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Lessons from the leaders – Engagement in social games May 11, 2010

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, game mechanics, games, games 2.0, social games, social gaming.
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On Friday I moderated a panel at the social gaming summit featuring speakers from Zynga, Playdom, Playfish and Crowdstar on the topic of engagement best practices in social games. Socialtimes has a brief writeup of the session:

Social gaming giants tend to focus on hits. An under performing game can be a cause for concern and even shutdown in some cases. Mark Skaggs jolted the crowd by stating that Zynga aims for a 60% same-day repeat engagement of a newly released game but their core focus is on long term retention of around 30%. Zynga manages to attain 1.5 million DAUs on the first day, upwards of 3 million DAUs at times. Zynga’s game Mafia Wars saw signs of stagnation in players repeatedly doing jobs and diversified the experience by adding an array of places players could visit, instilling adventurous emotions in the adventurers.

Sebastien emphasized engagement as a key point of focus for their games along with mass appeal. Sebastien also discussed Playfish’s shutdown of one of their previous games Quiztastic, stating, “one of the ways to create engagement in Quiztastic is through highly relevant content that’s only relevant to a narrow set of friends. However, it turned out to be massive engaging for the active contributors but not others.” Another game Playfish shutdown was Minigolf Party because too much was being demanded of the players. The panelists agreed, concluding that a balance is necessary to engage a mass-audience.

Christa brought in her unique perspective as CFO of Playfish, commending the rapid success of their game Social City. She attributed growth to additions of surprise mechanics – specifically random animations that rewarded users with an aesthetic and delightful experience, encouraging them to return frequently for more.

Since I was moderating I wan’t able to take good notes, but here are some of the other points that were made on the panel:

Appointment Mechanic (also known as farming mechanic) suits the casual gameplay style of social games and brings people back. Good to offer different timeframes of “harvest” to match way people play the game, typically in multiples of two hours. Four hour timeframe good for players logging in at beginning of day, lunch and end of day. Two day timeframe good for players who play primarily at work who need to deal with the weekend

Whether you apply a “hard” penalty to the apppointment mechanic (e.g. crops wither, no reward) or a “soft” penalty (e.g. collection bucket full, no incremental reward above cap) depends on the style of gameplay.

Plot can also help drive engagement and retention. This can be both plot secondary to gameplay (Easter eggs in the game, animations that change over time) or primary to gameplay (e.g. Mafia Wars/Mobsters narrative arc).  Players come back to find out what happens next.

Special Events can drive engagement, which sometimes translates into increased retention. These special events can be both in the game (e.g. the Weekend of “superberries” on Farmville, which added 3 million DAUs for a week and an incremental 1.5m DAUs permanently) and outside the gmae (e.g. the Taylor Swift dress in Sorority Life the day after the AMAs).

Real Life relationships, love, flirting and friendship, can drive special actions which support long term engagement. e.g. Pet Society and Restaurant City drive tens of millions of virtual roses, and many real roses, to be exchanged on Valentines Day.  Friends For Sale (launched by Lightspeed portfolio company Serious Business, now part of Zynga) is the prototypical example.

Low latency is important. When users have to wait a long time for pages to load, they leave.  This can be improved both by optimizing web ops, as well as by modulating the complexity of graphics etc based on browser and OS type.

DAU and DAU/MAU (Stickiness) are highly correlated. The causality arrow flows both ways.  It isn’t enough to just build a good game, nor is it enough to get frequent posts to the feed. Both need to be balanced, and feed posts need to be “reasonable” from the point of view of a user. You need to understand and accept the motivation of the post.

Viral channels are now more about engagement/reactivation than about growth.

Key metrics are 1 day, 3 day, 7 day retention, then long term retention. 1 day retention target is 30-60%, less than 30% and you may not have a fixable game.

If you were there and had other important points that I missed, please add them in comments.

Comments»

1. Heather Stark - May 14, 2010

I’ve heard others say that viral channels are ‘now more about engagement/reactivation than about growth’, too. But I’m not convinced. It must surely be ‘not only but also’? Surely if the dynamics of your game are that the game is lots more fun to play with your friends than on your own, this not only enriches your offering but also enables it to grow using the graph as a trellis. That can’t but be important, even if there are other important things happening too. Or perhaps what’s going on is that the games being talked about just aren’t very social… apart for the fact they use social networks as a platform. [In any event, here’s a thought: perhaps the weak 2nd order ties which are the most important to reach for, as a designer, as they stand the best chance of reaching genuinely new recruits.]

2. Neil - May 14, 2010

Hi Jeremy, I have a quick video that has you and Sebastien discussing emotions in games up at SocialTimes.com. Really enjoyed the panel and insights.

http://www.socialtimes.com/2010/05/social-gaming-summit-video-playfish-co-founder-sebastien-de-halleux-on-emotions-hollywood-and-virtual-goods/

3. feboo - May 26, 2010

Thanks for the great posts.
Keep 12:07

4. jradoff - June 11, 2010

Here’s a spreadsheet to help model some of the factors that were discussed: http://radoff.com/blog/2010/06/11/social-applicationgame-growth-model-spreadsheet/

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[…] command much higher user numbers, they don’t come anywhere near the engagement — a key buzzword in social games which is defined as the amount of time that players spend with a game — as the loyal hardcore […]

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[…] tous les aspects du social web, les entreprises réalisent qu’au delà de l’acquisition, c’est la capacité de rétention et […]


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