Apr 20, 2011

Social Mechanics for Social Games

Josh Williams's picture
Josh Williams
Director, Product Strategy

Last month I attended the 2011 Game Developer Conference and spent the first two days in the Game Design tutorial, which was a blast as well as being very instructive. But I also missed out on some competing sessions that sounded really darn cool.

For example, a talk by Ralph Koster (author of A Theory of Fun) included over 190 slides, 40 of which laid out key social mechanics ready to use in the development of social games. Gamasutra covered it here and, according to this blog, the 40 social mechanics are:

#1: The simplest form of multiplayer is simple advice and assistance. How good are your channels for communication? Helping is the building block of all social gameplay.

Parallel symmetric games: darts, golf, snowboarding. You play alongside each other, comparing performance. Measuring progress against someone else is what makes it multiplayer.

#2: Quantifying achievement. Putting it into a database.

#3. Races. The first user to reach a goal, wins. Curiously absent. Why not have races to a level? You can use this in a network setting. Social games don’t tend to use racing.

#4. Leaderboards: everyone competes asynchronously, parallel with historic attempts. We see this in neighbourbars.

#5: Tournaments: bracketing users. Social games tend to use bracketing for simple pvp matchmaking: it’s under utilized.

#6: Opposition. A rival good is something that can’t be used by someone else at the same time. You have my stuff, I can’t use it. Non-rival is stuff that clones itself: information, etc.

#7: Dot-eating. I ate it, you didn’t. Zero sum resource consumption.

#8: Tug of War. A winner and a loser.

#9: Handicapping.

#10: Secrets. Fog of War. Hands of cards.

#11: Last man standing. Deathmatch.

#12: Bidding. Mediated status. You bid, you take your rival goods (money) and whoever gets the thing, wins. Where are the silent auctions in social games?

#13: Lying. Deception and bluffing. Deception only works against other people; not a computer. We depend on quantifying things in our social games; the more we move into psychology the more we can leverage things like bluffing.

#14: 3rd party Betting. Betting is driven by the human brain’s bug at calculating odds. We’re lousy at it. This only works on people; you can’t do it vs a cpu.

#15: prisoner’s dilemma. Players don’t have all the info, they’re on the same side. If either one caves, they both lose. If they both hang together, they will succeed. You don’t know if the other person will uphold their side. We currently don’t see this in social games. Yet.

#16: Kriegspiel. Tabletop military strategy, effectively. Creates the dungeonmaster, the gamemaster. A referee enforces the rules, a gamemaster directs the action, directs the game. We don’t do much directing in social games right now, but we could.

#17: Roles. How many multiplayer games can you think of that don’t have positions on a team. We don’t use team roles or classes in social games. That’s fascinating. This one is guaranteed to increase retention.

#18: Ganging up. Being it. Hot potato, Tag. Victim & Hunter.

#19: Rituals. Role transitions: weddings, cut a cake, leveling, ding gratz. What is the social game equiv. of attending the wedding? Shared rituals bind community like nothing else. The biggest thing that marks rituals is gifts. This one I’m happy to say, we’ve nailed.

#20: Gifts. This is moving a rivalrous good to another actor in order to increase their status bar. Gifts have a whole pile of embedded cultural practice. [note, I think #20 was titled gifts, I was momentarily distracted...]

#21: Reciprocity. Players will send what *they* want, as they know they’ll get it sent back to them.

#22: Mentoring / Twinking. When a hilev hands a lowlev a pile of stuff. It’s hugely welcoming. It’s not cheating, it’s powerful social glue.

#23: Identity. Means of displaying your status inside a social context.

#24: Ostracism. Group removal. Denial of resources.

#25: Trust. Does your game call on your to trust someone you don’t know?

#26: Guilds & tribes. Hugely powerful. Barely present in social games.

#27: Exclusivity. Velvet rope. VIP clubs. What could this do for your monetization?

#28: Guild vs Guild. We know groups like to annihilate each other. Rivalry. Even in a farming game, you could have tropical vs temperate, and they will envy each other, and they will develop passion, and identity, and then…

#29: Trade. These large-scale structures become dependent upon each other. They’re less likely to quit. We haven’t focused on them selling things to one another…

You are shaping societies. You are building the things people play in, talk about, take part in. Be awake to this.

#30: Elections. The largest MMO in the world today is American Idol. Politics.

#31: Reputation, influence and Fame. Rolemodels for other players to follow or imitate. You can affect the way players behave by making them famous. Don’t publicize the griefers, publicize the wonderful ones.

#32: Public goods. Parks. Air. Is there an infinite common resource in your game?

#33: Tragedy of the Commons: can you use up your public good? The price of Facebook ads: the prices are going up, we’re driving those prices up, we’re all affected…

#34: Community. Where we start playing games on you, the player. If you don’t have good facilities for community interaction, you miss out on the people who set the tone and opinion for everyone else. They’re the small squeaky wheel with enormous broadcast reach.

#35: Strategy Guide. Players are able to solve insane problems as a group via the scientific method. Every player is a fresh experiment trial run, they get better, they figure stuff out. But this only works at large scale with shared info.

#36: Teamwork. Groups operating together are more successful than those operating on their own. Dragon Kill Points.

#37: Arbitrage.

#38: Supply chains. Chain value, interdependence.

#39: User generated content. Design for this.

#40: Griefing. Change the rules out from under the players. Sometimes players are reinventing your game for you.

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