GDC Europe: Social gaming specialist on why 'smart depth' will make your studio a Facebook giant

Wooga’s five rules for game loop success

Wooga’s Henric Suuronen has used his GDC Europe session to establish five ‘golden rules’ that he insists will help studios succeed in the social gaming space.

Suuronen’s talk, titled ‘Killer Game Loops in Social Games’, looked at crafting and refining the kind of compulsion loops that have made games by the likes of Zynga and Playdom hugely successful.

The loops Suuronen refers to are the intensely repeated actions, usually to earn soft currency, that define titles like Tiny Tower and the increasingly popular games that have seen Wooga emerge as one of most successful Facebook studios in recent months.

The secret to perfecting a compelling, monetising game loop, says Suuronen, is to add ‘smart depth’, which he defines as: "an extra layer that you put on top of the game loop; not next to it or beside it but on top of it. Smart depth adds the gameplay and strategy to the core loop".

Smart depth, Suuronen argued, is the reason titles like Millionaire City and Cafe World are so popular and profitable.

The Wooga studio head’s ‘five rules of smart depth design’ are as follows:

• Add smart depth as a new layer on your core game loop; not as a new loop. Studios need to add gameplay to their game loops; not complicate matters.

• Novice players should not need to concern themselves with the smart depth elements to play the game at first. It should only be needed when they stumble upon it of their own accord.

• Smart depth should not introduce gameplay that requires hand-eye coordination, as that will ostracise many players. Instead smart depth gameplay should focus on introducing strategy and variable solutions.

• Smart depth elements should be easy to discover and learn by accident, and should make the player feel clever for having discovered them.

• Having understood a game’s smart depth and solved a problem, there should be alternative solutions players can discover in the same system.

"Making game loops work like this can make the success Wooga has enjoyed possible," claimed Suuronen.

He also recommended that social game developers playtest in both paper and Lego, stating: "Lego is amazing for game design. Every game team in the socail gaming space should have a Lego set. I helps you think in grids."

Highlighting FishVille as good but too simplistic, Suuronen also affirmed his belief that a high quality core loop should consist of four-to-six stages and no more. He also encouraged developers to base their social games on familiar, real world activities, and stated several times that upon closing a loop by ending a play session, users should only return to rewards and expected ‘punishments’, and not to surprises.

Suuronen also made a friendly jibe at other social game companies who have struggled to retain players with their compulsion loops.

"They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going," he offered. "When the going got tough on Facebook and retention started to become a challenge, the tough didn’t get going; they started crying. Wooga didn’t."

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