Best Practices for Building Social Experiences
Last week, we discussed the importance of intentionally building social experiences in VR. This week, we are expanding our focus to the importance of social networks in all types of gaming applications and highlighting the best practices that we have seen.
Why should games be social?: It is widely accepted that social networks enable individuals to stay connected with family and friends on a regular basis regardless of real world day to day overlap or proximity by location. They also allow people to connect with strangers who share the same interests in order to facilitate developing new relationships. However, traditional social networks are seeing user experiences with their social products becoming more passive vs active.
While Facebook feeds used to be a very popular and easy way to post life updates and comment on those of your friends and family, it has slowly become a low interaction activity - with most users using Facebook to stay up to date on the news, buy and sell items, or live stream (Hootsuite). Instagram and TikTok are even worse when it comes to stimulating meaningful social interaction. Both are largely dominated by brands and influencers causing a traditional user to be largely limited to an “outside looking in” role. Actively connecting with friends, family, and strangers on these platforms now takes a significantly larger amount of intention and effort than when social networks were first brought to market.
In our opinion, the reason behind the stagnating growth of using social features on these popular networks is either 1) that social interaction is the primary reason that people are on these platforms and this interactive behavior has been decentivized (Instagram, Tik Tok) or 2) social is siloed from the rest of the product suite (Facebook). In both cases, social seems like a secondary priority in lieu of higher engagement actions that either result in longer session times or the sale of a product/service.
The ways we connect and stay connected to others needs to evolve and become an active part of the experience.
Best Practices of Social Integration: We won’t spend too much time covering the basics - in-game chat, integration with social media (Facebook, Google, Twitter), activity feeds, leaderboards, co-op gameplay, and PvP - as almost all games and platforms that are multiplayer have these. Rather, we will take a closer look at companies that have succeeded in integrating social features across 3 buckets - gaming-focused social platforms, game x platform hybrids, and games - and highlight the features that set them apart.
These are the closest to traditional social platforms as the primary reason gamers use these platforms is for social interaction.
Twitch: Twitch is unique because of the relationship it facilitates between creators and consumers, and consumer-to-consumer. While watching another person do an activity (gaming, cooking, etc) would traditionally be a very passive solo activity, Twitch has created spaces where people can directly interact with one another around a shared, niche interest, which is more constructive to conversation. Twitch also allows for consumers to have more direct, real-time engagement with streamers. To amplify the content creator relationship with consumers, Twitch also has a strong offline community; they attend most of the major gaming events around the world and host Twitch Circles (facilitated conversations between streamers), Town Halls (where users can see what’s up and coming with the product and chat with the team), and community parties.
Discord: Discord separates itself from other traditional chat platforms with its diverse, advanced feature set. Instead of a chat room, Discord servers are actually closer to full-fledged online communities through features such as channels, real-time video/audio conversations, custom roles to distinguish users, extensive personalization (banners, emojis), enabled voting/governance, moderation, a library of embedded bots, and live-streaming. They’ve built community infrastructure that is far more customizable than a listserv or group chat.
Similar to Twitch, on Discord there is a much more intimate relationship between creators and consumers and person-to-person interactions are much more direct and intentional. Discord has shown that they are focused on providing a high quality, low latency feature set and seamless, tight integration with gameplay and streaming.
Instant Games (Jackbox, Among Us): Where these games shine the brightest is in lowering the barriers for anyone, regardless of their experience with games, to jump right into playing with their friends. This is done through an intuitive onboarding and tutorial process, fast account creation through social media or permitting guest access, an easy invite process, easy accessibility via web browsers, and integration with video chatting and streaming platforms.
Optional co-operative assistance (Animal Crossing, Clash of Clans): For many games, co-operative multiplayer is an optional feature. Players are incentivized to interact with one another through mutual assistance - through features such as guilds. While this is optional, continuous multiplayer interaction drastically increases the quality of gameplay. For example, in Animal Crossing, if you visit the islands of other players, you can gather fruits not found on your island (which sell for much more) or sell Turnips to their non-playing characters (whose purchase price varies from day to day, from island to island). In Clash of Clans joining a guild unlocks a whole new gameplay path and set of achievements, you’re also able to receive free, upgraded troops from your guild mates.
Game x Platform Hybrids:
Rec Room: Rec Room initially started off more as a social platform. The gameplay was limited to very simple, instant games that were easy to pick up and play. Games then were a way to enhance the social experience and give users something to do together in these virtual spaces. As the platform matured, it has now more heavily focused on user-generated content, which was enabled by the strong and active user base.
Roblox: While an entire newsletter could be spent deconstructing the growth of the Roblox platform, for the purpose of this newsletter we want to highlight that Roblox has both direct and indirect network effects.
“Direct network effects occur when the value of a product, service, or platform increases simply because the number of users increases, causing the network itself to grow” (Harvard Business Review). Roblox established itself as the place for kids to interact with their friends when they’re not together. As more kids join the platform, more of their friends want to join.
Roblox enabled indirect network effects by activating this player base to become creators. “Indirect network effects … occur when a platform or service depends on two or more user groups, such as producers and consumers, buyers and sellers, or users and developers. As more people from one group join the platform, the other group receives a greater value amount” (Harvard Business Review). These creators produce content, which in turn grows the audience, which then attracts more content creators.
Takeaway: As the ways humans seek social interaction matures, game applications have to push beyond providing basic multiplayer features. Social needs to be a fully embedded and active component of the product and directly enhance the user experience.