Out of the hundreds of games released on Facebook only a few make it big, the rest just dies unnoticed. But why is that so? In this industry predictions are especially hard to make but here are 5 issues we’ve observed about social games that don’t succeed.
#1 Not being self-explanatory
Facebook users are especially attention span-challenged. Also, the majority of them aren’t gamers so they won’t ever read blogs and reviews the way core gamers would to learn everything about a new title – social games usually find their players unprepared. Any concept that isn’t accessible or can’t be explained in one sentence is probably not going to work, no matter how clever and innovative it might be. If players are required to read a significant amount of text to understand what it’s all about, chances are they will lose interest before the tutorial is over.
#2 Not understanding the platform
Facebook is the world’s largest games platform but first and foremost it’s a social network where people go to interact with their friends. As Trip Hawkins told us: Facebook has always been very casual and it’s a club where users don’t have the time to give either intention or attention to a game. They check on their game while looking at their friends’ status updates or uploading a photo in small 3-5 minute sessions spread out over a day. Many of the most successful social games offer gratification in a short time period of less than 5 minutes. Wooga’s top hit Diamond Dash and other casual games on Facebook are played in 60 second rounds. Though it might work in some cases, usually social games that are too demanding in terms of time and effort have a hard stand.
#3 Not making user engagement first priority
Engaging users with a Facebook game is a Hercules task fighting short attention spans, competition and internet users’ general indifference caused by over-stimulation.
All of the industry leading companies are obsessed with testing (pre and post launch) and would make significant changes or even kill an almost finished product if user engagement isn’t high enough or too many players drop out at certain points. Still, a lot of companies throw games on the platform that drive users away with too many features or confusing and cluttered UIs. One example would be CivWorld, the social iteration of Sid Meier’s Civilization series. Despite having a great and proven concept that can work on Facebook, CivWorld failed miserably in engaging and retaining its users.
#4 Being too greedy
Social games are meant to be free-to-play; enforcing paid items early hurts their momentum. The vast majority of users don’t like to pay for virtual goods. It’s certainly tempting to condition players to use premium currency early so they don’t become too comfortable with playing for free, but it’s counterproductive given the plenty of free games users could easily move on too. Engaged non-payers can be equally important as paying users to reach critical mass and create viral effects. Making them feel unwelcome doesn’t make sense.
#5 Not being social
Even Zynga’s CCO thinks that social games aren’t truly social yet. Many social games could be considered single player or parallel play where social interaction is limited by asynchronous gameplay and mostly restricted to Facebook friends. This concept worked in the past and boosted viral growth when FarmVille enthusiasts would encourage their peers to join, but a lot of users find intimidating. For newcomers that can’t build and cross-promote on an existing audience it can be dangerous.
Some of the upcoming social games by smaller developers (e.g. FARKLE or Pool Live Tour among others) combine synchronous and asynchronous gameplay and enable real-time multiplayer gaming against users from all over the world without having to befriend them – even though new friendships are often the result.