Bryan Reynolds, Chief Game Designer at Zynga, revealed facts about same-sex marriage in FrontierVille and the success of sexual innuendos in his solo panel “The New Frontier of Social Gaming” at South By Southwest Interactive Conference. He noted that FrontierVille has triple the number of same sex marriages as are reported in the US, and that adults will frequently click-through and share posts containing sexual innuendos when published by games.
Reynolds also explained that word “sex” is the most shared word on Facebook when included in posts by games and Pages, while “Facebook” comes in second. These insights can help game developers improve their viral reach and turn bland posts like “[Name] leveled up” into fun posts that engage players.
Same-sex marriage in FrontierVille was originally a bug that users discovered and immediately took to. Zynga decided to leave the option in the game, and now there are 646,000 same-sex marriages in FrontierVille. That means 3.5% of its 18.8 million monthly active users create a same-sex marriage, according to our data tracking service AppData. This dwarfs the 150,000 same-sex marriages in the United States, showing their may be pent up demand for the public display of this type of relationship.
Game designers should consider allowing same-sex relationships in their games to allow users to identifying themselves however they want. Facebook shows this type of tolerance, recently adding civil unions and domestic partnerships as relationship options for users.
Reynolds also discussed FrontierVille’s viral success from using sexual innuendos in the form of text and images in the posts that users can share with their friends. He described how posts such as “Scott just got wood” and “Margaret needs a few good screws” receive a high click-through and share rate from adults, but don’t offend younger users as they don’t even recognize the jokes.
He described how Zynga’s data focus has helped them recognize the reach of fun posts game, and evolve from the bland Mafia Wars “[Name] leveled up” posts the company’s games use to generate. Even now that only users who already play a game see posts about that game shared by friends, reducing their virality, innuendos still helps re-engage users who’ve stopped playing. They also inspire these user to comment on the posts by friends and initiate playful discussions, making both parties feel that the game enhances their lives.
While developers need to be careful not to make sexual innuendos or other potentially objectionable content too overt, by walking the line they can make games more social. Reynolds explained “friends don’t want to know about what you’ve done in a game, they want to know something funny about you or something they can start a conversation with.”