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5 Ways Social Games Hook You

Date: Dec 06 2010 09:04:23 Source: gamepro.com Views:
KeyWord: social games, fake friends, free staff

Sneer all you want at the people who play social games. The truth is their "bad habit" may be the result of good game design. Here are five design tricks to keep you playing (by AJ Glasser):

There's something inherently insidious about social games. There must be, or so many gamers wouldn't hate on them whenever they see a news story about Zynga or an update in their friends' Facebook feed that reads "Jessie clobbered a bear." But while there is something unsettling about a game that shamelessly solicits money from its audience and then encourages them to recruit their friends, there's also something fascinating about it that makes you question how something so obviously "bad" clicks with so many people.

The answer is: It's good game design. All the best video games are designed to make you want to play more of the game, and the only way to do that is to hook a player like a fish and keep stringing them along. Here's how social games do it:

5 ways social games hook you

Hook # 1: The Fake Friend

Any social game with a "home base" for your character to live in usually has the ability to visit friends' home bases. Starting out, though, a lot of your real Facebook friends probably don't have the game installed, so a social game invents a fake friend for you. FrontierVille has the buck-toothed Jack, Ravenwood Fair has a monocle-wearing raven named Huggin, and Cupcake Corner features Betty Rocker.

Each of these "friends" has a better-looking home base than you do -- usually with higher-end in-game materials or seasonal promotion items in full display. They also start out at much higher level than your character, and in some games are consistently three levels ahead of you to keep your sense of competition up. Visiting these friends' home bases either nets you the same reward you get for visiting a real Facebook friend's place, or in the case of Ravenwood Fair, you actually get better bonuses from visiting Huginn than you do from visiting a real friend.

The main point of the fake friend is to kick start the idea that you need more friends to visit -- so that you can get more stuff and so that you have more stuff to click on when you run out of things to do on your own home base or on your fake friend's home base. The secondary point is to showcase high-end or seasonal items the game offers – because how else can you really see how awesome that skeleton or haystack looks until you've seen what Jack's done with it?


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