Social Media Circus: Harnessing Social Influence for Games

Which social ploys do you employ in trying to generate discovery for your game? Here are a few of the usual suspects:

The Persistent Pesky Pop-Up
“Hey, you just set a high score! Want to share it? Oh, you’ve leveled up, that’s awesome; you ought to post about that! Did you know this game is more fun with friends? You might think about mentioning that to some friends you can have fun with! Oh, no way, you just harvested your 37th crop, hey you know what would be great is if you posted about that!!

The Bald-faced Bribe & Blackmail
“Say, you’ve gathered enough experience to reach level two! Now all you need to do is get five friends to click on this for you. You do want to get to level two, don’t you? Oh, and look at how nicely you’ve set up your mafia empire – it would be a shame if it were to burn to the ground while you’re offline. Maybe some friends of yours will keep an eye on it for you by clicking on this post you’re definitely about to make, eh?”

The Gut-punch Guilt-trip
“Thanks for playing this game of ours. This free game we provided to you, for no cost, out of the kindness of our hearts, which you’ve been playing for 5 hours now for free. We know you care about indie development and small studios – like us! – and you want to do your part to keep us afloat. Surely you can take a moment to write us a 5-star App Store review, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook, can’t you? After all, we live or die by your support alone, and if you like this game, and don’t want its creators to starve, alone, in the street, you could mention us to a friend… that’s not so much to ask…”

Nearly every social game is guilty of one or more of these “Please, please, share us with your friends” tactics, and it’s not restricted to Facebook. Show us an iOS game that doesn’t continually ask you for an App Store review, and we’ll show you a development team that forgot something. While you’re at it, ask us if it’s coincidental that every Steam Holiday Sale includes “write a recommendation” as one of its prize-worthy achievements.

Don’t think too poorly of the developers and publishers, though, for trying their hardest to leverage your social network. The personal recommendation still carries more weight than the advertisement for most of us, and as discovery becomes an ever-harder proposition in the crowded marketplace, it’s not just enough to get a few of your friends to talk to you; publishers need all of your friends to talk to you.

As social media continues to supplant traditional media in our attention spans, so too must our mass-media strategies adapt and evolve. In a world where the Internet has given a voice and platform to every single person you know, friends and family have now become analogous to the different channels on your television. Your daily Facebook crawl has taken the place of grabbing the remote and surfing to see what’s on. Furthermore, while we’d never admit this to our friends’ faces, let’s face it… there are channels we like and trust, and channels we almost always just flip past.

Much in the same way that we favor the opinions of certain news outlets, we categorize our friends and their “channels” for trustworthiness and taste. The decisions we apply to television (Bah, those hacks on channel 51 are so biased, and the guys on channel 28 just show fluff pieces. Oh, an interview on channel 12? This I’ve got to see!) have now migrated to social media (Ugh, Jesse posts a message every time he clicks a cow; I’ve just begun to tune him out. Wow, Kate usually hates all social games and works as a developer; if she posts about a game it must be amazing!).

Better Learning through Social Games

This carpet-bombing of coercion is the new version of a broad ad campaign across several TV networks, in an effort to secure as much attention as possible. It’s no longer enough just to get the casual posters to share a link to a game; it’s important to get a wide cross-section of evangelists who can capture an equally wide audience with their recommendations. There are thousands upon thousands of games out there, all hoping to turn into the next FarmVille, and they can’t do it with an audience that isn’t growing.

Until there is a scientific way to codify who the key influencers are in your social sphere, via Klout or otherwise, developers have to assume that every one of us could be the most trusted name in gaming to our friends and relatives – the Leonard Maltins and Roger Eberts of our own private circles, whose opinions drive the purchasing/playing decisions of the world. You are a media empire unto yourself, so you’d better get used to being schmoozed.

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