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Social Games Night

December 4, 2009 – Attended to the Social Games Night co-sponsored by Silicon Valley IGDA and BASES (Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students), held on Stanford Campus. There were two excellent, and very different speakers on creating social games. Dave Castelnuovo spoke about his process of becoming a game developer and creating iPhone apps; Steve Meretzky spoke about the constraints and dynamics of developing for social game platforms.

  • Steve MeretzkyVP of Game Design at Playdom
    funny, very experienced and knowledgeable game designer, now designing Social Games
  • Dave Castelnuovoof Pocket God (Game), cofounder at Bolt Interactive
    one of the first entrepeneurs to successfully lead the charge into iPhone Games, very funny

Notes from the meeting:

Dave Castelnuovo:

  • Created an app game called Pocket God where you help pygmaies get off the island, but can also do ultimate evil to them.
  • Talked about and how he got started in games — long hours working on other projects, as an employee, then as independent contractor. Really wanted to get on the iPhone bandwagon.
  • Used the idea of sprint projects, setting himself goals to create a usuable game/app within 10hrs and just get it out the door. Create a prototype. Get things done in a set amount of time. A way to focus yourself when life keeps distracting you.
  • Created app game with co-worker. Many updates, done weekly, quick turnaround, to add features to the game.
  • Early on noticed that his game was mentioned on TouchArcade – a community/reivew site. Starting interacting with the community reviewing his project. Built trust. Recommends as a place to get feedback.
  • The key is to build grassroots, build slow and steady, then go for eyeballs and ramp up.
  • His first game had 150 downloads per day, 2nd game 2 or 3, Pocket God – ramped up to millions. The key is to interact with your community.
  • Chose your category on the app store carefully. Simulation is a category where its easier to stay at the top. What categories you choose is key.
  • Apple used to take 3 days to approve and app. Now approval time is up to 3 weeks. if you posted updates frequently, it would push your app to the top. No more.

Castelnuovo was a wonderful, self-deprecating storyteller. He left me feeling that I too, could design games, given enough chutzpah and willingness to give up sleep.

Steve Meretzky:

  • Presentation on the ABCs of social games.
  • Great intro of Steve Meretzky, sounds like a great guy.. and fun.
  • Who knew Stanford had a game industry archive? Steve donated to it when he moved from MA to a much smaller house

Presentation Notes:

  • Social games are different from traditional games in that:
    • can be cooperative or competitive
    • have content that changes over time
    • have potential for negative behavior
    • they are easy to get into –> start simple and reveal depth over time.
  • Design and business of social games is intermixed — cannot have one without the other.
    • Virality and monetization.
    • Goals of virality
      • Once you start the game/install game, the designer must get you to come back to game.
      • What you want to do and what terms of service (TOS) of the platform allows (Facebook, MySpace, iPhone App Store platforms)
      • The overlap of TOS and what you want is the what you end up doing. Developers however, are constantly pushing the boundaries of the TOS, and the rules of what is allowed is constantly changing..
    • Viral tools
      • Invites
        • Negatives – they require action on part of the user, TOS have limited number of invites that can go out
        • Positives – they are persistent in the user’s inbox.
      • Wallposts
        • are bragworthy
        • high profile
        • can disappear in a user’s stream rather quickly
      • Notification channels
        • Negatives – require action on part of user (click to activate the Notification window).
        • Positives — once they are there, they are paying attention
  • New changes afoot in Facebook
    • Notifications changing (easier to see access), number of invites allowed changing, new scores/points/post? from game will be allowed.
  • New viral strategies
    • join my mob
    • beat my score
    • let’s exchange gifts
    • Wish list
    • Be my employee (playfish started this with restaurant)
  • The key to Monetization starts with engagement
  • Games have a longer form (arch), they allow you to build a presence over time.
    • Bejeweled, which has 4 mil players, is unable to monetize because it’s game arch is limited, does not allow building of engagement over time. They don’t know how to make $$ with their fan base.
  • Key monetization comes from
    • Re-engagement strategies
      • …. harvesting fields..
      • collect $ (mobster),
      • daily login rewards.
      • Taking care of employees (who are your social network friends)
      • taking care of pets.
      • Someone beat high score.
    • Monetization strategies – selling:
      • virtual goods (major $$ strategy)
      • premium virtual goods for rare items and that also have in game use
      • accessories for avatar customization,
      • buying stuff for your pet
      • content — charge for premium content
      • mini-games within a game (i.e. within sorority game)
  • Themes within social games.
    • What’s not working is what works in non-social gaming before (FPS, Fantasy, Sci-Fi)
    • Real world settings work (Mobster, Sorority, Farmville, Restaurant, etc.)
    • This is now the mass market games… based on RL
  • The future….
    • more social synchronous game time
    • personal profiles play into game more
    • your social graphs – who you interact with, how, etc.
    • cyber-expression of selves in the social world

Meretzky had a good perspective on what works in social games. He was also very clear that the rules keep changing. Excellent presentation.

Posted in games, social media.

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4 Responses

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  1. Sharon says

    Hi there fellow TC alumnus! I thought I’d pay you a visit and saw this great post.

    When I first read the title of this post, my immediate thought was that the post was regarding games focused on social issues. Now that I stand corrected, I think incorporating these concepts and ideas of social issues could work with social games as well. I particularly liked the point you made about starting simple, then moving towards great depth. Perhaps this could work with social-issues-oriented games, such that the beginning levels could be situated in scenarios occuring in the local level. As a player progresses through the game, the scenarios they find themselves in become more complex and interconnected as often it is in real life.

  2. Rani H. Gill says

    Hi Sharon,
    Thanks for the comments! This is really about using social media platforms such as Facebook to create games; and using social networks such as the iPhone community to udpate and promote your game. You are absolutely right that this can be incorporated into social games as well and your thinking is on track regarding the development of social media games. Hope this is helpful. It was a great talk and I think it was videotaped on Silicon Valley IGDA if you’re interested.

  3. Alena says

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  4. Rani H. Gill says

    Thank you for your feedback – it’s much appreciated. Will also check out your blog. cheers.

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