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What Makes Social Games Social?
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What Makes Social Games Social?

February 17, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

The stereotype is that MMOs feature synchronous, real-time play while casual social games are asynchronous with interaction occurring at disconnected times. However, all MMOs also feature important asynchronous features (in-game messages, for example) and some Facebook games employ synchronous features (such as chat). Rather than an absolute proposition, current social games tend offer a mix of synchronous and asynchronous interactions. Some games may highlight one or the other, but there are many that utilize both to establish a richer layer of engagement and retention.

Synchronous Interaction

The concept of synchronous gameplay is intuitively obvious -- players interact in real time rather than taking turns. Examples of synchronous social interactions include text chat, voice chat, video chat, and player vs. player (PvP) battles (yes, PvP is a type of social interaction!). Synchronous interactions can scale from two players head to head (e.g., whispering and duels) to large groups (e.g., lobbies and raids).

Let's look at chat specifically as it is a powerful synchronous tool for player engagement and retention in both casual games and MMOs:

  • New players use chat make friends and ask basic questions
  • Experienced players use chat to brag about in-game accomplishments and form actual friendships (usually while killing time between events)
  • Hardcore players use chat to coordinate complex group (e.g., guild/alliance) play and manage intense politics and rivalries

Whether it's used to run a major guild in The Old Republic or help finish a badge book on, chat has a similar effect: boosting player engagement and facilitating long-term retention. When there is a real, vibrant support community present, players come back to a game more often and are less likely jump ship for another game. At Kabam, we've found chat invaluable as we've sought to bring more hardcore aspects to Facebook and web gaming -- which we'll discuss later.

Asynchronous Interaction

The term "asynchronous game" might at first conjure images of something slower or less robust, but asynchronous games can be just as engaging as synchronous ones -- think of playing chess with a friend or Diplomacy by mail, for example. Asynchronous social games come in different basic flavors, with some of the more common being:

1. Turn-based shared games: Examples of this genre include the With Friends games and one of my favorites, Carcassonne. They work well socially because:

  • Each move is a mini game
  • There is social pressure to come back and complete your next turn
  • Challenge of head-to-head competition
  • Bite-sized gameplay is easy to fit into schedules
  • Players can play multiple games at once

Asynchronous head-to-head play in Carcassonne.

2. Turn-based challenge games: Essentially, this works out to be two separate matches: I play your AI and then you play mine; aggregate score determines the winner. A good example is the Bola soccer game on Facebook (which literally mirrors the traditional home-and-away format of international soccer matches). They work socially because:

  • Social pressure to return challenge
  • Head-to-head competition
  • Less waiting than shared turn-based since each player can complete their entire game independently
  • Different strategies for attack and defense enrich experience

3. Score-based challenge games: This is the traditional "beat my high score" format as exemplified in Bejeweled Blitz. These games work socially because:

  • Social pressure to return challenge (one-upmanship)
  • Head-to-head competition and often game-wide leaderboards
  • Less waiting than turn-based since players can try for their high scores anytime
  • On the flip side, these types of games can be less interactive

4. Open-world asynchronous games: In many ways, this is the standard Facebook game model, used in games like FarmVille and many others. It's also the model for newer games with deeper social interaction such as Empires & Allies and Backyard Monsters. They work socially because:

  • Model supports variety of game modes, including both single-player and multi-player PvE and PvP
  • Can approximate MMO experience without incurring the technical challenges of real-time play (i.e., provides the living, persistent world of an MMO)
  • Still offers convenience of more casual games -- can play at different times and for short bursts

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

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