Social game developers around the world ponder about the same questions: Firstly, how to develop a game that will attract the masses? And secondly, how to achieve optimal monetization?
One aspect to consider is the genre of the game. There is a hierarchy of which types of games can be monetized best in terms of average revenue per user (ARPU). It is hardly surprising that at the top of the list we find gambling. Social RPGs come second, closely followed by recourse management games and simulations. Caretaking games and minigames generate the lowest ARPU. This hierarchy on its own, however, does not yet tell us how to construct a successful social game. To illustrate this point, caretaking games are not designed to have a high ARPU but monetize well nonetheless due to their long product life cycle.
Different types of games have different approaches as to how the game can be monetized best. At this months Casual Connect in Hamburg, Rex Ng from 6waves presented what he calls „The Seven Sins of Social Games“ that reflect the different ways in which social games get users to play and pay. His classification sheds light on why social games are so successful: they appeal to basic human impulses:
The human desire to show off can be very useful. In the context of social games it is particularly interesting because a lot of games allow your friends to see your belongings, accomplishments or current aquisitions.
Just like your friends see your belongings, you see theirs. Envy can drive the user to achieve the same status by earning more credits or buying them. A very interesting way in which envy can be employed is by allowing you to steal friends´ possessions such as stealing your neigbours’ crops on Farmville.
The desire to consume ever more is very interesing for monetization, especially for item selling. One attractive option is to release new items frequently in order to devaluate the already aquired items and to create a fresh desire for new ones.
Users crave for instant gratification. Gameplay must be designed in a way to make this possible. The average social gaming session is just a couple of minutes. If a user can achieve gratification quickly it is more fun to play and retention rates will be increased as a result.
Players want to compete with other players. Or even fight them. Unless you are targeting women, who typically prefer collaborative games, it is it makes a lot sense to encourage and incite wrath in a social game. If groups cluster and mobilize against each other both need to stock up to win. Zynga’s Mafia Wars demonstrates this impressively.
Users playing social games desire virtual wealth. They will fight for it, work for it or buy it – but only if the game allows them to. Frequent update and expansion possibilities are a good way of triggering gamers´ greed.
The desire to avoid spending time and effort on something works in the same way as the previously mentioned sins. Sloth cannot be used directly for monetization, but it can help to bind users and to increase the product life cycle. A great example is the cleaning fish feature in aquarium games: if you cannot be bothered to clean your aquarium daily, in some games you can get a cleaning fish to do it for you.
A successful social game will always be build on some of these aspects. Social games are very different from other games – they are based on human interaction. Hence, it is crucial for every developer to understand what drives the social user to play – and to spend money.