Game Development Reference
play against themselves in order to beat their own high score. Even the oldest
arcade games understood this concept, making sure that “high scorers” were
prominently displayed even when the game wasn't in use. Almost any game
can incorporate some element of the leaderboard effect, and for a very low
cost. (See our example of Project Gotham Racing 2 later in this chapter.)
l Make the in-game currency valuable enough to players that they care about
it—that it offers them a value beyond simply a “score counter.” Then give
them a little, each time they come back to play. Bribery works, as long as
you bribe your users with something they desire.
l Give players a reason to care about what's going on in the game world when
they are away. MMOs and other “living world”-type games are great at this.
Make sure your players feel like when they aren't playing your game, their
friends are having fun adventures without them. These can be real friends,
in a true social gaming sense, or engaging characters and storylines that
progress outside of the timeline set by the user. Even single-player games can
imply that things happen in the game as time passes, even when a particular
player isn't playing. Messaging users about these types of events can keep
them engaged, even when they aren't online.
l Punish users (gently) if they are away too long. This mechanic can backfire
easily, because it can make users feel like they've lost their opportunity to go
back to a game they like. But if used properly, users will want to come back
every day to avoid whatever minor penalty a game will bestow upon them.
FarmVille , for example, is notorious for making user's crops rot. And as long
as the penalties don't “stack” too heartily, if recouping the ground they've
lost is fun rather than frustrating, even a little in-game penalty can be moti-
vation to return to your game.
l Dole out energy or turns in limited, time-released doses. This trick keeps
players coming back every day or several times throughout the day. Ensure
that there is a cap on the maximum amount of energy or turns that users
can accumulate so that they lose the benefit if they stay away too long. If the
game is fun, if the rewards for returning add value and that value is lost if
they stay away, users will return regularly for their daily “fix.”
l Carefully study compulsion and reward loops in other games. From Call
of Duty 's multiplayer XP model to the noises a slot machine makes in a
casino, there is a particular psychological strategy to giving users tiny,
regular rewards in response to their actions. Many games go so far as
to reward users for almost every click. (Notice the stars and coins that
explode all over the screen in Empires and Allies or CityVille every time
you click on almost anything.) For your game, there will be a “sweet
spot” in the reward strategy that gives users the feeling of success that
they crave, while making them work for it, just hard enough, such that it
doesn't lose its appeal.