Game Development Reference
Interview with Ryan Cleven: Social Platforms—cont'd
Q: So for a game to be built around virality, it has to inherently sacrifice depth?
A: You can put depth in different places. Depth is a lot of different things.
What you want to avoid is significantly disparate experiences between
players. Are they playing in very different locations in the world? Are they
playing against very different opponents? Is the difficulty so different that
a player wouldn't be interested to play with the other?
Avoiding these problems robs you of some of the common ways we cre-
ate depth in games, but might open up some others, like customization or
breadth of choice. In a lot of social games, for example, they expand the
map. This does not significantly change play difficulty; there is just more
to do. When I compare myself with you, sure, I've got more depth because
I'm making more decisions that have impact across a bigger economy. As a
new user, I'm not really confronted with any of that. Your game just looks
like a bigger plot of land, and I can recognize that and still understand
where we both are. And I can enjoy my relationship with you.
A lot of the modern social games are deep games; you have to do very
deep numerical analysis on them of you want to mix/match them—in
fact, they make that really hard to do. Players who want to can compete
there if they want to by investing more time. The depth is there; it is just
harder to get at, ironically, but it does not create really different experi-
ences or exclusive status differences between players.
Q: Let's talk about monetization. You came from a traditional games
background, and have then spent a bunch of time thinking about how
to monetize free-to-play games. What are things that designers from
traditional games space need to understand?
A: The biggest misconception is around what people are willing to pay for.
When you come from classic console design, you keep thinking about fea-
tures. You keep thinking about “more gameplay!” With social games and
virtual goods, what people actually pay for are mostly cosmetic changes
and status items, and progression advancements which just let them go
through the number crunching a little bit faster. These are not bad. They
are actually things that have a lot of value to people as a lifestyle.
People want to look at things they like to look at and they want to hear
sounds that they enjoy listening to. This is not something that is inferior
to buying an expansion map pack that you can churn through and then
go on to the next expansion pack. It is not about more gameplay. The
free-to-play game itself is the territory to play on and the things you buy
are the trappings and the dressings of that territory.