Social Game Design Book Review

For game designers and developers, monetization is a red hot topic. The traditional methods of making money from your game have been advertising, subscriptions and whatever works, but the results have always been a bit hit and miss. The classic quote about advertising is that 50% of it works, we just don’t know which 50%.

Along came Zynga in 2007 and claimed the monetization crown in just 1,000 days. You can see how clever they have been in Notes from Zynga on Monetizing Your Web Game which covers some of the ground as this book does, but purely from Zynga’s perspective.

This is as far as I know currently the only book on the subject of monetization methods and mechanics. It’s “Social Game Design, Monetization Methods and Mechanics” by Tim Fields and Brandson Cotton, both experienced developers in the games industry.

Target Audience

This is not a book for anyone who wants to learn how to program social games. It doesn’t even have a line of code. It’s about monetizaton and how to incorporate it into your games. So the target audiences are developers looking to monetize their games, executives who want a clear insight into the money making state of social gaming at the start of 2012, and anyone in between. Given that virtual goods were worth $7.4 billion in 2010, it’s a big reason to get interested!

At 220 pages, this is not a long book but it covers the whole gamut: interviews with industry luminaries like Richard Garriot (aka Lord British), Jason Decker (First Mobile MMO), Janus Anderson (Creative Director at Zynga), and a history of games from the BBS (Bulletin Board Systems), MUDs and MMOs. There’s an excellent chapter on metrics and the industry measurements (MAU, DAU, PCU, ARPU etc) and a case study about Ravenwood Fair and a fair bit of data provided by its developers LolApps.

Of particular interest are the discussions about attracting and retaining players, and of course chapter eight on monetization strategies including why you should avoid giving players real money and which game genres best suit the various monetization methods. There’s also a chapter on virtual goods and another on game currencies and why dual currencies in a game are better than single.

Conclusion

If you’ve been playing or following the social game scene for the last couple of years then you probably know much of what’s in this book. On the other hand if you’re designing a game for the first time and want to make sure you do all the right things with regard to monetization, then it’s a must have. Regard it as your bible!

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