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[Gamesbriefers] How do I tell my boss he’s wrong about social?

By on February 3, 2014


My boss thinks that all you have to do to make a game social is to add leaderboards. What can I do?


andy payneAndy Payne CEO of Appynation

Sit down, make a cup of tea and compose an eloquent letter of resignation.

Teut WeidemannTeut Weidemann Online Specialist at Ubisoft

Leaderboards are in indirect way of PvP. Thats not social. Thats competition. Entirely different motivations.

And leaderboards aren’t as easy as they look. Many people think they are merely high scores. But they are more complicated than that.

Martin DarbyMartin Darby CCO of Remode

I think part of this misconception may come from the fact that to ‘a certain generation’ that perhaps don’t play games like they once did, mobile & online seems like 8-bit/arcade games from the 80’s. We’ve seen this before, e.g. when Activision first released Pitfall on mobile, and I’ve certainly come up against this in my work. What I’ve also seen is adding anything with posting scores to Facebook or having a leaderboard as some sort of corporate box ticking exercise: an easy, cheap and ‘understood’ way to tick the box at that.

harry holmwoodHarry Holmwood CEO of Marvelous AQL Europe 

I think Martin’s hit the nail on the head – but it’s not confined to a ‘certain generation’. I come across a huge number of people who feel they ought to be making a social/mobile/F2P type game but deep down don’t really want to, don’t really like these kind of games and haven’t played the games they’re looking to emulate in any depth. Thus they end up with a surface impression of what these games do, and pay lip service to things that, done well, add great value to the player and attract loyal users and revenues but, done half-heartedly, add nothing at all. This includes things like leaderboards, guilds, gifting, collection, gacha/fusion, events etc.

Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

I love this and I get the same comments too when I’m consulting with some studios. Makes me laugh as I would argue that Leaderboards are essentially antisocial

That doesn’t mean they don’t have value – as Teut says they are an aspect of competition but the segment of players who are at the top of your leaderboard is 1 and the segment who are not, is everyone else. And I admit that its unfair of me to call they antisocial as leaderboards and their intrinsic asynchronous PVP is of course socially bonding if (and only if) it creates a sense of purpose or provides a performance bar players aspire to exceed.

The trouble is casual intermittent playing styles are rarely compatible with the intense obsessive playing behaviour often needed to reach the top of these charts. Which means that players have different playing motivations. Competition has too feel achievable and relevant for it to have value. When designed well, like Autolog, leaderboards can be highly motivational to play. But as everyone has so far said social play has many definitions and paying lip service gets us nowhere. I’m looking to see what happens when you use gameplay recordings alongside leaderboards so you can see what your friend did to get that score. I wonder if that might be more social?

pecorellaAnthony Pecorella Director of production for virtual goods games at Kongregate

Ok, so we’re all in general agreement that the hypothetical “boss” is wrong and severely misunderstanding what “social” means. But the question then is “what can I do?” This is (I suspect intentionally) vague here in that we don’t know what type of game this is. We actually don’t know that the game even needs to be social to succeed. Is Candy Crush legitimately social? Outside of some friend gating, which is at best sort of a neutral social obligation/pressure, I don’t think players are really spending time competing for high scores or interacting with friends. It’s mostly about the single player game itself and the nearly endless, very difficult content (someone please correct me if you know otherwise). So step one would be to try to figure out if you think it’s necessary to be truly social. If not, then slap some leaderboards on that puppy, make your boss happy, and then turn your focus on the core gameplay that’ll make the game succeed.

If on the other hand you do determine that the game needs some legitimate positive social interaction, then it’s time to get your boss excited. Pitch him on the benefits of positive social collaboration and feedback. Show him the wonders of user generated content and active re-engagement. Weave it into the fiction of your game, take him through how he’d play it with his friends and why he’d keep coming back. Yes, leaderboards can help (though Teut’s point that they aren’t trivial, and creating leaderboards that are interesting and relevant to each player is important), but tell him that if he really wants this game to be big (the boss version of the classic guilt trip “if you really loved me”), then you need to take it to the next level, synergize, think outside the box, and give it 110%. If that doesn’t work, nothing will.

Ben Cousins1Ben Cousins Head of European Game Studios at DeNA

I think leaderboards are ‘social’ if you use the dictionary definition of the term. I just think there is an implied meaning of ‘social’ in the context of this question.

Personally I prefer to look at every game design from a case-by-case pov and try to avoid applying templates.

Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

I spend a lot of time talking about the six degrees of socialisation [see Gamesbrief post for more detail].

This is a Marlow Style model talking about the role of social interaction… but unlike Marlow I think of it as an upturned Pyramid to represent the effort required to sustain those deeper social commitments. The idea draws on Interdependence Theory to an extent (looking at how social relationships are stable only in comparison to expectations elsewhere). It needs some decent academic analysis sometime but as a rule of thumb it serves me well. From my experience the larger sections also represent the larger revenue opportunity from players who reach those degrees although whether that’s causal or coincidence I don’t have enough data.


At the bottom is the ability to see others. This provides confidence that the game is worth my time. Then we want to know that others can see me play. This can be a major trigger for IAP as it creates the possibility of social capital as well as the game value.

Next is the simple asynchronous PVP which we associate with Leaderboards but I worry about solely focusing on competition here for the reasons already stated.

I mark collaboration as the next stage because of its stabilising influence before going ‘Head To Head’ where real competition has value and often only for elite players. Smart designs which make this accessible to more people often involve roles which support other Player Reward types than just competition but I use this definition for ease of explanation.

The final stage is the Guild. Where the surviving players form social units which go beyond the game and the focus shifts from playing together to using the game as a social medium.

Thinking of socialisation as a journey like this can be a really powerful tool for design.

Mark SorrellMark Sorrell Freemium game design consultant

The success of WoW has been anecdotally attributed to what a good single-player game it is. I certainly have an intuitive, umm, understanding(?) of wanting to play alone-together. This is how children first start to play together. They’re not directly interesting, but they are happily in the same place playing their separate games.

I remember that Skyrim lost its appeal when I realised there was no-one to show my sick armour to. I didn’t really want to play with anyone, but I also didn’t want to play alone.

The Boom Beach article I juuuust wrote for this very site touches on this I guess. It shows you other players, so you get the confirmation that this good, as others are playing, but you don’t directly interact with anyone, so you still get to play alone.

It also suggests that it might be a better idea for you ‘games’ to cover all the social bases, rather than your ‘game’.

We’re not all the same, eh?

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