developers can then choose the interactions they feel will best serve their game’s design.
Three Heuristics for Categorizing Social Mechanics
Of the three social mechanics we’ll examine, one relates to the timing of social interactions and two involve the type of social relationship. Together, these mechanics encapsulate the social interactions of most online games:
* Synchronous vs. Asynchronous player interaction: do interactions occur simultaneously in real time or at different times as in a turn-based game?
* Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical relationship formation: does forming a relationship require input from both parties or can they be formed unilaterally by a single party?
* Strong Tie vs. Loose Tie relationship evolution: do relationships tend to become deep and long lasting or are they more likely to be light and transitory?
Let’s break down each of these heuristics in turn.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous
The stereotype is that MMOs feature synchronous, real-time play while casual social games are asynchronous with interaction occurring at disconnected times. However, all MMOs also feature important asynchronous features (in-game messages, for example) and some Facebook games employ synchronous features (such as chat). Rather than an absolute proposition, current social games tend offer a mix of synchronous and asynchronous interactions. Some games may highlight one or the other, but there are many that utilize both to establish a richer layer of engagement and retention.
The concept of synchronous gameplay is intuitively obvious — players interact in real time rather than taking turns. Examples of synchronous social interactions include text chat, voice chat, video chat, and player vs. player (PvP) battles (yes, PvP is a type of social interaction!). Synchronous interactions can scale from two players head to head (e.g., whispering and duels) to large groups (e.g., lobbies and raids).
Let’s look at chat specifically as it is a powerful synchronous tool for player engagement and retention in both casual games and MMOs:
* New players use chat make friends and ask basic questions
* xperienced players use chat to brag about in-game
accomplishments and form actual friendships (usually while killing time between events)
* Hardcore players use chat to coordinate complex group (e.g., guild/alliance) play and manage intense politics and rivalries
Whether it’s used to run a major guild in The Old Republic or help finish a badge book on Pogo.com, chat has a similar effect: boosting player engagement and facilitating long-term retention. When there is a real, vibrant support community present, players come back to a game more often and are less likely jump ship for another game. At Kabam, we’ve found chat invaluable as we’ve sought to bring more hardcore aspects to Facebook and web gaming — which we’ll discuss later.
The term “asynchronous game” might at first conjure images of something slower or less robust, but asynchronous games can be just as engaging as synchronous ones — think of playing chess with a friend or Diplomacy by mail, for example. Asynchronous social games come in different basic flavors, with some of the more common being:
1. Turn-based shared games: Examples of this genre include the With Friends games and one of my favorites, Carcassonne. They work well socially because:
* Each move is a mini game
* There is social pressure to come back and complete your next turn
* Challenge of head-to-head competition
* Bite-sized gameplay is easy to fit into schedules
* Players can play multiple games at once
2. Turn-based challenge games: Essentially, this works out to be two separate matches: I play your AI and then you play mine; aggregate score determines the winner. A good example is the Bola soccer game on Facebook (which literally mirrors the traditional home-and-away format of international soccer matches). They work socially because:
* Social pressure to return challenge
* Head-to-head competition
* Less waiting than shared turn-based since each player can complete their entire game independently
* Different strategies for attack and defense enrich experience
3. Score-based challenge games: This is the traditional “beat my high score” format as exemplified in Bejeweled Blitz. These games work socially because:
* Social pressure to return challenge (one-upmanship)
* Head-to-head competition and often game-wide leaderboards
* Less waiting than turn-based since players can try for their high scores anytime
* On the flip side, these types of games can be less interactive
4. Open-world asynchronous games: In many ways, this is the standard Facebook game model, used in games like FarmVille and many others. It’s also the model for newer games with deeper social interaction such as Empires & Allies and Backyard Monsters. They work socially because:
* Model supports variety of game modes, including both single-player and multi-player PvE and PvP
* Can approximate MMO experience without incurring the technical challenges of real-time play (i.e., provides the living, persistent world of an MMO)
* Still offers convenience of more casual games — can play at different times and for short bursts
Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical
Perhaps the best example for understanding this heuristic is the formation of social connections in Facebook versus Twitter.
Facebook social relationships are symmetric: I ask to be your friend and you must agree in turn for the relationship to exist:
* Core social unit: “Friend”
—Mutual acknowledgement breeds trust
—Allows for deeper sharing
—Site interaction limited to friends
—Friend relationships require (sometimes complex) management tools
Twitter social relationships are asymmetric: I can “follow” anyone I want, without their reciprocation:
* Core social unit: “Follower”
—Allows for widespread broadcasting
—Facilitates rapid dissemination of information
—Less investment in core social unit
—Can be less private or more spammy because communication filters are less sophisticated
Examples of symmetric social interactions in online gaming include friending, neighbor systems, gifting, trading, and private chat on an individual scale and parties, alliances, and manual multiplayer matchmaking on a group scale. Asymmetric social interactions include following, broadcasting, tweeting, and blogging on an individual scale and public quests, factions, and random matchmaking on a group scale.
Let’s take a deeper look at a few examples of symmetric and asymmetric relationships in online games.
A classic example of a symmetric relationship in online gaming is the MMORPG party. Forming a party in an MMORPG requires explicit consent from both the inviter and the invitee, the assumption being that the inviter wants control of who exactly he or she goes adventuring with.
While this means the invitee is sometimes subjected to a disappointing lack of invites (or a pile of ignored requests) it does mean the inviter can separate the wheat from the chaff in composing their party. This ultimately results in a deeper bond between party members, creating a tangible “us vs. them” mentality during PvE, bringing out effective class combos and facilitating the trade of level appropriate items and information.
Although Facebook games are less known for such symmetric relationships, they do exist in many of the platform’s games. The neighbor system prevalent in games like FarmVille, for example, is a symmetrical social relationship. Even players who are in same game and are already FB friends still need to become “neighbors.” This additional social hurdle creates an ongoing “friends with benefits” interaction where players send more gifts to each other and help each other unlock “social gates” (e.g., “You need five friends to staff this building,” or “You need 10 keys to unlock this door”).
Facebook games also feature numerous asymmetric social interactions. Instead of neighbor systems, many games simply add your Facebook social graph directly to your playspace without requiring the permission of your friends (e.g., Bejeweled Blitz). In our Kabam game Dragons of Atlantis, players can select any Facebook friend to serve as a general in their army, even if they’re not actively playing the game.
These types of relationships are admittedly shallower than the neighbor system above, but because they are so broad, they lower barriers to interaction and create a high-density of ties among the games’ players. In the Bejeweled Blitz example, it’s too important to let the player see his friends’ high scores to ask them for symmetry. The game just wouldn’t work without a highly visible leaderboard. In the Dragons of Atlantis example, invite a non-playing friend to be a general has the advantage of exposing the game to potential new players in a personalized way via a wall-to-wall feed.
Asymmetric relationships also exist in MMOs. A great example of this is the “public quest” feature in Warhammer Online. This type of group PvE was specifically designed to avoid the normal hurdles of symmetrical party formation by automatically creating a transient party of all players who are near a public quest site. If a dragon is terrorizing the area, for example, anyone who comes within a certain range is automatically considered to be participating in the public quest to kill it. Players can quickly and easily get a taste of group play and then go their own ways afterwards. The low social barrier allows for more frequent cooperation, even if it means forgoing usual party staples like chat and item trading.
Strong Tie vs. Loose Tie
Symmetry vs. Asymmetry describes how relationships form but doesn’t necessarily dictate how they evolve. For example, people who meet in the “Long-term Relationships Only” area of an online dating site are more likely to get married than those in “Casual Encounters” — but that’s not always the case. Ultimately the relationship depends on what happens after the first meeting. Strong tie vs. Loose Tie is a simple heuristic for gauging the evolution of a social relationship with a focus on depth of interaction.
Examples of strong-tie gaming relationships range from 1:1 scale (two-player co-op play and RPG parties) to group scale (guilds, alliances and leagues). Examples of loose-tie relationships also range from 1:1 (in-game neighbors, for example) to group scale (factions, classes, and tournaments).
Factions vs. Guilds
Strong ties are usually symmetric — which makes sense as the requirement for symmetry usually means the relationship was designed for deeper sharing. Conversely, loose-tie relationships are usually, though not always, asymmetric.
A look at guilds versus factions provides a classic example of strong versus loose ties in MMORPGs. A player usually chooses a faction at the very beginning of a game on his own (i.e., asymmetrically). The faction relationship plays a role in determining core aspects of the player’s experience, like which classes are available to him, where he will spending his time adventuring, and what quests he will encounter. Socially, it works as a broad glue, separating “us” from “them” or the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” So even if a player meets someone whom he has nothing else in common with, their common faction can still be a jumping off point for their relationship.
Guilds are quite different. They usually don’t affect a player’s core experience so fundamentally, nor are they as critical in the early game. But once a player gets involved in a good guild (via symmetric acceptance), the social benefits it offers can literally be game changing. Guilds are where players trade items, learn optimal strategies and tactics, receive buffs and other benefits and, most of all, make friends. I can tell you a variety of personal things about the folks in my Chronicles of Merlin alliance (i.e., guild), despite not knowing any of their names or having ever met them. We even have our own Facebook page and interact with one another outside the game.
Factions vs. Neighbors
Loose-tie relationships aren’t always asymmetric. Facebook neighbors, mentioned above, are in fact a good example of symmetric loose ties. The neighbor relationship is primarily designed for sharing gifts and small amounts of viral currencies, not for extensive chatting, strategizing, or cooperation. The reason for symmetry in this case is simply to better leverage the virality of the Facebook platform. Forcing players to confirm neighbor relationships engages them in sending requests to each other, an important behavior to encourage early in the players’ lifetimes.
Loose ties don’t always equate to low game impact. As mentioned above, factions can play a major role in shaping a player’s experience. Another ubiquitous (to RPGs at least) example of a loose-tie relationship is class specialization. Class specialization is certainly social; it forces interdependence in group combat and defines the classic MMO tank/healer/DPS triad.
But it isn’t a strong tie. Just because I’m a mage and you’re a mage doesn’t mean we’re going to be fast friends. Rather, like factions, class specialization is a broad, constant factor in shaping gameplay outcomes. Interestingly, because class specialization is asymmetric (no one consents to my class choice), you can end up with too many players of one class. Although most games are balanced such that this does not occur on a global level, most of us have experienced the unfortunate PvP battle where our side was repeatedly mowed down due to a lack of “___” or too many “___” (fill in the blank with any of the roles: tank/healer/DPS).
Case Study: Kingdoms of Camelot
In order to better explain how these heuristics can be used to understand social mechanics, I’m going to apply them in detail to a game I know well, Kabam’s Kingdoms of Camelot.
Our goal when we started Kingdoms of Camelot was ambitious: to create an MMO that also worked as a Facebook game. We wanted to combine hardcore strategy gameplay with Facebook’s built-in social/viral channels and a deeper level of free-to-play engagement and monetization.
By a combination of skill, luck, and perseverance, we hit our goals and created one of most successful games on Facebook. Still going strong after more than two years, Kingdoms of Camelot is now one of the top strategy franchises on any platform, with 490,000 monthly active users as of this writing, so we must have done some things right — particularly on the social side.
Let’s look at what went well and what we could have done better for the both game’s MMO and Facebook social components.
KoC as a Facebook Game
The core of KoC works fairly well as a Facebook game, since it can be played as a single-player, quest-driven city builder. Key social mechanics that work well with Facebook include asynchronous combat, a friend ladder with invites/requests, resource gifting, and viral feeds for things like building help.
Combat (asynchronous, asymmetric): Combat in KoC is asynchronous: the attacker initiates a battle against any player (even one who is offline), his armies march to the target on a map, the battle ensues, and results are then sent as reports to the inboxes of both players when it is complete. This simple, timer-based system supports bite-sized Facebook play patterns while still allowing for engaging PvP.
KoC’s combat is also asymmetrical in that a player can choose any target. The world is a real, open battleground and doesn’t use any lobbies or matchmaking like some PvP systems. This “always on” feature is mitigated by the fact that beginning players are protected from attacks and any player can hide his troops in a “sanctuary” to prevent losing them when offline.
Invite/Request system (asynchronous, symmetric): Like all Facebook games, players send friend invites and build a friends ladder. You can invite friends to be Knights that lead your armies and you can send gifts of resources and troops to friends. Players can interact with friends anytime, even when offline (asynchronous), but friends must accept invites and requests (symmetrical).
Social feeds (asynchronous, asymmetric): KoC’s social feeds are similar to other Facebook games but focus on material, in-game incentives (vs. “bragging”). For example, players can share a Merlin’s Magical Boxes token for a chance to win free virtual goods or post viral “Build with Help” requests that Facebook friends can click through to reduce the time to construct buildings, conduct research, or train troops.
What we did well:
* Evolved Facebook city building games by adding in asynchronous combat
* Leveraged integration with core Facebook channels for modest virality/engagement bump
Where we could improve:
* Facebook channels are not as deeply integrated as some games
* No “friend visits” or vanity social status
* Friend invites and gifting are not tied to game progression or in-game resources
* Feeds are only utilized for some features, limiting virality
Beyond its core Facebook integration, KoC’s innovation is that it plays like a real MMO: emergent behavior in both social and combat features drives deep immersion. The game’s combat system features open-world group PvP, tournaments, and leaderboards just like a client-based MMO. Other traditional MMO social features include alliances, chat, messaging, and trading.
MMO combat (synchronous, strong tie): Because KoC’s combat system is based around open-world group PvP, it drives synchronous, strong-tie social interactions. Even though any individual attack is asynchronous, alliances band together to conduct planning and strategy and coordinate waves of attacks in real time.
The game features regular tournaments with rewards and new worlds where players can start over, both of which encourage repeat play while refreshing PvP rivalries. Individual and alliance leaderboards provide a measuring stick for combat might, fueling a strong sense of both social status and competition.
Alliances (synchronous, strong tie): The game’s alliance (guild) structure and social tools enable extremely strong ties.
A feature known as “alliance diplomacy” allows alliances to set other alliances as friends, enemies, or neutral, giving rise to meta-alliance social play that is symmetrical (both alliances must agree to a diplomacy level), asynchronous (diplomacy doesn’t need to be done while both parties are online) and strong tie (the jockeying for position and status never ends).
Social status and power disparities within an alliance also generate strong ties. Each alliance has several leadership roles for elite players who serve as Chancellors and Vice Chancellors and decide who’s in and who’s out of an alliance.
Being rejected from an alliance can be like being rejected from a prestigious college or job: it can fuel a player’s game-long quest to prove the alliance wrong by forming a rival group that is more powerful.
Alliance-specific “slices” of other synchronous, strong-tie social tools such as chat, messaging, and battle reports also allow alliances to communicate and strategize while keeping the information “in the family.” For example, how players in one alliance describe players from another among themselves can be quite different from how they socialize with them externally.
Chat (synchronous): KoC chat is a key synchronous social feature that makes the world feel more dynamic and alive in real time. Three levels of chat allow players different ways to communicate. Alliance and private chat channels (symmetric, strong tie) foster relationships during the down time while waiting for builds to finish. Global chat (asymmetric, strong or weak tie) lets beginners ask questions while encouraging the trash talk that drives enmity between alliances.
Alliance chat in KoC.
Messaging and Trading (asynchronous): Messaging (asymmetric, strong tie) is used for communicating organizational and logistical info: alliance rules and announcements, battle plans, enemy information. Resource trading (symmetric, weak tie) adds an additional layer of non-combat, social interdependency as players buy and sell goods with each other.
Kingdoms of Camelot brought synchronous, strong-tie MMO play to Facebook social gaming to create a new experience on the platform.
What we did well:
Layered synchronous MMO PvP combat onto a Facebook game
Focused on strong-tie alliance relationship as gameplay foundation
Supported combat system with social communication tools that leverage both synchronous/asynchronous and symmetric/asymmetric relationships
Where we could improve:
Deepen combat system with additional strategy/tactics (e.g., support group PvE in addition to group PvP)
Develop social structure of alliances even further (e.g., support broader play styles beyond attacking and sharing resources)
Provide additional communication tools (e.g., offline notifications for key events/interactions, additional channels for communication between alliance officers and other subgroups, etc.)
As the online game landscape becomes less black and white, social innovation requires more work. When we established Kingdoms of Camelot as an early hardcore MMO on Facebook, we had a clear point of differentiation from previous games. Since then, the Facebook landscape has become more MMO-oriented, and there are more PvP games available. Even heretofore strictly casual game developers like Digital Chocolate and Zynga have joined in with titles like Army Attack and Empires & Allies.
Map screen in KoC.
At the same time, the non-Facebook landscape has become more “casual” (or at least more broadly social). Players now expect ALL online games to offer full multiplayer functionality and interactive support features. This is evidenced in recent developments in AAA MMO social mechanics.
For example, World of Warcraft made major updates to its raiding features with Cataclysm to make group PvE less onerous and more accessible. Star Wars: The Old Republic, the latest and greatest MMO on the block, allows players to work on their personal class quests even while adventuring in mixed-class parties.
This is an important concession to social accessibility, as class story quests are a key differentiator in SWTOR.
Lastly, the free-to-play business model is really flexing its gaming muscles. Most of the older subscription MMOs — Dungeons & Dragons Online, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online — have all moved to F2P. Even some non-MMO, hardcore games like Team Fortress 2 are now F2P as well. In fact, Sega just announced the first true F2P title for the PlayStation Vita, Samurai & Dragons, based on the top-grossing F2P iOS game Kingdom Conquest.
This diverse landscape means that it’s harder to differentiate your social game (or should I say “your game, socially”) from the competition — yet more important than ever to do so.
Using These Heuristics
The three heuristics we’ve described are not a panacea for all social game design — but they can be very instructive. You can use them to both help evaluate existing games or design new ones.
For existing games, break down your social mechanics against these heuristics to determine your true mix of synchronous/asynchronous, symmetrical/asymmetrical and strong-tie/loose-tie relationship features. Ask yourself if your approach fits the needs of your audience, gameplay, and platform. For example, an older audience might not take to synchronous play, while a younger audience might demand it; a “twitchy” arcade game might not be suitable for strong-tie relationships; or a mobile game might be most social if relationships were low friction and thus primarily asymmetrical. So ask yourself: what would you change, and why?
The greatest value of these heuristics can be realized when designing new social games from scratch. Proper use can move your game beyond the binary casual/hardcore approach to incorporate novel, multilayered patterns of social interaction. It’s always easier to build a strong social layer into a new game, where it can be tied deeply into the gameplay, than to try to graft new social features onto an existing game.
In translating your business and user goals into game features, put the greatest focus on the social mechanics your particular players will interact with most often. Even a well-designed social feature will have a smaller impact on users — and ultimately your business — if it is buried in the interface or peripheral to core gameplay.
Also remember that a mix of social mechanics often yields the strongest results. Kingdoms of Camelot likely would have been less successful if we had used elements solely from the Facebook or MMO side of the social mechanics ledger. A mix of features leveraging Facebook channels for viral acquisition and early retention plus MMO social interaction for deeper engagement and monetization was what worked best for us and our players.
Finally, remember that these heuristics are rules of thumb, not absolute guidelines. Learn the rules then break them as long as it works for your game and your audience. Good luck！
篇目2，The Soapbox: What MMOs could learn from social gaming
by Eliot Lefebvre
I mentioned a couple of months ago that social gaming isn’t going to destroy MMOs. That’s good news for everyone other than Richard Garriott and Zynga stockholders. But I think taking this as a sign that we can ignore social gaming for now and forever as an aberration would be… a mistake, to put it lightly.
See, there are things that social games do even better than MMOs tend to. And the hint is right there in the name. No, I’m not implying that these are better games; I’m saying that social games are generally much better about handling the social side of the equation. And the MMO industry as a whole would do well to pick up on the hints.
Not everything, of course. We all have recurring nightmares about that one person on Facebook whose timeline is nothing but a series of dubious achievements in social games. But there are a lot of elements scattered throughout the games as a whole that could be oddly useful if taken as a whole.
No restrictions on helping in some way
Ms. Lady and I both enjoy playing video games. It’s part of how we became friends in the first place. Unfortunately, she and I have very different attitudes toward MMORPGs. I tend to jump in at launch or close to it, or I get thrown in by a round of Choose My Adventure. She tends to hang back until I’ve told her whether the game is worth playing or not. The problem is that by the time she finally jumps in at Level Hopeless, my level is being measured by scientific notation. She can’t help me, and I can help her only by removing the actual game and killing everything around her.
But if we played FarmVille, I could go water her crops and she could water mine, no matter what level we both were.
Most social games have some variant on this. FarmVille also lets you send presents to others and rewards you for doing so. Dragon Age Legends allowed you to recruit the characters of your friends for your party, meaning that as you play, you all have an easier time with content. Most games give you some small way that both players can derive a benefit.
Designers of MMOs have realized over the years that it’s no fun to join a game for your friends only to find that your friends have passed your level long ago, and as a result, most games have put some system into place to try to fix this issue. The trouble is that most of these fixes have still involved going back and forth with leveling, usually raising or lowering levels as necessary. There’s no tasks where two characters can provide equal aid to one another without levels needing to get in the way.
And it doesn’t need to be something major. There’s a sense in a lot of MMO design that either you’re going through an entire dungeon together or you’re playing separately, but most social games let you jump in, help someone for five minutes, and then get back to whatever you want.
Guild Wars 2 does a good job of encouraging this behavior. You’re not punished for attacking the same target as another player, and it winds up helping both of you out in the long run. It’s just a quick chance to help someone else out, and you both get a boon from it.
A mercantile relationship with easy mutual benefit
The healer in your group is fundamentally there because you need him. Sure, you like him. He’s a cool guy, you talk out of game, he sent you some nice recipes earlier in the month, and you pointed him to a good job in his area. You are definitely friends. But you met because you needed a healer and he fit the bill, and his function in the game is to keep you alive.
There’s nothing shameful about that. When I’m in a group, I’m there to perform a role, not deliver cutting insights about design style. Relationships in games like this are based on mutual benefit at some level, even if in the end you wind up being friends first and MMO buddies second.
Here’s the thing: No one likes to admit this. We have this image, encouraged from several sources, that your groups in MMOs are supposed to consist of your friends first and functional allies second or third or possibly never. This is despite the fact that the game is clearly encouraging you to go ahead and play with people who provide you a tangible benefit, since very few games have a system for clearing content based on shared social interests.
Social games engage in no such pretense. You need more friends playing this game to do this, and that’s the end of the discussion. Get more friends. Give away these gifts to get a prize. Help others specifically because that helps you in the long run.
Part of why no one cares about this is that by definition, the people you are foisting this upon are already your friends. But another part is because the game just makes it transparent that this is what you’re doing. You’re helping others to help yourself, and that’s not a bad thing. Everyone gets something.
This point and the previous one could easily combine into some useful methods of social interaction without requiring dedicated group content. Imagine a buff that you can receive only if you give it to someone else as well, or an experience boost received for providing a minor service for another player. Imagine if visiting the properties of your in-game friends gave you a quest to clear out nearby animals and doing so gave you experience and boosted some in-game stat for them as well. These are all ways to interact and benefit without requiring a big chunk of time or requiring a formal group together or pretending that you’re helping just out of pure altruism.
Sharing the cool
Social games follow an evolutionary path not unlike a virus; they require you to spread and advertise everything you’ve done therein because their best chance of making money involves a lot of people being aware of the game. So each game floods your status page with updates about what, exactly, you’ve recently accomplished in the game.
The side effect is that people just see that you’re having a lot of fun. And that’s something that I think MMOs have frequently missed in the rush of design trends and philosophies and so forth. At the end of the day, the great part of playing an MMORPG is that you can play with someone else on the same virtual playground, even if you’re not both physically there at the same time.
Over recent years games have gotten much better about reducing the barriers to entry so that if your buddy wants to join you in Star Wars: The Old Republic or Champions Online or EverQuest, he can do so now instead of when he finally goes to the store. But there’s still a persistent sense that everything cool should be restricted to you and you alone for having accomplished some great task in the game. By your dedication, you get to the fun part.
Here’s an idea — why not take a lead from social games? Why not invite your friend and give him something instantly cool, and then have him move up increasing tiers of cool as you enjoy the game? Why not reward his time by telling him cool stuff is here instead of forcing him to slog and grind to catch up with you?
The great weakness of most MMORPGs is that they ask you to suffer through a lot of work before you get to the fun. Social games throw you right into the cool part. That’s a lesson worth learning.
篇目3，Unsocial ‘Social’ Games
by Greg Costikyan
[Veteran game designer Greg Costikyan unpacks whether social games are truly social or they are not -- and having dissected the form, then leaps in with some suggestions on how to make the games more rewarding for players and developers.]
Three years ago, my friend Eric Goldberg called me up and asked me if I would be interested in working on a “social game” for a little Web 2.0 company in California he was consulting to.
A social game. Hm. That did sound interesting. I had fantasies of limited-duration, closed room live-action role playing, or perhaps multiplayer boardgames that fostered intense player interaction, or maybe something like an urban game, suitable for the Come Out and Play Festival, with players engaging with each other for extended periods of time.
Or perhaps some merger of online forum and gameplay, some elaboration of the competitive wordgames we used to play on Genie and The Well and Echo, showing off for one’s peers and preening in a social environment.
Yes, pushing the social element of gameplay could be very fruitful, an obvious and exciting extension of the capabilities of the ars ludorum. And someone might actually pay me for this?
Well, no. Suspiciously, I asked Eric what he meant by a “social” game.
After quite a bit of blather, I realized what he was talking about, and cut to the essence. “Ah,” I said. “I see what you mean. A game that is played on a social network. Is there anything actually social about it?”
You could hear the shrug on the phone. Would I like the introduction?
Sure. I needed the work.
When I was 13, and an enthusiastic fan of board wargames such as those published by SPI and Avalon Hill, I spent some time looking over a list of wargames divided into different categories — Napoleonic and World War II, and so on — thinking to myself that I wanted to find a style of game to make my one, to study more seriously and become expert on. One category popped out at me, and was what I decided to specialize in: multiplayer games.
In digital, we think of “multiplayer” as meaning anything that isn’t soloplay; in wargaming, however, multiplayer meant “a game for more than two people,” since most wargames are struggles between two opposing sides. I chose the category that encompassed games like Diplomacy and Kingmaker. They struck me as far more interesting than two-player wargames, because the complexity of interplayer dynamics produces far more variability than in head-to-head games. Negotiation, alliances, trades, and simply reading other players became important; it wasn’t all about system and the mastery thereof.
I spent many long hours negotiating, allying, backstabbing, and learning to deal with others.
When I was 14, Dungeons & Dragons appeared, an inherently multiplayer but cooperative game set in a fantasy world not unlike those of the novels I loved to read. Its
appearance spawned many long hours learning how to coordinate, cooperate, persuade, do “improv” in an almost theatrical sense, and work to shape stories cooperatively with others.
Dungeons & Dragons, in all likelihood, saved me from being a studious, depressed loner, ultimately making a somewhat charming adult out of a shy adolescent. It taught me to be a social being — not surely from any intent of Gygax & Arneson’s, but from the nature of its gameplay.
For many years, I dismissed digital games as devoid of merit, partly because of their lack of intellectual and narrative seriousness, but more importantly because of their inherently solitary nature. It was M.U.L.E. — Dani Bunten’s landmark multiplayer game for the Atari 800 — that showed me that digital games, too, could be highly social.
I moved early into designing and playing games online — even before the internet was opened to non-academic users, on the commercial online services — because online games redressed the greatest flaw of digital games: their inherently single-player nature.
And in recent years, I’ve become fascinated with the rise of LARPs, indie RPGs, and story games, because they place socialization among the players, improv, and the assumption of character, front and center in play.
Social games — correctly defined — are important; and games that have hooks for socialization are, I think, our best bet for the creation of true art in this form.
It’s a pity that “social games” are so unsocial.
One of the fundamental contradictions of the human condition is that we are simultaneously individuals and social beings. We are each lost in our own heads, with only the limited bandwidth afforded by expression and language to allow us to understand each other. We typically strive to achieve our own needs and desires, often at the expense of others; we are atomistic individuals, striving for our own benefit in a Randian sense.
And yet we cannot grow without the nurture provided by our parents, are driven by our needs to find sexual and emotional partners, have built civilizations that depend utterly on cooperation and exchange, and are most often happy in the companionship of friends.
We are both free and members of societies, dispassionate observers of our surroundings and passionate members of groups, freethinkers and partisans, competitors and cooperators.
We prize individual freedom, and also community. We solo, and join guilds. Americans, in particular, make much of the importance of individual liberty — and yet to accomplish almost anything, we need to enlist our fellows in a common endeavor.
Though ultimately we live, and die, alone, imprisoned in our individual skulls, we are inherently social beings.
And just as we most often find happiness through others — our partners and children, our friends, and the extended praise and approbation of the many — so too the best and most affecting game experiences we can have are those that involve others.
The fiero of a World of Warcraft raid successfully accomplished with your guildies; the laughter produced by sardonic gameplay in an RPG; the emotional impact of a
jeepform or story game produced through unexpected improvisation with others; the banter and play of power dynamics in a Eurogame; even the table talk and insights
into character you gain through the play of a conventional card game with friends — these are experiences to be prized.
Even for single-player PC or console games, if you try to recall the most compelling experiences you’ve had playing them, I think you’ll find that those experiences derive not so much from triumph over mastery of a system — but from a moment of insight into the mind of the designer, a grasp of what the game is trying to achieve, an insight into the game’s subtext.
That moment of epiphany, when you finally understand; that sense of engaging with the creative product of others; that sense of being part of a cultural conversation, of something that you can discuss and debate with your friends — that, perhaps, is at least as important and earning a score. In these cases, the social nature of your experience is indirect, since you experience it alone; but the experience is part of a larger, and continuing, social conversation among the players and creators of games.
If you were the last person on Earth, would you play games? And if so, would it do anything other than to make you sad with the realization of what has been lost?
The social nature of games — indeed, of any form of art — is part of what makes them compelling; and games that strike deep into social connections are often the most compelling of all.
“Social games,” then — that is, games that strive particularly to make and exploit social connections between players — have enormous potential, as forms of art.
It’s too bad, then, that few so-called social games are remotely social.
The first commercially successful “social games” were social network role playing games (SNRPGs), like the various Mafia and Vampire-themed games. Like more conventional digital RPGs, they are games in which you control a single character, with the primarily objective to level up by completing tasks of one kind or another.
They strip this down to a bare minimum — missions are accomplished by a single click, leveling up opens up new ones, and “energy,” which recharges slowly, is the main constraint on advancement, since you may accomplish only so many missions in a period of time.
In addition to mission and level advancement, SNRPGs allow you to attack other players. In an attack, a character stat (that can be improved with level) is added to the attack value of equipment, and compared to that of the defender; the winner gains EP and money, the loser loses money and health.
An additional fillip — critical to the game’s virality — is that players may use network invites to ask friends to join their clan (or mob, or what have you), and when in combat, your value is increased by the values of your friends. Thus, the more clanmates you have, the more powerful you are, the faster you can advance — and the less likely you are to suffer from the attacks of others.
SNRPGs are, in fact, completely solitaire in nature, except for the ability to attack others, and the ability to have clan mates. The idea of the “clan,” however, has no real meaning; each player’s clan list is entirely separate from every other player’s.
If I join “your clan,” this does not mean that I join also with other members of your clan; I can belong to any number of players’ clans simultaneously, and the only relevance this has is to increase of combat power of these people (and my own). The “clan” is merely a game conceit; it has no organization, no mechanism for interaction or planning, no common assets. It is nothing like an MMO Guild; it’s just a list.
Games of this type do allow you to type in messages that are seen by your clan mates, which sometimes produces weird conversational lacunae, since your clan mate may be responding to a message from his clan mate who is not your clan mate, so you see only one side of a conversation.
The main way players use this feature is to list friends of theirs who are looking for more clan mates, so you can increase your power by friending and adding them to your clan; I now have more than three hundred social network “friends” who I do not, in fact, know, and have scant interest in knowing. Their only purpose is to make me competitive in SNRPG combat.
You can argue, in fact, that SNRPGs are antisocial in nature, since the only real interaction with other players is attacking them.
At present, most social network games are, in essence, light sim/tycoon style games. You control a map on which you may build structures, place decorations, plant crops, and so on; some of the items you place produce game money, which you accumulate by clicking on the item in question after some period of time.
Sometimes, but not always, you have an avatar, who moves around, performing the “work” you request when you click on an item. You level up over time, and this gives you access to more placeable items and other content. Typically, there are badges, collectibles, and quests you may accomplish.
In other words, the core gameplay is inherently solitaire in nature; you do not cooperate with others in building your business/city/what have you, but are doing so on your own, each player in his own atomistic world.
However, social tycoon games provide many hooks for inter-player interaction, of a kind. One critical system is “gifting”; players are urged to send others free gifts, which cost the recipient nothing but provide some modest game benefit to the recipient.
In particular, the construction of critical items in a game are often gated by the requirement to have some number of a particular item that can only be received as agift, giving players a motivation to request such gifts — and, of course, to spend real money to eliminate the restriction if they have a small number of friends or are simply impatient.
Players may, of course, brag about their accomplishments, which serves the purpose of spamming social network communication channels with posts about the game, thereby helping to attract new players (a practice still encouraged by social tycoon games, despite the fact that Facebook now makes these posts invisible to non-players, thereby nerfing their viral function).
And players may “visit” each other’s maps, performing some limited number of tasks on each friend’s map. This provides some sense that other players exist in the same game world, although in truth each map is wholly independent and solitary.
If you look at the interplayer communication fostered by social tycoon games, you will see that every possible communication, every game action that a player may take relative to another player, exists solely to serve the purposes of the developers. Each communication action is designed to do one of three things: attract new players (virality), encourage players to return (retention), or encourage purchase (monetization).
Player interaction has modest, if any, impact on game progress; no impact on game outcomes; no or virtually no consequences for the players involved.
If SNRPGs are, truthfully, antisocial, social tycoon games are, truthfully, asocial; the interplayer interactions they foster are not, in fact, social in nature, do nothing to build friendships or enmity, and provide scant, if any, sense of connection to other people. They’re like soloing in an MMO; you’re aware of the presence of others, but they are largely irrelevant to your play.
Developers of social games have clearly given great thought to using the social graph to foster player acquisition, retention, and monetization; but as far as I can see, no thought whatsoever has given to the use of player connections to foster interesting gameplay. It’s all about the money, and not at all about the socialization.
The peculiarity of this is that social networks are actually far better suited than most online environments to fostering social gameplay. Messaging and chat are built into the system, and need not be separately implemented by developers; but more importantly, the social graph allows players to interact with people who are their actual friends.
Most other online environments make that difficult. For example, MMOs make it hard to play with true friends, because of their segmented nature. I may learn that you are a WoW player, and want to play with you, but find that you play on a different server from me; I’d have to start over at level 1 to play with you.
Even if I and a group of friends all decide to start out on the same server, the reality is that we play on different schedules and with different levels of intensity, so even all starting at level 1, we will soon be of divergent power, and MMOs gate content by level. If you are level 5 and I am level 20, there’s no easy way for us to play together, since progress for my character requires me to be in areas of the world that will kill your character quickly.
On a social network, it is easy to discover what games your friends play, and it would be trivial to implement systems to allow people to play with each other –reserving games for groups of friends, say, or designing systems to accommodate players of diverse power who are network friends.
Online sites that allow quick, pick-up and play games are problematic as well; it’s easy to go to a site like Pogo.com or Days of Wonder and play with strangers, but this is far less interesting and enjoyable than playing with friends. The messaging provided by social networks, and the ability to share content with others, means it should be far easier to implement games that allow play with genuine friends than on other sites.
In short, developers have learned how to use the social graph to rake in the bucks, but not how to use it to foster gameplay that is actually social.
What does “actually social” gameplay look like? It’s not very mysterious. The following is not exhaustive, but here are at least a few of the means by which social play can be encouraged.
Game Advertising Online
In a team sport, you must coordinate with your fellow team members. It is certainly beneficial if you are an excellent athlete yourself, but if, say, in basketball, you do not remain aware of where your teammates are, and be prepared to pass to them (or receive the ball from them), you will not be a great contributor to your team.
While sport is sufficiently faced-paced that communication beyond hand signals is rare, the team that coordinates effectively will, more often than not, triumph over the one that does not.
Much the same is true in any sort of team-based activity; in a team shooter such as Counter-Strike, team coordination counts at least as much as individual FPS skill.
In a World of Warcraft instance, the boss can only be overcome by excellent coordination — and the ability to confer before a battle, together with voice chat, makes interplayer communication vital.
In a social game context, teams have great value as well; they are potentially a strong player-retention mechanism, because players will return to the game, not wishing to let their teammates down. Why SNRPG “clans” are implemented in such a meaningless, atomistic way is a mystery.
In any multiplayer game where players may form alliances, diplomacy becomes vital. In the classic boardgame Diplomacy, for example, all players are of equal strength and can rarely overcome a single opponent alone; alliance formation is critical. Moreover, there are no joint victories in the game (though ties are possible), so there is a strong incentive to backstab your allies at just the right moment.
The result is that players talk constantly; you need to persuade your allies to remain on board, you need to lull them into faith in your loyalty as you plot their demise, you need to try to gauge the likelihood that they are about to betray you — and you need to try to persuade your enemy’s allies that their best interest lies in switching sides. Diplomacy is a game with fair strategic depth, and some degree of tactical finesse — but its heart likes in negotiation, and the silver-tongued will more often win than the player who has memorized opening strategies.
To allow diplomacy, however, you do need a game in which players can provide material assistance to each other, and also damage their foes; you cannot have a system of “solitaire games played concurrently,” as in social tycoon games. It is true that some (such as City of Wonder) allow “attacks” against others (as, of course, do SNRPGs) — but they do not enable the formation of alliances, the alignment of strategy, or joint actions of any kind.
For trading to be important in a game, it needs to contain a degree of asymmetry. In Edgar Cayce’s classic cardgame Pit, for instance, the random distribution of cards encourages players to attempt to assemble monopolies in different types of cards. In most games that foster trade, there are several different kinds of resources, and players are likely to have access to some but not all, providing an incentive to trade with those who have the resources you lack.
Trade, like diplomacy, gives players a reason to engage with each other; to discuss strategy, to find those who have complementary things to trade, to negotiate price, perhaps to establish enduring trade relationships. Social tycoon games have an element of this — for instance, it is common to allow one set of players to gift certain items and another set a different group of items, encouraging swaps between them. But this is ad hoc, and pointed mainly at promoting Facebook requests, without any real attempt to foster market behavior or player discussion.
In many games, resource competition is a key element of player interaction. In an RTS played in multiplayer mode, for instance, battles often arise around critical resource extraction sites.
But “resource competition” can be over things more abstract than literal game resources. For instance, in “action selection” boardgames such as Agricola or Puerto Rico, a limited number of action types may occur each turn, with some actions passed over.
In Agricola, one player’s choice of an action means others must choose different ones; in Puerto Rico, all players may perform selected actions, but must select the ones they think will benefit them most and others least. In Steam, there is a very strong first-mover advantage, which the game balances by auctioning off the right to go first each turn, forcing players to make a difficult calculation over the costs and benefits of what they bid.
Whenever resources, opportunities, or other aspects are constrained, with not all available to all players at optimal levels, players are forced to engage with each other to try to obtain what they need, while denying critical aspects to others.
Games with explicit hierarchical systems are rare, but the concept is particularly well suited to a social graph environment. As one example, in the play-by-mail game Renaissance, a new player begins with few resources, and can progress much more quickly in the game if he swears allegiance to a more powerful liegelord, or joins an existing trading house as a subordinate. In Slobbovia, a Diplomacy variant, players who control more than a few provinces are required to turn control of some over to a subcommander — who can declare independence if not satisfied with his commander’s play.
Hierarchies are useful in acculturating newbies, in fostering continued communication up and down the hierarchy, and in fostering team play, but with the additional advantage that ‘teams’ can be more fluid than in games with explicit teams, since players may change hierarchies, and move up or down within their existing hierarchy.
In a non-digital role playing game, much of the pleasure of play derives from playing a role: from making decisions in the spirit of your character, from a vicarious experience of what it is like to be a person living in an imaginary universe, from speaking and acting “in character.”
In some types of role playing games — in LARPs, in many indie “narrativist” RPGs, in story games, and in jeepforms — the line between ‘game’ and ‘theater’ is blurred to the point that the distinction between between “role playing” and “acting” is moot.
Role playing, in this case, is not merely about vicarious experience, however; it’s also about showing off for, and entertaining your friends. Saying interesting things, acting in unpredictable (but character-consistent) ways, and improvising with your friends becomes critical.
Performative play like this need not be as freeform as in tabletop RPGs, however; as an example, one of the most popular games on the old Sierra Network (a pre-Internet commercial online service) was called Acrophobia.
The game is very simple; a group of players are served a random string of characters. Each must devise a sentence in which the first characters of the words of the sentence together produce the random string they were served.
When all players have entered a sentence, they are revealed, and the players then vote on which they like best; after several rounds, the player with the most cumulative votes is the winner.
In this case, the way to win is to come up with the sentences your fellow players will think are wittiest and most amusing; despite the restrictive, formalist nature of the game, it is performative at its essence.
Performative play is utterly social in nature, and possible only in multiplayer games; it is also something to which online games have always been well suited. The existence of a social graph, making it easier to play with actual friends instead of strangers, should foster performative play more effectively than other online environments. And yet not only do social games not foster performance of any kind, they eschew the kinds of communication — messages (other than the preformatted) and chat — that could support performance.
In recent months, the number of monthly active users for social games has dropped a bit, and there’s been some discussion of the idea that the social game boom may have passed its peak. No good thing lasts forever, and unquestionably the success of social games owes some debt to their novelty, and novelty wears off quickly. In my opinion, this is a temporary matter, largely resulting from the sameness of available games; one new game exploiting a play pattern social gamers haven’t seen before will be sufficient to restore interest in the field.
Where that play pattern will come from is a matter of conjecture, but to my mine one place to look is obvious: in fostering gameplay that is itself social, in a meaningful sense.
As social media natives, social games need to become truly social. This means more than exploiting the social graph for business model purposes; it means figuring out how to use the social graph to provide unique and compelling gameplay.
Social games must become actually social.
篇目4，Designing for Small-Group Play in Social Games
Many social games encourage (or coerce) players to invite as many friends as possible to join them, yet provide few meaningful ways for these friends to play the game together. The occasional wall post or notification asking friends for the latest “widget” to complete a quest is such a small gesture towards community and cooperation. Social games hold a unique promise towards collaborative play — but will we see innovation in this aspect of game design?
Small Groups within Larger Groups
Although I rag on the mechanic of ‘collecting widgets’, it does provide a window into an interesting aspect of small group behavior – the active players cooperate with each other, creating a small group of collaborators amongst the larger group of not-as-active players. Over time, players figure out which of their friends can be depended on to help complete quests and which can’t. It can almost feel like a ‘team sport’ at that point.
The Like Button
Among my game-playing friends, some have evolved the habit of “Liking” wall posts when they send a requested quest item. Also when people place the original post, they’ll add a comment clarifying how many of the ‘widget’ they still need. It’s an interesting method of advertising for help, and also for the helper to let folks know that they have helped out. I know it’s not very biblical, as we should perform our good deeds in private, not shout them from the street corners, but this behavior can lead players to create a new Friend connections with a Friend-of-a-Friend, because you know that this new person is active in the same social games.
Some pundits rail against this style of social interaction, calling it “evil” because players treat their friends as ‘resources’ to be exploited, and because of the psychological hooks of expected reciprocity; the idea that any gift is not truly free, because of the implied social expectation of returning the favor.
Yes, I can see why games take advantage of this social pressure and why there’s a perceived ‘dark side’ to this sense of mutual dependence — but I’d prefer to focus on the bright side of these connections. Playing a game with other human beings is, by its nature, going to be a little messier and unpredictable compared to playing by yourself — but it’s also what makes it a richer experience than solo play. Knowing that you’re helping your friends get further in the game, and knowing that they’re helping you — there’s a shared sense of responsibility for that success and enjoyment.
If anything, I think Social Games don’t currently go far enough with having friends influence each other’s games. So how do you create a sense of intimacy in a ‘massively social’ game?
Games should look and feel different because your friends are helping you, and even better if they are different because specific friends are helping you. I think of how CityVille allows your friends to build business Franchises in your city, including the funny names that they give the businesses. I really liked that ability for my friends to put their ‘stamp’ on my play space, and liked being able to place my franchises in their city.
One of my favorite examples is from a non-Facebook Game called GoalLine Blitz. It’s a football game, with fantasy-football-like qualities, but all of the individual players are controlled by human beings. In an overtly competitive, team-based environment like this, your success or failure really does rely on the contributions of the other humans on your team. This creates an extremely strong sense of dependence and reciprocity, but also a powerful feeling of shared experience.
In some games it’s easy to fade into the background while still, technically, belonging to the larger group. Ideally, the design of your game minimizes the impact of this or creates strict boundaries that prevent it from happening or perpetuating.
In games like Kingdoms of Camelot (and all the other games based on Travian, which is probably based on something else…), the massively competitive design builds in a need for very large guilds to form in order to fight the other very large guilds. Invariably, leaders will emerge in such a structure (formally or informally) and other members of these groups will fade into the shadows without contributing meaningfully to the ongoing drama the way that the primary movers-and-shakers are doing.
To me, though, this 80-20 distribution of effort is missing the opportunity for true cooperation. There must be some human limit as to how big a group can be and still have each member feel a sense of belonging and feel like their participation, or lack thereof, is needed and noticed by the rest of the group.
Note to self: hit Wikipedia and Google and see if there’s a psych study out there that gives insight into this magic number. Designing a game that specifically works within the boundaries if this number could encourage investment and daily-active-usage… although it might fit better in a niche game rather than the more ‘mass market’ games like Zynga’s portfolio.
I read a lot about core game developers getting into social gaming and insisting that ‘the future’ of social or Facebook games is integrating real-time play or fancy 3d technologies like Unity. I think this is missing one of the best parts of social network gaming — asynchronous play with friends. NOT having to play at the same exact ‘real’ time as your friends, but being able to play with them nonetheless — that is pretty magical.
Really old school gamers played roleplaying games by mail, and later added in ‘play by post’ with bulletin board systems, and still today play by email. Early fantasy baseball players played over the physical mail, and even though that industry exploded with the introduction of the internet and server hosted play, it’s still inherently asynchronous. Heck, even the watercooler effect of watching a TV show the night before and then discussing it at work the next day is a form of asynchronous ‘play’ surrounding a shared entertainment experience.
There’s a beauty and a leisurely style to asynchronous play that should be embraced, not discarded like an inadequate side effect of the lack of some new technology. It is sufficient, complete and interesting all on its own.