It is a pity really, that we think social games are a new concept. Little do we know that Social Games have been there ever since man learned to communicate & create rules.

Respecting the interest that the ‘social network games’ have aroused among people into the concept called social games…lets see what are the fundamentals of social games. Or as the purists say: The basics of Social Games.

How does one go about building a Social Game? What are the essentials?

Before you even start thinking of building a social game you will have to define whether you want to build a real-time game like Zynga’s Texas HoldEm and ibibo.com’s Teenpatti or you want to build a turn-based game like Zynga’s Farmville or Mafia Wars.

Once you have decided on the type of game you are going to build, all you have to do is pick up from the basic ingredients of a Social Game (infographic below) and come up with the right mix.

Two things decide on how well the game will do:

  • The Mix – how much of WHAT elements of the Social Game you have introduced into your social game (while making a dish, only the right amount of everything will make it tasty)
  • The tightest integration possible. When user moves from one element of the social game to another, he should continue to feel at home. To give you an example… the gift based friend invitation need not be a separate page…it could be tightly integrated with the game flow.
  • Now explaining the various elements of any successful social game:

    Element 1: Pool of strangers I can play with

    If your game is real time, game play with strangers is of prime importance because not always will I have friends who are online. In a real time game, social interaction with friends can be introduced via Leader Board & Friend Invites etc…but ability to play with a pool of strangers is a must to make the game a success. If your game is turn based, you can still use a pool of strangers, and ensure the game doesn’t come to an end – like how Mafia Wars uses it to ensure when its gamers don’t have anything else to do, they can fight against unlimited number of strangers. Remember, unlike earlier believed social games is not always about playing games with friends!

    Element 2: My Property

    My Property is my reward for playing any social game. It is the online equivalent to all my assets in the real World – and we all know that we strive to build and increase the value of our real properties. Like in real life, your game should allow me to influence my property positively by doing positive actions on it. And exactly like in real life, I should be able to positively and negatively influence my friends’ properties. You could take a call to enable only positive or only negative or both positive and negative influences on friends’ properties. This is a must to ensure interaction between friends playing game. There are two types of positive & negative influences possible on properties within the game – the free influences & the paid influences. Of course the game has to be built in such a way that there are plenty of free positive & negative influences available (probably thro’ free daily gifts) to get the user used to the concept.

    Element 3: The Store: Accessories

    Once used to indulging in free influences on his and his friend’s property, the social gamer wouldn’t mind paying small amounts (micro transactions) to influence in a bigger way. To share an example, let us say if I was able to reduce the ripening time of my friend’s maize crop on his farm by 10% using a freely available drum of fertilizer…I should be able to reduce the ripening time by 90% using a paid drum of fertilizer (premium fertilizer). And if the benefit is good enough, your users will pay. One cardinal rule that applies to all social game is that of “Time = Money”. If a user has to play the game for X number of days to move from Level 11 to Level 12…he wouldn’t mind paying to reduce this time duration. Remember, social gamers are impatient to unravel the next level.

    Some of the social game executions that I have noticed try to fleece the user by charging him exorbitant for actions. Remember, the name of this game is micro transactions…the smaller the user has to pay for each action the more paid actions he will perform and more you stand to gain.

    Element 3: The Store: Property Customizations

    This is a little different from the accessories that are available in the store. While accessories are single use items, property customizations are for long-term use. We all love to decorate our house /office desk etc because we want to stand out…we want our property to reflect the person that we are. Property customizations help the social gamer do exactly the same in his online world. Properties aren’t just restricted to turn based games like Restaurant City or Farmville…they are possible even on real-time games like Texas HoldEm or TeenPatti…your desk, your beer mug, the flag on your desk…the list can be endless.

    Element 4: Notifications

    Notifications are a very crucial part of any social game, for they help in getting return users (after they see notification emails in their inbox or SMS alerts on their mobiles) or in getting new users (after friends activities are seen on friend’s profiles in the form of newsfeeds). Even more crucial is to decide how many notifications are enough – how many emails/day or how many newsfeeds/day or how many SMS Alerts/day. If you send a huge number of notifications you might end up antagonizing the gamer. This is why it is important that notifications be sent on activities that have the highest possibilities of arousing the social gamer’s interest. If you can’t get a social gamer to come back to the game with one email in his inbox in a day, chances are that ten emails aren’t going to help either.

    Element 5: Intra-Game Communication

    We all have different types of friends in real life – school friends, college friends, Train friends, Office friends…and it is only natural that my online life also reflects the same division. While all my real life friends are available for chat on the regular Facebook chat….I wouldn’t mind if I am shown a subset of my friends who are playing a particular game, within the game itself. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet seen this happen in any social game. This is difficult to implement on mobile, and can be ignored…but on PC…this would be a cake walk.

    Element 6: Leader board for Social Recognition

    We all play the game of life for social recognition. To be respected by your inner circle is the first requirement and once that is achieved one starts looking out for recognition outside of the circle. That is why I would recommend two Leader Boards in any Social game…one that ranks me against my friends and another that ranks me universally. Social recognition within Social Games can learn a bit from Four Square (or the British & Indian Army) and introduce badges as well for crossing different levels.

    Element 6: Gift-driven invitation module

    The first to implement this was Zynga. They realized early on that a direct invite to play a social game wasn’t half as effective as saying that your friend has gifted a Flower, Plant or a Pet and now register to claim it. Besides, it fools the inviter into believing that he isn’t doing something that the game maker wants him to do….instead he is doing something that he wants to do: Gift his friends. Most implementations I have seen don’t have the Import your contacts from Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook etc functionality…and let me tell you that remembering email IDs is passé. Now, with so much to remember….nobody remembers. The trick is in making it easy to gift people. Obviously, gifting within the network the social game is embedded in will be as easy as selecting the friends and clicking on the ‘Send’ button. Gifting can also be an intra-game activity, where you can make users gift property decorations and other accessories to other social gamers playing the game.