[Editor’s note: Brenda Brathwaite is a game designer with over 20 years of experience and credits on classic titles like Jagged Alliance and the Wizardry series. She is currently creative director at social game developer LOLapps, and a regular Inside Social Games contributor.]
Getting players to post to the viral channel is a challenge every game designer faces when he or she is making Facebook games. It’s known that players are most likely to post when they’ve just started a game, but what motivates returning players?
- It helps me. There is a particular item or objective that is core to the progression of my game with which I need your help. Typically, the game allows you to buy your way out of the “Ask Friends For Help” option. But if I need your help to progress, rather than paying cash, I’ll probably post it.
- I know it helps you. It’s key here that it actually does help other players. I am likely to post something to my feed if it gives you something I would want for myself. I understand the item’s value and scarcity. It’s also important to consider that over the lifetime of a game as well as the curve of player progression, the value and scarcity of an object may change. What I care about in an early game may not mean anything to me later on. Does that mean the viral messages should change? Not always, but catering to player’s needs and a player’s perceived value is critical. I have seen messages in feeds which offer stuff I have absolutely no desire for. There is just no reason I would click. Other times, I am prompted to post a feed which will give my friends something that I know has no value. Likewise, I am not likely to post through.
- It helps us both. Parody though it may be, Cow Clicker suggests players post a message to their feed. Anyone who clicks on the viral message not only gets “mooney” with which they can buy “clicks” to add to their “click” total, but also gives the original poster “mooney” as well. It is an example of a mutually beneficial viral which trades in the only thing that matters in the game — “clicks”.
- Pride. I will post if I am actually proud of what I have achieved, be it a quest, an item or something else. Generally, I am proud of this because I want to show off the great thing that I have done. Recently, I posted that I’d leveled to 17 in a game, because it took me quite a while. When I finish building the epic chapel I am working on in another game, I can assure you I’ll post about that, too.
Does this mean we should only include virals which fit the above themes? No. What makes one player proud could make another feel frustrated at the conclusion. For instance, an epic quest to gather a lot of materials could challenge and excite one player but irritate another. Likewise, some players abhor all forms of feed messages, while others are happy to click through a wide variety of virals.
In fact, there is a whole class of player for whom “playing the feeds” has become a pleasant meta-game to the game it supports. Of course, we also don’t want to limit a player’s viral opportunities, particularly when our games depend on it, nor do we want to overdo it.
Ultimately, your only defense against subpar virals is playing your own game. Do you actually feel motivated to click your own viral message? If not, why do you think others will? Are you aware of the click through? Have you investigated the good ones vs. the lame ducks to understand what hooks they’re using? Are you watching your competitors like a hawk? Remember, though, that you are only one player in your game. Watch how others play, too, particularly if their play style is different than yours.
Analyzing your own play, feeling the hooks in the game and watching the results via metrics offers the best chance of creating compelling virals that players feel motivated to click through.