Facebook Instant Games平台的游戏设计探讨
Facebook Instant Games平台的游戏设计探讨
原作者：Adam Telfer 译者：Willow Wu
Facebook Instant Games是一个新的开发者平台，针对的是Messenger和News Feed上的游戏，它跟其它大部分新平台都不太一样，这就意味着开发者们必须采取相对谨慎的策略。首先，Messenger游戏是基于HTML5制作的，而HTML5并不是创作好游戏的最佳选项。Messenger也不能算是一个全新的平台，更准确地说应该是平台中的平台（类似微信小程序）。
一年过去了，这个平台也展现出了强劲的发展势头。玩家数量迅速增长、开发者们的eCPM（earning cost per mille，指的就是每一千次展示可以获得的广告收入）也很可观，IAP前景一片大好。Messenger的用户基数还在持续不断增长，在2017年年末，它的月活跃量超过了13亿人。从启动界面上你就可以了解到Messenger游戏的用户群体数据，排名前十的游戏最少的拥有300万玩家，最多的可以达到1000万，这是前所未有的。2018年2月，一款名为Snake Mania的游戏在七天之内又收获了220万个玩家。Messenger很快就成了开发者们的目标平台之一。
但是，通讯应用上的游戏跟手游、社交网站游戏不一样。很多开发者都认为他们可以直接把手游移植到Messenger上，确实，有些游戏可以，比如Cut the Rope和Adventure Capitalist，但是大部分还是行不通的。不仅仅是技术方面的问题，游戏设计也是需要改动的。
Instant Games上的游戏感觉像是2010~2011年的手游。虽说有不少玩法设计和UX知识可以应用到Messenger Instant Games上（毕竟它们还是在移动智能设备上运行，触控操作），但是用户留存方面就不是那么好办了。要充分利用这个平台的潜能，开发者们必须要重新考虑游戏的核心循环、进阶机制以及互动方式。
是的，有很多手游开发者会把Instant Games看作是另一个销售渠道。我不怪他们，毕竟手游领域的竞争真的非常激烈，所以有任何可以增加下载量的方法他们都会去尝试。然而，Instant Games并不是收获新玩家的快捷通道。
尽管有的游戏确实涨势惊人，但归根结底它们还是依附在另一个应用上的游戏。Facebook一直在积极地完善Instant Games平台，他们的其中一个目标似乎是想通过Instant Games平台提高Messenger的使用率，所以重点是应用，而不是游戏，开发者们要明白这点。所以，利用这个平台把玩家都吸引到另一个平台去是行不通的，而且你也不需要这么做。游戏本身就是一个商业产品，它可以靠自己盈利，为什么还要费这个劲呢？
从另一个角度来说，Instant Games也可以用来增加品牌认知度。Nordeus和ZeptoLab就做得相当好。由Nordeus开发的Golden Boot中处处可见Top Eleven的推广，但是游戏也不会让玩家直接跳出平台，转到Top Eleven的下载页面。ZeptoLab的Cut the Rope Instant跟手游版的游戏体验并无差别，这样也会拉动手游版本的收益增长，但其实这两个游戏的玩家数量就足以让它们在Instant Games独当一面了，而不是单纯地被当作推广工具。
再说其它尝试使用回合制玩法的游戏，就是玩家在每一回合结束之后会把他们的下一步行动发给你。去年，针对通讯应用内游戏，我们想要在把重点放在回合制互动上，但是经过多次尝试后，我们发现这对用户留存不是特别有效。主要原因就是玩家必须得等朋友的行动才能继续进行游戏，有些等不及的玩家就会退出游戏。手游版本的Words with Friends或Draw Something也会出现这种情况，对方要是没有动作的话玩家也玩不下去了。但是像8 ball pool和Words with Friends之所以能成功是因为它们很早就移植到通讯平台了，已经积累了一大批忠实玩家。这对于刚来通讯应用平台的开发者来说可能比较难实现。
所以对于某些游戏来说，解决这个问题就需要多增加几个模式，让玩家可以跟陌生人一起玩。就比如Golden Boot，当朋友不在的时候，玩家可以跟陌生人进行比赛。这应该也是游戏成功的原因之一。而上文提过的Snake Mania，平台上盈利最多的游戏之一，它就只专注于跟陌生人玩游戏。
Instant Games还在发展初期，但是市场的发展脚步可是都非常快的。这一年之内，我们就在平台上目睹了几次大洗牌。之前有很多形势大好的游戏在一年后变得默默无闻，比如Galaga、Space Invaders、PAC-Man；当然还有很多新游戏在上月迅速攀升，比如Snake Mania和Cookie Crush。
Whenever a new platform emerges, it’s always interesting to see how developers jump onto the opportunity.
Instant Games — Facebook’s new developer platform for games on Messenger and News Feed, isn’t like most new platform transitions, so for most, this meant a more cautious approach. For one, Messenger games are built on HTML5. HTML5 as a technology doesn’t have the best track record for creating great games. Messenger also isn’t necessarily a new platform either — more like a platform within a platform. The platform comes with challenges that come with working within Apple and Google’s ecosystems.
Yet a year later, the platform is showing signs of strength. Games are getting massive growth, developers have competitive eCPMs for advertising, and there is promise of In-App Purchases coming in the future. Facebook Messenger continues to grow in user base numbers, reaching more than 1.3B monthly users in late 2017. Looking at public user base data that is surfaced on the splash screen for games that load in Messenger, the top 10 games have between 3M and 10M players. Growth has been unprecedented. A game “Snake Mania” grew by 2.2M players in 7 days during February 2018. Messenger is fast becoming a viable platform.
However, approaching the messenger platform isn’t the same as mobile design or social web games. Many mobile devs are trying direct ports of their mobile games over to Messenger. Some have succeeded with this method (Cut the Rope and Adventure Capitalist) but most have failed. It seems that this isn’t a straight-technical platform change, design needs to change as well.
I believe that moving to Instant Games will be a product and design shift similar to what mobile was in 2010-2011. While many of the same gameplay interactions and UX learnings can be applied to Instant Games on Messenger (it still is a mobile platform with touch controls), to drive retention on the platform is not a simple port. Re-thinking core loops, progression, interactions from the ground up is necessary to reach the full potential of the platform.
This is something that we’ve learned at Chatterbox Games over the last year of developing games for Facebook Instant Games and iMessage, that many of the best practices of mobile don’t apply to messenger games, and to overcome the initial challenges you really have to think about the opportunities that only exist in the messenger context.
It’s not a Marketing Channel
This is commonly how many mobile game developers will approach the platform. I don’t blame them, mobile is a highly competitive battlefield and developers are desperate for any leg up they can for getting installs. But developers thinking that messenger games are a free place to get new players will be mistaken.
While messenger games can gain insane levels of growth, they are all playing within messenger. Facebook has worked aggressively to build Instant Games on Messenger as a platform on its own. One of Facebook goals is most likely to drive increased engagement within messenger, not drive players into your games. So attempting to use the platform to pull players away from the platform won’t work — nor will you need to. Games can work and be profitable as its own business unit — so why fight against it?
That being said, Instant Games can be used for branding. Nordeus and ZeptoLab have done a great job at this. Golden Boot by Nordeus has Top Eleven branding all over the game, but does not directly link to the game or push players outside the platform. ZeptoLab’s Cut the Rope Instant re-creates the same feeling of playing a native mobile version. This can drive organic installs to their mobile game, but regardless both of these games have a substantial user base on Instant Games and can build a business case on its own. Branding has its benefits, but revenue generating games are always better.
If Messenger is not an acquisition channel, the games built for it have to stand on its own in terms of retention and monetization. It’s possible, but only if you think critically of how retention can be sustained within a chat app.
Retention is Difficult
As we’ve mentioned before, retention on messenger platforms is lower than native mobile. It’s more similar to facebook canvas than it is to native mobile. This is intuitive — most users are going into messenger to chat with their friends, not to play games. Messenger games don’t install to your phone — there’s no icon on the home screen, no push notifications, no red dots to let you know when to come back. Messenger games have to drive retention in other ways.
Retention instead has to come from what’s unique about the platform: social interactions. Retention is driven by friends pulling you back to play against them, or working together.
On native mobile, facebook adoption has become tougher. Most developers would rather push players to play in guilds with other active players than real friends. Yet knowing from launching countless mobile games in the past, players that connect to facebook and actively play with friends retain far better. With messenger, this social connection is no longer an option — facebook connection is a natural part of the user experience. Right from the start you have access to friends that are playing the game, displaying them in a leaderboard, challenging them, gifting them.
Social Contexts & Bots are Imperative
Messenger’s first priority is still to be a chat app — so real estate for games isn’t limitless. In order to have a path to your game and retain players, you have to fight to stay relevant in a player’s chat application. Facebook has the games tab along the bottom for finding new games to play, but to retain players you’re going to have to go farther than that.
Social contexts are chats with friends or groups which your game is relevant to the conversation. You can see from the image above, in both a group chat and a one-on-one conversation, a player has posted to this chat and now there’s a clear call to action to start the game.
Your Bot channel is the other method. Think of this as your home screen icon within the messenger app, however it functions more like a chat with a friend. This allows you to communicate via messages to your players, giving out rewards and notifying them when things are happening within your game:
However, bot channels can quickly become spammy, and facebook is very restrictive over how often games can send messages. If players don’t engage with your bot, it will quickly drop off their messenger home page. If players don’t want to be bugged by your game, muting the channel is a quick button press away. Facebook has learned from their early gaming days to prevent game developers from ruining the user experience of their platform.
So this is the real design challenge for a messenger game:
How do you design games that can naturally stay relevant in both friend’s chats and group’s?
How do you design mechanics so that bots that aren’t spam and remain relevant to players?
How does the design of your games make the bot and social contexts compelling to return?
These aren’t normal design problems for a native mobile game.
Creating Social Interactions
The best games on the platform will attempt to create the strongest social interactions. This will both be great for the game’s virality and their retention. So let’s just push players to spam their friends in order to play, right?
This has led to many of the initial interactions on the platform to be straight from the playbook of old facebook social games:
Gifting Lives between friends in Cookie Crush
Getting “Honor Points” for sending messages to friends in Everwing
Forcing players to play with friends even in single player experiences
But this isn’t really leveraging the platform for what it does best, and isn’t sustainable.
What has stood out as new to messenger games are group chat dynamics. A game pushes players to engage with their group chats: working together to solve a problem or competing against each other.
The strongest implementation of social interactions are “group raids”. That you can start a challenging level that can be only completed if you work together with others in a group chat. The more powerful the members are, the more difficult the challenge you can complete, the bigger the rewards.
This system allows players of all progress levels to work together, prod each other to play more, and feel rewarding to play with friends. However, this is limited to games that can give a similar depth of rewards as a RPG game, not all games can work with a system like this.
Other games attempt to use turn-based gameplay. That after each turn a player would send you their move. We’ve attempted a couple times last year to focus on turn-based interactions with your friends in messenger games, but we found it isn’t the best for retention. The key reason: if players can’t keep playing because they’re waiting for friends, they will leave the game. In the same way that “Words with Friends” or “Draw Something” from native mobile were interesting only while your friends played the game, as soon as your friends stopped responding, you had no reason to come back. Some games have gotten this to work (8 ball pool by Miniclip and Words with Friends), but these were launched very early on the platform and have sustained a large critical mass of players. New developers to messenger will have a harder time to reach that critical mass.
For some games, to solve this means adding more modes where you can play against strangers as well. When looking at Golden Boot from Nordeus, this most likely drove a lot of its success. You can match with strangers when friends aren’t active. In the case of Snake Mania, the top growing game mentioned above, focuses solely on playing with strangers.
However, I believe this starts to water down what separates messenger games from native mobile games. While this is working currently (by mimicking what is already retaining well on native mobile) the future for messenger games will do a better job of integrating social interactions with friends. Making playing with your friends the optimal way to progress.
As discoverability becomes an issue on the platform, developers will need to rely more heavily on social contexts to drive retention and installs. Games that can smartly integrate social interactions will be the winners.
Instant Games are still in their infancy, but the marketplace is maturing very quickly. Within a year, there already has been big shifts in what games work on the platform. Many games that were big on the platform a year ago are no longer (ex. Galaga, Space Invaders, PAC-Man), and plenty of new hits have moved up the charts within the last months (ex. Snake Mania, Cookie Crush).
Instant Games games will be the “wild west” for the next while. As more developers join the fray and discoverability becomes an issue, the games’ design will need move towards making social-focused games on the platform. My recommendations for anyone looking to join the messenger gaming market:
This isn’t about UA for your mobile game: Instant Games is a platform on its own and can be a viable business model. Work with the platform holders and build an audience on messenger, don’t think of it as a new way to acquire users.
Retention isn’t easy: without the install, it’s hard to stay relevant to your players. You have to stay on the player’s mind and drive social interactions to stay relevant.
Design for a useful Bot & a variety of Social Channels: Bots and social contexts are the only way to drive players back to your game, so create lots of ways your friends can work together and ensure your bot stays useful.
Don’t let social interactions get in the way of engagement: while social interactions are useful for pulling players back, don’t use social interactions to pace players. Don’t make players wait for their friends to play the game.
Social interactions between friends is where to focus: despite many games success so far focusing on strangers, as the platform becomes more competitive the area to focus will be on strong social interactions between friends. This channel will drive sustained retention and engagement.
I’m really looking forward to this year in messaging games. It will be a wild one. I can assure you one thing for those who are building messenger games: it won’t be boring.(source:gamasutra.com )