Ah yes, the timed honored tradition of training rats to press a button a get some cheese. Er… wrong metaphor. Ah… the time honored tradition of tying a carrot to a stick and making that dead horse walk an extra click to get some meaningless play gold that has no utility in real life other than to provide bored office workers with something to do other than actual work…
I might have messed up that analogy too. Whatevs.
Social game applications - Facebook gaming apps and mobile gaming apps in particular - use this tactic to such an extreme degree I'm not sure the game concepts come first or the actual clicky button-y thingies.
We want them to click a button that gives them shiny coins!
Yes, but what kind of button?
A red button.
Awesome. But… why are they clicking the button?
Oh. Well, shit. Um, because they're at an airport. And, and… they run the airport! They decide what airlines are coming and what chains to have in the food court and how to run security.
OMFG! That's genius! We'll make them click a red button so they can get coins and upgrade their airport. But not enough coins to get the really good stuff. They need to buy special Frequent Flyer Coins to get the good stuff.
Yeah. It'll be sweet.
So, sarcasm aside, it obviously works. Farmville has 89 million users on Facebook and Foursquare is rounding the corner on a million smart phone users. What would be interesting is to see the real drop off points. How many of those users installed the apps and never came back but never uninstalled? How many played obsessively for a week or two or even a month and suddenly dropped it altogether? There's something missing in the formula. How do you engage a user - obsessively - for extended periods of time past even one or two months?
Because these apps are “free” and easy to obtain the user investment in the beginning is low. You need to hook them fast and the most readily available form or digital crack is fast levelling, easy badges and lots and lots of coins. You'll eventually loose your users but maybe you've made enough to build the next game. And the next and the next. It's a slash and burn strategy that is quite frankly as boring as it is addictive. Which is kind of like watching paint dry - eventually you get so bored you hit this zen like place in your head you don't even know where you are anymore. Experience The Nothingness of Click.
Funny enough, the ads for most of these games say things like 'Hey our game is different. We've got a real story. It's not just click farming!' They lie. Straight up. There's just not enough content in these games to keep your interested. There's just not enough variety in the button clicks to keep you going forever.
What's the solution? Well, I don't really know. Sorry for the anti-climax. But I think it's in the social part of the equation. Monopoly had an awesome Google Maps integrated game last year that was very popular. If they had better anticipated that popularity we might still be playing it right now. The idea of augmented reality and geo-location apps is still pretty exciting. Social play that ties in real life experience with game-like elements isn't a new concept but it's one still begging to be perfected.
Written by Ryan Nash
There seems to me to be a two kinds of mobile social users: the Mobile Gamer and the Mobile Braggart.
If you're in the tech industry, as I am, you're one of these two whether you like it or not. It's merely a matter of personal preference. You can “think different” with all your iPhone buddies, look important on your BlackBerry or even hang with the new disciples of Android and still fall into one of these two categories, although I have my opinion which users fall pretty hard into the Braggart definition.
The Mobile Gamer
A gamer is an imaginitive individual at heart with strong escapist tendencies who loves to assume alternative personnas and waste valuable time acquiring vast hordes of e-stuff (read: treasure, coins, $, dead dragons, etc). I fall squarely into this category. The Mobile Gamer is interested in the actual game mechanics, the gameplay challenges, the refining of strategies and the satisfaction of winning.
The Mobile Braggart
A Mobile Braggart wants everyone, everwhere to know exactly what they are doing, where they are doing it and who they're doing it with. It can be as simple as getting breakfast on a Sunday morning with friends after a “crazy” Saturday night hopping from hotspot to hotspot. Checkin. Tweet about how awesome this event is. Checkin somewhere else. Tweet about how awesome the late-night food is. Checkin. Post a picture of your totally amazing Sunday brunch with friends. It really is that amazing.
Written by Ryan Nash (mobile gamer and escapist artiste)
I find the brewing battle between Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown to be really exciting. At this point, I'd have to say Foursquare is going to be the winner - no surprise. They're making the right plays, signing a new deal with big brands almost every week and are cornering the market on PR. But they're missing something… It's not really fun to “play” Foursquare.
Foursquare and Gowalla fit more into the Mobile Braggart category. There's not much of a game mechaninc; they're really just vehicles for social expression (read: my life is so interesting!) so I find it hard to care. One might argue that these apps aren't intended as gaming platforms but I'd disagree. Explore your city and unlock badges… that's a blatant game mechanic - carrot-on-a-stick tactic - designed to keep users coming back. Look at the icons and the badge names, the general design even. They're definitely games desgined on a massive social scale. They're just lacking anything particularly game-like to do.
So, what am I whining about? Just this - they're not doing a lot to make due on the actual gaming promise. MyTown, on the other hand, is very much a game. In fact, they've come at it from a different angle - nailing down the gaming mechanics and now quickly adding in the social elements. Was this the right play? Well, they have over 1.5 million users; a number that neither Foursquare or Gowalla can boast. But, MyTown doesn't have the brand recognition that Foursquare or even Gowalla does so they're deficient in that area.
My bet, which shouldn't be a surprise, is that even though MyTown has garnered as many users as they have on the actual strength of their product they're going to be surpassed by Foursquare. Probably very soon. My hope is Foursquare takes a bit of their hard earned dollars and builds out more the gaming part of their universe. Maybe take a few plays from the MyTown playbook and give me a reason to actually use their application. Bragging about my interesting life isn't enough to hold my attention. But bragging about how great I am at gaming could definitely get me out of hiding.
Written by Ryan Nash
I got a bit emotional this morning. Yesterday, I forgot to feed John my virtual pet dog. He was really hungry. He's on Foo Pets. I almost spent real cash to feed him. (I discovered that I didn't have to this time - I had some foo coins I could use to get his virtual food.)
So, yes, I bonded with my virtual pet and I felt bad when I forgot to feed him. This is crazy you think? Yes, it's crazy. But it's also human nature. See, I spent some time setting up my account. I “adopted” this virtual dog. I chose him over many others. I gave him a name. I played with him for a few minutes. Threw a stick and ball. I also spent a minute giving him a bath and fed him twice. After a few minutes, I was “invested” in him. I had spent time - valuable time - and now I don't want to loose that investment.
This is why virtual goods work. You're invested the minute you engage. Once you spend time - you don't want to “loose” that investment. Standard cognitive stuff. The same trick works for auctions. Once you bid for that TV, you feel you own a part of it. You don't want to loose something you own, so you keep bidding. Yeah, sometimes it's just your time, but once you invest - you're in!
It's already clear that virtual goods and social gaming works. It's been the driving Internet business model in Asia for years. It's coming to the US in a big way in 2010.
I think the big idea for your brand is pretty clear: You have to get your brand into these models now. Just look at me. I'm 37 year old. I became invested in my virtual pet! If you want to capture the attention of anyone under 25, you have to position your brand in this experience flow.
Hey, are you snoozing again?
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