Game Development Reference
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game design and monetization in the next decade as well as in the next year.
To do this, we'll look at a few “social games” from the previous two decades
(yes, there are some!) and hopefully offer an inclusive definition that is still suf-
ficiently narrow that we won't end up talking about all games on all platforms
throughout all of gaming time. Here's the definition we've agreed upon based
on our own understanding of the market and an analysis of the types of games
that we believe will benefit you over the course of reading this topic:
A social game is one in which the user's interactions with other players
help drive adoption of the game and help retain players, and that uses an
external social network of some type to facilitate these goals.
Let's indulge ourselves in a quick dissection of the definition. To be a social
game, we believe that you need to encourage users to interact with one another.
This interaction needn't necessarily be in a real-time, synchronous manner. In
fact, in many of the games we'll study, user interactions are tangent to the core
gameplay. But a purely single-player product without any way of communicating,
assisting, or thwarting other players just isn't going to qualify as social. (However,
we may still explore one or two cases in which they nicely illustrate elements of
game design that we think can be applied to the social gaming space.)
We believe that new player acquisition and retention are two of the most
important things to consider for any game. This consideration is even more
critical in games in which your users didn't have to pay you for the product
initially. So called “freemium” games, whose business model is almost synony-
mous with social gaming, return money only to the degree that they keep pass-
ing users through their funnel and keep them coming back.
Finally, we want to draw a distinction between games that create their own
social ecosystem within the game and those that leverage external social networks
to achieve their ends. As we'll discuss, there are many types of social networks,
from those that explicitly identify as such to far looser collections of communica-
tion features that simply help bring gamers together. Some games can create their
own external social networks as forums or through other types of community
building, though—for the most part—the most successful products in this space
leverage the power of existing social networks to drive user throughput.
So, armed with a definition that can at least serve as a field guide to identi-
fying the types of games we're most interested in talking about, let's move on
to an investigation of the history of social gaming.
2.2 BBS Games and MUDs
A few early examples of social games can be found by digging through the
histories of early BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems). These were protowebsites,
effectively text- or ASCII graphics-based social networks hosted on individual
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