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Facebook Game Player Retention: High Score… and Loss

January 9, 2008

Just a couple small things to report tonight in my continuing Facebook game design fascination. As in previous posts, I am keeping the games discussed to a minimum (two this time) so you can check them out quickly if you like, but you’ll find these design decisions in a lot of others.

High Score Placement

If Facebook games have a high score and allow you to compare your score against your friends’ scores, to keep people interested and competitive, scores should be shown on the main gameplay screen of the game if at all possible. Even a single button press [See Friends’ Scores!] cuts down the effectiveness of such a list, particularly in games that don’t involve any kind of mechanic that lets players affect other player’s scores.

In a social network, people like to know where they are in relation to their friends. Period. Having to press a button to receive this info is a needless step if it can be avoided in anyway.

People like to be noticed in real life and in games, too. Having that high score list present on the page automatically ups the competitiveness of the game, and even makes single player games like Jetman feel more competitive by contrast (Jetman doesn’t have a high score panel on its play page at present). When I play the game, instead of taking advantage of something the game knows I really like – being connected with others and seeing what they’re doing – it tells me what my old high score was and invites me to beat it. However, it’s much more satisfying to beat my friend’s score. This is just as true in Facebook games as it is in all others.

When time is added into the mix – i.e. you have to do something every X hours as you do in Parking Wars – the high score list becomes an ever moving target that the willing will continue to shoot at. Though I am playing a huge number of Facebook games to analyze them, I regularly am going into Parking Wars because a certain game developer and I are trading off the number 1 slot (he has it now… and is about 20K higher than me which is problematic).

High Score Alterations

If a game allows players to affect each other’s scores through game mechanics, the high score listing becomes that much more meaningful as a representation not just of the player’s effectiveness in their own game, but against their friends as well. Again, it adds to the competitiveness and the enjoyment of the game if through your skill you can not only affect your own score, but another’s, too.

High Score Loss

There is a downside to high scores, though. In Parking Wars, my score is 715,000 something or another. This is silly, honestly. I’ve played the game too much, but the other game developer’s score is even higher. While my high score is a constant reflection of my battle with him and the great game I am having, it also is a constant reminder to all my other friends of a train they will never catch.

So, we decide not to play anymore. Players are reluctant to keep up the good fight when they feel that there’s no real fight to be had. Right now, the other game developer playing Parking Wars has gained a lead over me, and it’s not one that I’m sure I can catch. Worse, he’s gaining a bigger lead every day. My motivation is waining, and I see others who were active in our battle in the early days who have become what I refer to as dead parkers: those individuals whose scores do not change.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 10, 2008 2:54 pm

    I think it’s important to make a distinction between cumulative scores (like Parking Wars, where your score gradually increases with continued play) and single-play scores (like Jetman, or Tetris, where you play the game once and receive a final score for your play that is unrelated to the other times you’ve played).

    Both have the “train you can never catch” problem, but for different reasons. For cumulative scores, you realize that when you play and the person ahead of you is playing, your scores are increasing at about the same rate, so you can never catch them. For single-play scores, you just look at the “high score” list and decide that you’re just not good enough at the game to pull that off.

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