Smart-Depth: Adding More ‘Game’ to Social Games

[Editor's note: Veteran social gaming product leader Henric Suuronen shares his thoughts, below, on how to add appealing, in-depth gaming features to social games.]

Social games are often criticized for lacking “real” gameplay mechanics or even missing a game entirely. In some cases this criticism is warranted but more complex games with more advanced game loops rarely have success on Facebook. So can’t social games on Facebook have more game to them?

I believe they can and they should.

If done correctly, including more depth to a game in a smart way can have great effects on retention. The key is to add “Smart-Depth” game features with a few important things in mind:

a. Novice or beginner players should not need to consciously think about the feature until they figure it out or realize it on their own accord.

b. It should not require dexterity or hand-eye-coordination. Strategic thinking with variable solutions and outcomes is best. Compare Tower Bloxx, which requires users to time clicks in rapid progression to score higher, to a game like Angry Birds which has strategic elements but requires less coordination.

c. It should add a new “layer” on the existing game loop not create a separate one.

d. Players should be able to do it on a basic level almost by accident and feel smart for completing or solving the problem.

e. After doing it once and gaining the rewards players will carry on trying to find an even better solution. It is here the greatest retention effects are achieved.

These may sound difficult but are not as complex to implement as you might expect. Take Millionaire City for example; there players will have great fun simply buying houses, decorations and placing them arbitrarily on the map. However soon they will notice, sometimes by accident, that placing a house or decoration strategically will give greater rewards. This gives the player a feeling they are smart which is a strong emotional driver. In addition, the logic of having bonuses based on layout creates several different puzzle games inside the main game loop:

  • How to place decorations strategically to have the highest possible house bonus
  • How to optimize money generation in limited space
  • How to use as little road space as possible

Other examples can be seen in wooga’s Monster World where players get bonus experience and coins from selling crops to Robert the Robot instead of the general market. Zynga’s Bonus Bar adds a light “clicking optimization” game in CityVille and FrontierVille. CityVille also included the area bonus from decorations concept from Millionaire City. While Zynga’s Bonus Bar actually adds a pseudo arcade layer (requiring dexterity) to the game loop I believe the best is strategic, optimization, logic or puzzle type features. These will fit all user segments and have nearly endless variations.

When designing games with broad market appeal on Facebook it is important not to be too light in gameplay or to be too complex. Using the theory of adding smart-depth gameplay you can achieve this goal and get amazing results.

Henric Suuronen is the Head of Studio at Wooga, and previously helped create Millionaire City, MMA Pro Fighter and Tower Bloxx for Digital Chocolate.

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13 Responses to “Smart-Depth: Adding More ‘Game’ to Social Games”

  1. fair says:

    Correction from a good source: Henric did not create any of those games that you mention. He was involved in some aspects only.

  2. Eric Eldon says:


    He was director of product at the Barcelona DC studio that developed those games. To reflect the fact that he did not single-handedly create all aspects of each of the games (which I think we all assumed), I’ve slightly edited that line. However, for you to further bolster your point, you need to provide more detail about your claim as well as your real identity.

  3. Mo says:

    Personally, I found Millionaire City to not be worth my time. I found the reward system to greatly diminish the element of freedom in building one’s city, which turned me off of the game altogether. It was the driving factor in my decision to deny it access to my profile. I haven’t played Monster World, and I refuse to play anything by Zynga.

    Nonetheless, I’m basically in agreement with what is presented here, when it fits the scope of the game. Games where personalization is a key attraction are harmed by limiting factors such as MC’s bonus system. For example, imagine in a game I have a house, and I can paint the house any color I want. But there is also an upgrade available for the house which gives me a bonus $10,000/day. This is the best upgrade in the game and you’d be a fool not to use it. However, this upgrade also makes my house blue, no matter what color I had it before, or would like it to be in the future. Why not just sell me the upgrade standalone and let me retain the freedom to paint my house any color I want it? This is a logical error I’ve seen in many games, not just Millionaire City. Pirates Ahoy comes to mind too, and I know there are other, less memorable games that shared this flaw. I’d rather not even play games like these that promote one thing and then destroy their own gameplay mechanics in this manner.

  4. renata says:

    Hello I do not know where to go for the game world is a monster, maybe you can help. playing this game a long time, but recently, the robot does not have any work carried out and the game gets interesting. why other players are tasks performed by the robot and even a few for me and my friends do not give them. play games to lose meaning. please Hero.

  5. DChoccer says:

    Having worked for DChoc for many years I can confirm that Tower Bloxx existed way before mr. Suuronen even joined the company. The Barcelona studio created a version of TB for Facebook, but this was after many versions of the game had already been created by others, including a XBLA and iPhone version of the game. Credit where credit is due, please.

  6. correction says:

    Henric was related to Millionaire City, MMA Pro Fighter, BUT had nothing to do with Tower Bloxx.

  7. designer says:

    I came to this article expecting to get an in-depth look of gameplay in social games but what I got was a handful of bullets with very elementary design points. Fell a little short for a veteran.

  8. Eric Eldon says:

    To the Digital Chocolate folks leaving comments about attribution for the games:

    Given that we do not have access to what happens internally at your company — such as whether or not Henric was involved in some work on Tower Bloxx — we do not have a reliable way to confirm or deny what you’re saying.

    Anyway, the point of this article is some general tips, and we’re not going to spend more time arbitrating an aside. Email me if you want to discuss further: eric at insidenetwork dot com

  9. D says:

    This is a nice basic list and I appreciate the comparison between dexterity and strategy, with practical examples.

    My comment is about the part:
    “While Zynga’s Bonus Bar actually adds a pseudo arcade layer (requiring dexterity) to the game loop I believe the best is strategic, optimization, logic or puzzle type features.”

    I get the point that strategic features suits these games better, but I don’t think it necessarily excludes inventive arcadeish ideas. Zynga’s Bonus Bar feature is quite nice and adds a little minigame to the core game. And the best is that anybody can choose to ignore it if they want. So in that sense the feature fits well and it’s harmless. So I’d probably conclude the comparison in a slightely different way like instead of prefer strategic over dexterity in all cases, just make sure that the dexterity can be there, but never in an imperative way.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  10. NOEMI DETRICHE says:

    qiero q alguien me responda xq hace 5 dias no puedo publicar y no me cargan mis vecinos…asi no puedo cumplir con mis misiones xfavor quiero una respuesta…gracias

  11. NOEMI DETRICHE says:

    si visitan mi muro se daran cuenta q no miento…xfavor respondanme o q me carguen mis vecinos y pueda publicar

  12. Nance Miller says:

    Hi i need a name andv a email adress of someone that can help me with these on going problems i’m have with Monster World.PLEASE it’s starting to annoy the hell ouy of me.
    Thank you

    Nance Miller

  13. Smart-Depth: Adding More ‘Game’ to Social Games | wooga says:

    [...] article was also published at Inside Social Games [...]

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