Smart-Depth: Adding More ‘Game’ to Social Games

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[Editor’s note: Veteran social gaming product leader Henric Suuronen shares his thoughts, below, on how to add appealing, in-depth gaming features to social games.]

Social games are often criticized for lacking “real” gameplay mechanics or even missing a game entirely. In some cases this criticism is warranted but more complex games with more advanced game loops rarely have success on Facebook. So can’t social games on Facebook have more game to them?

I believe they can and they should.

If done correctly, including more depth to a game in a smart way can have great effects on retention. The key is to add “Smart-Depth” game features with a few important things in mind:

a. Novice or beginner players should not need to consciously think about the feature until they figure it out or realize it on their own accord.

b. It should not require dexterity or hand-eye-coordination. Strategic thinking with variable solutions and outcomes is best. Compare Tower Bloxx, which requires users to time clicks in rapid progression to score higher, to a game like Angry Birds which has strategic elements but requires less coordination.

c. It should add a new “layer” on the existing game loop not create a separate one.

d. Players should be able to do it on a basic level almost by accident and feel smart for completing or solving the problem.

e. After doing it once and gaining the rewards players will carry on trying to find an even better solution. It is here the greatest retention effects are achieved.

These may sound difficult but are not as complex to implement as you might expect. Take Millionaire City for example; there players will have great fun simply buying houses, decorations and placing them arbitrarily on the map. However soon they will notice, sometimes by accident, that placing a house or decoration strategically will give greater rewards. This gives the player a feeling they are smart which is a strong emotional driver. In addition, the logic of having bonuses based on layout creates several different puzzle games inside the main game loop:

  • How to place decorations strategically to have the highest possible house bonus
  • How to optimize money generation in limited space
  • How to use as little road space as possible

Other examples can be seen in wooga’s Monster World where players get bonus experience and coins from selling crops to Robert the Robot instead of the general market. Zynga’s Bonus Bar adds a light “clicking optimization” game in CityVille and FrontierVille. CityVille also included the area bonus from decorations concept from Millionaire City. While Zynga’s Bonus Bar actually adds a pseudo arcade layer (requiring dexterity) to the game loop I believe the best is strategic, optimization, logic or puzzle type features. These will fit all user segments and have nearly endless variations.

When designing games with broad market appeal on Facebook it is important not to be too light in gameplay or to be too complex. Using the theory of adding smart-depth gameplay you can achieve this goal and get amazing results.

Henric Suuronen is the Head of Studio at Wooga, and previously helped create Millionaire City, MMA Pro Fighter and Tower Bloxx for Digital Chocolate.