GDC Europe 09: Social Games

Second talk for today for me was the “Lessons learned from social games” presented by Hugh de Loayza from Zynga Inc. He states that social games are meant for socializing, which is also the viral component. One plays, invitest friends, plays again, gets invited, … And thats different from casual gaming, which is not necessarily a social thing. Business models are mainly based on advertising or micro transactions, whereas the latter just starts in the U.S. Hugh states that this is not the end of possible models, but there will be new ones. An interesting thing he pointed out is that he came into Zynga as “the game guy” in a company full of “web 2.0 guys”, which was a clash of culture. They had to work on the integration of game mechanics and social interaction. The focus of social games is more on traffic and interactions (installs,invites, gifts, etc.) than actual game play. The benefit is that one can look at and adopt the game mechanics of other social games (so a big part of the innovation is in the interaction and socializing part). There are also some hints for first approaches:

  • keep it more casual than casual (kiss),
  • build viral mechanics into the game (gifting, competition, crewing like building up groups by invites, notifications, etc.),
  • less game, more social,
  • use ubiquitous technologies (e.g. flash, php) and
  • think reach (which and how many social networks will be reached).

    He also mentions how to bring a social game to market. One needs to seeds the game by

    • buying installs,
    • trading installs with other developers (cross promotion) or
    • develop a brand, a social network within a social network based on your game.

      Biggest mistakes in social games are

      • licenses (people seem to be not interested),
      • linking to a destination site (breaks the viral loop),
      • converting existing games,
      • overthinking everything (just try it!) and
      • widgets (they just don’t work, e.g. they break the viral loop).