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Getting Players to Return to Facebook Games

February 9, 2011

Getting players to post to the viral channel is a challenge every game designer faces when he or she is making Facebook games. It’s known that players are most likely to post when they’ve just started a game, but what motivates returning players?

Four things:

  • It helps me. There is a particular item or objective that is core to the progression of my game with which I need your help. Typically, the game allows you to buy your way around the “Ask Friends For Help” option. If I need your help to progress, short of paying cash, I’ll post it.
  • I know it helps you. It’s key here that it actually does help other players. I am likely to post something to my feed if it gives you something I would want for myself. I understand the item’s value and scarcity. It’s also important to consider that over the lifetime of a game as well as the curve of player progression, the value and scarcity of an object may change. What I care about in an early game may not mean anything to me later on. Does that mean the viral messages should change? Not always, but catering to player’s needs and a player’s perceived value is critical. I have seen messages in feeds which offer stuff I have absolutely no desire for. There is just no reason I would click. Other times, I am prompted to post a feed which will give my friends something which I know has no value. Likewise, I am not likely to post through.
  • It helps us both. Parody though it may be, Cow Clicker suggests players post a message to their feed. Anyone who clicks on the viral message not only gets “mooney” with which they can buy “clicks” to add to their “click” total, but also gives the original poster “mooney” as well. It is an example of a mutually beneficial viral which trades in the only thing that matters in the game – “clicks”.
  • Pride. I will post if I am actually proud of what I have achieved, be it a quest, an item or something else. Generally, I am proud of this because I want to show off the great thing that I have done. Recently, I posted that I’d leveled to 17 in a game, because it took me quite a while. When I finish building the epic chapel I am working on in another game, I can assure you I’ll post about that, too.

Does this mean we should only include virals which fit the above themes? No. What makes one player proud could make another feel frustrated at the conclusion. For instance, an epic quest to gather a lot of materials could challenge and excite one player but irritate another. Likewise, some players abhor all forms of feed messages while others are happy to click through a wide variety of virals. In fact, there is a whole class of player for whom “playing the feeds” has become a pleasant meta-game to the game it supports. Of course, we also don’t want to limit a player’s viral opportunities, particularly when our games depend on it, nor do we want to overdo it.

Ultimately, your only defense against subpar virals is playing your own game. Do you actually feel motivated to click your own viral message? If not, why do you think others will? Are you aware of the click through? Have you investigated the good ones vs. the lame ducks to understand what hooks they’re using? Are you watching your competitors like a hawk? Remember, though, that you are only one player in your game. Watch how others play, too, particularly if their play style is different than yours.

Analyzing your own play, feeling the hooks in the game and watching the results via metrics offers the best chance of creating compelling virals which players feel motivated to click through.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2011 10:58 am

    You’re spot on. We do this calculus all the time in the context of our relationships/interactions/communications, and it only makes sense that we would bring this same set of considerations to our game play. I’m thinking about my own progression and status, but I’m also thinking about yours. If I can improve my progress by posting something to my feed that will help you, I’m doubly motivated. Pride as a motivation for posting is also clear cut.

    But I suspect there isn’t nearly enough emphasis, yet, on providing me with an opportunity to post about your accomplishments or the achievements of others. This is another thing we do all the time. “Did you hear about what Brenda did?” Or maybe, “You won’t believe this: Brenda finished building that epic chapel!” Those are obvious opportunities for a push into the viral channel.

  2. Adrian Lopez permalink
    February 13, 2011 6:52 pm

    “It helps me. / I know it helps you. / It helps us both. / Pride.”

    The above items are all examples of ways that games serve the needs of those who play them, but the overall impression I get from social games is that players are the ones who serve the needs of game developers. In the worst case the player is little more than a resource to be exploited for cash and relationships, which lead in turn to more players and more cash. Even when the players’ interests are being addressed, the real goal — monetization — may still be quite evident.

    I don’t think “designing for players” and “designing for profit” are necessarily incompatible, but I do think turning gameplay elements into profit-making elements tends to skew the balance against players and in favor of profit. Games where the profit motive ends at the cash register are not quite so skewed, and that’s why I like those games better than your typical social game.

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