Today’s talks:

9:00 am: The 4 Most Important Emotions for Social Games, by Nicole Lazzaro.

Her slides:

First, she gave some preliminary talks about some of her other conceptual frameworks, and talked about about social tokens (using a mango that’s a shared joke with her sister as an example). This is an inside joke, a symbol that represents a shared experience and increases its value with use. (On which note, she thinks the term “social capital” should die: the scarcity model is completely inappropriate in the social area.)

Then, she moved into the emotions:

  • Amusement – laughter

You feel closer when you’ve shared a joke with somebody. A social game example is the brown cow in FarmVille that gives chocolate milk.

  • Amici – chumminess

Make things round and cute; examples are “likes” in Facebook, pets, orphan quests (including FarmVille lost cows). Make it easy to be friendly with one button. Also, the idea of stroking gestures on the iPhone is brilliant: you caress it every time you want to use it!

  • Amidar – admiration

(She made that word up.) Epic armor in World of Warcraft (since the whole guild works to earn it, but only one person can get it), the horse stable in FarmVille (where you can buy the frame but need friends to help you build it). Players are willing to pay for this.

  • Amiero – social bonding

(I think that one’s made up, too, but I’m not completely sure.) It follows naturally from the other three, but can be crafted directly. Make sure your mechanics link together, to create reciprocity. (E.g. items you find that you can’t use yourself, so they’re useless unless you give them.) Also, have players ask for help: the possibility of rejection makes acceptance that much more powerful.

In general, it seems like an interesting set of lenses to look at social games through.

10:30 am: Creating Successful Social Games: Understanding Player Behavior, by Mark Skaggs.

He’s a Zynga bigwig. If he were titling the talk today, he would have called it “developing a metric mindset”. And, indeed, it was a talk about metrics, most of which should be familiar to people who work in the web space; he went out of his way to try to talk to boxed game makers about how they could use that thinking in their development process, too. In general, try to make your expectations and desires precise, and then measure them; not only will you be more successful, but, in a nice side effect, a lot of arguments will go away, since there’s no point in getting worked up defending a position when you can just as easily run an experiment to get the answer!

You still have to think about how to interpret the metrics, of course. E.g. the early Mafia Wars tutorial led to a steep player dropoffs; they tried removing some steps, and the good news was that 25% more people made it through the tutorial, but the bad news is that the players who made it confused were pretty confused.

Also, he talked about fun. No, you can’t measure fun; but you can measure what people do, and try to correlate that with other ideas of fun. E.g. when testing Command and Conquer in a previous job, they measured how much time players spent on gathering, building, moving, and attacking at different points in a level. They got a feel for what patterns looked like players having fun and what patterns didn’t: e.g. a bunch of building followed by a bunch of moving followed by a bunch of attacking was typically a sign of players beating their head against an unsuccessful attempt to seize a location.

After that, I had a delightful lunch with Michael Abbott, Ben Abraham, Nels Anderson, Wes Erdelack, Manveer Heir, and Kirk “the burrito fairy” Hamilton. (I hope I’m not forgetting anybody?)

1:30 pm: Crushing The Overhead: Case Study of A Microstudio Start-Up, by Randy Smith.

Seemed like good business advice if I were planning to go indie. Which I’m not, for the forseeable future, however. Nice to see him succeeding by focusing on trusting and acting trustworthy.

3:00 pm: Making a Standard (and Trying to Stick to it!): Blizzard Design Philosophies, by Rob Pardo.

My first choice was full, the book with descriptions was badly organized, and I forgot my notes on what my second and third choices were. It’s a topic I care about, but that I also got my fill of last year. Some nice Blizzard-specific ideas: “make everything overpowered” and “concentrated coolness”.

4:30 pm: Are Women the New Hardcore Gamers?, by Shanna Tellerman, Wanda Meloni, Jessica Tams, Morgan Romine, and Amy Jo Kim.

Interesting enough, but I’m not sure what to write down from the discussion.

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