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Build it and They Will Come?

This sensation is vital if we want success for a game as a service. Only a tiny percentage of games succeed in breaking even and even those games that are downloaded, only a few are played more than once. The volume of games available on mobiles, tablets, PCs, and indeed consoles is so large at this point that we cannot assume that players will find our game, let alone that they will be as keen to keep on playing it as we were to make it. As designers we have to give players both a “pull” to want to play the game as well as a “push” to call them back. This is a critical issue, as if we don’t get players back in the game we won’t have an audience and more importantly all our efforts to create a great game will be wasted. Of course if we are using the Free2Play (F2P) model this means that even if we have downloads we won’t be getting any revenue at all. This is why F2P games have (in the end) to be better than other games. It’s a question of survival.

The Gossip Effect

There is a reason why soap operas manage to succeed over decades of daily shows, especially in urban societies. This TV format replicates the human desire to be tapped into the social gossip that we would have experienced in person in the context of village or tribal life. It’s linked to social survival that we are on top of the latest news and indeed this can take the form of a game in its own right. Twitter and Facebook fulfill similar needs in many of us, including those who have no interest in the plots of the soaps.

Am I Missing Out?

Similarly if we wish to create successful games as a service we need them to create a sense of activity or change happening inside the world of that game in order to sustain our players’ attention over extended periods of time. This means we need a “call to action” that reminds the player to return. Th is can be a simple notification just telling the player to return, however that quickly gets tiring and can actually be a good reason for many to delete your application. It’s much better to have something in the gameplay that we desire that calls us back into play.

One of the most overused mechanics to create a reason to return is the energy mechanic. In this concept, players have a certain amount of energy they can use in any given playing session. Once this has been used up, they have to stop playing and wait till their energy has restored before being able to continue. This model is of course flawed in that we effectively shut players out of the game, requiring them to pay up or wait till they have more energy. However it does offer one really important thing in terms of game design; it created a real sense that the game’s world was “persistent” and that while the player wasn’t in the game, there was still something happening in that virtual space. There are other techniques we can use to replicate this sense of something meaningful happening in the world, including having other players (usually Facebook friends) come into your space to perform some minigame action that rewards both players.

Having a persistent world has other advantages. It creates a context for us to provide regular notifications to the player that relate to changes in that world that become meaningful to the player, rather than just sending sales messages. It also allows us to create stories where the players’ actions can contribute to the state of the game world; indeed they can feel part of the ongoing creation of that narrative.

Excerpt from Games as a Service by Oscar Clark © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.


About the Book

Games as a Service: How Free to Play Design Can Make Better Games has been written to help designers overcome many of the fears and misconceptions surrounding freemium and social games. It provides a framework to deliver better games rather than the ‘evil’ or ‘manipulative’ experiences some designers fear with the move away from wasteful Products to sustainable, trustworthy Services.

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