Notes from GDC Austin: Top Ten Social RPG Trends

gdc-austin[Editor’s Note: Last week at GDC Austin, Steve Meretzsky and Dave Rohrl from Playdom presented on the top ten social RPG trends. Long-time game designer and author Raph Koster was kind enough to share his thoughts from the session, which we’ve included in their entirety (slightly cleaned up and reformatted) below.]

Top 10 Social RPG Trends

One year ago, social apps were barely games. Then Mob Wars launched, followed by lots of imitators. This is now called the social RPG, and social RPGs are 13 of the top 25 games on MySpace – they’re less dominant but huge on Facebook as well. Social RPGs share some DNA with MMOs and longform games – they take months to play, level up, and build your character, but have spare presentation, spreadsheet style UI, and low production values. Play sessions are usually a few minutes due to a mechanic of energy depletion that limits your play sessions. This talk will cover ten trends, and then make some guesses about the next year.

1. New Horizons in Virtual Goods

Started out monetizing with selling currency which you could earn slow or buy fast. Over the year, ways of monetizing have become more sophisticated. Limited edition items are among the most successful now, limited by time or quantity or both. Work best when the goods are closely linked to the game, and meet asopirational fantasies. In games with avatars (which is increasingly common) clothing is huge.

In Vampires you are given a choise of three closed trunks, Monty Haul style. Are also shown the other two trunks after your choice, and then you get to play once per day but can play more if you pay.

Usable buffs are big. Mafia Wars offers a daily lotto ticket but you can buy more. End of week drawing… In MObsters you get a card every day, can buy cards, and try to get a poker hand by the end of the week.

In Sorority Life invited users to design clothing for the avatars. Took the best entries and madethem forsale for real money andthey were some of the best sellers ever in the game.

2. Gifting Invites

The idea of having players send gifts to one another using FB’s channel. Key driver in Lil Green Patch. Not much there: send gifts, plant gifts, visit garden to rake leaves or chase squirrels in another users’ garden.

This mechanic invite flow is in Farmtown then Farmville and is now common. Zynga rolled it across all theirs, Playdom did too. Standard design trope now.

Why do this? People like sending gifts to friends, feels generous, people like getting gifts. Good for reengagement. One sad thing is that gifting invites are very much carbon copies right now, all the buttons say “proceed to send”:)

3. Making Missions More Interesting

Missions earned cash and loot, but the experience was not very interesting… deterministic. You pressed the button and knew what was going to happen, no gameplay involved. No tthat compelling even though it was the backbone of the experience.

One way is with the introduction of “mission mastery,”first in the game Street Racing. This has been a case where each game has changed and evolved the mechanic. In Street Racing,missions unlocked new missions. In the next game,Mafia Wars, you could move on without mastery,but the twist was you could master tiers with prizes. In MObsters 2, simpler than Mafia Wars, added fourth level of mastery, brozne,silver, gold, platinum mastery,and prizes per missions.

In Hero World, the mission list is dynamic — it changes moment to moment,and missin failure (on random chance but weighted by your skills).  In Yakuza Lords, they have added mission requirements such as battles won,etc.