Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ShopTalk Volume 01: Social Meets Mobile

At IGDA roundtable discussion, NY-based game developers discussed various topics related to social games, mobile games, and the cross between the two. There was a verbal NDA among the group, so no specific analytics or company details would be shared here.

  • What is a social game? This is a question that many game developers struggled with, but the ultimate consensus is that a social game is a game that lives on Facebook or has Facebook Connect. There are, in fact, many games that are actually more social than what we know as "social games" such as Johann Sebastian Joust or World of Warcraft. But developers and audience understand that we mean Facebook when we talk about social games.
  • Are social games actually social? Although you are inviting friends to play and spamming friends with gift requests, there is no actual social connection. In Animal Crossing, you can create a meme that travels to a friend's town. For example, you can teach a citizen to say a bad word and that citizen might go to another town and bring along that bad word with him and spread it across town. This small bit, no matter how inane, represents a part of you and your self expression, and its migration to a friend's world makes the game inherently social.
  • Although spamming friends with requests or filling up your wall with posts have no real social connection, it is still 1% social. One percent is indefinitely better than zero percent. 
  • There are games where you can get someone's personality through the gameplay such as Draw Something. Some people draw stick figures, while others do elaborate art pieces to represent simple objects.
  • Sometimes, just the fact that you're playing the same game as somebody else is social. You are playing alone together or having a shared experience separately. It is like going to a movie theater or studying by yourself at a library. Although there is no interaction between you and others, everyone is having a shared experience. 
  • The Last Stand is a isometric 3D shooting game on Facebook. You gather resources and build shelters against the zombie horde. This is not a casual game and is aimed towards the hardcore crowd. Idle Worship is an example of a game in-between the casual and hardcore market.
  • Many casual audiences think of games as they do of porn. They are shameful of them and feel guilty to play them. This is attributed to the poor stigma of games. However, many of these people still play games; they just don't want to be associated with the term. The majority don't want to be called a gamer, even though they've put more hours into playing games than their own children. One attendee compares this to people who read trashy romance novels, which by the way, has had a recent resurgence because of Kindles and the ability to hide what their reading from the public.
  • Half of Facebook users play a lot of games, while the other half hate games and never want to touch a game.
  • What about mobile connectivity with social games? Good idea is to not offer the same exact experiences across both platforms. Mobile app can be a companion to the social game. For example, have a MMO on your computer, but a monster/pet sim on your mobile device. You can level up and train your pet on mobile and its stats would transfer back into your main game.
  • Energy as an abstract resource entered social game design as a way to limit play sessions. Generally, 20 minutes or less is a good length of a play session.
  • What are the demographic differences between Facebook and mobile? Developers can gather a lot of demographic information from Facebook (gender, age, location, education, etc.), but generally, there is little to no data on mobile devices.
  • According to one attendee, the more displayed your microtransaction popups are, the less likely a 18-24 year old male player would purchase. In many cases, they would downright stop playing the game. However, if they go to the store on their own accord without any prompts from the game, they would be likely to buy. On the other hand, 35+ year old females are more likely to purchase if they get those microtransaction screens, especially one at the session start when they open the game. Is it possible to get both demographics in the same game? Should get demographic data and build for your audience.
  • Only 20% of people login to Facebook Connect or other networks (OpenFeint, GameCenter, Papaya) on their mobile devices. The real question is, are the 20% also the paying crowd? If they are, then only this 20% matters. It's possible there is a large overlap between the paying users and the logged in users as they are both the most engaged players.
  • Facebook considers themselves as "social plumbing." They are the backbone of your social graph.
  • Mobile games gets people faster and cheaper. The cost of user acquisition is much lower than on Facebook because there's no Zynga to compete with.
  • What about gamification of real-life like Fitocracy? Using mobile device as a pedometer to track your running progress, which in turn gains points and levels up your avatar. It is also a social game where you compare/compete with friends' avatars. 
  • There's nothing stopping big production games to be on Facebook. Gaikai (maybe OnLive too) announced that they would be bringing full-fledged production games to Facebook. The technology exists for hardcore games on Facebook, but the perception doesn't. There's a catch-22 where developers don't want to make hardcore games on Facebook because they think the audience isn't there for it, while the audience doesn't know that it exists to be clamoring for it.
  • There are now many apps to let you stalk girls, sending you profile information of females in your immediate area. Many of these apps got shut down and sued, deservedly so. But this is also a warning that you need privacy and license agreements in your Mobile game. 100% of games need privacy disclosures, but only 13% of them have them. Facebook games are luckily protected by Facebook's own terms of service, but mobile devices have nothing of the sort.
  • How do you handle the permanence of information and cross-platform synchronization? Should data be stored locally so that players can continue their experience even when they lose internet connectivity (on the subway train)? Should they be stored on the server so they can bring their accounts across platforms and also to prevent cheating? One solution is to just offer different experiences online and offline, and make sure to communicate that to the players. For example, when online, you can submit scores to the global leaderboard, but when offline, you can only submit to a local, personal leaderboard.

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