Insomniac's blueprint for social games

Insomniac's blueprint for social games

By Brian Hastings

March 14th 2011 at 11:30AM

Studio outlines its development ethos for Facebook titles

[Triple-A studio Insomniac has become the latest to join the social games race.

But the developer of Resistance and Ratchet & Clank has pledged to bring depth and expertise to a platform it says is filled with shallow offerings.

Below, studio chief creative officer Brian Hastings outlines five rules that underpin how the developer will create social games with a difference.]

1

"Social interaction must be mutually enjoyable. Imagine you had a friend who left five voice mails on your phone each day asking you to join his time share in Alaska. This would seem like pretty anti-social behaviour, even downright pathological. But in the current social gaming landscape this is often the norm.

"Many games outright require you to ask for gifts from friends to complete even the most basic goals and tasks. And the underlying problem is that neither the asking or the responding is inherently fun.

"If you’ve played these games you’ve seen the popup windows where you send a 'request' to any or all of your friends so that they send you a peppermint stick to help build your gingerbread house. But clicking that window isn’t fun. And being the recipient of the request isn’t really fun either.

"If the gifts were rare and unique it would be fine – just like getting a gift in real life. But when the giving and asking for gifts becomes the central gameplay experience it is no longer fun for either party. We promise to create social interactions that are fun for both players."

2

"Game tuning must benefit the player experience. It’s no secret that social games are actively tuned to what are commonly known as 'The Three Rs'. These are Reach (the number of people playing the game), Retention (the number of people who come back), and Revenue (money earned per day.)

"It’s standard procedure right now to carefully test every decision to see which one increases one of these three factors. This often results in things like 'hiding' the button that chooses not to spam all your friends.

"Or making the default payment transaction be the highest possible amount so if you’re not paying attention to the radio buttons you’ll end up forking over 100 dollars in a single click. Or displaying a series of five pop-up promotion windows each time a player starts the game.

"Each of these things must have had a positive effect on one of the Three R’s, but each one also detracts at least a little bit from the overall player experience. In console development, since the revenue is mostly paid up front, developers are free to focus solely on player experience.

"Maybe this is idealism talking, but I think it’s possible to create social games that focus on improving the player experience first and foremost and that the Reach, Retention and Revenue will naturally go up when people are enjoying the game itself."

3

"Gameplay Depth. We want to create worlds to explore, challenges to master and a continuing story to discover. We promise to deliver the richness of gameplay content that you would expect from a console game, but freely playable online."
 

4

"Easy to Learn, Hard to Master. We promise to make a game that anyone can learn and play within a few minutes, but that takes months or years of practice in order to become one of the top players in the world."
 

5

"Make It Fun First. Our strategy is to first create core game mechanics that are fun to play independent of any social framework. We then integrate the social aspects of the game in ways that people naturally enjoy playing together."