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How Social Point designs its games for high retention

By on May 26, 2014
dragon city
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Deputy Editor Zoya Street recently spoke with Horacio Martos, CEO of Spanish developer Social Point, about how they design games for high retention.

It’s always been said that things change fast in mobile games, and Horacio Martos is determined to keep Social Point ahead of the curve. “Two years ago, free to play was not well implemented on mobile. In 2013, everybody learned how to do it,” he explains. “The first ones to understand the model are the ones who are top grossing today.”

There’s a common misconception that free-to-play is about pushing people down a monetisation funnel and discarding those who aren’t spending. Martos sees it differently, saying that monetisation is not the primary focus of successful game design. “When we build a game, the most important thing is to focus on retention.”

Social Point’s most successful games, Dragon City and Monster Legends, achieve this by combining farming and crafting with PvP battles. “Crafting, building etc. help with retention, but for a long-life product, it’s that drive to be the best, the thirst for competition, that allows you to have games that players will engage with for years.”

Martos’s work seems to build significantly on existing successful games already in the market, analysing their structure and reproducing it, optimised for high retention. “The core loop of Dragon City is breeding and achieving new magical dragons”, observes Martos. “There are rares, and legendaries, and end game is to get all the legendaries.”

Their next game, League of Warriors, is currently in beta. Heavily borrowing from Clash of Clans, it’s their next attempt at building a game for a “mid-core audience”, which Martos defines as “a certain kind of audience that is looking for a complex, sophisticated experience with lots of adrenaline.” They’ve put significant work into refining the control scheme on mobile so that the game’s RTS-style play is satisfying for users. “The worst thing in an RTS is feeling like you don’t control the game, the game controls you”.

Approaching a mid-core audience would seem to be about creating games with an end-game that’s focused on competition, the motivator that he credits as the most important factor in long-life retention games. While Dragon City‘s end-game is about getting all the legendaries, League of Warriors‘s end-game is about being the best.

For Martos, motivating players to come back back day after day is a precursor to getting them to spend money. “The best thing that you can do is offer a really good game for free, have people excitedly engaging every day, and then the monetisation comes. When someone wants to have something exclusive, or a competitive advantage, that’s when the monetisation comes.”

Social Points games could probably be described as clones: they are heavily based on top grossing games already in the app store. Surprisingly, that makes them good examples to look at when trying to understand how retention games function; they themselves are built based on an analysis of the business model of the top ranking competition.

About Zoya Street

I’m responsible for all written content on the site. As a freelance journalist and historian, I write widely on how game design and development have changed in the past, how they will change in the future, and how that relates to society and culture as a whole. I’m working on a crowdfunded book about the Dreamcast, in which I treat three of the game-worlds it hosted as historical places. I also write at Pocketgamer.biz and The Borderhouse.
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