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Make an MMORPG on a Social Network
Copyright © 2009 by Chromacoders.org All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission from the Chroma Coders. We are committed to helping student teams make fun and interesting games and are open to reproduction of text in the book to further this mission. Please contact us at http://www.chromacoders.org to discuss details. Special Thanks to the following folks that helped to raise the quality of the book with their interviews and/or feedback… John Fan, Joseph Kim, and Angelo Yazar
Introduction............................................................. 7 Getting the MMORPG Up and Running ................ 9 Text-Based MMORPG Walkthrough ............... 10 Main Page of “School of Magic”.................. 11 Points Design ................................................ 11 The “Quests” Link ........................................ 13 Familiars ....................................................... 16 Treasury ........................................................ 17 Grand Wizard................................................ 18 Battle ............................................................. 19 Shoppe........................................................... 21 My House...................................................... 22 Wizard........................................................... 23 Legends ......................................................... 24 Help Section.................................................. 25 Forum............................................................ 26 Viral Channels .............................................. 26 Text-Based MMORPG Design ......................... 27 Game Ideas.................................................... 27 Main Page Design ......................................... 30 The “Jobs” Link ............................................ 31 Indie Gigs...................................................... 35 Treasury ........................................................ 35 Studio Boss ................................................... 37 Battles/Parties ............................................... 38 Shop .............................................................. 39 Entourage ...................................................... 40 Walk of Fame................................................ 41 Help............................................................... 42 Forum............................................................ 43 Viral Channels .............................................. 43 Getting a Basic Game up on Facebook…......... 44 Facebook Code Walkthrough ....................... 50 Pre-release Testing........................................ 52 3
But How Do I Learn About Making an MMORPG? ....................................................... 54 Maintaining the MMORPG .................................. 55 Iteration ............................................................. 55 Weekly Updates ................................................ 55 Balancing the Economy .................................... 56 Cheating ............................................................ 56 Making Money from the Game......................... 57 Game Balance ................................................... 57 Working with the Community .......................... 58 Taking a Break.................................................. 58 Clear Expectations ............................................ 59 Metrics .............................................................. 59 Player Volunteers.............................................. 60 Designing for Mass Market .............................. 60 Games as Systems............................................. 60 Social/Game Mechanics to Improve Your Game ........................................................................... 61 Social Cause Mechanic ................................. 61 Gifting Mechanic .......................................... 62 Notification of New Features Mechanic ....... 63 Notification of Reward Mechanic................. 64 Newsfeed Update Mechanic ......................... 65 Help My Friend’s Space Mechanic............... 65 Lotto Mechanic ............................................. 65 Buy/Sell Mechanic........................................ 66 Battle Mechanic ............................................ 68 Comments Mechanic .................................... 69 Show off on Profile Mechanic ...................... 71 Trading Mechanic ......................................... 71 Tournament Mechanic .................................. 72 Passive Play Mechanic.................................. 74 Exploration Mechanic................................... 75 Build My Team Mechanic ............................ 77 Quiz Mechanic .............................................. 78 Meme Quiz Mechanic................................... 80 4
Leaderboard Mechanic.................................. 81 Gambling Mechanic...................................... 82 Auction Mechanic......................................... 84 Collection Mechanic ..................................... 86 Rating Mechanic ........................................... 86 Donate Virtual Coins Mechanic.................... 88 Social Tycoon Mechanic............................... 89 Hire-A-Friend Mechanic............................... 91 Mastery Mechanic......................................... 92 Griefing/Prank Mechanic.............................. 93 Story Mechanic ............................................. 94 Game Photo Album Mechanic...................... 95 Harvest Mechanic ......................................... 96 Mini-Game Mechanic ................................... 97 Friend Data Mechanic................................... 98 Internationalization ....................................... 98 Interviews........................................................ 100 Interview with League of Heroes................ 100 Interview with Friend Stock........................ 107 Interview with Friends For Sale.................. 112 Interview with Zombies, Vampires, and Werewolves................................................. 117 Monetization ....................................................... 124 Social/Game Mechanics to Improve Monetization ......................................................................... 124 Dual Currency Mechanic ............................ 124 Limited-Time/Quantity Item Mechanic...... 125 Blue Light Special Mechanic...................... 125 Donation to a Good Cause Mechanic ......... 126 Need a Refill Mechanic .............................. 126 Gift to a Friend Mechanic ........................... 127 Achievement Accelerator Mechanic........... 127 First-Time Buyer Bonus Mechanic............. 128 Repeat Buyer Bonus Mechanic................... 128 Interviews........................................................ 129 Interview with Gambit ................................ 129 5
Interview with Super Rewards.................... 136 Interview with Offerpal Media ................... 142 Interview with Zong.................................... 147 Interview with Peanut Labs ........................ 152
It can be done...
Make a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game in 3 days? It sounds crazy, but times and technology have changed, and so has game development. So get rid of your misconceptions and your skeptism. The truth is, there are individual developers and small teams making millions of dollars each month from simple text-based MMO games. This book is the culmination of suggestions and advice given by folks in the Chroma Coders to other developers who have made MMOs on Facebook. When people think about games, they usually envision those very fancy, technology-heavy games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft. Games are not necessarily about graphics, sounds, and other sensory candy. They may help, but at the core of every game is a system. You can implement a game system with heavy C++ programming and lots of graphics, or you can take the essence of the system and implement it quickly in PHP. You don’t need artists (you can buy art from iStockPhoto or get freelance art)—all you need is a couple of programmers. The most important thing in these games is the “fun-ness” of the game system. There is a silent revolution going on. While those big games appeal to hardcore gamers, new audiences are being introduced on a daily basis to gaming via the Web and social networks. These people would probably never buy a game, but since these games are “free” to them at first, they are willing to try them out. They don't care about deep 3D graphics, especially if they slow down their already sluggish computers. All they care about is interacting with others. This is where your game team comes in … you can make a simple MMO in only 3 days using PHP. After developing your game, you make it available on a social network and get almost immediate feedback from your players. You then quickly iterate and improve your game based on your players’ feedback. You are able to add new features every week to enhance the game. 7
The key word here is iteration. Unlike traditional games that are developed and then released, MMOs are a service. You need to get a game out as quickly as possible and then constantly improve the MMO service you are offering to players. We are in a sea of change, and there are new paradigms for developing games, releasing games, and monetizing games. In return for embracing this new paradigm, you will be able to potentially make the game of your dreams, have a solid player base, and make enough money to pay the bills ... and buy a Ferrari. This is your chance as a small group of developers to become a part of this new revolution in gaming. Forget about publishers, long development cycles, and barely being able to pay the bills. There are small teams of developers who are making millions of dollars every month from simple PHP MMOs. Check out the monetization section of this book to read interviews from companies attesting to this fact. This is your chance. If you’re hungry, have a desire to make a game, and expect to make a living from your passion, you now have that opportunity. Embrace these new paradigms quickly, and you'll be successful in your endeavors. Our goal is to help you accomplish your dreams. Just as MMO games are a service, this book is also a service. The online MMO space on social networks changes weekly. To keep up with these changes, we'll release free updates to this book at our site (www.chromacoders.org). Visit the site, where you can post questions on the developer forum, check out the blog for ideas on ways to improve your game, and get some free code to use as a basis for your MMO. We’ve developed tools and code so that your small team can get something up and running in under 72 hours. Don’t waste any more time … let’s get started!
Getting the MMORPG Up and Running
When people think of an MMO, they usually envision traditional MMOs, where a player has to download a huge client and developers have to invest heavily in the development of the game. Today, we are in an era when small teams can create a simple MMO in 3 days and have more users than studios that have invested years working on traditional large-clients-to-download MMOs. You have to keep in mind that all games are systems, as Raph Koster has said. When we talk about building an MMO, we are talking about building a system — a system where players constitute a majority of the inputs in the system. We are not talking about extensive graphics and audio and other visual candy and fluff that help to make the experience more immersive. Our goal here is to build a game system as quickly as possible. In these MMOs, other players are the most compelling draw of the game. The developers mainly provide the context in which the players interact with one another. Because other players are vitally important to these games, it makes sense that the developers should make the games as accessible to as many players as possible. With that said, games that require 10-hour download times to get started turn off the vast majority of potential players. But simple games done in PHP or Flash that can be easily and quickly played in a browser are accessible to a larger audience. As your game grows its player base, it becomes more compelling (and addicting) for new players. So we’re going to skip using C++ and other traditional technologies to get things done. We’re going to leverage the connectivity of the Web to make this MMO. 9
Specifically, we’re going to build an MMO in PHP using the basic LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySql, and PHP). This book is organized in an iterative manner. We’ll focus on getting the MMO up and running, and then we’ll discuss the theory and other items to make the MMO more fun over time. To make the most of this book, you are required to know PHP, MySQL, and other aspects of the LAMP stack. I know the previous line may trigger a reaction among developers … “I don’t know PHP” (or some other technology). If you know Java, C++, or some other language, it is easy to pick up these languages and items. The interfaces are fairly simple. By the way, if you’re running Windows and need to get access to the “LAMP” stack for development, you can download XAMPP at http://www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp-windows.html To speed things up, we’re going to build the MMO as a Facebook app, so that you don’t have to think about the login system and other basic underlying infrastructures for an MMO. The examples in this book will refer to MMOs on Facebook. We will create a text-based MMORPG on Facebook using the successful game design template that other games on Facebook have also used.
Text-Based MMORPG Walkthrough
We will now do a walkthrough of a successful text-based MMORPG on Facebook. The goal of the walkthrough is to familiarize you with the elements of a very popular game design that works well on Facebook. Some games that have used this design are making hundreds of thousands every month. Of course, the games that make a lot of money also have a lot of users. The game we will walk through is called “School of Magic” (http://apps.facebook.com/schoolofmagic/). It is a PHP questing game that is done in the same format as “Mob Wars” on Facebook (http://apps.facebook.com/mobwars/). 10
The basic gist of the game is to “level up” by doing quests. The social element comes in when you have to recruit friends to complete certain quests in the game.
Main Page of “School of Magic”
“School of Magic” is a simple text-based game, and it has thousands of players every day. As mentioned in the Introduction, a game is about the system…a game is not about the graphics. If you have a compelling system, people will play even if the graphics aren’t that great. Of course, if someone offers a compelling game with compelling graphics, it will be even more irresistible to play. But a bad game with compelling graphics is much harder to pull off without investing millions in marketing.
Let’s break down the point components on the main page. We mentioned that these game designs have 5 core components. 11
Notice the values underlined in red in the picture. You see that points are an important part of any of these games. Players need to know where they stand in the game. You don’t have to use numerical points in your game design, but a ranking or points system will help players feel as if they are making progress in the game. In this case, the main “points” in the game help to convey the sense of feedback and/or leveling in the game. Specifically, they have the following values: 1. Gold (how much money players have to buy items in the shop) 2. Health (lets players know how well they did in battles, etc.) 3. Mana (a form of feedback to know how much energy the players have to complete quests in the game; different quests require different amounts of energy) 4. Stamina (a form of feedback that lets players know how much energy is required to do certain things in the game) 5. Experience (a way to show players their progress within the current level) 12
6. Level (a way to show the players’ leveling progress) When you design your game, be sure to create point systems to keep players informed of their progress in their game. The points also help players feel more immersed and involved in the game. These points are a strong form of feedback. Try to be creative and give the points a unique name in your game. Let’s look at the rest of the items on the main page.
Each link/tab on the main page leads to a different part of the game. We’ll cover each section now.
The “Quests” Link
This link will take players to the place where they perform quests to level up in the game. Specifically, they go to the quest page, choose a quest, and then hit the “Do Quest” button. 13
Quest Page Once they do a job, the page reloads and lets them know how many coins and experience points they have earned.
Some quests require certain inventory items in order to be completed. To perform these quests, you need to go to the shop to buy the relevant inventory items. Another interesting mechanic here is the concept of “locking” — basically, this means that only a certain number of quests exist at each level. More become available as you reach another level in the game. This is an incentive for players to keep questing so they can see what’s next. People have a natural curiosity, and they want to know what’s going to happen next (that is, if you’ve made the game fun enough for people to care about it). Locking items such as inventory and quests until players reach a certain level helps to keep players involved and engaged in the game. Also, note that as you do certain quests, you lose mana (energy). Once you are out of mana, you have to wait a certain amount of time to recharge (see the top right corner of the image to see how many seconds are required to 15
recharge). Of course, a player can buy in-game points from the “Wizard” page to recharge more quickly. That requires a cash payment. Note how this game design has tight integration with the business/revenue component. It is important to keep this in mind — it is one of the reasons why these simple games produce a fair amount of revenue. The game is compelling enough and the revenue design is integrated well enough so that players are willing to pay to advance in the game more quickly.
These are items/animals that you can buy to earn “recurring income” in the game. When a player buys one of these items, they receive a certain amount of income each hour from it. It’s a way to make players feel they are progressing in the game without having to be there. 16
Many people enjoy their pets, and this is another way to keep them engaged. Also, note how the player unlocks more of these items/pets when they get to level 10. Players now have one more strong incentive to level up in the game.
This is a bank for players. It is a place for them to store their gold, so if they ever get attacked in the game, they only lose the cash they are holding in the game. All the money in the Treasury is safe. Of course, players have to pay a 10% fee to store their money in the bank. This is a great way to help control inflation, as 10% of the money in the bank gets reclaimed by the game.
This is the “Game Master” in the game and is automated. This is the place players can go to get more points, energy, coins, and other things more quickly without having to spend time waiting in the game. This is also the page where developers make money. Once again, note how the business model of these games is tied into the game design itself. It is one of the reasons why these games can generate decent revenue for the developers. The “Monetization” section of this book covers the business model in more detail.
This is the place where players can challenge other players in the game and earn gold. This is another very powerful component of these simple MMO games. It is powerful because it has a social element to it. You are battling real people in the game to earn more coins. It is a form of exchange in the game. Exchanges are important. Battling another person in the game is a very powerful form of social exchange. Also note that as you battle, you use up stamina. After you are out of stamina, you have to wait to battle again, or you can go to the Grand Wizard to buy more stamina. Once again, note how game design and business model are tightly integrated.
Another thing to note is that the stamina also helps to prevent the player from battling too much in the game. Mana, stamina, and other energy levels that get decreased as the player makes moves in the game help to ensure that the server does not get overwhelmed by players who try to constantly click on the “battle” or “do quest” button.
This is where players can buy inventory to do quests. It helps to make the player feel that the quests are real. Once again, note that more items get unlocked after a new level is reached. Also, this is a great way to keep inflation in the game economy under control, as the more items a player buys, the more money goes back to the game.
This is another social element of the game. It is the place where you can invite friends to join your house in the game. Smart game developers will design quests in the later stages of the game that require a certain number of members in the player’s house. For example, let’s say a player gets to level 10 in the game. That means they are into the game a decent amount. If the game then has a quest that requires 3 members in the house, the player is more likely to make sure they have enough members in his or her house.
This is the section that lets players find out about their character in the game. It helps the player know where they stand in the game. There is also a comment board at the bottom so friends and others can send you comments in the game. Comments are another form of exchange between players. Some players will keep playing a game mainly because other friends they’ve made in the game leave comments on their board every day.
This is a place to have leaderboards in the game. It is a great way to inspire players who are competitive, achiever types to improve their standings in the game. As you can see in the illustration above, there are leaderboards for several different categories (Deadliest, Strongest). Another thing that could have been added to make things more compelling is to have a leaderboard that ranks the current player as compared to his or her friends in the game. It would be another incentive for players to continue playing in the game. This social mechanic is used in other games and would improve the interactivity and competitiveness of this game.
This is the place to give instructions about the basics of the game. Keep it simple, clear, and concise.
This is the area where players can interact with others in the game, which is a great way to build community. Once again, the comments and posts between players on the forum are a powerful form of exchange. Be sure to include a forum for the players to keep you informed of improvements and changes they would like to see in the game. Forums are also a great place for players to help each other in the game. Also, keep in mind that your team should moderate the forums so that flame wars don’t set a negative tone for the board, which can scare away new players. Focus on keeping your forums a friendly environment for players and onlookers alike.
It is also important to note that this game has “viral channels,” which are ways to use Facebook to get more players into the game. Specifically, the game uses invites to get players to add their friends to the “House” in the game. 26
Also, the game uses notifications to inform players when other players in the game have attacked them. It is a great way to remind players to come back in the game. We have now covered the basic design elements of the game. “School of Magic” uses a game design template that seems to be adopted by a lot of these social MMO games. Borrow what you like, and see how you can improve the design to make something unique and interesting to players.
Text-Based MMORPG Design
Now that we’ve discussed the basics of the game design we’re going to use, let’s get started. We need to choose a game idea and get it up as soon as possible. We need to stay away from the traditional fantasy RPGs and find a game that is unique and casual. To succeed, your team needs to find a nontraditional audience. Let’s come up with a list of 20 game ideas we can use as the theme for our game. Before we begin, keep in mind that some of the top casual MMORPGs (with millions of players every month) are: 1) 2) 3) 4) “Mob Wars” “Fish Wrangler!” (a fishing MMO) “Pet Society” (a pet game) Trivia games like “Geo Challenge” and “Who Has the Biggest Brain”
Here is a list of some ideas for new games: 1) Friend Farm (a game where you buy friends for your farm and you must take care of them — milk them, feed them, etc.) 2) A game where you have your friends as fish (Friend Aquarium) and you need to feed them, etc. 27
3) A game where you have a Zoo of friends and have to buy/sell them with other folks in the game … we can call it “Friend-imals” 4) Bar Fight (a game where you have a bar fight with others, and you need to level up to get more power and weapons to challenge others) 5) Snowball Fight (a simple snowball fight MMO) 6) A game where you steal cars to save the environment (you are a green vigilante, and every time you steal a car in the game, you save the environment) 7) T-Shirt Shop Tycoon (a game where you run a t-shirt store and create t-shirts to sell them in the game, etc. As you level up, you can create more compelling t-shirts.) 8) A game that applies strategy to the campus environment … something like gocrosscampus.com but on Facebook 9) A game where you throw a party 10) A tournament for a simple game like 4-square 11) A restaurant MMORPG where you build up your restaurant to serve more folks (Restaurant Tycoon) 12) A MMORPG where you run lemonade stands (Lemonade Tycoon) 13) A hunting game 14) A game where you run a dessert shop, and you buy and sell friends for the shop 15) An MMORPG where you auction off friends; leverage the ebay auction mechanic 16) An island game where you have to build your island and compete against others 17) A game where you build an art gallery 28
18) A game where you run a Tattoo shop and you create tattoos to sell to other folks 19) A game where all life experiences become a mission in the game 20) A game where you become a movie star Feel free to make your own list or to borrow an idea from the 20 suggestions listed above. Then choose the ones that feel the most compelling or interesting to you. The goal is to turn the idea into an RPG similar to the MMORPG template that works well on Facebook. The “Movie Star” game sounds intriguing and is also casual enough to appeal to the nonhardcore gamer, so we’ll base our game on that idea. Now that we’ve found an appropriate game, let’s focus on the design. We will make design mockups to give you an idea of how the final game will look. Remember, the goal is to get the momentum going and to get a game up as quickly as possible. For now, don’t worry about how pretty or appealing it looks. Get the game out there and then iterate on the user interface (UI) as needed. In fact, you can find someone on the Internet to do a UI redesign for as little as $100 — that is what we did with this game. The goal of this game is to allow players to role-play being a movie star. Players will start as an actor wannabe and go on quests until they reach level 50 — Movie Star. We will take the template of the game mentioned above and theme it for movies. You are encouraged to spec out the design of your team’s game much like we do here. Let’s walk through the design of the game:
Main Page Design
In this game, we will keep the point system simple: 1) Gold (how much money players have that they can use to buy items needed to do jobs) 2) Stamina (a form of feedback to know how much energy the players have to complete quests in the game; different quests require different amounts of energy) 3) Star Power (experience points in the game; a way to show players their progress within the current level) 4) Level (a way to show the players’ leveling progress) Let’s look at the rest of the items on the main page…
Each link/tab on the main page leads to a different part of the game. We’ll cover each section now.
The “Jobs” Link
This link will take players to the place where they perform jobs to level up and move toward becoming level 50 (a movie star).
Once they do a job, the page reloads and lets them know how many coins and star points (experience points) they have earned.
Some quests require certain inventory items in order to complete them. To do them, you need to go to the shop to buy the relevant inventory items. We will also use the concept of “locking.” As shown in the preceding illustration, there are only a certain number of jobs available at the player’s current level. More jobs become available as they reach another level in the game. This aspect of the game will keep people curious about “What’s next” in the game. Just as in “School of Magic,” we have set up “Movie Star” so that once a player completes a job, he or she loses stamina. Stamina will recover fully every 10 minutes. Of course, players will also be able to refill stamina points by buying favors/items from the “Studio Boss.” It is also important that, in designing the “Jobs” page, you consider more than just the layout. We need to add content that is related to our game’s theme. In this case, our theme is becoming a movie star. 33
We spent hours coming up with a series of jobs that players would perform before they finally reach level 50 and attain “Movie Star” status. At first, it is recommended that you create jobs, items, and level names for only the first 10 levels of the game. Once you create the content for these first 10 levels, you can expand and add the remaining levels. As you create content for your game, be sure to add a sense of humor or intrigue to the jobs players have to do in the game. Also, as your team creates content for your game, use the “Fun MMORPG Generator” document that goes along with this book. By putting your game’s content into the right tables in the document, you’ll be able to auto-generate the final MMO game quickly and easily. Here is an example of content for the game: Jobs List:
Here is the list of level names for the first 5 levels in the game: Movie Ranking Level 1 2 3 4 5 34 Movie Name Starter Coffee Getter Assistant to the Camera Assistant Camera Assistant Boom Mic Operator
Here is the list of some of the store items in the game: Store
Item Name Price Array Name (should not have any spaces in the name – this is how it will be referenced in the database) Massageoil Level Lock (The level when the player is finally able to buy the item) Massageoil.jpg 0 Image Name
Please take the time to add basic content as you do the mockup for the game. It will help give your team a sense of how the game will feel and play out.
These will be simple jobs that players can use to earn recurring income in the game. This is similar to the “Familiars” in “School of Magic.” For the “Movie Star” game, we will allow the player to have “Indie Gigs” they can do and then earn “royalties” every hour from the projects they do. These royalties will last for 2 days.
We have decided to avoid having a treasury in the game. Of course, a treasury is meant to help control inflation in the in-game economy (and we will achieve this, but in a different way). Instead of a bank, we will have a system where players can visit the “Wishing Well” and toss in some money for good luck in the game.
The result is the same — the money will be removed from the economy.
Much like the “Grand Wizard” in “School of Magic,” we will have a “Studio Boss” who serves as the “Game Master.” Players can visit the “Studio Boss” and spend real money and get in-game points, stamina, and coins.
This is the place where players can challenge other players in the game and earn gold. Instead of a “Battle Theme,” we’re going to use the same concept and focus on cooperative interactions instead of combative ones. Specifically, we will allow people to “party” with someone else in the game. When they do, they will earn coins as they would in a “battle,” but it’s a cooperative venture rather than a combative one. Having this section helps to provide a powerful social element in the game, because you get to “Party” with other players in the game. As a player parties, he or she will lose stamina in the game. If players run out of stamina, they will have to wait and recharge. This will help to ensure that players don’t over-party and earn too many coins too quickly.
This is the place where players can buy the inventory needed to perform the jobs. We will list items associated with each level and let players know that they will be able to unlock more items as they reach higher levels in the game. Also, we need to price the items reasonably so that we take money out of the game, which helps to keep in-game inflation under control.
This is the other social element in the game. We will have players build their “Entourage” in the game (much like the “My House” feature in “School of Magic”). As the game progresses, certain jobs in the game will require the player to have a certain number of members in his or her entourage.
Walk of Fame
Walk of Fame will be the place for the leaderboards in the game. It will list the richest players, best partiers, and people with the highest star points.
We will also have a “Help” section where players can read specifics on how the game works.
Of course, we will use Facebook’s forum feature to allow for a forum in our game. It will be a place for players to ask questions, to recruit other people for their Entourage, and to feel as if they are part of a community.
Viral channels are important. Not only must the game be fun, but it must also be “viral” so that more people play it and, in turn, bring in even more players. Right now, we have a few viral channels we’re going to put into the game. We have the “Entourage” section that motivates players to invite friends. We also have the “Party” section where players can party with other people in the game. We may also modify the “Party” section so that it lists some of the player’s friends there. If the player chooses a friend who hasn’t joined the game yet, we may give the player more coins. Also, we will send a notification to the friend that someone partied with them and they should play the game. Now that we have the basic design, let’s get a simple game up on Facebook. Once we have something up and going, we can modify it to resemble the MMORPG we’re going to make.
Getting a Basic Game up on Facebook…
Since we’re going to develop the MMORPG on Facebook, let’s get a Facebook developer account set up so we can get the MMORPG up quickly. First you need to have an account on Facebook. You can register here: http://www.facebook.com Once you have an account, you need to add the “Developer” application, you can do that here: http://www.facebook.com/developers/ Now you need to set up an application (which will be our “Movie Star” game). Here’s a walk through of how to set up an application:
Setting up a game application on Facebook, part I Next step: Choose a name for your game and agree to the Terms of Service. 44
Now you need to go to the “Canvas” section, where you’ll fill out the basic information for the game.
Once on the Canvas page, you need to fill out the URL of your application to complete the address that folks will visit to see your game. You also need to specify the server that will house all of the “back end” files for the application. Basically, Facebook redirects all references to your canvas URL by users to your callback URL. If you have shared hosting, you can set up a directory there to take care of things. If you don’t have shared hosting or your own server, you can always join Chroma Coders and get some free hosting, or you can take advantage of a special program at Joyent offered to Facebook developers. You can get 1 year of free web hosting here: http://www.joyent.com/developers/facebook/ This is meant to be for basic hosting. If your game grows, you’ll need a more reliable hosting service. Once you enter in the data, GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE AND HIT THE BUTTON THAT SAYS “SAVE CHANGES.” As long as you have chosen a unique canvas name and appropriate URL, you’ll be informed that things will be updated in a few minutes. Good job!
Put in server info for your game. 46
There are other things you can do in the settings, but, for now, we’ll skip those. We want to get the game out as quickly as possible. The next step is to download the PHP/Facebook client code from the Facebook Development Wiki: http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/API Get used to the wiki, as it has a lot of important information you’ll need to make your game useful and fun on Facebook. You also need to download the PHP/Facebook client code here: http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/Client_Libraries Here is a direct link to the PHP library: http://svn.facebook.com/svnroot/platform/clients/packages/facebookplatform.tar.gz Once you download the library, open up the .gz file… Go to facebook-platform -> php directory and grab all the files… Copy them to the callback URL you specified in the “Canvas” section… In the example above, we would upload it to the following address: http://www.chromacoders.org/myfunmmo/ Now, you need to take these 2 files… appinclude.php and index.php and specify a couple of things so that your app will run. To put them in this blog to download, they were saved as appinclude.txt (http://www.chromacoders.org/appinclude.txt) and as index.txt (http://www.chromacoders.org/index.txt). When you download them, RENAME them to appinclude.php and index.php and then upload them to your callback URL directory… Before uploading them to the directory, make sure you open up the appinclude file and put in the right API key and secret key for the following 47
lines — remember, you can find these by going to your application settings in Facebook: $appapikey = ‘4d812e4185a2fb1f69d7161c01c5c6ef’; $appsecret = ‘69de77eb48ca5a0145821cee118d5785′; Click here to find the API key and API secret value again: (http://www.facebook.com/developers/#/developers/apps.php) Make sure the callback URL is the one you specified in the app settings … change the line below to the appropriate address for your app: $appcallbackurl = ‘http://www.chromacoders.org/myfunmmo/’; Upload the files (appinclude.php and index.php to the callback URL directory). Now you can go to your app URL and check out the basic MMORPG. Go to your app address…in this case it is: http://apps.facebook.com/myfunmmo/ You’ll see a page like this:
Here is the screen asking you to add the game... 48
Click on the “Allow” … It’ll take you to your main app page…that should look like this.
That is the start of your MMORPG. Now that you know how to get a basic application up on Facebook, we can focus on getting a more engaging game up. To assist you in getting your game out, we have provided code with this book to help you auto-generate the basics of an MMORPG. You need to fill in the MS Word document with the relevant content for your game and then hit the “Generate Fun MMO” button. Once you click that button, an “Output” folder will be created with the relevant code you need. Copy all of that code into the server directory. It will also create some SQL code. Use PHPMyAdmin or the console to run the SQL and create the relevant database and tables. Of course, you may want to change the images and style of the game that gets generated. You can update the image files to achieve that purpose. 49
Once you do that, copy all the PHP files into the app directory on your server. Keep in mind that while this document helps your team make a basic MMO, success will come from the coding and content tweaks your team makes to keep the game engaging for the players. For example, writing code that sends out a notification TO ALL PLAYERS mentioning the new content you’ve added to the game is a great idea to keep players coming back. There are a lot of interesting ways to modify the game to make it more fun for the players. Many of these techniques are discussed in the next section of the book.
Facebook Code Walkthrough
We’ll now do a walkthrough of some Facebook-specific code so that you have a better understanding of what’s going on. The magic of these social networks is that they have people’s data. Facebook has some very nice APIs and Markup languages to access that data. You’ll notice that the games above use profile pictures of people on Facebook. To do this is very simple and requires using “FBML” (Facebook Markup Language). You can find more about FBML here: http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/FBML FBML is code that sits on top of HTML, and Facebook then parses and replaces the social data with the FBML references. Borrowed from the Facebook wiki, here is a visual representation of the basic application architecture:
For example, here is the code to display a person’s profile picture in FBML: $user = $_POST['fb_sig_user’]; <fb:profile-pic uid=<?=$user?> /> Note how we close the tag with a "/>" Every page in your app gets a bunch of information about the user. One of those pieces of information involves their “Facebook user id.” This id is a BIGINT and can be passed into many FBML tags to display user data, such as a person’s profile picture, name, etc. The data sent is via $_POST variables. Among them is the post variable 'fb_sig_user' that gives you the player’s user id. 51
You can find out more about the post variables sent to your app here: http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/Your_callback_page_and_ you Once you get that, you can pass it into the <fb:profile-pic /> tag. The <fb:profile-pic /> tag takes many different parameters. The one required parameter is uid. uid is the id of the facebook user’s profile picture you want to display. You can find more about other parameters here: http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/Fb:profile-pic Another nuance is in the database structure. Note how the user table doesn’t store the name of the players. The table stores the Facebook user ids of the players in the game. As mentioned before, the Facebook APIs and FBML revolve around queries related to the person’s Facebook id. This numerical representation of the player helps to keep things abstract enough so that if users change their profile picture or other parts of their social data, it doesn’t affect you because calling the FBML tags with the user id will render the most current picture. This user id representation also helps to protect the user’s privacy. Because of Facebook’s growth, the user id is represented as a BIGINT in the database’s user table.
Aside from these specifics of making an MMORPG on a social network, we also need to ensure that the game IS FUN. It isn’t enough to borrow the interface of other successful text-based RPGs on Facebook. There are many of these text-based RPGs on Facebook with varying levels of success. Part of the reason why some of these games are 52
100 times more successful than others that look very similar is due to one simple fact: the game balance is done very well. Specifically, game balance means that the game gives the right amount of points at the right frequency rate in the right manner. The reward structure needs to be designed in a way that is fun and challenging. In the case of the movie game, we have structured the experience points in the game to be a parabolic function. The experience points for each job will be based on the level associated with the job.
Is a parabolic function fun enough for the player? That is where extreme testing comes into place. Additionally, this is where metrics come into play. You need to keep track of all the jobs that people are taking in the game. Make sure that the jobs at the same level are evenly chosen and provide a similar cost/reward structure. This is one of the main reasons it is important for your team to play the game — so that you can identify any balance issues in the game and then adjust accordingly. Once you upload the basic game, your team needs to play the game repeatedly to make sure it feels “fun.” Make sure that players are awarded the right amount of points for reaching different levels and for doing 53
quests, so that they feel they are making progress in the game, while at the same time being challenged. In the case of these MMORPGs, we have some parameters in the FUN MMORPG Maker document that you can tweak to give players the right amount of points for each job. Once you have made the game balanced and fun, you have a working MMORPG. Congratulations :)
But How Do I Learn About Making an MMORPG?
The goal of this book is to help you get an MMORPG up as quickly as possible. If we only wanted you to read about making an MMORPG, we would have included more theory in the first section. Keep in mind that under the new paradigm, your players will help you design your MMORPG by giving you feedback on the game. Of course, this feedback can only happen if your team actually has an MMORPG out. Now that your team has a basic MMORPG out, check out the next section for specific design ideas to improve and enhance your MMORPG.
Section 2 Maintaining the MMORPG
Now that you have a basic game in place, let’s talk about some of the subtle things to keep in mind as you improve the game … and let’s also talk about enhancing the game. The game is a service, and you must keep updating and improving it. This will keep users coming back, and it will also help to make the game more fun so that more folks want to join. Here are some themes to keep in mind now that you have a game released:
You must be willing to constantly iterate on the game. Are you willing to update and improve features every minute? Some developers updated their game 50 times in one hour to address the feedback and suggestions of some of the early players of their game. Playfish mentioned that “Who Has the Biggest Brain” was updated over 100 times after release to make it successful. It is one of the most successful games on Facebook, which is partially due to constant iterative improvement on the game. When the game was first released, it was not an immediate success. It took a few months of improvements before it finally reached the top 100 games on Facebook.
It is vitally important to keep updating the content in the game every week. It is another way to show your commitment to your players, and it also helps to keep things interesting. For example, one week you could hold a tournament. Another week, you may want to release more levels in the game. Another week may add a series of new items or limited-edition items in the game. When you do updates, you should send notifications/e-mails to current registered players letting them know about the new updates. Many players 55
may forget about your MMORPG if not reminded, so sending them a message about new and fun content is a good way to remind them of the game while respecting their time.
Balancing the Economy
If you have a virtual currency in the game, you need to make sure it doesn’t get inflated. This can happen when there is no proper balancing of the sinks and sources of points/currency in the game. Why is balancing the economy so important? The answer is because it has an impact on the fun of the game. If there is massive inflation in the game, players will stop liking the game and leave. Yes, this has happened to other games — but if you take the proper steps, you can make sure the economy is a strong way to keep the fun in the game. Check out this paper to see the effects of inflation in other MMORPGs: http://www.flyingscythemonkey.com/Money_Supply_White_Paper.htm One game designer wisely suggested that the game should have a “wishing well” that players can throw money into and make a wish. It is a good way to help remove money from the economy in a way that is positive to the players in the game. Another thing we did was to have a way for players to donate money to the new feature. If they donated a certain amount, they would get recognition as funding a new feature in the game. This was another positive way to help remove money from the economy and keep inflation in check.
If you have a successful game, people will try to cheat the system. They will try to find ways to exploit the game and ways to gain more points. It happens in almost every game. You need to make sure you catch these issues quickly, as they will impact the fun of the game. If honest players see that cheaters always win, they will leave the game. So you need to keep track of changes in the game. Keep track of the top players in the game by points every 4-5 hours. If there is a massive change, there may be something going on. Look into it. You’ll also hear about exploits that allow folks to get a lot of money or points quickly. Patch them 56
quickly and then either ban the folks who used the exploit or remove the points they got unfairly.
Making Money from the Game
Your ultimate goal may be to make money from the game, which is a fine and commendable goal. At first, however, your focus should be on serving and responding to your players. Get your game up to 5,000 or 10,000 daily users before thinking about monetization. When you have a new game, and new players get a sense that you are trying to milk them for money, your chances of growing may be limited. Of course, you could be the exception to this rule. But, in general, you should first serve your players for a while, making sure the MMORPG runs somewhat smoothly, and then look into monetization. When you are ready to monetize, look into options such as allowing players to buy virtual currency in the game. You can also use banner ads from sites such as Social Media and Cubics or affiliate offers from sites such as My Offerpal and Super Rewards. As of this writing, some of the folks at Super Rewards mentioned giving million dollar payouts to single developers. It is possible to make a lot of money from these games provided you make something that is compelling, fun, and addictive to players. Monetization techniques are covered in the next section of this book.
It is important that your game is properly balanced. Because you have points, missions, battles, and other RPG elements, it is easy for these components to get “out of whack.” Make sure you properly balance the game. Some MMORPG developers hire people specifically to think about balancing items and quests so that nothing is out of control. When a game is balanced, it is fun. When it is out of balance, players will notice and may even stop playing. Balance is crucial. Yes, some folks even set up spreadsheets in Excel to run simulations to make sure their game is balanced. And you should test 57
new items before releasing them, because a new item may upset the game balance. Another option used by some developers is to set up a test version of the game as a separate app. They then test and apply changes to the practice version before moving them to the live app.
Working with the Community
Right from the beginning, it is important that you regularly respond to the members of your community. They need to know that you’ll be there and are committed to making the game work. Doing this will earn you their trust. Make sure you keep building on that trust by consistently being responsive to them and by being open to their feedback and suggestions. If you need to take a break from responding to the community, make sure you let them know you’ll be unavailable for a while, or get a volunteer admin to help respond to issues and questions.
Taking a Break
Developing an MMORPG can become intense at times. You have to respond to a lot of things at once, and not all of these issues will be technical. Because MMORPGs revolve around people, there will be social issues that arise — and these problems will probably be more draining than most of the technical issues that you encounter in the game. You run the risk of burning out and losing the motivation to keep updating the game if you don’t take a little time off. I’ve found that taking a few days off after 3-6 weeks of development helps to keep me focused on improving the game. Stepping away from the game also gives me clarity and insights into new ideas that can be applied to the MMORPG. Constant development without a break can get frustrating, especially if you are developing alone without a partner … even if the community is helping out. Taking a break is a good way to recharge (but make sure you inform the players that you’ll be gone for a bit).
Every MMORPG will have a culture based on the developer and the players. You need to have an idea of the culture you want, and then you must make sure you reinforce that culture with your attitudes and behaviors in the game. Be crystal clear about how you expect your players to behave, and then block/ban people who violate those rules. There may be a person who creates issues with other players in the game, which may ruin the experience for others. These people exist, and if their attitudes, behaviors, and comments toward others are setting a bad tone in the game, be sure to block them from the app. You can ban them temporarily at first, and if they continue with their unacceptable behavior, then you can do a permanent ban. We focused on making my game a positive experience, a place for fun and relaxation. We’ve found that to be effective. Make sure you are clear about the social tone of the app.
Studying other MMORPGs is one way to learn about the games. Another important way to learn is to keep metrics on everything in the game, and then analyze the reports. For example, you need to know: • • • • How many invites were sent today? How many people leveled up in the game? How many players played the game today? How many new players from yesterday returned today?
Once you have this data, you can start doing split A/B testing. You need to keep experimenting so that you can tweak the game to make it a better and more compelling experience. Split A/B testing is important because minor changes in certain areas may have a huge impact on the success potential of the game. With metrics, you’ll get an idea of how long people spend in the game and what people are doing in the game. You’ll then be able to modify and iterate based on this data. Proper analysis and use of this data are what can 59
separate you from the rest of the game developers, so make sure you put a metrics system in place early on in the game-release process.
As your game grows, you’ll need help addressing all of the questions and customer service needs of others. To help lighten the load, you may want to ask some of the people in your community to be volunteer admins. Most folks will be willing to do it for free. You can give people who volunteer a special badge in the game. The volunteers will help things run smoothly. Make sure you write up a tutorial for volunteers who help out with the game, so that they have clear instructions of how you expect them to treat people asking for help.
Designing for Mass Market
While most social games have a few dedicated fans that play for hours at a time, it is important to keep in mind that the broadest audience will casually play the game. To reach the broadest audience, the game needs to create a compelling 15-minute daily play experience for the casual player. To make that 15-minute play experience compelling, make sure your design team finds ways to make it feel very social and productive. The player should be able to achieve something and interact with several people in the course of 15 minutes.
Games as Systems
At the heart of it all, you are developing a “system” … and this system has users who provide inputs into the system, which in turn produce outputs such as results, etc. You need to work on building this system and its components so that the game will run as much on its own or on a methodical fashion as possible. For example, part of your game system is (hopefully) getting new players into the game quickly. Let’s say that 20% of the players who join the game decide to stay. You have this statistic because you kept metrics (mentioned previously). 60
Now you tweak a few things and add a tutorial, so that 40% of the players who join the game decide to stay. You have modified this part of the system, and it will have a positive effect on the whole system. This is why you need to measure all parts of the game — so you can figure out ways to optimize various subsystems of the game to keep it running smoothly. Systems-level thinking is critical for making the game successful, so be sure to keep in mind that you are really building a system here, and the actual game is only one part of it.
Social/Game Mechanics to Improve Your Game
We have covered the design of a standard PHP-based RPG on a social network, but that is only a start. As your small team develops the game over time, you may want to add new mechanics so your players have more fun. New mechanics will also help your team differentiate itself from other games on social networks. Here is a list of interesting and unique social and game mechanics found in some games on social networks:
Social Cause Mechanic
This is a mechanic in which people play the game to help a social cause. As the players engage in the game, they accumulate points and money for a social cause, such as saving wildlife or the rainforest. (Lil) Green Patch (http://apps.facebook.com/greentrees/home.php) uses this mechanic very successfully. It has millions of players each month and is one of the top 25 games on Facebook (as of this writing). In this game, players take care of a little “garden” — and the more they play the game, the more they send plants to friends, and the more they tend their garden, then the more square feet of land is saved.
Note how this is more compelling than just the game making a standard monthly donation on behalf of everyone in the game. Showing each player the exact amount of land they have saved gives them a personal sense of contribution that keeps them coming back. They are inspired to visit the game so they can do more good. This aspect of the game helps to bring in another audience group. Some people would never play games because they consider them to be “a waste of time,” but since this game helps to impact the “real world,” it is worth playing.
This is a powerful mechanic and a subset of “exchanges.” As mentioned before, exchanges are very important. Gifting is a powerful exchange that your small development team can use to bring more new players into the game. A game may have a section that allows you to send gifts to your friends. These gifts are expensive items that would normally be hard to get in the game world. So gifting then becomes a way for players to get items they would normally not be able to get in the game. Because of this, it becomes socially acceptable to send someone a gift. It is not considered “spam,” but a nice gesture. Successful games like “myFarm” use this mechanic to help increase their audience. They have over a million players each month. Here is a sample of their gift page, which is very simple and effective: 62
Additionally, there are some games such as “(Lil) Green Patch” (http://apps.facebook.com/greentrees/home.php) in which a player saves more habitat as they send out gifts. Here is the message a player sees on the “(Lil) Green Patch” page: “Select a plant for your friends to grow in their Green Patch. For every 10 friends receiving a plant you save 1 square foot of rain forest from deforestation!” This is a very powerful incentive for people who want to do their “daily dose of goodness” for the world. By sending gifts in the game, they are actually saving part of a real rainforest. They see the number of square feet saved by them personally grow as they use this mechanic.
Notification of New Features Mechanic
Out of site, out of mind. As social networks change the way apps access players, it may be harder for people to find your game. Your game may not be on their profile and may not be easy to find in their list of apps. You 63
can send notifications to them announcing new features. If you do this on a regular basis, it is a great way to bring people back to your game.
Make a plan to release new content or features on at least a weekly basis, and send out a notification about it to everyone who has installed your app.
Notification of Reward Mechanic
This is another way to bring people back into the game. Players like to feel as if they have won something. It is the same reason why folks play the lotto. Send players a notification that they have won something that day, and then provide a link so they can claim their prize.
You can set up a reward schedule that selects 5-10% of your player base every 8 to 12 hours and send them a notification giving them a random reward. It is a great way to bring players back and also to develop more cpositive feelings for your game.
Newsfeed Update Mechanic
A way to gain more social distribution (a game gets more players by having players expose the game to their friends) is to announce some of the events your players have performed to their feeds so that it may get picked up by the newsfeed and shared with friends. The story published to the feed should be interesting, compelling, and ideally funny. Another way to consistently get it published is to publish a message the first time players visit the app for the day. It is a good way to bring in new players.
Help My Friend’s Space Mechanic
This is a mechanic that, once again, utilizes the power of social exchanges. In this case, you ask players to help their friend’s stats in the game. (Lil) Green Patch uses this mechanic by letting players know that a friend’s patch needs to be taken care of, cleaned, and so on. This promotes the social aspect of the game, because when people learn that their friend helped their patch, they are inclined to reciprocate. They visit the app and help their friend’s patch in the same way.
This taps into the gambling mechanic. This is one of the reasons people play slot machines. The random reward schedule can be very addictive. 65
Games like Pull Tabs (http://apps.facebook.com/pulltabs/play.htm) give people the chance to play a lotto-like game and win rewards and virtual coins, which they can use to buy items and level up. Note how the combination of the lotto mechanic and the collection mechanic is used to keep people addicted to the game. They constantly return because they want to level up in the game and find out about new prizes and collections. The Scratch and Win game (http://apps.facebook.com/scratchit/play.htm) also uses this lotto mechanic.
This is another very powerful mechanic. People like to buy and sell items in games to make a profit. They then enjoy investing that profit to buy more items and make even more profit … a very addictive cycle. This mechanic has been used in many games on Facebook. Friends for Sale (http://apps.facebook.com/friendsforsale/) is a very popular game that was once one of the top 5 games on Facebook. The premise of the game is 66
that you buy and sell friends. You purchase friends, and when someone else buys them from you, you make a profit. The game merged two very powerful themes to gain huge success. Specifically, they merged the buy/sell mechanic with friends (a cornerstone of social networks) to make a fun and addictive game.
Another game that is hugely successful in using this mechanic is “Be a Tycoon” (http://apps.facebook.com/beatycoon/). In this game, a player makes purchases; every 20 minutes, the game updates the prices of items. If players see that one of their items increased in price, they sell and make a profit. They invest that profit into buying bigger and better items and level up. 67
This is another form of exchange between players. Many text-based RPGs on Facebook have an option where you can challenge other players in the game to win points and money from them. This is a powerful way to make a game social and fun — social because people get to battle other real people and fun because as they perform battles, they win in-game rewards such as points and coins. Many games integrate the battle mechanic extremely well, including games like “School of Magic” (http://apps.facebook.com/schoolofmagic/) and “Mob Wars” (http://apps.facebook.com/mobwars/). The battle mechanic provides a great way for players to meet other players and fulfills the social needs of players.
Of course, it doesn’t necessarily have to be battling that gets people to interact with others in the game. You can take the same concept and use it in a cooperative way. For example, two players may be able to jello wrestle each other for in-game points and coins, or players may be able to hug or kiss each other for these same rewards.
This is another very powerful form of exchange among players. Players will revisit a game purely to see the comments that other friends/players in the game have posted on their comment board. The great thing about comments is that once a developer makes a comment board in the game, they don’t have to add new content to it (of course, they can if they want to) … but players will visit another person’s comment board and express 69
themselves. A way to leverage this even more is to send the player a notification when someone posts a comment on their wall. Implementing a comment board on a social network like Facebook only takes about 5 minutes. You can use the “fb:comments” tag (http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php/Fb:comments).
Show off on Profile Mechanic
Most social networks have profiles. Creating compelling content that players want to post on their profile is a great way to attract more players as well as to remind the original player to visit the game again. Find something to add to the profile that helps to express the player’s identity/achievements in the game. You can create a box on the profile that represents the player’s character in the game, or displays their achievements in the game, or gives their stats in the game. The profile box your team creates may also have a social mechanic to it. For example, you can show a person’s stats in the game, and then include a button at the bottom that says “Challenge Me” or something else that would inspire a player’s friend to get involved in the game.
Trading is another powerful form of exchange. Trading is another solid reason for people to be social in your game. With trading, players are able to exchange items with other people and make new friends via these exchanges. Games like “Pet Society” use this effectively to keep folks engaged. The game has a dedicated forum where folks can post items to trade.
Your team can encourage trading by giving each player a subset of the total types of items in the store. To get certain items, they have to trade with other people in the game. For example, there may be 5 different sofas in the game. The game is designed so that each player sees only 2 of the 5 sofas at the in-game store they visit. To get the other sofas, they must trade with others in the game. Your team can tie this into badges, too, as the game can give players badges for collecting a complete set of items in the game. For example, the game can give out a badge if the player collects all 10 different lamps in the game. However, the store lists only 5 of the 10 lamps. To get the remaining lamps, players have to trade with others in the game.
This leverages most people’s innate sense of competitiveness. If you have a weekly tournament that requires players to compete every day during the week, it give them another reason to visit your game daily.
Games like “Fish Wrangler!” (http://apps.facebook.com/fishwrangler) use the tournament mechanic. The game awards cash and in-game prizes to people who compete in the tournament. The money can be a draw, but if 72
you give players more virtual coins or items for winning the tournament, that counts as real money in their minds. “Fish Wrangler!” is able to say they give away thousands of dollars because they are giving away so many in-game prizes and points in the tournament that it would be the equivalent of thousands of dollars in cash. One can imagine a situation where your team announces over $10,000 in prizes, consisting mainly of in-game virtual coins. If you charge $10 for 1,000 virtual coins in the game, you can give away 1,000 of those $10 virtual-coin packs in the tournament and help to make the tournament feel “large” because of the total giveaway value.
Also note how the games have tournaments for different classes of players. It’s a good idea to put players into different categories for the tournament, depending on their points in the game. “Fish Wrangler!” has nine different classes for the tournament. For example, if you have a small number of points, you are in the “Aspiring Class” for “Fish Wrangler!” 73
Another thing to notice is how the game provides daily as well as seasonal leaderboards — this keeps people interested and makes them want to come back daily and check out the current leaderboard rankings. This is a very important aspect of the game to implement, as it helps to build engagement and increase the number of times a player visits the game in a day. If the leaderboards can change constantly, some players will visit the game just to check out the leaderboard rankings. Another fantastic thing about tournaments is that they count as new weekly content. This is a great way to add “new content” to the game that doesn’t require much work, because once you have completed the code base for the tournament, you can reuse it week after week. Of course, you can also make your tournaments last a month. Find the time frame that works best for your players.
Passive Play Mechanic
This is an interesting mechanic that is found in the game “Fish Wrangler!” (http://apps.facebook.com/fishwrangler). Fishing can be a very passive activity, and “Fish Wrangler!” capitalizes on this fact by letting players know that they are supposed to play the game passively while they are also engaged in other activities on the Internet. In fact, after you try to “fish” a few times, you have to wait 5 minutes or so to go fishing again.
Fishing consists of clicking a link. Designing a game that is fun and passive is a way to reach the casual gamer. One can imagine taking this con74
cept and applying it to a hunting game or any other type of theme where waiting for long periods of time is part of the activity.
The adventure/exploration mechanic can help make the game interesting. As players level up in your game, they then have access to new worlds and areas in the game. This sense of being able to discover and explore new places — and the new items and quests that go along with the new area — is a great way to keep the game interesting and compelling for long-time players. Of course, we think of exploration in the traditional sense of exploring new worlds. But on social networks, we can apply this concept to new user-generated content. For example, exploring photos is compelling for some players. If a player gets to explore the photos and profile pictures of other players, it feels as if he or she is exploring a new world or starting an exciting adventure. The great thing about using photos and profile pictures is that they are readily available and do not require your team to create more content. Games like “Owned!” (http://apps.facebook.com/humangifts/) allow players to explore the photos of other players and then buy the pictures. Since pictures of people are naturally provocative, “Owned!” is able to keep players engaged for a long time without the developers having to spend a lot of time generating content for players.
Additionally, exploring photos of other people is more social and can help to make the game more compelling, especially if you have a comment wall underneath a profile picture or photo that lets the players who are browsing add comments. Of course, be sure to notify a player when someone leaves a comment on his or her photos. Exploration of photos aside, having new worlds and areas in the game to explore helps to enrich the fantasy aspect of the game. Games like “Mouse Hunt” (http://apps.facebook.com/mousehunt/) have a whole fantasy world that players can explore. The exploration helps to build a deeper sense of immersion in the game.
Build My Team Mechanic
This concept is embraced by most of the standard text-based RPGs on Facebook. This concept involves recruiting friends to form an alliance in the game. For example, in the game “School of Magic” (http://apps.facebook.com/schoolofmagic/), players are encouraged to invite friends to join their magic house. As players progress in the game, they are confronted with quests that require them to have a certain number of people in their house before the quest can be completed. In addition, when players have members in their house, they have an advantage in battles — so people will earn more gold and other points by having more friends in the game.
If someone has invested 4 hours in your game, and the game then requires that he or she performs a quest that necessitates having a friend join the game, the player is more likely to do that. Of course, there are other games that also use this technique. Games like “Mob Wars” require you to have friends join your mob. You can also leverage this technique to increase the number of players in a game by offering “special items” in the game that can only be earned if players “recruit 5 people into their house” or “bring 3 more recruits to the Godfather,” and so on. This is a very powerful technique that can help the game to grow. Some well-designed games on Facebook leverage this mechanic in many different ways to help keep their game growing.
Quizzes can be addictive. People seem to enjoy finding out more about themselves and their friends. Quizzes can be created as weekly content. These quizzes are ways that help players relate to your game a lot more. For example, for the game “Pet Society,” one could imagine a quiz called “What kind of animal are you?” that asks players 5 to 7 questions and then 78
tells them the animal they are. You can then ask the quiz takers if they want to post the quiz to their news feed or on their profile. Their friends may see the quiz, and it may draw them into the game. Another thing your team can do is to have a section where you list the results of friends who also took the quiz. You can even ask players to invite friends to take the quiz. Some game developers have created quizzes that a person must pass before being allowed into the game. They made the quiz a separate app on the social network, and once the player took it, there would be a link to the actual game. It made people feel as if it were an honor to be invited into the game. This is a good idea for promoting the game. “Street Racer” makes players take a quiz when they first enter the game, and the results are published to the player’s feed so that friends can see it. The quiz relates to the “type of car” the person is. This is a very simple and effective tactic that your game can also benefit from.
Meme Quiz Mechanic
This is a variation of the quiz mechanic. It involves making a quiz on a current pop-culture meme. For example, a quiz based on a new blockbuster movie. Create a new app for this pop-culture quiz and then promote your game at the top of the app. Ideally, the game’s theme will match the theme of the quiz. The app "What Transformer Are You” (http://apps.facebook.com/qwhichtransfo-dagfi/) leveraged the release of the movie "Transformers 2" to reach over 100,000 daily users in only a few short days.
Your team can look into upcoming pop-culture memes in movies, music, and holiday themes to make appropriate quizzes that also promote your game.
Leaderboards tap into the competitive nature of people. Leaderboards that list the top players in the categories of in-game money, experience points, and other stats in the game (like wins against other players) can be very compelling. They give some players another motivation to keep playing the game. Keep in mind that global leaderboards aren’t too meaningful to all players — in fact, they can sometimes be intimidating. For someone just starting out in the game, seeing that the #1 in-gold person has 500 billion coins may be daunting. That is why your team should consider taking steps to narrow down the leaderboard so that is constantly changing, making it compelling and attainable. Doing this will give all players a chance to have their names appear on the leaderboards. This includes having daily leaderboards as well as weekly leaderboards. 81
You can also have leaderboards that specifically relate to friends’ scores in the game. Players who sees their in-game gold ranking relative to friends may be more compelled to keep playing to move up the rankings. Seeing their ranking relative to friends provides more meaning to them and may compel them to keep playing, if only to beat their friends.
“Who Has the Biggest Brain” uses this mechanic well by displaying a player’s ranking relative to friends. If you are playing the trivia game with friends and notice that a not-too-smart friend has beaten you in the friend rankings, you’re more compelled to play until you beat their score because you’re “smarter than them.”
Gambling can be addictive. Poker and card games are springing up all over these social networks. In addition, these games are making real money, because players do not win real money in the game. Players can 82
buy “virtual coins” to play more of the game. This is a very resourceful way to give players their gambling needs in a legal way. Other games can also add the gambling mechanic to their games. People love slot machines, card games, and other activities where they can make a wager that they either win or lose. One can imagine having a daily card game that people can play, wagering a certain amount of virtual coins in the process, and they may win or lose coins accordingly. Allowing people to have 3 card hands or slot machine pulls each day is a compelling reason for people to keep coming back to the game on a daily basis.
(http://apps.facebook.com/slotsbandit/) Another option is to give people a hand every time they reach a certain level or whenever they challenge their friends to a battle in the game. This will give them even more incentive to keep playing the game. If they reach the next level today, they get a chance at another card hand to win more money. Games like Blackjack and Poker are simple gambling games that you can add to your game to make this happen.
Also, this is a good way to help resolve inflation in an economy. Most of these games are set up so that the house wins over time. In the long run, these games will help take money out of the economy.
This is another fun mechanic that emphasizes the social aspect of these games. Auctioning is similar to trading, except that in an auction, someone lists an item for sale and other people bid on it with virtual coins. The auction itself feels like a game, and people will go out of their way to do what is necessary to try to “win an auction.” On the bid page, you can show the people who have posted bids and allow players to post comments about the auction, too.
“Be a Tycoon” uses this mechanic well to help players sell their rare items to other players in the game. Once again, you can combine this mechanic with the collection mechanic to help create a more compelling game. Specifically, you can have items that only certain players can purchase. In order for others to obtain them, they have to buy them from these players in an auction. These auctions are an interesting and fun way to help players conduct exchanges in the game. You can combine this auction mechanic with the user-generated content mechanic to allow players to auction off surprise photos to other people in the game. These photos can be kept “sealed” and then unlocked by the person who wins the auction. This concept also helps to peak the players’ curiosity, as they want to know what the photo looks like.
People love to collect things. Introducing this mechanic into the game is a very powerful way to keep players coming back. For example, you can have a bunch of badges available in the game, and people will go out of their way to find ways to collect all the badges. You can also have sets of items in the game that people need to collect to receive certain badges or special powers. For example, you can have quests in the game where people have to collect 7 items to unlock the quest. To get these 7 items, they have to perform 7 other mini-quests. Completing collections gives people a sense of achievement. Additionally, you can add other benefits that amplify the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a collection, such as new powers, special bonuses, or additional activities and quests that get unlocked every time a collection is completed. Imagine creating a fantasy game that contains 5 special diamonds. A player has to collect all 5 diamonds to get a special weapon they can use to win more battles against other players in the game. These diamonds can be found as players reach certain levels in the game. One diamond may be found at level 4, while another diamond may be found at level 10. Additionally, some of these diamonds can only be obtained by trading with other players in the game. By leveraging this collection mechanic with some other mechanics, you make a more compelling experience for players.
People love to rate other people in one way or another. “Hot or Not” capitalized on this concept on the general web, and Facebook apps like “Compare People” do this well.
The main focus of this mechanic is to present the player with two friends, and then ask the player a question such as: “Who is most likely to travel around the world?” As a group of friends answers this question, your game can then give the results, such as: “78% of people think John is more likely to travel the world someday.” People have a very strong “social curiosity,” and asking people to rate someone as compared to others, and then listing the results of these social contests, satisfies a compelling need for players. There is another simple way to use this mechanic, and an app called “Huggable Friends” (http://apps.facebook.com/chromahuggable/) does it well. It asks the player to select 10 friends from a list as a person’s “most huggable friends.” As the player selects them, an invite is sent out to those players, and the new players have to go on and rate their friends. Over time, the app’s database has a ranking of how many people voted for a certain person.
Results for this app are unlocked once a person invites 15 to 20 people. This concept can be reskinned for other ratings such as “Most Lovable Friends” or “Most Kissable Friends,” and so on.
Donate Virtual Coins Mechanic
This is an effective way to help combat inflation in the game. While you can have a “tax” in the game that helps to combat inflation, another way to achieve the same results in a “positive” way is to have a “Donation area” — tell the game community that a new feature or quest will be unlocked once there are enough virtual coins donated. Additionally, the players who donate the most virtual coins can have their names listed in the “Donor Wall” for that feature. You can also give people a badge for donating a certain amount to a certain feature (for example, if you’re going to a new set of weapons in the game). You can have a donor area that states that the new items will be implemented once 1 billion coins are donated. Have categories of donations including “Bronze Level” (over 1 million coins donated), “Silver Level” (over 10 million coins donated), and “Gold Level” (over 100 million coins donated). Have badges that correspond to the level of donation. This will be a compelling and positive way to resolve inflation in the economy.
Additionally, many people love recognition. Having a list of donors and showing that they helped out the game is a form of social status in the game community. Also, once the feature is released, you can have a small link at the bottom of the page that represents the feature to show the main donors or “top 5 donors” for a feature or quest. Another suggestion mentioned at the game developer’s conference as a way to combat inflation is to have a “wishing well” in the game. Players can go to the well, make a wish, and throw a certain amount of money into the well. This is another potential way to help resolve inflation in the economy. Finally, there is the tried-and-true method of having a “bank” in the game where players can store their money. Money in the bank cannot be taken away from players when they battle others in the game. So the bank is a safe place for players to put their money. Of course, there is a “fee” to store money in the bank. The fee is usually 10%, and it helps to take money out of the economy and control inflation. Many games, including “Mob Wars” (http://apps.facebook.com/mobwars/) and “Celebrity Life,” (http://apps.facebook.com/celebrity_life/) use this feature.
Social Tycoon Mechanic
Management simulations are a simple and fun way for players to feel a sense of achievement. Players have to manage resources in order to grow their empire. This empire could be a mob, a zoo, a farm, and so on. In “Farm Town” (http://apps.facebook.com/farmtown/), players have to grow their own farms. They start out with seeds that they must grow, and then they harvest them and make money. That money can be reinvested to grow better crops on their farms. In addition to this, you can enhance the social element of the game by having players hire other people in the game to help take care of the farm. This creates a very powerful variation on the Tycoon genre. The social element combined with the management aspect of such a game makes it a very compelling experience.
If your team decides to add a social tycoon mechanic, it is important to ensure that the management aspect of the game is balanced. Make sure the game handles potential economic inflation well. If players make money off the items they manage in the game, make sure that it is in line with the money they have to spend to produce the items.
This is a passive variation on the social tycoon mechanic which happens in some role-playing games such as Restaurant City (http://apps.facebook.com/restaurantcity/). Players hire their friends to do tasks in a restaurant.
The hired friend does not need to actively participate in the game for the player to include them in the play experience. A player can hire their friends to cook food in the game, wait on tables, and other restaurantthemed jobs. This simple mechanic provides a fun way to interact with friends. A player can hire their friends, dress their friends, and other things a restaurant owner can do to employees. In a way, this is a social version of the Sims because you role-play storylines using your friends without requiring them to also play in the game. However, it is good as a viral loop because you can notify the player’s friends of their job status in the game.
Once a player goes through a certain content level in the game, there is very little reason for them to go back and redo the level. However, adding a level of “mastery” to the content helps to incentivize players to repeatedly play through the same content as they focus on attaining mastery for each job.
Mafia Wars (http://apps.facebook.com/inthemafia/) uses this mechanic to get players to constantly replay the same content. A player may have to do a job 20 times to attain a basic level of “mastery” for the job. Every time a player masters a job, the player gains a skill point. The player is then told that if they master all the jobs at the current level, they get to unlock special rewards. This surprise reward is an incentive to master all the jobs at the current level. Players may be curious about the specifics of the surprise reward and will play to find out. Mafia Wars also has different tiers of mastery. Players have to master all the jobs at the first tier before they can earn the second tier of mastery for all of the jobs at the current level. At the second tier, players earn more rewards. These incentives for mastery help to make repetitive tasks more interesting and rewarding to players.
Griefing, the act of harassing and annoying others in the game, has been a huge challenge for many traditional MMOs. By making negative comments, doing annoying things, and being disruptive, griefers can make the game experience bad for other players. However, allowing players to exercise a lighter version of the same griefing behavior in a playful way with their friends in a game can help to build a stronger friendship. Allowing players to do pranks to each other in the game is a fun and humorous way to help friends interact with each other. As long as the prank is easily reversible and serves as more of a light-hearted humorous exchange, it helps to add a new emotional dynamic to the game. Games like Barn Buddy (http://apps.facebook.com/barnbuddy/) use this mechanic to help create a wider range of interactions between friends in the game. Players can leave bugs and weeds in their friend’s farm. When a player does this, their friend receives a notification about bugs being placed on their farm.
Those friends can then go to their own farm and remove the bugs and earn experience points for doing so. There is a limit on the number of experience points one can earn doing this per day, but allowing friends to prank each other and then benefit from the 93
prank is a great way to enhance the range and types of player interactions in the game. This mechanic also helps to make the game more entertaining to more types of players as there are specific players that enjoy griefing/pranking more than constructive gameplay.
When it is done correctly, the story mechanic is a powerful tool to make players feel more engaged in a game. Adding a story to your team’s game can make it more compelling and entertaining for players, and it will keep them coming back to the game. Whereas most text-based RPGs on Facebook have the player only level up and unlock more tasks and jobs to do on the quest, games like “Mafia Wars” have helped to make the quest more entertaining by adding a sense of story to the quest. In addition to unlocking more jobs as players level up in “Mafia Wars,” they get to meet new bosses and characters in the game. The players have to battle these bosses and may even feel a sense of obligation to these ingame characters. This all makes for a more engaging experience for the player.
As your team adds quests to the game, consider making memorable characters and having the players interact with the characters by doing jobs, having boss fights, or creating special mini-missions for the characters. You might also want to have a back-story for the character that unravels the life details of the character as a player levels up in the game. 94
Game Photo Album Mechanic
One of the primary motivations for people to visit social networks is to view pictures and videos of other people. As players play a game, many would love to have mementos that reflect their achievements and expressions in the game. Games like “Pet Society” use this mechanic. A player is able to take photos of their home in “Pet Society,” and then the photos get uploaded to the player’s photo album. These pictures serve as a way to allow players to feel more involved with the game. It also allows them to express themselves in a unique way, as the photos created by the game are different from the traditional photos a player uploads onto a social network, and this helps to promote the game to the friends of the player. As people browse photo albums of friends, they may run into the pictures created by the game and that may inspire them to play the game.
Your team can leverage this mechanic by creating unique pictures as the player levels up in the game.
The harvest mechanic is a powerful method to increase your game’s daily engagement. It has been used in Farm Town (http://apps.facebook.com/farmtown/) and many other farm games. When a player plants their crops in Farm Town, they have to make sure they come back when their crops are ready, or risk that they spoil. This is a powerful incentive for players to keep coming back day after day because they do not want to have their crops spoiled.
One of Zynga's game designers pointed out that this mechanic circumvents the traditional growth cycle of apps. Before this mechanic, games would grow a lot on Monday and Tuesday and then level off for the rest of the week. With this mechanic, the app can keep growing throughout the week. Leveraging this mechanic in new contexts can be a very powerful way to keep your app growing and engaging for players.
There is an emerging trend in some text-based games on social networks to include a basic mini-game in certain sections. These mini-games can use simple game mechanics like match-3 or a desktop tower defense style to keep a player engaged in the game in a fun way. Mobsters 2 (http://apps.facebook.com/mobsters-two/) uses this mechanic to provide a variation on the "Mob Wars" experience.
To make the text-based MMORPGs more engaging, you can have certain jobs require a mini-game to earn all the points for that job.
Friend Data Mechanic
Part of keeping a player engaged in a game is to give them as many positive incentives to play as possible. One of these incentives can be helping their friends. The Friend Data mechanic involves leveraging the points and other goodies earned by the player and using those stats to help their friends. In Mafia Wars, a player can defeat a boss more quickly if they have chosen friends with high stats in the game. The fact that a friend benefits from their success in the game is a great way to keep them incentivized to progress in the game because they are helping themselves and their friends.
There are many people from non-English speaking countries who use Facebook. While many of the game developers create their games in English, there are a lot of people who would be willing to play these casual games if they were translated into their native language. Games like “Friends for Sale” (http://apps.facebook.com/friendsforsale/) have been copied and translated into Spanish with much success. War games have been made in Spanish, and one of them is now one of the top 100 games on Facebook: http://apps.facebook.com/guerre-di-banda/index.php
Once your team finds a formula that works, consider translating the game to other languages to gain many more players.
In some of the interviews below, you’ll read about developers and the challenges and opportunities they face with the games they have on social networks.
Interview with League of Heroes http://apps.facebook.com/leagueofheroes/
Interviewer: I’m here today in Silicon Valley and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself? Joseph: Hi, my name is Joseph Kim, and I am a small developer on Facebook and MySpace. We have two games. The first is called “League of Heroes,” which is a fantasy RPG primarily text-based game. It goes on MySpace and Facebook. And we also have a game called “Soul Wars,” a similar fantasy RPG-type game on MySpace. Interviewer: How are those games doing and what's the benefit of, say, MySpace versus Facebook or Facebook versus MySpace? Joseph: Well, I think “League of Heroes” is doing OK. As I mentioned, we’ve got very small games that are very nichy and intended to be so. We wanted a game that was very different from the “Mob Wars” Mobsters type of game and have a different mechanic and really to be kind of hard to copy. So, we introduced a lot of manual mechanisms for the game so we could be very different, and we could kind of protect our sort of our niche space. “League of Heroes” is doing OK. “Soul Wars” is a work in progress. It actually hasn’t been doing very well at all, but we’re working on it. Hopefully, we can kind of tweak it and improve it so that it is a little better. Interviewer: Let’s talk about the game mechanics for “League of Heroes.” What exactly did you do to make it different from the “Mob Wars” type clones? 100
Joseph: We did a few things. The first thing we did is we tried to add more of a social component to it so the name of the game is “League of Heroes.” So, we put an emphasis on leagues, the ability to form a league with other players and to communicate with these players and to work as a team against other groups of players. This is something that you don’t do with some of the other games, which are usually more individually based. We try to really crank up as much community aspects of the game as we can. The other thing that we did is we tried to make it hard to copy by including a lot of manual stuff, so that would be like missions. Each mission includes a lot of background and story, art and then we add new missions every week. So, we wanted to create a game that was kind of, for one, focused around community leagues and two, story based. Interviewer: Let's talk about the community and leagues. What specific mechanics or guild structures are you using to build that community and to build the league structure within your game? Joseph: So, with our leagues it’s actually a little bit complex, but you are only able to be part of one league. You form the league. We have heroes and villains so you can create a league of heroes or a league of villains. You can have a maximum of up to 11 members in the league, and then the mechanic is pretty simple. You battle each other, and you have communication tools like league boards or league messaging between other members within your league and with other leagues. We also have something called league alliances because we wanted to try and enable people to communicate with each other as much as possible. It also formed groups of leagues. An alliance is essentially a group of up to three leagues that would work together against other heroes versus villains or to even compete against other hero alliances as well. Interviewer: Out of all these group mechanics, what mechanics have you seen work best in terms of engaging users and keeping them coming back? Joseph: Well, I think having leagues does help because it helps people meet one another, and when people form these social relationships it’s much harder for them, I think, to leave the game. So they stay more en101
gaged with the game as opposed to if the game were more of a singleplayer experience where if you just left, there would be no repercussions. Because leagues are dependent upon each other, it does seem like if one person leaves and if they built a friendship there that people within leagues tend to reach out to one another and be back in the game once they leave. Interviewer: You mentioned stories being an important part of the game. How do you develop the story, and how does that keep progressing? Joseph: We actually have writers. The writers will create stories around some of the characters that we have so we have heroes within the game that players can find, and we try to build stories around the missions so they can actually battle them within the game as well. And you know, I think for us life is all about stories. People enjoy stories and the characters. It’s the same reason why people read a book or watch a movie. I think they would play this game. Interviewer: How did you find these writers, and what did you look for to make sure that they have the right style or theme that you wanted? Joseph: We found these writers through … I believe it was a number of writing associations, and we had people submit writing samples to study. It’s very difficult finding somebody who is right for our particular genre, so it took quite a bit of time, but eventually we found somebody who seemed to fit. We’ve got our full-time writer. He has been writing, and we’ve got some of our users writing some of our missions, and I do a bit of writing as well. Interviewer: How do the users writing the missions go? Do you find that useful? Joseph: Most of the missions are written by our game writer, but we do use a few missions written by users. We have a link where users can submit their own missions and even characters for the game. Primarily, we’ve used more of the characters that our users submitted, but we do occasionally get missions that users send in to us to be used for the game. I think it’s nice for us to do that because the users can see their contribution to the game. 102
Interviewer: In terms of writing, are these quests more about versus the computer, or are these social quests or social missions that are league versus league, or how does that work? Joseph: Right now, they are basically individual missions. We really haven’t looked at social missions, but maybe that’s something we should look at. Interviewer: Aside from that, what are the challenges of developing on Facebook in terms of game development that you have encountered? Joseph: Challenges? I don't know. To me the challenge really isn’t about developing on Facebook. The challenge is really about developing the game, making it better, keeping the users engaged to the game and involved and just making a good product. There’s so much competition out there. There are so many other alternatives. For us that’s the main challenge. The technical challenge to us is pretty trivial. Interviewer: How do you address then keeping it engaging and interesting and compelling for the users to keep coming back? And what do you have to do? Joseph: Well, for us it’s challenging because we’re very small. We are very limited in the time that we have to play the game, so the challenge was saying to the users who may request features in the game that are actually not good for the game. There’s kind of a balance between trying to do what your users want but also doing the right thing for the game. For us, that’s always been very, very difficult. We’ve made a lot of mistakes here and there, but I think fortunately for us our users have been pretty understanding. We do make mistakes when we change something, but they’ve stuck around. Interviewer: Do you have a community manager to help placate the users and the players and let them know that people are listening to them? Joseph: We do, and it seems like we’re one of the few that actually engage with our users on a personal basis. So our community manager is in chat with the users and responds on the forums. From what our users tell us, 103
that’s pretty rare. The Zyngas and the SGNs of the world don’t seem to be doing that. Interviewer: Speaking of big companies versus small companies, what do you think are the opportunities for some small group of developers who do want to make a game on Facebook or MySpace? Joseph: I actually think that it’s getting more and more difficult. There are a lot of competitors in the space. The big guys out there, like Zynga and SGN, they are beginning to own most of the distribution on these platforms. They cross-promote. It’s possible that if you get any sort of traction they’ll just copy you and just annihilate you with their distribution. So, I think there is a challenge. For us, I think what we’re trying to do again is make games that are niche and under the radar and eventually to move more and more mainstream as we are able to build an audience. Interviewer: Let’s talk about monetization. How do you monetize this game? Is it advertising? Is it something else? Joseph: We, like everyone else, we use the offer networks like OfferPal and Gambit and we also take direct payment. For us, the majority of the money comes through direct payment rather than through offers. We’re probably easily over 80% in terms of direct payment versus offers. Interviewer: Is there anything else you are going to try in terms of monetization to either raise revenue? Do you have special virtual goods or virtual items that people can buy that are a limited edition or something like that? Joseph: Yes, so when we have introduced new items, we always see a dip in our revenue. So, we know that that works. For us, it’s just managing our time and resources. Interviewer: Sure. Joseph: I think there does come a point where it makes sense to introduce limited-time items, but for us, because we are so small, we just introduce new items. And then, I think at the point where we are able to gain more users and have the time and energy to introduce items where we know that 104
it’s going to be balanced, I think it’s a definite move starting then. But, for now we’re just focused on rolling out new items, period. Interviewer: Do you then make an effort to roll out new items every week or new stories every week, or is there some kind of constant cycle? Have you tried three days, or is it every month? How does that work? Joseph: We introduce new items rarely, so for us it’s been probably once every two months. Interviewer: Sure. Joseph: But we probably should introduce some more and more. The challenge from the interface perspective is you don’t want to have too many items in our store. That’s where I guess time-limited offers for special items may make sense, because then you don’t clutter the store with all the items that you come out with. Interviewer: For your missions and your other content or features for the game, do you try to release that weekly, or is that also on a monthly or a semi-monthly or every two months basis? Joseph: We used to be on an ad hoc release schedule. We used to just come up with stuff and then release it. That was early on. We just needed to get stuff out fast. I think for that period of time it worked, but now we need to get a more regular release schedule, we’re on a two week release schedule. We try and warn our users now about what’s coming out rather than just introducing new features without any sort of warning. We got a lot of negative feedback whenever we’ve done that. At this point, we try and give as much warning as possible and provide as much information as possible about new features and then, again, release on a regular two-week schedule. Interviewer: Have you thought about doing it on a weekly schedule, or have you experimented with different time frame releases?
Joseph: In our case, we’re on a two-week schedule because we’re not releasing that many features, actually. So if we did have more features to release, we would be on a weekly schedule but we don’t. Interviewer: Do you guys have a trading option since you do have limited items, potentially? Can players trade with each other in terms of trading items within the game? Joseph: Right now, we don’t and the reason why we don’t is we haven’t thought through the game balance issues. If we were to think through that a little more carefully, we would consider it. Interviewer: Let’s talk about the game balance issues. How do you balance this game? How do you make sure that the social features and that some of the quests and stuff like that are balanced properly? Joseph: That’s been very difficult for us. We’ve used kind of an experimental system. We just kind of come up with what we think is fair, and then we get feedback from our users and see some items were mispriced and some items were too powerful and then incrementally we change them. So that’s kind of how we started that. The new games, though … we try to be a little more systematic. We’ve come up with some algorithms where we definitely try to pre-plan how many battles does it take to get from level one to level two. How much money would be gained at that point? So, the next game that we’re releasing, we’re being much more systematic about our approach to pricing and game balance. Interviewer: How do you handle people who actually do max out on their levels? Do you add new levels then towards the end? Joseph: So, it’s been difficult for us because we did have a lot of users max out and we haven’t added anything new for them, but they still stick around. In fact, we have an ability for them to reduce their level, and many have reduced because when you’re at the higher levels there aren’t many players up there. So I think we’ve just been fortunate that despite reaching the maximum level people still want to play. 106
Interviewer: Why did you think they still stick around? Is it the social aspects that keeps people engaged? Joseph: Yeah, I think it’s the social aspect. We got an achievement-based game. You want to have as many kills as possible or as many bounties as possible. You want to beat people at this game, so I think it’s two parts. One is the ability to continue to battle with other people, that PvP aspect, and the social aspect, because of the friendship made in the game you stick around. Interviewer: What’s next in store then for your small studio? Joseph: Well, our very small studio will be releasing another Fantasy RPG, hopefully within the next two to three weeks, and we’ve got a bunch of games planned. It’s just going to be a matter of us managing our resources and executing to get these games out. Interviewer: What suggestions or advice do you have for teams looking to get into this space and make their own MMO? Joseph: My advice would be to pre-plan as much as possible. If you're going to do it, commit to it because it takes a lot more time, at least, for me. I didn’t think it was going to be so time intensive, but it wound up taking a lot of time. Be prepared for the time commitment. Interviewer: Thank you.
Interview with Friend Stock http://apps.facebook.com/friendstock/
Interviewer: Hi, I'm at a Facebook Development Meetup and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself? John: Hi, this is John Fan, Cardinal Blue Software. Interviewer: What game did you make on Facebook? 107
John: Friend Stock. Interviewer: What’s the game about? John: It’s a game in which each person is a stock that others can buy and sell. So, the idea is that you can invest in your friends and watch their value go up. Interviewer: So this game wasn’t even possible then before social networks? John: That’s correct. Interviewer: When you first released it, what was the response? It just seems very different than most other games. John: Well, it was similar to some extent to “Friends for Sale” and “Owned!”, but the difference was that for each person you can have multiple owners because it’s a stock. The initial reaction was actually a little bit slow. We spent several months with about 3,000 daily active users primarily due to server scaling issues. Interviewer: What then did you do to increase the number of users to tens of thousands every day? John: The main issue was that we had — it was a number of technical issues with regard to how we were using memcached and how we were setting up the server. So my partner spent a lot of time fixing some of those mistakes, and we also moved to using EC2 and RightScale so that helped a lot, too. Interviewer: How do you find then EC2 and some of these other, I guess, outsource services for scaling? Do you find that the better way to do it, or do you think it’s better for someone to actually run it all themselves? John: I definitely would recommend using EC2 or another service like that because you don’t want to be hosting the servers yourself. In addition, since EC2 is something that’s really standard, such as RightScale, if you have any issues, there are lots of other people that have the same configu108
rations so you’re not debugging the configuration that you developed yourself. Interviewer: Can you talk about the community aspects and social aspects of your game? What do you find provocative, and what do you think keeps people coming back? John: The game, like any of these social networking games, involves a lot of communication between users. Something unique that we’ve done is, since we only had two people, we put in a lot of features to allow us to designate people to be community managers and community helpers. So that was very helpful because we ended up recruiting about 50 community helpers and 10 community managers for our applications. They actually did quite a lot of work in terms of dealing with all the issues of providing really good customer support for the users, even when we had server problems and so forth. I think that added a lot to the “Friend Stock” experience. Interviewer: Can you talk about other social aspects and social mechanics that make the “Friend Stock” experience more compelling to the players? John: From the beginning, we had commenting so you could write messages to each other. After that, we added gifting so that users could buy virtual gifts, such as a rose, a heart, a diamond, for varying prices and give those to their friends. Then, we also noticed that users ended up creating a lot of Facebook groups to promote their particular group of friends on Facebook or group of people who were playing this game, for example, people from the same country or people of some affinity together. To promote this activity, we actually created a page in which they can list their group and use Virtual Currency in the game to push their group up in the rankings. So this sort of created competition between the groups, so you’d see the Turkish group rise up and the Greek group would supersede them and they’d race back and forth — pretty much every nationality or every type of player has a group within “Friend Stock” now.
Interviewer: Any other surprising or emerging properties from this group? Is it almost like guilds competing against each other? John: In some sense, I mean, the groups definitely get together and have a certain mission; like they’ll list all their members and try to support each other. It’s not so much an emerging property, but some of the groups have taken the game very seriously. The Malaysia Singapore group has already organized two live gettogethers, where 30 to 50 people actually get together and talk about “Friend Stock.” The European “Friend Stock” groups are planning a meeting in Greece in the fall. Interviewer: Let’s talk about, then, the fan pages and fan support for the game. People are making videos about the game and stuff like that. How do you actually sponsor or support or encourage some of this out-of-game development and fan worship? John: There’s just been some of this so people have created some interesting videos on their own. Whenever we find it, we try to support it by actually adding it back into the application rather than running ads all the time. Except for the ads for buying tokens, probably 60-70% of our ads are actually these fan-created videos. It’s sort of in-game advertising for the game itself. Interviewer: Are there any other surprises that you had while you developed this game? Any other interesting experiences or understandings that have come about through the whole running of this social game? John: I think the biggest lesson we’ve learned is that when you have an economy, you should plan it ahead of time. So we actually have a major issue in that the game — the transactions are not closed, which means that, as people play, Virtual Currency is sort of created out of thin air. Although users are happy to become richer and to watch their stock price go up, it does not lead to long-term game play. That’s something we’re looking to fix, but it’s much easier if you actually have planned it out in the beginning. Interviewer: What options or what solutions are you going to do to potentially fix this? Are you going to put on a tax or something? 110
John: We’ve come up with a new economic system. Part of the issue is how we transition from the existing economic system or whether we just launch a brand new application with a fixed account system. Interviewer: Are there any other social or game mechanics that you guys are using that you found to be very effective in terms of making your game an awesome experience? You mentioned commenting. You mentioned gifting. John: I think one of the mechanics that we have is boosting, which is when you have buying and selling, all you can do is buy and it’s a onetime action. With boosting, it’s something that you can come in every few hours and repeat again. So, like creating repeated actions, that leads to more engagement. Interviewer: Let’s talk about monetization. Do you just use ad networks or is it Virtual Currency? John: We have Virtual Currency primarily. We have direct payments for users. We use PayPal and they buy the Virtual Currency. We’re not actually running PayPal directly ourselves. We’re currently using one of several paying systems, such as OfferPal, Gambit, SpareChange and SocialGold. And then they collect the PayPal or credit card payments. They take a margin and issue us our check at the end of the month. Interviewer: What’s next in store then for the game? John: Well, we’re creating a new economic system. That’s pretty much it. Interviewer: What suggestions do you have for other game developers who want to make their own social game? John: Fix your economic system and let the game play derive from that, as opposed to starting with a faulty economic system and trying to patch it. Interviewer: Thank you very much.
Interview with Friends For Sale http://apps.facebook.com/friendsforsale/
Interviewer: Great. I'm at Engage Expo and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself? Siqi: Hi, I'm Siqi Chen and I'm the Founder and CEO of Serious Business. Interviewer: What does Serious Business do? Siqi: We make social games on Facebook, like many other companies. Interviewer: What games have you done? Siqi: So, the one we're probably best known for is the one called Friends for Sale. It's hot or not with a market economy, buy and sell people to be your pets, hit on hot girls, and in turn they ask for you and other people to buy them. Interviewer: When you first came out with that, it was a huge big deal. What inspired you to come up with that idea? And what were the challenges as you were developing it? Siqi: Well, it still is a big deal. It's actually bigger than it's ever been. Interviewer: Congratulations on that. Siqi: Thanks. What inspired us to come up with it? Interviewer: Yeah. Siqi: So, this story is long and complicated, but I was in Las Vegas with a friend of mine. We were at Tao for our two year anniversary. I was broke at the time, and my friend was loaded so we managed to get a table that night. We're in line at a table from the club, and I was looking around the line and I was like, wow, this line is just full of guys. This sucks, right? 112
The club is going to be full of dudes, and you paid how much for this? $500,000 bucks? Interviewer: Yeah. Siqi: My friend was like, chill out. So, he points like to the front, across the room in front of Tao, and there is like 40-50 ridiculously hot girls, right? Interviewer: Sure. Siqi: And the bouncer went, let a few guys in that bought tables. The only way to get in at the time was to get a table as a guy. They let us in and we’re at a table with 12 hot girls. That's beautiful. So, it's good to be a rich dude or a hot girl, and I thought, OK, how can I make that into a game? Interviewer: Yeah. Siqi: So, my friend and I turned it into a game called Friends For Sale where it's really good to be a rich dude or a hot girl. Interviewer: Before that, you did some other games on Facebook. What inspired you to keep going because I know it was something where you weren't too enthusiastic about it at first. In fact, you even did like a Mafia game, ironically. Siqi: I did. I think it was the first Mafia game on Facebook. I'm pretty sure it was, actually. It was the month after the platform came out. Well, what started me to do social games is the week the platform came out I was playing the game Diplomacy with some of my Y-Combinator startup friends. And we're just sitting there and every turn took four hours. And I thought, this is a game where you play with your friends, and this would be great on Facebook. I sat down and I was thinking about it. I was like, you know what? Facebook is the first time in history where you have access to any given person's complete social data. Who your friends are, right? Therefore, the biggest game, the biggest company on this platform will eventually be the EA Games of Facebook. That will be the biggest company. In hindsight, I was right. 113
Unfortunately, I wasn't right about what would work on Facebook? I thought it would be games, especially where you play with your people or your pieces are people and they are your friends. It turns out that people are pretty satisfied with largely single player RPG experiences and they monetize extremely well. Interviewer: Sure. Going back to Friends for Sale, when you released it, what was the response and what happened? Siqi: Oh yeah, that was crazy. It just kind of blew up all on its own, immediately. We built some metrics beforehand to tune it, but after we tuned it, we can't do anything. The only thing we could do was try to keep the site up. So, immediately, we were getting Saudi Sheikhs messaging us, can we please buy some money? For the first two months, we weren't selling anything. Interviewer: Oh really. Siqi: We were happy making money off of ads. Interviewer: Oh wow. So, you actually had banner ads on there. Siqi: We had banner ads, and we were like, "This is great. We're making an incredible amount of money from the ads". And then, you know what? So many people have messaged us and asked to buy [coins]. Then we said, why don’t we sell [coins] to them. That was like, whoa, now we have a business. Interviewer: And that's when you put in the virtual economy. Siqi: Yeah, yeah, that's when we put in the virtual goods in. Interviewer: For two months then, were you even thinking about balancing the economy or dealing with inflation issues? Was that even on your mind then?
Siqi: It was. It was constantly on my mind. The flaw with the mechanic is that prices only ever go up, and very little money gets taken out of the economy. And we didn't fix that for a whole year. It was really hard to come up with a good solution for that one without pissing off all of our users. Interviewer: And what was the solution then? Siqi: Proprietary. Interviewer: OK, sure. What were some of the other challenges once you actually started? Did you think that it would be a fad, or it could grow more? Now, you say that you have more users now than you had before. What can other developers take from your experience in terms of actually keeping users coming back? Siqi: I think we've always believed it as a sustainable product because what it is is kind of user-generated content where the content is people, right? And meeting new people and maintaining those relationships through the only connection that you have which is Friends For Sale is highly retentive. And meeting new people and dating people and asking people out and flirting is never going to get old. That is evergreen. Interviewer: What would you say are the three biggest challenges or learnings, like surprises, that you've had with this whole experience? Siqi: Huh. Interviewer: Aside from the virtual economy thing then? Siqi: Yeah, inflation. Biggest surprises? I can't think of any. Well, I think the biggest surprise… I can't name three. I think the biggest surprise for me is just how much the X Wars genre has taken off. It's still big now, but at the time when it first came out… Mafia Wars didn't exist a year ago. Very few people remember this. Interviewer: Exactly. Siqi: It's only been a year, and that’s made Zynga? So, Mob Wars. When I first saw Mob Wars, I didn't think it was a very good game. It’s not fun. It 115
didn’t fit into my idea of what a social game was supposed to be. So, that was my biggest surprise. Obviously, we paid a dear price for not investing in that genre very, very early. Interviewer: So, where do you see now the future of social games going? Do you feel that the space is already set? All the things have already been determined? Siqi: I think empirically, obviously not, right? Farm Town came out of nowhere, and it's one of the largest games on Facebook. Obviously, Farmville is much bigger. But if you look at Farm Town DAU, a couple million, maybe, three million users which is no joke. That's a really meaningful business, and it's like 100-200 employees right there. Interviewer: Do you think, though, the space is just so different than normal traditional game space because you look at Farm Town that actually has live chat, and then you look at Farmville which has no chat in it. It's three or four times bigger now. Siqi: I think how large Farmville is compared to Farm Town doesn't necessarily correlate with it being a better product although it's different and certainly better in some ways. But I think Zynga has gotten user acquisition and retention down to a science, and it's reflective of those learnings and those technologies. Interviewer: So, aside from game play then, data metrics is probably the most important thing in social games. Siqi: I think I read, as I was driving here, Mark Pincus said that they consider game development a science not an art which makes sense, which is why Farmville is 10 times bigger now than Farm Town. Interviewer: Any last words then for other developers looking to get into social games? Siqi: It’s early. It's still a young space. It's not too late. Come compete with us. Interviewer: Thank you very much. 116
Interview with Zombies, Vampires, and Werewolves http://apps.facebook.com/zombies/ http://apps.facebook.com/vampires/ http://apps.facebook.com/werewolves/
Interviewer: I'm here at Austin Game Developers Conference and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself? Blake: Hi, my name is Blake Commagere and I'm an indie game developer. I've been building games on the Facebook platform for pretty much since it started, actually. Interviewer: Nice. And what games did you do? In fact, I think you were one of the original social games out there. Blake: Yeah, I think… I may not have been the first game because people had taken games that, you know, existing flash games and said, "Hey, I can now put this game on Facebook", but they didn't create a game for the platform that had social functionality. It was just like, here you can play Tetris now, just like you could on Kongregate but now here on Facebook. So, the first games that I think everybody may be familiar with are the zombies and vampires and werewolfs and that sort of games, the entire horror genre. But actually, even before I did that, which was about a month after the platform launched, even before I did that, I was one of the lead developers of Causes on Facebook. That, while not a game, definitely had several game-like features. There's leaderboards. You have progress bars and money raised and several things that, you know, as any game designer can look at and say, "Oh, this is a game" even though technically it's fund raising for non-profits and not just a strict game, it definitely has plenty of those type of components. 117
Interviewer: So, you worked on the Causes game or Causes app, and then what inspired you to make these other types of games, and what did you learn from that that you can actually take to make your games killer because they just blew up. Every one was even… It became like a viral meme. Blake: Yeah. I think, obviously, by the time I started developing my games I was very familiar with the limits and capabilities of the platform so I had a good understanding of, hey here's all the things I can do. My inspiration probably comes as no surprise to anyone is that I'm a huge horror fan. Interviewer: Sure. Blake: Love horror movies. I'm the obnoxious friend that tries to get you to go see every one, no matter how bad it may be. And so absolutely, I love horror and just for whatever reason had a moment of clarity where I was like: this would be so fun to have a zombie application and largely made it in such a way - zombies were very natural. I thought it was an excuse to have something that's going to be viral and reach out to people. Of course, the geek community loves zombies. They're funny. They're scary. So, I knew it would resonate with my friends, especially. And just, yeah, starting building it, and I guess it took me about a week and a half. Interviewer: So, you released it and you had that killer viral loop. How did you come up with that viral loop, and did you even know it was called a viral loop then? Blake: Yeah, actually, my experience in viral marketing started, let's see, back in 2002 at Plaxo. I had an opportunity to work with some phenomenally talented people. I'm not sure if everybody is aware of this, but Plaxo benefited from some very talented people that came from Napster originally. I mean, both Napster and Plaxo pioneered several viral loop techniques. So, I definitely had the benefit of having worked with these people that are just experts in the industry. I learned a ton, so when it came time to start applying that to my own products like, obviously, Causes had a very specific viral loop, very compelling and, you know, beyond just the actual functionality of it, the copy, 118
the text of these invitations and that sort of thing, very designed to press certain buttons in people. And the one in Causes, of course, is like hey we want to try and make it touch someone. And be like, hey, this is personal to inspire them to do this. With the zombie one I'm like OK, I'm looking to entertain people. I'm looking to make them laugh, so I'm going to make it a 'little bit humorous, a little tongue in cheek and kind of go for that angle, the whole thing. You'll find it funny. You'll want to pass it on to your friends, and they'll get a kick out of it. And it's a double-edged sword because humor absolutely can be very viral, but it travels very fast and it's consumed very fast so you can imagine... If you passed along something funny, but you're not going to pass along the same funny thing 800 times, right? You'll do it once, so you need to constantly create new content. And creating new, humorous content at a rate faster than people can consume it is... You have teams of writers doing that for shows that only exist for an hour, right? Interviewer: So, you released it. What happened? I mean, did it just blow up in the first day or two days, or when did you realize it was going to be this huge thing and it's going to be like a cultural meme. Blake: Yeah, I think the first day. This was after, because I released it, I believe, the end of June. And at this point Facebook had already said, "Whoa, you're only allowed to do 10 invitations per user", and there were already articles and people saying no more virality on Facebook, that sort of thing. I made a compelling message that was entertaining and, you know, designed that into game play so that it'd be a little like, hey the user gets a cookie. They want more. They want more. They want more. They're going to keep coming back and doing it. So, I made that, I think, it was the 27th of June. I turned it live and I was limited to 10 people. Interviewer: Sure. Blake: So, I did a couple of my friends think this is going to be awesome. They're going to love it a lot. I got up the next morning to check it because 119
I wanted to see how many of my 10 buddies had converted. At that point it was already 200 people. Interviewer: Nice. Blake: And I was just like, whoa. That's definitely beyond my Friends list, right? By the end of that day it was over a thousand, and I think it was seven days, maybe, six days, it had hit a million active users. At that point I was obviously... I think the moment I realized, holy crap, this is taking off is when my server went down for the first time. Interviewer: How did you deal with scaling because that probably would have been a surprise, maybe, I don't know? Blake: Yeah, so I dealt with scaling at previous companies so again this is stuff I had done in some capacity, just never as a one man show. So, I'm, oh crud, I've got to take care of this piece of the puzzle, this one, this one and that one. I built it using LAMP stack which there are right and wrong ways to scale. Interviewer: Exactly. Blake: I mean, the first things I started doing were just like, oh crud, I need to change this architecture so it can support growth and that sort of thing because, you know, the first iteration I was just like, just get something functional and working. So, I benefited from past experience, largely and scaling then... Interviewer: How did you deal with monetization? Did you just put ads up? Where you thinking of turning it into a business because at that time it still wasn't clear that social games could actually make so much money? Blake: Yeah, so I put ads up on it and didn't really do anything else in that world because frankly the ads didn't make an amazing amount of money. They made enough money to keep it running and to do it as a full time job. That was really awesome. I get to make games for a living, and I can make ends meet and, you know, I'm not part of a giant machine. And so, I never actually really, really focused on trying to make revenue. I had several people ask me, like yeah, but how much money is it making? Not very much. 120
Interviewer: While you were developing this, were you adding new content then every day, every week? How did you keep it going because you had a huge hit for a reasonable time and even when the virtual economies were kicking in to social games? Did you start trying to do that? Did you start adding new game mechanics? What happened after you released it? Blake: Yeah, so shortly after release I had users just clammering. It was great, actually. I had users largely dictating the upcoming feature set because they were so passionate about games and they said, oh, I'd love to be able to do this. Obviously, I couldn't do everything people asked and there was plenty of things that I'm like, well you're asking for this but I know you don't want it because if I implemented it that will definitely not be fun. You have to be careful. I think a common joke that people run with this is that if people did game design like they do web design you would distill your game down to nothing but a big red win button that the user has to press only once and be done with your game forever. So, obviously, you can't give everybody exactly what they always ask for because, you know, inevitably, I want this to be easier. I want it to be less. I want it to be... And so, what I ended up doing was just largely relying on user feedback, and I've always been a gamer so I tried to draw from my own experience which, being a gamer your whole life it's not the same as being a game designer. Interviewer: Sure. Blake: So, I had a lot to learn and I just kind of stumbled my way through, talking to friends, meeting people that were in the traditional gaming industry that were very generous with their time and explaining things. I read every crazy thing I could get my fingers on to try and, you know, get better at it because I obviously recognized: well, crap, this is not a game like... You've played games that you're so addicted to and so obsessed with, and I'm like, wow, I want to make something that good. And I know I don't have that skill set yet, so I tried to improve constantly on that. And it meant, of course, releasing features fairly frequently. I probably was doing pushes, you know, architectural changes to support that and then adding new feature sets, at least, weekly. 121
Interviewer: And so, where do you think now social games are going, and are you still going to try to work on your current hits that you've had or what's going to happen? Blake: Well, I think there's still a lot of opportunities. It's such a new... It is only a two-year-old space, maybe, slightly older, I guess. I think you will see certain trends like higher production values coming in and you see games like - I think the PlayFish games are very well designed. Obviously, their production quality is much higher than most games that are on this platform, and I think that's a trend that will continue. I think it's going to be amazing when Flash starts supporting hardware acceleration. I spent some time talking with some friends about that the other day, and that's going to be a game changer for what you can do in Flash. There will always be a sweet spot. OK, how long will it take to develop something versus, you know, you can't do a four year dev cycle on Facebook. Obviously, that would be crazy. But I think there is room for pushing that out, having these higher production values. At the same time, there is always going to be room, in my opinion, for small indie games to be breakthrough hits because, if anything, if we've learned anything from the Wii, it's that you don't have to have as many pixels per square inch to build a successful and fun game. So, just like Hollywood has: hey, yes, two guys can make a movie that's very creative like Primer and, you know, has a huge indie breakthrough success. That doesn't preclude an industry from also having transformers, too, right? Which is not going to win any awards for its writing but, you know, it's big fun and it resonates with an audience in a different way. I think having one doesn't mean the other isn't ever going to be successful or not have room for it. I think there will always be room for both of these kind of things. I think there will be a trend towards higher production values, and I think indie game developers, obviously, are never going to have a 10 million dollar budget to build a game. But you don't need a 10 million dollar budget to build a fun, successful game that, you know, connects with people. 122
Interviewer: Any last words then for social game developers out there? Blake: I think this space is amazing fun. It's, at the same time, probably what you may see is things that you also see in the traditional gaming industry more and more, so working on games is fun that tends to attract some very talented people which provides the opportunity to work with wildly talented people. The same, on the other hand, your competitors are going to be wildly talented, too. So, it's an intensely competitive space but very fun and I intend to do it as long as I can and as long as there's enough of a market that someone like me can make games in that space. Interviewer: Thank you very much.
Section 3 Monetization
The ways to make money from games have changed. In older paradigms, developers would sell their games in a store or online, and the players would first buy the game and then “own” it. In these new scenarios, the player starts to play your game for free, and then you sell virtual coins in your game. Under this model, you’ll have some players playing for free and some players paying tens of thousands of dollars to play. In the end, you end up making more money.
Social/Game Mechanics to Improve Monetization
Dual Currency Mechanic
In-game inflation is a serious issue. At first glance, it may seem that inflation of imaginary coins does not matter. But it does matter because too much inflation takes the “ fun” out of the game for many players. Another huge issue with inflation is that if there is too much money in the economy and it has little value, then there is no incentive for players to purchase virtual coins in your game. Therefore, your game revenues take a large dip. There is a way to combat this. Specifically, you can introduce a new currency that players can use to buy items and features in the game. This new currency needs to be tied to real money. The only way that players can get these points is if they pay real money in some way.
The benefit of this requirement is that the second currency will not suffer from massive inflation. If a lot of the second currency is introduced, then your game is making a lot of money. That is a good thing. Most text-based MMORPGs on Facebook use this method.
Limited-Time/Quantity Item Mechanic
Saying that something is available only for a limited time can motivate people into acting quickly. If your team introduces an item in the game and mentions that it is available only for a limited time of 24 hours, this will encourage people to purchase the item as quickly as possible, thereby raising revenue in the game. The “Limited Quantity” variation of this mechanic involves mentioning that there are only a certain number of items available. For example, if your team’s game revolves around Wizards, you can put a “special spell” on sale but state that only 250 of them are available.
Blue Light Special Mechanic
Announcing a one-day-only sale where players get twice as many coins or goods for the same price will cause a huge rise in sales and raise revenue for that day as well as raise revenue over the rest of the week. 125
The sense of urgency created with a one-day-only sale combined with the benefit of receiving extra coins or items will inspire more players to make a purchase that day. As these players benefit from their in-game purchases, it will inspire other players to buy items later on to keep up with them.
Donation to a Good Cause Mechanic
Most people have altruistic tendencies and enjoy contributing to good causes. Letting people fill out offers or buy items that will also help to contribute to a worthwhile cause inspires more people to make purchases in the game, since their purchases will benefit the cause. “(Lil) Green Patch” (http://apps.facebook.com/greentrees/) allows players to fill out offers so that the player can increase the amount of square feet they save in the rainforest.
Need a Refill Mechanic
Most of the text-based MMORPGs have a stamina option for the game. When players run out of stamina, they have to wait 10-20 minutes before being able to resume play. Of course, some players aren’t very patient and want to play immediately. When they are out of stamina, offer them the option to “recharge their energy” by visiting the game master in the game. 126
For example, “Celebrity Life” (http://apps.facebook.com/celebrity_life/) lets players know that they can wait for their energy to recharge or visit the “Sugar Daddy” to buy a recharge.
Gift to a Friend Mechanic
Gifting is a very popular form of social exchange. People may not buy game items for themselves, but they will happily buy an item for a friend since it is a gift for a friend. Your team should offer an option that allows folks to buy items or currency for a friend.
Achievement Accelerator Mechanic
People like to earn badges. If you have certain badges in the game that can only be earned within a certain amount of time, it will motivate players to get that badge before time runs out. You can offer people special items that they can purchase and that will help them earn the points needed to get the badge more quickly. 127
For example, if you have a “Valentine’s Day Badge” that can only be won if others in the game give the player 100 roses, and the player does not receive enough roses in time for the badge, he or she may be willing to buy in-game power-ups that allow them to get the badge in time. You can combine this with the “Gift to a Friend” mechanic, where players can help their friends in the game earn the badge more quickly by giving them a power-up item, too.
First-Time Buyer Bonus Mechanic
Getting players to make the first purchase may be the most difficult part of the monetization process. Once a player is used to buying one thing in the game, they are much more likely to buy more items in the game. Therefore, it is worthwhile to motivate players to get over the mental barrier of making the first purchase. One option for doing this involves offering double bonus points to every new person who makes a first purchase. A smart development team may also have a special option whereby the first purchase doubles the donation to a good cause.
Repeat Buyer Bonus Mechanic
As previously stated, the most difficult part of the monetization process is getting players to make the first purchase. Once they do, they are much more likely to buy more items in the game. Therefore, it is easier to get previous buyers to buy more items. One way to influence these people to purchase more is to give them an incremental bonus every time they buy something. For example, the second time a player makes a purchase, they get a bonus of 10 million coins. The third time they make a purchase, they get a bonus of 15 million coins. The player will then get a sense that every time they make a purchase, they get a higher bonus than before. Pretty soon, the bonuses will exceed the value of the coin purchase. That is fine and rewards loyal players. 128
In some of the interviews below, you’ll read about developers who are making millions each month from their simple games. Read the interviews and find out what you need to do to make this happen for your team’s game.
Interview with Gambit http://www.getgambit.com
Interviewer: I'm here at the Engage Expo in San Jose, California, and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself? Noah: Hi, I'm Noah Kagan, the President of Gambit. Interviewer: What's Gambit about? Noah: That's a good question. So, we were game developers for about a year and a half, and we wanted to build a solution to help monetize our audience. So, we built the system that does credit cards, PayPal, alternate payments and, basically, makes it really easy to monetize your audience with virtual goods. Interviewer: You know, what services then do you offer? How would game developers use your service if they have a social game on Facebook or any other place? Is this only for social networks, or is it something else? Noah: Yeah, so it's really for anything on the web that needs to monetize. We specialize right now in online games. So, it's kind of like, if you have a broken car, you're not going to go fix it yourself. You take it to a mechanic, so the value we provide is that if you're building a game, build your game, optimize it, grow it, and if you want to monetize it, you could do it yourself and hire the people or work with us where we spent the past year and a half developing the technology, optimization, fraud, all the other buzz words, but really managing and growing your revenue side and 129
trying to be a partner for that because we understand what game developers want. Interviewer: So, a developer then develops a role-playing game on Facebook. Noah: Yeah. Interviewer: And how would they use your service? Noah: It's really easy. It's a plug-and-play solution. You can drop it in. It takes about less than 30 minutes, kind of Domino's pizza style to get it set up, and you can start selling your virtual currency. I think the real value that we can provide on top of that is, besides the system performs higher than most of the rest in the industry, we have an expertise in building games and saying, "Alright, these are good things that you actually do and not do while you're developing your game". Interviewer: Can you talk about some of the strategies that developers can use to improve their game, raise monetization and enhance the experience for players? Noah: So, actually I was meeting with a game company a few days ago, and they're like, "Hey, let's monetize, let's monetize". I was like, "You have 10,000 users". So, that's great if every user is worth a thousand dollars, but it's a social game so it's more of a volume play. And the thing with that is that you need to have focus and priority. So, what we help people do, is what is your priority? And so, his actual priority was not revenue. It was actually growth. And so, it was identifying - you can put an offer in our payment system, but it was like, "Here are the things you need to look for in your notifications". You know, the retention system is kind of crappy, so you need to get them back to a certain period, like seven days. Now, you know at that point you are more likely to invite friends and then spend the money. So, it's really more of a complete solution versus just like, "Hey, we're a PayPay button or we'll manage your payments for you". 130
Interviewer: Can you talk about other strategies that developers use for retention? Have you seen any techniques that have worked pretty well? Noah: Yeah, I mean, a lot of the stuff that is specifically on the Facebook level. It's less about spamming your friends and getting them to do it, but basically get into certain points in the game and retention - it's a lot about… Bejeweled Blitz is a game I'm personally addicted to, and the reason what they've done that is real smart is three things. One, they make a weekly contest. So, every week it's a reset, and so I'm like, I get my notification. It's a weekly thing. I've got to go back and do it. And there's that social aspect of I want to do it because my friends are going to see my score and I want to beat them. Secondly, what they do, which is really smart which is what I think a lot of people should be doing, is looking at notifications when a friend or someone close to you has passed you in the system. They do it all the time. So, I get like Ash has beat me and that's when I want to come back to it. On the retention level, the biggest thing - I hate when people say metrics because it's so generic and easy. Other things on retention stuff that are to consider are just the mindset of why does someone want to come back and why does it make sense when someone actually comes back. You know, a lot of these farm games and RPG social stuff? Interviewer: Yeah. Noah: You have to tend your garden every 15 minutes, or things are going to go bad. Or you have to go tend your friend's garden and you can watch out for them. So, those are the kind of standard tactics that people are using today. Interviewer: Do you have any other suggestions for other things that developers can use to enhance or raise the amount of people that they're serving with their games? Noah: I think people are not recognizing that the market is beginning to get really saturated, and I think there's still tons of money to be made. The question is if I were not doing payments, what would I be doing as a game 131
developer? I would be going where people aren’t, so building on Open Social, Hives, MySpace. It doesn't have the appeal and the significant growth as Facebook which is really strong. Within the Facebook ecosystem I would go to international countries, something we talked about before. These countries have an average revenue per user significantly comparable to the U. S. They don't have the volume, but would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or basically create something that's going to be copied and dominated versus you have a really nice business that no one else knows about it. Interviewer: So, aside from internationalization, what else do you see everything going in terms of games, social games? Noah: I study and play this up way too much. It's a little obsessive. The challenge now is when we were building games, it was mostly about spam, viral, instant growth, build a user base and then we're like, oh, oh, now it's retention. Then, we were through with retention and then it was, oh, money, so let’s sell them something. Now, you're really competing against companies, like if you look at the top 15 Facebook apps, over 40 percent are funded companies that have developed million dollar games. Interviewer: Sure. Noah: So, you have to consider where you're really going to have a chance at winning against that. So, if you really want to have a long-term strategy you need to be spending a significant amount of money or figuring out opportunities. The two opportunities actually right now that are still available. Actually three. One is infrastructure, so build revenue streams. So, if you're a game developer, build additional ways that other game developers can make money. So, there's payment solutions. There's way too many but focus on ways that they could utilize those payment solutions better. Secondly, sports stuff. There's really not that much of it, and it's a huge opportunity, third is like gambling and skilled gaming. 132
Interviewer: Sure. Noah: There's a lot of money to be made in that, and no one has really tackled that stuff. Interviewer: Can you talk about the transition from text-based to Flashbased? Have you seen any differences in terms of revenue per user for text-based versus Flash-based? Does it even matter? Noah: You know, I feel like people quote all of these numbers. Oh, get women; they're 35, in the Midwest. That's the only way to make a lot of money. But what I've seen, it's kind of like a common sense thing. You put more into the game; you're going to get more out. Interviewer: Sure. Noah: And that's the kind of thing that you see in Flash where it's a much more rich experience. The graphics are much more detailed. The user play is a lot different than a standard text-based MMO game. And the challenge with developers today is that, unless you have a big team of 30-50 people, you're not going to be able to produce the amount of content that a large company is going to do. If you are an individual Flash developer that's been building the kind of non-persistent, one time, Flash games, I think there's opportunity to build something unique that has a chance of making a lot of money versus just the standard text thing. I would say the text thing is kind of easy money now, but still. As much as I want to harp on it, you could build a text game, put a certain niche on it. Like, it's for kids, that are African, and they're 15 to 19. One tip I would suggest is that Facebook advertising - no one is advertising specifically to international users. So, if you actually look at rates, you can get same value of user in a foreign country as you could in America, but you get one third of the cost. Interviewer: Sure. So, you really think that the text-based MMOs still have legs? Noah: I don't want them to; I want them to die. The thing is, so I played them pretty obsessively for a few weeks. My girlfriend was pretty annoyed 133
with it, and what happened though I'm just bored. Then, I go to the next one and yeah I get it. It's ice creams and there's different flavors so, I get it, a mafia one is different than a vampire one. But it's still the same system that you plug-and-play. And I feel that unless you have a really deep experience and you have a lot of people that build it, your stuff is going to get boring, and it's going to die out. Interviewer: You know, there's this standard RPG template. Is that something that should even be considered for developers? I mean, have you seen other types of game mechanics or game interaction structures that actually monetize better? Noah: That's a really good question. So, in terms of the tech stuff, it just does well. Other versions are doing well, like tending to people's things, like the garden stuff, the farm stuff, you know, the restaurant stuff. There's even something around fishing, like fish stuff, like an aquarium. I still think… So, that's the genres that are doing really well. Virtual worlds. So, basically, anything that's taking a significant amount of upfront investment, the average revenue is going to be a lot higher. So, like virtual worlds, like Habbo and WeeWorld and things like that, the users are just a lot more addicted and committed. I do have a theory that probably needs to be fleshed out. You need about three years to build a really significant business or stake hold within a game or social community. So, like Zynga has taken two years to actually build. So, it's maybe two to three. And the overnight successes, like Farm Town, are few and far between. It's just what we hear about. Interviewer: I hear a lot about offers, free offers, and alternative payments. What are those about? Noah: So, when we were game developers, we were using providers that had offers. And what's really great about it is that people who are never going to pay, they are either freeloaders, they're international or they're really young. You're never going to make money on them, so this is an opportunity where they can sign up or pay for a service that you get the affiliate for. 134
That's basically the bottom line. Let's say Netflix is one of the major examples. Netflix, let's say, pays $20.00. So, the user is not going to pay you but, maybe, they want Netflix so they buy Netflix, you get the 20 bucks, they get the coins and they get the Netflix service. So, it's a really good situation for everyone, and Netflix gets a new customer. So, there's good and bad about it. That's a really great scenario and I think the future of the industry is about relevance where personally I like burritos. So, if I could go buy burrito coupons and at the same time get my vampire points, that's a good situation. There are some negative offers where the users are signing up for free things and nothing in life is free. You have to be careful about your community, and that's why we provide a lot of tools to, basically, see what things are working and what aren't and control that for long-term success. We're seeing people increase revenue of 10 to 20 percent just by adding alternative payment and "offers". Interviewer: Can you talk about other ways that you've seen revenue spike up 10, 20, 50 percent? Noah: That's a really great question. So, one of the studies that I like to talk about is a few clients have implemented a blue light special. So, what you do on a random day you tell them right in the morning. You don't announce it, that your exchange rate for that significant day is going to be doubled. You send a mass mail or notifications or you put up a post, and we've actually seen revenue increase 5x. So, for 2x you get a 5x, so it definitely makes sense. We haven't seen where it over compensates because if it goes up 5x it's going down 5x. And it actually stays higher for the next few days, even from having that exchange rate. I think there's a lot of opportunity for people to test that kind of system out. I think that's a really easy win if you're looking to increase revenue. I think you need to think long-term about how do you build microtransactions, the best thing for me is how do you sell toilet paper where they are going to need it every few weeks or, at least, every day. 135
Interviewer: How can developers get started then with your service? Noah: Oh, with our service. Developers, it depends on different stages. If you're a new developer, you need to be focused on growing, retaining, engaging your game, right? And then, throw us in. It takes five minutes. Start monetizing, but your priority really should really be growth. A larger studio, we work with them with more of a custom solution that's fully integrated. You have no idea it's us, and it's just really about how we make the user experience as well as maximizing revenue at the same time. You always hear people like, there's money and there isn't money. I just say, go do it. That's the bottom line. You never know. Don't make excuses and go try to build anything. Start with something simple like a text-based game. If that works and you make some money, then you can even hire people or flesh out more into different ideas. Interviewer: What's the website that people can visit to get started? Noah: Yeah, It's getgambit.com. Interviewer: How do you spell that? Noah: g-e-t-g-a-m-b-i-t .com. Interviewer: Thank you very much.
Interview with Super Rewards http://www.srpoints.com
Interviewer: I’m here at the Game Developers Conference, and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself? Adam: I am Adam Caplan, and I am the President of Super Rewards. Interviewer: What’s Super Rewards about? 136
Adam: Super Rewards is a virtual currency monetization platform used by game developers in the social media space, MMORPGs, virtual worlds, et cetera. Interviewer: Do you have to be an application on Facebook? Adam: Absolutely not. You can be a standalone site of any kind. So we are working with about 800 applications across the social media space today but also 20 to 30 standalone sites, anything from play span marketplace to Crunchyrole to Wild West Online to Our World, a lot of standalone sites. Interviewer: What services do you exactly offer? Is it just people who come and fill out surveys or what? Adam: We provide a way for developers to monetize the users either directly with users paying for virtual currency. They can pay through any one of a couple of hundred different methods around the world, from credit cards to PayPal to charging it to their mobile phone, gift cards, put a check in the mail, cash in the mail, you name it, any way of getting a dollar or two to get you to pay for something directly, we provide it. We also provide a way for consumers to earn virtual currency for free by completing advertising offers. So, fill out a survey; sign up for some product like Netflix or a mobile ring tone service or a newspaper subscription; whatever that service is that provides an inflow of revenue to the developer. And the developer rewards the user with virtual currency to use either within the game, to play the game, for a subscription, download whatever that virtual currency is used for — we just provide a way to fund that virtual currency. Interviewer: So most developers who do this in their game, they do need to have virtual currency in the game for this to work. Adam: That’s the primary way we use today. It doesn’t have to be that. We could just show our CPA offers attached to some product. For example, if you have a game, it’s a $10 price point and you want it to show only offers that would pay up $10, we could do that. The beautiful thing about virtual currency is it provides flexibility, so if one offer might pay out 137
$3.50 and another might pay out $6.50, you could combine the two to get the $10 price point. Interviewer: Can you talk about some of the good design practices that game developers and designers can use to either optimize their virtual economy or generate more revenue in a way that’s sustainable? Adam: Yeah, so I guess there are a whole variety of different tricks and tips that we work with our developers on. We have a game advisory team as part of Super Rewards whose sole job is to work with our partners on optimizing their sites. The things they do are around pricing virtual items or how to optimize the flow of users to a page. Things like tips for your own game; how to make a story line more consistent; how do you have persistent characters? What sort of virtual items should you be charging for or implementing? We have a team dedicated to that. But I think if you look across our platform today, by far and away the most lucrative area is still the role-playing game category where there are people very vested in their character development. They can come play for awhile, come back to it over time and follow their character through a story line. We see those types of games monetizing, you know, many, many times some of the other games. Interviewer: Can you talk about the potential revenue that indie developers can make using your program or system? Adam: Well, we have several developers we work with just in the social media space. They are individual developers, 25-year-old guys that are earning a million dollars a month through Super Rewards. Interviewer: Oh really, awesome. Adam: So if you have a hit game that consumers are passionate about playing and are willing to incorporate virtual currency in a way to monetize the user again and again and again who are passionate about playing your game. Where we might have three or four games making individual developers a million dollars a month, we have hundreds of developers making $10,000 plus a month. 138
Interviewer: Sure. Adam: And so, this is a way to really, really take something you’re passionate about and make that available to folks out there and make a great living from it. Interviewer: Now, the people who are making a million a month, I mean, does that go down over time, or how do you guys actually keep that consistent or is it just part of the life cycle? Adam: It’s two things. It’s the developer keeping the content fresh and consistent. Interviewer: So that’s by adding new content every week or something else like that. Adam: Yeah, too, one of the really great things we’ve seen is limited-item virtual goods, where someone comes out with a special sword or a special engine for a car. It’s only available … 100 of them available and it’s available for 24 hours. People just take that stuff up like crazy. Adding in that fresh content that fits in with the story line is really, really powerful. The other thing we do on our end is we’re always refreshing our offers. Every day we add 100 new offers to the platform, and 100 offers that are no longer monetizing drop off. It’s always, how do we keep fresh advertising offers in front of the consumers so they’re always coming back and saying, “How can I get my free points? Well, today I’m going to sign up for Netflix. Tomorrow I want to download a ring tone to my file.” It's always changing, every day. Interviewer: So when you talk about these limited-item things, are there any other things that also produce good results for indie game developers? Adam: Yeah, some of the interesting things we are seeing now are around meta games on top of standard flash games. For example, we are doing a lot of work on our end to come out with a product soon that will help our development partners add these meta games. Things around trophy cabinets and adding collectible trading cards. 139
It might fall outside the normal flash game, but there’s an extra element of fun and participation, and it’s a way to monetize with virtual currencies where you might have a game that doesn’t typically have a virtual currency in it. Interviewer: How would trading cards actually make money, because I know a lot of indie developers who do flash games? Adam: So let’s say that by finishing a particular flash game or getting a certain score, you are rewarded a particular trading card. With that trading card, it became part of a collectible set and your aim was to continue building this collectible set — it adds this extra element of continuous game play around the flash game. Interviewer: And so, the player is trying to collect that whole set. You would get that whole set by playing all the different flash games and attaining certain scores then? Adam: Maybe, that’s right. Maybe, playing a different selection of games. Maybe, it’s playing the same game and achieving certain things, but it’s all about how you engage the user to keep coming back and perhaps pay credits. You use credits to collect these tradable items that might have an impact on, maybe, a score multiplier or some other element of the flash game play. Interviewer: Developers, if they have a game, I mean, how many active users or daily active users do they need to actually make a decent amount of money? So to make, say, $10,000 a month or whatever, which would give an indie developer freedom or whatever to quit their job, how many daily actives do they need for that? Adam: We definitely on our platform say on average earnings of, maybe, a dollar per active user a month, so if you’ve got 10,000 active users across a month and they are coming back on a regular basis, you can make that sort of money. Some games, the variation is very wide. You might have games that are making 10 cents, but you might have games that are making $20 per active user per month. 140
It’s an incredible range. If you look at the leaders in the space that are doing well in the social media space, you can pick up a lot of tips from their applications of games that demonstrate how viral these things can be and what sorts of things that users are passionate about doing. Interviewer: If people want to find out more about this and want to get started, what do they do? Adam: Come to srpoints.com. Interviewer: S-r-points.com. Adam: It’s “s” for super and “r” for rewards, points.com. It’s a very simple sign-up process with us. Let us know what your currency is called. What site it sits on, whether it’s a social networking site or a standalone site. What do you want your credits to be worth? And then it spits out some IFrame code. You can put that in your application, or you can take an XML feed of our offers and custom-build the offers into your flash application. So, we’re very flexible. Interviewer: People can integrate this into their flash game, too. Adam: Absolutely. We think that’s a very big market, and we’re just beginning to understand it. We’re excited to be part of it. We encourage all indie developers to get out there, because we certainly have a lot of folks making themselves very wealthy people through us, and we think it’s a great industry to be part of. Interviewer: You have other competitors. What do you guys offer versus your competitors? Adam: There’s a couple of things, I think. The flexibility of our offering; there isn’t anybody else that is having this XML feed at the moment, so it puts into the hands of the developer exactly how they want this to be displayed. The breadth of advertising offerings, we have offerings in 80 countries around the world. We have 4 to 5,000 different offers in our platform today, which is more than anybody else.
So, particularly if you have an international component to your user base, we monetize far more effectively than anybody else internationally because we just have a bigger breadth of offers. Finally, we really think of ourselves as partners to you guys. There’s a team of folks whose job is not about how do we make our advertising platform more effective, it’s about what advice can we give our partners on ways that integrate the things they can do on their end around adding in limited virtual items, of pricing things differently. Getting people to the offer page more effectively. It’s all about a consulting service, which we don’t charge for but how can we make you guys more effective. Interviewer: Great. Thank you very much.
Interview with Offerpal Media http://www.offerpal.com
Interviewer: Thanks for doing this e-mail interview. What is Offerpal and how can developers use it to make money? Matt: Offerpal Media is the leading virtual currency monetization solution for social applications, online games, virtual worlds, social networks, mobile apps and other social publishers. Our turnkey monetization platform helps developers make money by giving their users the option to either buy their virtual currency -- through more than a dozen global payment options -- or earn it in exchange for taking part in any of our 4,000+ targeted advertising offers. The platform also comes with the industry's leading optimization engine, customer service team, fraud prevention systems, analytics tools, account management, install program and more -- all designed from the ground up for the social and gaming environments. Interviewer: How is this service better than others? Matt: The Offerpal platform is powered by a sophisticated optimization 142
engine that improves conversions and maximizes revenues for our publishers while managing lead quality and delivering the highest ROI to our advertising partners. At the core of our optimization engine is a series of proprietary algorithms that look at user profile data, social behaviors and other criteria to improve targeting and relevancy for the end user. This optimization engine delivers higher Revenue Per User than any of our competitors. Other ways that our service is better than others include: - We have more offers and a greater mix of unique, custom offers not found elsewhere - Our analytics tools give developers actionable insights to help them optimize their virtual economies - We offer greater flexibility and customization in our platform - We have a larger and more responsive customer service team - We have coverage in 190 countries and have localized our offers and User Interface into more than 25 native languages Interviewer: What are specific and unique monetization integration points that developers can use to raise revenue? Matt: There are many ways that developers or game publishers can integrate our virtual currency payment options. The primary method is to embed our "offer wall" as an I-frame within the app or site, and then drive users to it through multiple touchpoints such as through an "Earn Currency" tab in the main nav bar, through special promotions, or through contextually relevant links such as when a user wants to purchase a virtual good but does not have enough currency. We also offer XML and JSON feeds so that developers have complete flexibility in how they integrate with us. These feeds literally let the developer manipulate the data however they see fit so they can run our offers in whatever way makes the most sense within their game play. 143
Interviewer: Do the revenues disappear after a month? How do developers raise their revenue month after month? Matt: Not at all. Many of our publishers have been with us for a year or more and their revenues are still climbing. They key is for developers to maintain a healthy and balanced virtual economy, which comes with managing your sources and sinks, testing your exchange rate, monitoring for fraud - those kinds of things, all of which we can help with. For instance, many of our publishers are constantly adding new virtual goods into their marketplace, so there's always the demand for those new items. They might add new items on a daily or at least weekly basis, and then occasionally - say, once a month - add a specialty, premium item of extreme value. When they do, those items always generate a large spike in revenues. So as long as your users are engaged in the game and active in the virtual economy, there's no reason why revenues should decline. Also, we help prevent a decline in revenues through our intelligent optimization engine, which actually "learns" more about a developer's users and their behavior patterns as it runs inside the game or application. So the longer it runs, the more effective it becomes at targeting users with relevant ad offers, and the better it performs. And then there's the fact that we're constantly adding new offers into our system. We add 25 or 50, sometimes up to 100 new offers every day, so that users always have plenty of new offers to choose from. Interviewer: How big does a team need to be to create a profitable game? Are students doing this? Matt: That's the beauty of this business - small teams can be just as successful as large ones. Some of our most successful partners are "indie" developers with just one or two people doing all the work. All it takes is a good idea and a keen understanding of game mechanics and design. If people like your game, they'll play it, and they'll tell all their friends to play it, and before you know it you've got a hit. So yes, in fact many of our developers are currently college students who decided to build an app in their spare time. 144
Interviewer: What about Flash and virtual coins, what is the best way to integrate offers into Flash games? Matt: Right now Flash developers can integrate our offers through XML and JSON feeds. The nice thing about these feeds is that there's no limit to how they can be integrated - it's entirely up to the developer's imagination. For instance, there's a Flash-based farming app out there that pops up one of our offers in a bubble when a user happens to plow a certain section of the field, giving the user the opportunity to earn bonus coins for completing the offer. We've found that these work really well. We are also working on creating an API for Flash developers to make it even easier to integrate our offers. Interviewer: What are good game design mechanics you've seen help to keep players engaged and coming back? Matt: Game mechanics is something we study very closely here at Offerpal, because they're so important in helping keep users motivated and engaged, which obviously helps monetize more effectively. Some of the best game mechanics for social games and applications include: - Leveling up - helps motivate users progressively and gives them that sense of satisfaction from having completed a level, whether it's the first level or the one hundredth level - Leaderboards - encourages competition by motivating users to want to appear on the leaderboard, whether it's a daily leaderboard or all-time leaderboard, a universal leaderboard or just among friends - Collecting - taps into the long-held human desire to amass an entire collection or set of items - Exchanges - encourages users to interact more deeply with their peers by creating structured social interactions that can be explicit and implicit - Feedback - helps the users master your game quicker and more easily by offering feedback and instructions on how they're doing or how they could do better 145
- Customization - creates a barrier to exit by allowing users to customize their experience, ensuring that they won't go play a similar game somewhere else because of the commitment they've made in customizing their experience with your game. Interviewer: What are compelling revenue numbers you've seen? Does Flash monetize better than a text-based game? Where do you see the future of the space going and how can someone getting started now make the most of the opportunity? Matt: We've seen some incredible revenue numbers from our developers. Some are making more than $1 million a month, with many others making hundreds of thousands of dollars every month. Our network-wide average is more than $80 per day for every 1,000 Daily Active Users. The format of the game - Flash, text, etc. - doesn't matter so much as the game itself. Is it really engaging? Is it fun to play? Do people enjoy playing it with their friends? Does it give them reason to come back frequently? That said, if all else is equal, then yes - a nicely designed Flash game will typically outperform a simple text-based game, simply because it can use the graphics and visuals to draw the users in deeper to the experience. In the future, we see the most successful games becoming more and more social. That's the real benefit to games on social networks or even on the open web - that they can tap into a user's social graph to make the gameplay more fun and more rewarding. When games become not just entertainment but also a way to bond with friends and acquaintances, people get more out of them and start playing more often. We also expect virtual economies to continue to evolve, and for game developers to get more sophisticated in terms of delivering virtual goods and managing their economies. Consumers have shown that they're enthusiastic about taking part in virtual economies and view them as an exciting part of the in-game experience. As game developers become savvier about implementing virtual economies and selling virtual goods, the opportunity to monetize their games will grow accordingly. 146
Interviewer: Great. Thank you very much.
Interview with Zong http://www.zong.com
Interviewer: I’m here at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself? David: Hi, I’m David Marcus, the Founder and CEO of Zong. Interviewer: What’s Zong about? David: Zong is a frictionless mobile payment system for games and social networks. Basically, what we do is make the payments a lot easier than with credit cards or any other payment method, which results in much, much higher conversion rates. Interviewer: So, you’re saying now that players are actually paying with their cell phone or exactly what? David: That’s right. They pay with their cell phone. That charge gets added to their phone bill at the end of the month. Interviewer: What’s the specific benefit then of paying via cell phone versus credit card? David: Paying with a credit card involves you standing up and getting to your wallet, wherever it is, taking your credit card out, typing 16 digits, expiration date, billing address. When you want to buy something which especially is virtual goods or points for a game, it’s just too complicated, too much friction to actually get to what you want. And so, there’s a lot of leakage. You draw probably 19% of the people who want to pay versus 40% for these mobile sales. In other words, we 147
can get about 60% of the people want to pay versus 10% with other credit card based payment systems. Interviewer: Can you talk about that simplicity of your payment process? Exactly what does a player do? David: The first time ever a user pays with Zong, there is no registration whatsoever. You need to know your mobile phone number, but everybody now knows their mobile number by heart and they always have their phone next to them. So, they type in their cell number, get a pin code, get back on the web and in 10 seconds you’re finished. Interviewer: Great. Are there any other interesting stats? For example, is it just an initial rush of players that use this service and then after awhile the revenue goes down or how does that work? David: There’s definitely an initial rush, but generally the players try lower price points at first, and then the repeat usage becomes pretty high and they go to a higher price point. So the initial rush is actually supplanted by less transactions but at a higher price point, so ultimately more and more revenues. Most of the games that we power are showing a growth of more than 20% a month in absolute revenue from Zong. Interviewer: So, they put in your service, and then after that they’ve got 20% additional revenue. David: No. When they plug in the service, they get about 40 to 50% more absolute revenues, but then that grows more than 20 to 25% in an aggregated base every month. Interviewer: Can you talk about then the revenue range that some of these developers are actually making off of these social games and Zong service? David: The range is pretty large, the small indie games and some of the virtual worlds we power. We cut a check the other day of more than a half a million dollars for a virtual small world. It’s a small app, so the conversion works, and that’s a small team. It’s three people. It’s not the biggest check we wrote, obviously, but it works. 148
If you build the payments the right way — in other words, if you consider payments as an integral part of your game rather than a commodity and just leave it on the side, then you can generate a lot of revenues from that. Interviewer: Can you talk about this integration, and what do you mean by well-integrated versus just passively integrated? David: Well, it’s all about user experience. Limiting the number of steps that one needs to take to complete a transaction and also enticing the user to make that transaction. So, if it’s like early on in the game, you are presented with the opportunity to buy something. It’s, maybe, too fast for the user. He needs to get more engagement with the game and in the game before he is ready to purchase something. It’s all about timing, and it’s all about how you present the payments. If it’s really well integrated. Our integration is an I-Frame, a small I-Frame, so if you can display the I-Frame within the game experience — don't navigate away from the game or don’t leave the user environment from the game because otherwise you just lose a lot of people as well. Interviewer: Can you talk about more specific virtual goods or virtual items that developers should offer to raise revenue or to increase revenue that they can get? David: It depends on what type of games. If it’s games targeted to men, it’s always the streak that is the ultimate motivation, the competitiveness. I am going to defeat you, right? So, it’s always games that involve some kind of weaponry. Virtual weaponry that improves game play works really, really well. So, that’s for men. For girls, it’s like collections. It’s like you’ve got this virtual pet and you want to buy a lot of virtual goodies for that virtual pet. That works extremely well, but it’s always something that needs to improve the rank or status of the player in that game. Interviewer: So, it can’t just be for expression. It can’t just be so much flare. It has to actually improve the game play stats or something.
David: It could be expression, but then again it needs to improve the perception of others of that user if it’s a MMOG or an RPG or the score of that player in that given game. Interviewer: Can you talk about adoption rates in terms of ... is this more effective if you have players in the United States versus players outside the U.S. versus Eastern or Asian countries? David: It converts well everywhere. We’re in 15 countries, and we’re adding 25 countries within the next 10 months. It works well everywhere, actually. Players are actually playing with mobile because either they don't have a credit card or bank account, or if they do, it’s just faster, more convenient and less painful to pay with a mobile phone than a credit card, where you had previous bad experiences or received a bad invoice at the end of the month. Interviewer: There are other mobile payment platforms. So what’s the benefit of using Zong versus other ones? David: It’s very simple. It’s actually as you said. Mobile transactions can be expensive. So you need to have super-high conversion rates. Our flow is really the best in the marketplace. It’s three clicks, you pay in 10 seconds. You don’t have to select your country. You don’t have to select a carrier. You just type in your number, and you are done. That’s one. Two, we’ve got 84 carrier relationships and of these 84 carrier relationships, 80% of these are direct relationships. None of the other payment platforms have a single direct carrier relationship. They go through aggregators that add more costs and instability to the whole transaction. And then the last thing is we understand the space, and the brand shows that we understand the space more than traditional payments. We understand the gaming space and social space real well, and we optimize the flow for our clients just to make sure they make more money. Interviewer: Sure. Now, you guys then are focused mainly on, say, apps on Facebook and MySpace then, or are you also focused on MMOGs outside, because I know that your service has been used by other applications or games on Facebook. 150
David: Well, both. You know, we’re involved everywhere where there is a need to purchase virtual currency, virtual goods, or now — we’re going to be announcing shortly — subscriptions as well. So, you know, subscriptions can be for all kinds of stuff. It’s really any type of environment that has virtual currency, virtual subscriptions, or virtual goods that can be purchased. We’ve got a lot of the Facebook developers and MySpace developers using us because it works well in the environment and demographic, but the same demographic is actually playing the MMOGs. Interviewer: Sure. Since virtual currency and virtual goods are a huge profit driver, do you see then applications actually converting? Are developers converting then to this virtual economy? Is that something that you guys help with, or is it mainly once converted you guys offer a service for monetizing it? David: Well, generally it goes hand-in-hand because mobile payments make it work. In other words, if you convert to enabling a virtual goods transaction, a virtual economy in your game and you don’t have the right billing mechanisms, then it just doesn’t work. So, it’s kind of a virtuous circle between payments that are mobile and an integration of virtual currency and virtual goods. Interviewer: When is this virtual subscription service or option going to come out? David: It’s a few weeks out. So almost by the time your audience listens to that, it should be out. Interviewer: If a developer wants to find out more about how to use this, where can they go? David: Zong.com. Interviewer: Any other last words then for indie game developers who are trying to make money off their games?
David: Well, Zong is a no-brainer; absolutely, really. And I am being very objective here. It just works. Interviewer: Thank you very much.
Interview with Peanut Labs http://www.peanutlabsmedia.com
Interviewer: I’m here at Casual Connect and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself? Ali: Hi, my name is Ali Moiz and I am one of the founders of Peanut Labs. Interviewer: What’s Peanut Labs about? Ali: Peanut Labs is a monetization company that we focus on research primarily, and we tie research to end game virtual currencies and virtual economies, so micro-transactions. Interviewer: Is it pretty much then for MMOs, or is it any type of game or what? Ali: We have a wider spectrum of partners than some of the other players in the space. We work with MMOs. We work with casual game companies. We work with social media game companies. We work with blogging sites like LiveJournal, Six Apart, Xanga. We work with dating sites like OkCupid. So, it’s a slightly broader demographic. Gaming is really, I feel, like one of the sweet spots for the industry. Interviewer: So, you’re saying that people could use your service even if they don’t have a game. It can be just anything with virtual currency, any situation where they have virtual currency or virtual economy. 152
Ali: Absolutely, so Xanga, they are one of the oldest blogging sites on the Internet. They are a good example. So, they give out Xanga credits to users to upgrade their profiles, add new features, more stories, more photos, more skins. And you can either pay for them or get them for free by doing online surveys and research or ads with us. Interviewer: Can you talk about the specific types of surveys? Is it kind of like the other traditional offers that you see on some of the other competitors in your space, or are these different types? Ali: So what really sets Peanut Labs apart from the other players in the space is I feel like fundamentally there are two kinds of inventory that make up most of the market. There are research surveys, and then there are online ads. Research surveys are 5 to 10 minute online surveys, no marketing, no lead generation, pure anonymous research from Fortune 500 brands and research agencies, people like P&G, Unilever, Microsoft, AT&T, Nielsen, comScore, those guys. They are actually getting value out of your anonymous opinion and putting that together to size markets and new market data. That’s one market. The other market is lead generation, CPA. So, we focus on the research market. We also do the lead generation. For the last three years I’ve spent three years and five million dollars turning out a roster of clients on the research side that exclusively do a lot of their research with us. Interviewer: So, then the players don’t necessarily have to get spammed or anything else when they fill out these surveys because it’s purely research or something else like that. Ali: That’s exactly the value proposition. So, two examples. One is survey when a new movie comes out. Universal Studios might come to us and say, “Here are five different trailers for the movie. Peanut Labs, go and interview 100,000 people. Help us figure out what the best trailer should be that will increase our sales the most” because they’re talking millions of dollars for opening day weekend. And a good or bad trailer can be like a 10 million dollar difference on a Friday night. So, they spend a lot of money doing research. 153
Procter & Gamble, for example, spends about $200 million a year, trying to figure out how to market their products and how to make them better. Interviewer: You mentioned that gaming is the sweet spot. How would a game developer use your service to make money and to keep their players happy, too, so they don’t alienate them with bad offers or something else like that? Ali: One of the primary reasons that game companies have worked with us is because they feel surveys are more sustainable than offers long-term because offers tend to churn and burn users whereas surveys are more sustainable. The larger the company the more likely the more quality-focused they are and the longer their horizon is. For companies like Electronic Arts or Acclaim Games that we work with, they work with our surveys and tie them into the virtual currency so the use case is, players playing one of their games, they are playing Nine Moons and they want a fancy new sword and they don’t want to pay for it. It’s just the case that 95 percent of the users that play the games, so they take a five minute online survey. Our clients pay us. We pay Acclaim, and then Acclaim gives the user the sword. Interviewer: Can players make as much coin filling out these research surveys compared to actually doing the trial offers or something else like that? Do they just have to fill out a lot more surveys? How does that work? Ali: The surveys pay out slightly less when you compare it to an offer on average. Marketing credit card companies will pay out sometimes a hundred bucks a lead if somebody fills out a credit card form. Survey companies don’t pay out that much, but the conversion rates are about three to four times higher for surveys than for offers because you are not entering your information. You’re not entering your credit card. You’re not getting marketed or spammed, so the conversion rates are much higher. Interviewer: Let’s say a game developer wants to get started and use surveys as part of their offering to generate revenue. How would they do that with your company? Ali: It’s really simple. You can get in touch with me or any of our people, or you can go to our site, peanutlabsmedia.com, and just create an account. 154
The process is self-service and automated, so you can be up and running in 20 minutes. Interviewer: Do you have any suggestions on things that game developers can do to make sure that more players actually fill out the surveys? Do you have best practices for ways that developers can monetize their game much more effectively with surveys without alienating their audience? Ali: Sure. I think there are probably like 30, 40, 50 things out there that they can do, and a lot of it has already been covered by some of our competitors, and you’ve done a good job in your book as well covering a lot of these things. For stuff unique to surveys and offers is surveys and offers could be tied more closely to in-game progress for the characters rather than just generic or virtual currency. Game developers could make it a more integrated part of their quest line or story line. There are also ways to segment users and target them based on demographic information. We provide about 14 different pieces of demographic information to all of the partners we work with, and they can use that to better target users. For example, age, sex, gender, location, income, ethnicity, education levels. We collect all this stuff because we do research on these users, and so we provide all of this information to you so you can better segment your target. Interviewer: When you talk about actually integrating the survey into the character’s progress in the game, you just mean that a certain area of the game is blocked out until they fill out a survey or how exactly would a game developer design or integrate the survey in conjunction with the progress? Ali: That’s just one example. We have an API where you can take our inventory and program it and put it in different parts of your game. The locked content is one area. Typically, things in games that you are already charging for are a good substitute for this. And also level progression, rare items, so a lot of game developers also uniquely release limited content every week; 5000 editions of a particular orb or a globe or a spell or a new gun that are not going to be available again next week, and they feel that doing this on a regular basis helps boost their revenue. They can either charge for it. They can run it through surveys, offers or they can do all of the above. 155
Interviewer: Have you ever seen people lock the content behind surveys then? So, it’s like: to get this special item, you actually have to fill out a survey. And have you seen any positive results compared to that? Ali: I have seen developers do locked stuff behind micro transactions in general, not just surveys and offers but surveys, offers and payments so that people get… As a user, what you don’t want is you don’t want to limit the choice of payment options. I have seen them offer all of the options. Interviewer: Any last words for game developers who want to make money off of surveys and make more revenue from their games? Ali: Try it out. Everyone has their marketing pitches. You’re never really going to know until you try different partners out, but also what I would suggest is looking at the churn rate in addition to eCPM revenues because what you don’t want is you’re making five bucks a user but you’ve lost them forever as opposed to your making 10 dollars from a user but you’re going to keep them for a while. So, look at churn rate. Look at customer support complaints. Look at how fast you are losing users by running certain kinds of ads and take that into account when picking partners. Interviewer: Thank you very much.