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Facebook Game Player Propagation (Part 2)

February 28, 2009
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It’s been awhile since Brenda first wrote about this, and Facebook games have evolved (slightly) since that time. Having just started really researching these games myself, I’m noticing all kinds of interesting trends, and how subtle differences in propagation methods can have profound effects on gameplay.

Right now, the most successful Facebook games seem to be variants of old BBS Door games. Core mechanics include:

  • You are given some basic resources to manage: usually cash and some kind of items that determine your ability to attack and defend.
  • You get to take actions at a predetermined rate (Door games used to give you N actions per day, refreshed daily; Facebook games give you +1 action every N minutes).
  • Actions include getting more resources, and attacking other players. You can expect to attack and be attacked a lot, especially once you get anywhere near the leaderboards.
  • You get some kind of in-game bonus for either paying cash, or visiting sponsored websites and completing offers which will then pay the cash on your behalf. This is how the developers make money.
  • You also get some kind of in-game bonus for adding your friends. This is how the game propagates.

There’s a problem with propagation: your friends feel like chumps who are joining some stupid game just to serve you. If you ever have to balance the social cred lost with your friends against the advantage gained in the game, your friends will (hopefully) win. Facebook games have to find a way to work against this, and there are a few ways.

Shared advantage. When anyone starts out in the game, they gain an advantage if invited by a friend. Now if your friend joins the game, they are doing it for their own benefit and not for yours.

Unlockable content. One trend is to have friend prerequisites to access certain content. “You must have at least 3 friends to select this action.” You can also buy fake friends with real cash if you prefer to go that route; this lets you know exactly what cash value the developers place on propagation. There are typically milestones; in a game where you do not get any fake friends for free, you were probably invited into the game by a friend, so the first prerequisite will require 3 friends (so, you either have to buy a fake friend, or invite someone). Then a little further on you’ll see actions requiring 4 friends, then 5…

What if my friend already plays this game and didn’t invite me? Different games handle this situation in different ways. Usually you can “invite” your friends who already play and still get credit, which gives you an advantage if you and a bunch of your friends all decide to start playing a particular game at the same time. At the same time, most games I’ve seen will not make this easy for you; you do not simply get a list of “friends who already play” from the game itself. On the one hand, this is understandable; it gives you an in-game advantage with no benefit to the developer. On the other hand, it’s annoying, because the game conceals a gameplay advantage from you.

Friend count matters, power does not. If you’re Level 30 in a game and you invite a friend who will start at Level 1, how would their weak character possibly be of benefit to you? The answer is that their stats do not affect you, and yours do not affect them. All that matters is how many friends you have in the game, not how well they’re doing. This is a pretty neat solution to the problem, but does limit how much you can actually affect your friends in the game when you’re at wildly different power levels.

– Ian Schreiber

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 2, 2009 2:11 am

    Well, in terms of chumps, I think the various methods still leave the question of whether the friend is invited because they are important, or the game is important and needs friends invited.

    Rather than just the potential for social cred loss, there can be a subtle yet important priority shift going on.

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