What Makes a Social Game a Social Game?

Wed, Jul 14, 2010

Facebook, Social

According to Social Times, a social game “needs to have a number of elements that encourage player engagement amongst friends.” along with “needing to be able to interact with their real world friends in many ways: they want to compete, cooperate, show off to and taunt friends.” Along with this, they have a list to showcase seven essential features that should be in every social game.

1. Real Friends List – Having a list of all your friends from a chosen social network is vital to make sure you are having a real “social” experience in the game. Inviting friends or looking at a leaderboard should always show my close friends on the network. Instead of random people to play with, the game should allow me to play with my real life friends above all else. Games that utilize Facebook’s application system or Facebook Connect are the best examples of this feature.

2. Gifting – Social games are especially unique due to the options they allow for things like gifting, in which players can buy or send gifts to friends. Social Times refers to it as “Whether it is alerting friends’ to stray animals in Farmville, handing a drink across the table in Mafia Wars or buying someone a new couch in Pet Society, gifting is one of the most popular activities available.” Facebook’s initial framework was built upon gifting, so it’s no surprise to see it be extremely prominent these days.

3. Leaderboards – Leaderboards have become an essential part of any social game, that is allowing you to compare yourself to your friends at any point in time. In FarmVille for instance, at the bottom of the screen it shows all of your friends and their rank in the game. This could, for some, allow for some friendly competition with them in order to attain a higher rank than them all.

4. Challenges – Social Times describes it as being an essential part of an early social game called Jetman in 2008: “The game itself was one of the simplest I’d ever played, and gameplay consisted of holding down a button to turn on Jetman’s jets and allow him to hover through a cave.  The great thing was, at the end of every game, I was asked whether I wanted to use this score to challenge a friend.  So within one click, I was having a head to head competition with my cousin halfway across the world, and the rivalry got heated.”

5. Messaging – Sending simple messages in games is not a new concept, but must be implemented in a special way as to not interfere with the messaging systems already in place on the social network. Pet Society allows users to send small text notes to friends and receive them at your door. Most of the messaging solutions will be handled by the social network, however.

6. Teams - Social Times best explains teams in Mafia Wars: “Games like Mafia Wars rely strongly on the ideas of “mafias”, which are groups of players that help each other complete missions to gain experience and gold.  The teamwork in the game is still minimal, and just having someone in your mafia means that they will automatically join you when you need it, but that dynamic may change as the ‘mafia’ type games evolve.”

7. Customization - Many users absolutely adore being able to change the way they look and the way their surroundings look. I even know of a few users who only grow and expand their Farm in FarmVille because of the decorations they can purchase with the money from the crops. Without customization, most social games would likely be dull and boring cookie cutter versions.

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- who has written 807 posts on Frisky Mongoose.

Talor is a Contributing Editor at Frisky Mongoose focusing on the mobile side of the social gaming world.

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  • ptdnet

    Most of these are completely superficial. When will I get to actually play on my friend's farm or vice-versa? When will my “mafia” actually participate as a team in an activity?

    These are truly social activities.