Exploring Playful Experiences In Social Games

The key elements of Facebook games are Challenge, Completion and Competition #social #casual

In spite of the popularity of social games on platforms like Facebook, not a lot of quantitative research has been done on the kinds of play experiences that they specifically offer to players compared to other genres. This study, conducted by University of Tampere alumni, seeks to answer that by placing those experiences into solid, pre-established categories, and finding out which ones reign supreme.

In this study, the organizers leveraged the Playful Experiences or PLEX framework to identify playful elements that might be found in a host of games, and asked 110 participants to analyze 23 social games to find out which categories were most represented in popular social games. Of the 22 game elements contained within the PLEX framework, three elements stood out in the users’ responses: Competition (being able to compete with your friends to show who is the best, or with yourself for high scores), Challenge (having a game that adequately matches your skill level) and Completion (doing everything you can within the space of the game).

For the purposes of this study, three specific and popular genres of social games were singled out, narrowing the 23 games analyzed to 12: Casual Puzzle (such as Candy Crush Saga), Casual Simulation (Sims Social), and Mid-Core Strategy (Gangs of Boomtown). These all offered distinct experiences, as reported by the test audience. The element of challenge was surprisingly prevalent in the Casual Puzzle genre, as players reveled in finding ways around difficult puzzles without having to pay for power-ups – perhaps this is why some participants also reported Suffering as a key element. Discovery, Exploration, Completionism and Nurturing were found especially viable in the Casual Simulation genre, which is no surprise considering the number of popular farming-themed games like Farmville. Meanwhile, the Mid-Core Strategy genre emphasizes the Three Cs: Control, Completion and Competition.

These findings help us see how some social game genres function: Social games at their core emphasize competition with one’s friends, and those with a completionist bent will want to stick around to do all they possibly can within the space of the game. The fact that Challenge was a highly rated category was somewhat surprising, as difficulty has been previously considered a negative factor in social game analysis. Further still, the results also show that some categories could be better explored in social games, like Humor, Discovery and Captivation, to further engage audiences. It seems that there is still fertile ground to tap into for a full range of game experiences in social games.

Authors: Janne Paavilainen, Elina Koskinen, Hannu Korhonen & Kati Alha
Published in: Proceedings of DiGRA 2015: Diversity of play: Games – Cultures – Identities.
Original article: http://www.digra.org/digital-library/publications/exploring-playful-experiences-in-social-network-games/

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