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How social games can retain their best players May 30, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in game mechanics, games, games 2.0, gaming, social games, social gaming.

I’ve posted previously about how important it is to retain users of social apps, and offered up an excel model for daily average users that is based on work done originally by Andrew Chen.

One of the reasons that I like social games so much is that the level of engagement and ongoing retention is much higher than in other types of social network apps. As the Developer Analytics team noted in their presentation at Interplay last week:

Social Gaming is HOT: Compared to Messaging apps (3x page view multiple) and Dating apps (20x multiple), social gaming apps are seeing, on average, a 50x multiple compared to other categories.

In other words, messaging apps average 3 pageviews per visitor, dating apps average 20 pageviews per visitor and gaming apps average 50 pageviews per visitor. As Charles and Jing noted in their presentation, this means that while we’ve always known that gamers prefer gaming to sex, now we know how much they prefer gaming to sex – 2.5 x!

However, many social games have started to encounter the endgame problem. Their best players have “leveled up” a long way, have earned all the money they can, and are starting to get bored. But no game wants to lose its best players. Massively had a relevant article recently about the same phenomenon in MMOGs that is worth reading:

Congratulations! You’ve hit level 70 (or whatever max level is in your favorite game), and you’re officially a badass. For many players, this is a goal they’ve been striving towards for months — even years in some cases. The feeling of having that first max level character is immensely invigorating. It’s like putting the finishing touches on a long-term project or getting to the last page of a monstrous novel. What an accomplishment! However, after basking in the glow of your newly maxed out character for a few days, you quickly realize you have a small problem: What do you do with yourself now?

It suggests some common solutions that game developers should note:

  • PvP [combat arenas]
    Unique Titles/Achievements
    Collecting Rare Items
    Anti- Grief Patrol [protecting new players from being killed by more experienced players]
    Developing Trade/Crafting skills
    Playing the “market”
  • Many of these endgames are inherently social in nature, marking either public recognition, cooperation or interaction with other players.

    The meta point here is that most MMOGs have built an end-game to keep their best players engaged after they have topped out on the standard game. This end-game often relies on different game dynamics to the original game. I have seen few social games build such an end-game yet, although this is actually much easier to do for a web based games since it doesn’t actually have to be built until you have end-stage players. Do readers know of some good examples?


    1. Joshua March - June 1, 2008

    Interesting post. Many years ago, I used to play Ultima Online. Before they ruined it, making it much easier for players to skill up, they had essentially built most of your ‘end-game’ solutions into the game as a whole.

    PvP was a big issue as anyone could be attacked by anyone outside of towns, meaning that you had to form guilds and move about in groups until you were reasonably powerful (and even then had to be careful) – although they balanced this out with the fact that anyone who attacked another player became ‘criminal’ for a certain period of time, preventing them access to towns and allowing other players to kill and loot them without repurcussion.

    Because of the dfficulty in hanging around outside of town, powergaming was pretty difficult, and to make money you either had to make proper dungeon raids in teams, or take up a craft like blacksmithing, scroll making etc – and these were very much part of the main game. Building up enough money through these allowed you to eventually buy real property, and then possibly even become a collector of rare items. Some players and guilds succeeded in become hugely rich, owning actual castles.

    Another of the key factors here was a lack of levels – your character abilities were based around stats and skills. Skills were a simple %, and the more you practised something the better you got at it (and relevant stats would go up proportionately). The difference between skill ranks was very nuanced, so that although newbies would always be defeated easily by a medium or experienced character, an experienced character would still have to fight pretty hard to destroy a talented player with medium experience. This is in strong contrast to many modern games, in which a couple of levels difference can fast outweigh any actual skill.

    Because of these factors the game was very, very social – you’d rarely get players who played mainly on their own, and most people spent a huge proportion of their playing time with other players who they’d built up a relationship with already.

    Unfortunately they ruined the game by taking away the PvP factor and making it much easier to gain skills. This distorted the market by making it too easy to make money on single dungeon trips, and the game became all about fashion.

    I don’t really have the time to spend on modern MMORPGs, however when I have played them I’ve always been very dissapointed with the way that beginning characters are hugely and disproportionately weaker than experienced players, and the way that the games are based around ‘levelling up’ and quests until you can finally play the ‘real game’.

    In my experience, then, the best games should be built so that they can be played indefinitely, with the skills/levels part being an important but not defining part of the game. I certainly don’t think that there should be a seperate ‘end-game’ that only really exists for players who’ve topped out their skills. As Ultima Online showed, the way to do this is to design the game to be as social as possible.

    2. Inside Social Games » Blog Archive » How Can Social Games Keep Top Players Engaged? - Tracking the convergence of games and social networks - July 29, 2008

    […] Lightspeed’s Jeremy Liew notes, Most MMOGs have built an end-game to keep their best players engaged after they have topped out on […]

    3. Social gaming is a tactic not a category « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - March 25, 2009

    […] viral marketing, virtual goods. trackback I’ve been blogging a lot about social games over the past couple of years and have been a big proponent of the space. However, over the last few […]

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