Game Design Framework for Social Networks
The design framework is the result of analysing a number of social network games. Looking at the most popular multiplayer games such as Farmville, Lil’ Green Patch, Mafia Wars, Who Has the Biggest Brain?, or interesting game designs such as Parking Wars, PackRat, PhotoGrab.
Translating the results into a framework that can; inform design decisions, be used as an inspiration, and a starting point when brainstorming social network game concepts.
A design framework for social network play mechanics
Here is a framework of design drivers in visual format as devised by Aki Jarvinen.
Part 1: Narrativity. This is the concept that various player actions and play results are narrated across the network. That is why I argue that Narrativity, in this sense, deserves to be identified as an important aspect in the framework.
Asynchronicity permeates play in social networks: Play takes place in turns, or in individual time units (‘ticks’) per player which then get acknowledged by the game as a system facilitating networked play. That is why it is pictured as an orange, cyclical path of game play along which players repeatedly go through. Furthermore, their progress, network standing, and reputation evolves parallel to this cyclical process of core play mechanics.
In the visualization, the clouds between individual play moments specify some consequences for player experience, or ‘PX’ as Nicole Lazzaro calls it, that the particular transitions bring about. Therefore, the idea of the framework is that design solutions affecting and producing such transitions can be put into specific focus, and some perhaps emphasized over the others, thus giving the play the game facilitates potentially a different flavor.
Now, let’s start identifying design patterns which relate to the four aspects of playful interactions: Spontaneity, Symbolic Physicality, Inherent Sociability, and Narrativity.
Design patterns for social network play
The illustration below unravels a number of design patterns that can be used in supporting a particular aspect of social network play. Various specific implementations of each pattern can be found already out there, especially in Facebook, and without doubt, new ones will be introduced. However, such design solutions are constrained by the particular network they are implemented within, to varying extent.
Designing social network play: Unlearning game design and embracing network play
Design topics traditionally held as integral to good, successful games matter less – they are there to pay attention to, but they do not necessarily break your game. For example: game balance, i.e. designing the goals and rewards in a balanced way for each player to guarantee satisfactory play experiences, seems to matter less in social network games than with board games, or computer and video games.
Another aspect to unlearn, to an extent: Subtlety of game mechanics, and the dynamics they create, are not that important, when we are designing networked social play. This is largely due to the fact that it is the network, and its whimsical and contextual factors, including players with playful dispositions, that substitute such design sophistications in creating fun (enough!) experiences.
As a game designer, it can be hard to break from the above-mentioned tools of the trade, as they can be the very reason that games and designing are fascinating. But online social networks, and how people play them, is fascinating as well, right?
The near future of innovation in social network games
The above is not to say that new game design innovations won’t be seen in social network games – however, it is to say that the innovations will more likely take place in the aspects that characterize the network, rather than the game as a design object.
This example gives evidence that games in social networks are events and services, and they should be designed as such. This means being sensitive to the constraints and possibilities of networks, and the online human interactions – and creativity – they facilitate.
This article would not have been possible without the excellent work of Aki Jarvinen.