The social phenomenon is hardly a new one. As two of the most well known social successes, Facebook currently boasts over 750 million daily active users (DAU) and Twitter has more than 100 million. What’s interesting is the rate at which games are fast catching up. Candy Crush is probably the best example with nearly 100 million daily active users and still growing.
It’s hardly surprising. Games are an inherently social media and, with the relatively new power of mobile devices accommodating better and better games, it is likely that we will see this trend continue. One wonders how long it will take for games to overtake many of the other social applications and dominate the charts.
Candy Crush is not the only example. There are many others. Gung Ho’s Puzzles & Dragons, Supercell’s Clash of Clans, to name but a few. In order to generate huge player numbers, these games have all done one thing in common. They have built social mechanics directly into the game in order to surf the giant wave that is social mobile.
Nosferatu – Twilight Runner is a new runner title that has just launched using the GameSparks platform and hopes to emulate the success of other runaway hits in the same genre, such as, Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride. It has made extensive use of social mechanics in order to use virality to drive up player numbers and increase engagement. So far, so good. The game has launched in a couple of different countries and its social features are paying off as it looks to drive up player numbers. Here is a list of the key social features it employs.
1. Facebook Integration
If you don’t already have your own social network of players, then the last thing you should be trying to do is build one. Many of the large social networks have provided APIs so that you can use established networks of players that have already invested considerable time building links to their own friends online. Leverage those. By integrating existing networks into your game (and you can integrate more than one), you encourage players to do your marketing for you. Using GameSparks, integration with social networks is straightforward. As soon as you create your new game object in the main configuration screen, editing that object allows you to enter the App ID and Secrets from the 3rd party network. GameSparks can then harvest the friend data on the backend and use that data to create things like friend based leaderboards etc.
2. Friend Points
Once you have taken the step of integrating the game with a social network, the most important thing to do is to incentivize your players to invite their friends to play the game. The key issue around this is that people get asked to invite their friends to a lot of things these days so they are inclined to do it sparingly. We find this mechanic works if the game is good enough and the rewards are integrated well into the core game play. An example of being well integrated is to reward the players with in-game currency or lives, which both Nosferatu and Candy Crush do very well.
It’s worth really thinking about this and designing it into your game. Presently, it costs at least $2 per player on most of the player acquisition platforms. If you can convince your players to invite their friends this is a much more cost effective player acquisition strategy.
Once you embrace the concept of players having a more social experience with their existing friends it is worth exploring how this experience can be made more fulfilling. Gifting is one way of doing this where the game allows players to exchange virtual items with their friends. Sending them lives or in-game virtual items can be effective for certain player types. As a developer, you are trying to find more ways of getting these established networks of friends to engage with each other with the game as the central theme of conversation.
At this stage we need to introduce the concept of player types. Richard Bartle created one of the more prevalent player categorization models. You can read all about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartle_Test
Essentially, he divides players into 4 high level categories, which defines their motivations and playing characteristics. The 4 categories are summarized as follows:
The effectiveness of certain social features and mechanics is inevitably tied to the player types that play the game. The most successful games appeal to a broad set of player types and therefore employ a range of mechanics to cater for each type.
Evidently, gifting appeals more to socialites than any other type of player.
4. Social Leaderboards
The leaderboard is one of the oldest and most under-rated social features. Where gifting appeals more to Socialites, leaderboards appeal directly to the competitive amongst us, or the Killers.
There is a certain bias towards Killers in the games industry. A lot of games are created with this player type in mind – games where score, rank, or lap time are important and featured prominently on many of the screens, for example. These are all designed to bring the competitive side out in us. It’s hard to imagine these games without leaderboards.
With games boasting millions of players, and all of their scores being managed centrally, leaderboards have become harder to manage and too abstract therefore failing to serve any purpose. As a result, leaderboards have had to adapt. The social leaderboard is one of the ways in which they have adapted where a player is shown their score relative to only those of their friends. This technique provides far more context and works well if heavily integrated into the games other social features.
Going forward, leaderboards need to be able to be sliced and diced by a far more dynamic set of attributes in order to continue to provide context and derive the competitive reaction that they are designed to provoke. Geo-location, age group, nationality, favorite football team etc.
Implementing leaderboards can be challenging. They present a sophisticated performance challenge. Leading games may have 10 million concurrent players – all writing new scores concurrently. Providing real-time leaderboard updates in sub 1 second requires a comprehensive backend solution. (GameSparks provides highly performant cross-platform leaderboards that can be dynamically aggregated across a number of different attributes in real time.)
Last on the list of top 5 social features are events. Events can be a useful way of getting players to focus their social activity through the scheduling of tournaments or other multi-player game sessions. On mobile platforms it’s better to use deadlines than set a fixed time where everyone has to play. In other words, it is more effective to get players to complete something by a date in the future rather than all have to play at a particular point in time.
The nature of how events can be used is very dependent on the core game play. In Nosferatu, events are used to assign targets to groups of friends so that they are encouraged, as a group, to engage in the game.
GameSparks supports a wide range of multiplayer and event based game mechanics all of which make up an important part of the social game functionality. The platform supports both real-time and multiplayer game play and multiplayer sessions can be scheduled to occur at certain times. The platform also supports server-to-player (in-game and push) messaging and player-to-player messaging.
It’s worth pointing out that to socially enable a game is to design social interaction into the core game play. It’s not enough to simply pick a couple of cursory social mechanics and drop these into your game at the end. You will fail to get the required k-factors (a measure of virality) with this approach. Embrace social game play. It is, after all, what gaming is all about.
Walled gardens are a major impediment to virality and the effectiveness of social features. If players are restricted to only deal with those subsets of their networks on the same device eco-system it acts as a significant barrier to use. It is important, therefore, to implement these features in a cross-platform way, where an iOS player can socially interact with an Android player and a Windows player seamlessly. And why stop at mobile devices – the same point can be expanded to incorporate PC and Consoles too.
We now live in a social connected world. We also live in an incredibly competitive one and in order to compete for players attention there are some pretty accessible tools you can use to help you. Social mechanics make up a key subset of these tools. All of these are available out-of-the-box and for free from GameSparks. smuttlewerk Interactive, with Nosferatu, is a great example of a studio that knows how to put them to good use.