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Playfish’s advice for building social games: “Development really starts with launch”

By on April 8, 2010
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I’m at the State of Independence conference in York today, organised by Codeworks GameHorizon.

Here are my quick thoughts on Jeferson Valadares’ talk. He’s a Playfish designer talking about making social games.

  • Playfish focuses on Viral distribution, Engagament and Microtransactions. (I call that FARM-ing your customers: Focus on Acquisition, Retention, Monetization)
  • Distribution should be about “helping” your friends, not “playing our game”. Literally, don’t say “Come and play Farmville”, say “Help out John on his farm.”
  • Core gamers have 30 years experience of knowledge of games and their mechanics; social gamers don’t. Keep your game simple to learn.
  • Don’t mistake “simplicity” for “lack of depth”. Farmville is a deep game, but you only see that complexity when you have lots of friends and have been playing for at least a month.
  • Make games that are familiar, that consumers can instantly recognise “Oh, it’s a farm”, “Oh, it’s an aquarium”
  • Always look for opportunities to make the game *smaller* before launch: it’s important to do the design with the audience.”
  • Don’t waste time debating two game features. Launch both and A/B test.
  • Tutorials are dangerous. Gamers have no commitment to give your game and can leave easily. Give them fun INSTANTLY.
  • A typical a launch team is two programmers, two server coders, two artists. No games designers. (Note: Playfish has said that a typical team in Playfish has 15-20% of its members focused exclusively on data analysis).

Next panel is now starting: Charles Cecil (of Revolution/Broken Sword), Paul Farley of Tag and Alex Amsel (Tuna Technologies)

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • I think that's great advice. The FARM order comes from the way your users trickle through your funnel, but I certainly agree that you should have your retention strategies sorted early.

    BUT, that doesn't mean “don't launch until you have your strategies right”. You don't know what's working until it is in the wild. So get it out there, launch, see what's happening, tweak and iterate.

    But Acquisition should not be a big priority for your limited budget until you have tweaked R and M.

  • Great post, thanks for sharing these points.

    FARMing sounds great if you have:

    1. The advertising budget required to get players quickly (and / or lots of cross promotion opportunities).
    2. The data analysis tools and programmers required to make extremely fast changes in response to data.

    For indie studios I wonder if they should focus on FRAMing — make sure you've got retention first, and THEN invest in acquisition and monetization. This means you'll grow more slowly but need less up front investment, and can develop your game at a manageable pace.