Game Development Reference
Interview with Ryan Cleven: Social Platforms—cont'd
When you are designing virtual goods, you should think about the
game as part of their lifestyle. It does not matter if they play thirty seconds
every day or three hours every day. It's about how they imagine them-
selves in the game world. If they come in and have an industrial farm,
where do they maximize the output from their farm, and do they like to
think of themselves in those terms? “I am a very productive farmer.” Then
you sell them things that will help them imagine that vision. Some of that
can just be things that look like that idea of efficient industrial buildings,
or it could be something that lets them eke out another 10 to 15 percent
efficiency. That way they can tell their friends, “I am the most industrious
farmer!” Another farmer, who plays and just wants to noodle with their
farm to make it look like their ideal retirement farm … what they want to
see is the farm getting closer and closer to some aesthetic vision of perfec-
tion. They will put money into buying pink hay bales or a beautiful pond.
They don't really give a rat's ass about how efficient their farm is. It is an
aesthetic play for them.
That is a little of an oversimplification, though, because the brilliant
social games will weave these two things together. The actual play is
part of the customization process. In CityVille , for example, the different
businesses have different trade-offs, but they also look quite different.
You can choose to have a city full of bakeries, but that will have a differ-
ent performance characteristic. That way you get both types of players
to play each other's games.
Q: There has been a reluctance in the West to sell performance-enhancing
items, that these are somehow akin to cheating. In the East, games like
Cross Fire have completely ignored this rule, and it seems to work for
them. Is it possible to build social games for the Western market that
feature performance-enhancing microtransaction items?
A: Yes. I think it's only a matter of time. There is a lag in the culture
here. In the West, we do not like it to be so flagrant, but it is happening
more and more. The relative strength of the $60 retail game keeps putting
this “purity of game design” concept in our heads. I think as the free-to-
play model continues to bloom, a generation of gamers who don't carry
in those prejudices from the old world of $60 retail games will overcome
That being said, we already do it; we just hide it. In CityVille , you can
get decorations that give you a bonus to the surrounding businesses,