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Building the Foundation of a Social Future
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Building the Foundation of a Social Future

December 8, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Build a Persistent Society

There are two key words here: persistent and society. "Persistent" describes a game world that does not stop and start with each play session. "Society" implies a game experience founded in cooperation and teamwork.


A persistent game "lives" even when the player is not present. A player knows that time spent away means potential missed opportunities and this can be a powerful hook that draws him back into the game at regular intervals.

In its most basic form, persistence can be contrived with timers (such as in Mob Wars, where you must wait for your energy to recharge before undertaking more "jobs") but in a full-fledged society, opportunities should be arising organically from the actions of other users.


A society is built on interdependence and teamwork and this is where MMOs like World of Warcraft excel. WoW forces players to specialize; for example, a rogue is good at sneaking in for a devastating attack while a tougher warrior keeps a monster busy and absorbs damage. Both players are more effective as a team than individually.

As players progress, and game objectives become more challenging, they need to learn to work together to succeed. It's this dynamic of teamwork that has retained more users for more hours than the majority of games.

Not only does specialization create a bond between player and game, but it creates a bond between players. A player that is depended upon by others feels needed.

Once a game establishes a persistent society of its own (and is no longer simply riding on a surrogate, like Facebook), abandoning the game becomes more than a personal decision; there are now the expectations of the group to consider. A player that leaves will be missed, and this is a motivator not to be overlooked in our increasingly disconnected modern lives.

Pet Society

Maintain a Consistent Sense of Discovery

Discovery is what keeps an activity fresh and interesting. A player should never be allowed to feel as if he has "beaten" or "completed" a social game. This means there always needs to be something else to acquire or experience.

Acquisition -- the instinct to collect

Collecting stuff is a powerful instinct in humans -- from McDonalds happy meal toys to two-dollar bills, or even just stones we find at the beach, we humans are compelled to collect.

In a game like Animal Crossing or Pet Society there is a heavy focus on this collector model of discovery, with the collected items often being graphical elements that can be used to decorate your house.

Sometimes this stuff is known and aspirational ("I'm saving up to buy that entertainment center") and other times its unknown and random ("the seashell collection has two more slots left in it; I wonder what kind of shells they could be?") Either way, it provides the user a straightforward goal of something to do, a longer-term sense of building something larger, as well as a gauge of status when comparing success with friends.

In order to suspend reaching an ending, the collector model of discovery typically follows an exponential effort curve on the route to getting more stuff; early additions to your collection are easily obtained and give you a taste for more, but further items require increasingly more effort and new goals are always cropping up just as previous goals are reached.

User Expression -- opening up the experience

The other model for discovery relies on user creativity. The premise is basically to give the user a palette of tools that enable self-expression. When users are enabled to express themselves, there will always be something else to see and experience because the community will be constantly creating new content. The discovery comes from two sides: witnessing what other players have created, and discovering you own inner muse.

In games like YoVille, Pet Society or The Sims, players often grow bored with simple house decorating and set creative objectives for themselves, such as making a room look like a jungle or the inside of a space station. This phenomenon was made the objective of the game (fluff)Friends.

(fluff)Friends is ostensibly similar to Pet Society, with the user collecting props and outfits over time, but the end goal is explicitly the creation of (fluff)Art. The appeal of the game becomes not so much to collect for collection's sake, but to collect as a means toward self-expression. The resultant scenes of user art are captioned, categorized, and publically browsable via in-game galleries.

The creation of art is just one common example, yet the possibilities are much broader. The PlayStation network game LittleBigPlanet harnesses user expression to allow the creation and sharing fully interactive gameplay experiences.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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