Social gamers need to be hooked in the first five minutes -- and also need to be taught to play the game as well, says Digital Chocolate lead social designer Aki Jarvinen, in the latest Gamasutra feature
"Because players of social games do not fork out money to have the chance to try out a game, their time is of precious quantity. Therefore developers need to catch and hold their attention both through viral spread and gameplay itself," writes Jarvinen.
Jarvinen examines both web and game development techniques, commonly blended in the social games space, in a quest to develop a method that retains gamers after their initial attempt at the game. One important web concept is "onboarding", which has "three key steps... accommodate, assimilate, and accelerate," writes Jarvinen.
"In terms of games, accommodation is about giving the necessary tools to the player, i.e. the necessary game mechanics and resources to start with. Assimilation gains a specific meaning from the context of the social network: It accounts for assimilation into the progress of one's friends playing the game, and the benefits from playing parallel to your friends. Acceleration then is about getting the player to engage with the game's full feature set and its possibilities."
Jarvinen also refers to Sid Meier's GDC 2010 keynote speech, in which he emphasized how the first 15 minutes of gameplay must be enjoyable. Writes Jarvinen, "In game design terms, this is about clear communication of an overall goal and the sub-goals, and giving the player always something to do."
He continues: "In social games, this takes a turn towards marketing-like techniques of influence, such as creating scarcity and the so-called curiosity gap through, e.g. locked features and levels. The gap functions as an addictive pull that makes players continue and come back."
The full feature, which includes a detailed breakdown of the first several minutes of several popular Facebook games, is live now on Gamasutra - First Five Minutes: How Tutorials Make or Break Your Social Game