Suddenly everywhere you look there is a buzz about social games. Dollar signs flashing before every developer’s eyes as everyone is amazed by the success of some of the first movers in this exploding market. But designing an engaging social games is not something everyone can do, just because the designer is ripping off the latest big hit on facebook it really doesn’t mean its going to be a success.
So having had a good look around the social game world & having made our 3rd social game this year, here’s some nuggets of information that should help any budding social games designer to develop a better game.
Its all about a great single player game experience with a bit of social attached! Or is it? I would argue that even though the single player aspect is paramount, if that is the starting point the design of the social game will be sadly rather limiting.
Ready, Steady, Fight!
When we were designing iSeed, we looked at opt-in leagues and leader-board tables and felt that whilst useful they just didn’t cut the mustard in getting people to engage with each other, so we extended the competition to one on one, head to head, good old fashioned fighting. Its not a first person shooter, it’s a game about the environment, so there were limits on what we could do – that’s where we decided to design for direct competition. You can pick an adversary and pit your stories and plants against them, a virtual grow-off if you like.
Kerching! Its time to Monetize!
Some people love the word monetize next to social media, some don’t really get it. We think it’s super important but needs careful consideration about target audience and what the project is for.
Whist we developed iSeed we wanted a way to encourage folks to donate to the charity involved, so we hit on the idea of selling money! Yes we reinvented virtual currency, in our case Seeds and Plant Food – if this is sounding like Farmville can I just clarify that we built it before Farmville. Any how, having a market place with virtual goods that can be exchanged with hard cold cash is not new, but needs incorporating into ‘any’ social game. After all if you can’t monetize your social game, how will you sustain it?
Going beyond the application
A lot of the time the social game is designed to suck you in and get you spending. But what if it’s a serious social game? What if you really are trying to influence and change behaviour? Will a web game, all be it on Facebook be the answer? Well probably not, the real change happens after the person has walked away from the screen, in what they do once they’ve played your social game. How do we do that? That’s the real challenge. So back to iSeed and the premise of the game is that you start in the real world, with real world challenges. Bringing it all together through mashups using facebook, twitter and google maps.
Going fully social on the social game
Its yet to happen, but when it does you can bet your bottom dollar it’s going to be massive. The closest thing to it? Probably Kongragate or Second Life – but neither is it. What is it? It’s the next big innovation in social games, being able to play multiple games together under one platform, moving from one game to another seamlessly as though it’s all part of the same universe. Granted Kongragate makes a good job of it, but what’s missing is a common platform, will it be Facebook? I suspect not, but being able to socialise in the game itself rather than in the wrapping website is probably the next big thing in social games.