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Facebook, Bejeweled Blitz, and Lay’s Potato Chips

October 17, 2009

By Ian Schreiber

Continuing my food theme, it occurs to me that not all successful Facebook games follow the Farmville model of forcing the player to come back. In fact, on reflection, I think this strategy will backfire in the long run. If players come back to a game regularly because they feel forced (rather than because they want to play), once they break out of that endless feedback loop they will not play another game like that again.

There is a class of other games that predates Farmville, but that seems equally popular. Bejeweled Blitz is the canonical example.

Continuing with my snack food theme, consider potato chips. Lay’s even mounted a whole advertising campaign on how you couldn’t eat just one. Because each chip is so small, you just eat one more. Then one more. Then one more. Until the bag is empty.

This model works well for very short games (1 to 3 minutes). You play once, you get your result, and then you get this nice shiny “Play Again” button. So you play one more time. These games need enough variation and enough of a luck factor to give occasional big wins, but enough depth of skill/strategy that you don’t feel like you’re just mechanically clicking away arbitrarily.

So, you can spend a minute there or an hour. Your call. But it will suck up as much of your time as you have available. And then when you do leave, you’ll be thinking about it until you come back to your next game.

Once you break away, how does the game give you incentive to return? Mostly, it seems like weekly high-score lists are sufficient. Each week you have a new chance to beat your friends (and beat your personal best). In some of these games (not Blitz) there are explicit rewards for daily logins. I do not generally see any kind of experience-point-based progression system (Blitz does have “levels” but they have no gameplay effect), and I wonder if a game that added such a mechanic would be even more compelling… or if the progression would somehow cheapen the experience, as players would know that persistence would count at least as much as skill. It would be an interesting experiment, at any rate.

I see the “potato chip” model as being much less likely to cause player backlash than the “Milano cookie” model, because each play experience is still designed to be fun, and if you stay it’s because you want to, not because you feel forced to.

See Facebook, Farmville and Milano Cookies for my previous food themed article.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2009 1:21 pm

    You just described Civ Rev, of course. Sid is practically the grand master of the “just one more turn” model of games.

  2. October 18, 2009 2:12 am

    I would call it the “corn chip” model, myself, given my own tastes, but yes. 🙂 I’m hoping to make use of this effect in one game I’m working on right now. It definitely works for Canabalt.

    And there’s something to be said for making actions discrete, as in turn-based games. Real-time games may be better at some things, but you don’t get a “one more turn” without turns. I remember reading a discussion of MMO games where you have a certain number of action points each day, and each discrete action costs one point (or more?) to perform. Apparently charging money for extra action points is a very lucrative approach to microtransactions…

    Also, I think you could combine the “potato chip” and “Milano cookie” methods in one game. Just make the “Milano cookie” provide *optional* rewards, not required ones. The basic idea is just do something, come back later and harvest your reward for doing that something, and then do something again. The rewards can be optional.

  3. October 18, 2009 12:11 pm

    Curiously (or maybe because it’s a recent and perfect example) like Axcho, I also thought of Canabalt while reading this. We have to take into account that it came out of a “Bare Minimum” themed challenge, so it’s as deep as “guy avoiding obstacles” can be, while at the same time using procedural level generation to provide a good balance of luck and strategy.

  4. larksilver permalink
    December 4, 2009 10:42 am

    The longer I play these games, the more I find myself leaning toward the games which do not have a specific time when I *have* to return. Well, except for CafeWorld, because I’m crazymad about the food, I dunno why.

    But I tend to prefer FishLife to FishVille, because if my Real Life gets busy or I just don’t feel like, my fish aren’t dead when I come back. Zynga tends to make better-functioning games, but the time constraints and “deadlines” get tiresome after a while.

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