In order to succeed, Facebook games must suck their players in. You can use the top viral advertising and top quality 2D art to get people to sign up, but if they don’t return then they won’t invest money. Games must be compulsive, making players return over and over and pumping in their money to obtain success.
As with the long established MMO genre, a progression arc is essential. If players are to return you must provide some motivation. New items, levels, quests and means of generating income are essential to establishing a strong repeat player base.
Facebook games usually use a very short arc, especially early on. Unlike MMOs such as WoW, players will only play for a short duration at a time. If a player feels as though they are earning little and making no progress, why would they return? That is why many of the strongest Facebook games will have you levelling up or unlocking something new every few logins.
The rewards of progression must be clearly indicated and advertised to the player. Providing a full list of items with those yet to be unlocked will show the user what they can get from coming back. If they are close to the next level and there’s something they like, you can guarantee that they will return.
Another means to promote future content is through friends. Some games, such as the highly successful CityVille, let you visit your friends game area (eg their city) and interact. You can see how stunning their city is and through human nature, want to better it. As a result you aim to reach a higher level than them and have more impressive items/buildings.
The default friend also provides incentive to keep working up that progression arc. Care is taken to ensure that not only does the default friend include some of the best items but everything is diverse and utilises the cash only items. Real friends are likely to re-use the same building/item types, such as the ones yield the best rewards available.
Friends also provide another form of coercing you to return. Receiving requests poses a question of social etiquette. I don’t want to play, but should I accept this request? If you receive a gift it provides a small incentive to play.
Not only does this bring inactive players back in, but active players who have closed down the game may find themselves responding to gifts and playing again. They move closer to the next level in progression arc, and find themselves playing more and more. Send a gift back, you get another in response and soon you can find yourself logging in regularly just through people’s gifts.
So I’ve described a variety of ways that progression and friends can suck players in, but that wouldn’t really explain why many people, myself included, keep returning even when they claim they don’t care!
The more successful Facebook games have a timer before you can claim rewards, earn cash or experience from buildings. By using say a 24 hour timer before your new goods are available to harvest, chances are that in 24 hours a player will return. If the goods deteriorate and expire, then players will want to come back to collect their rewards in good time. Naturally they’ll set up a new batch, which means they’ll want to log back in to claim those.
It becomes a bit of a vicious cycle. Knowing that the timers are set to run out and the in game cash and “effort” put in will be wasted will play on people. You want to log back in, it can play on your mind. Players can become annoyed with themselves for wasting their time but it feels wrong, wasteful, to to leave your goods and let them expire.
Another similar means is energy, which is commonly used in many Facebook games. This has to be well structured and timed to ensure a decent play session is possible and that players can return, but small enough to justify charging for extra. If players don’t *quite* get everything that they hoped within one session due to energy, they will come back. It also ensures that players can’t play for solid long sessions and potentially bored. Provide the player with enough to want to play, but make sure they are left wanting a bit more.
You decide to have one quick game to harvest your crops (or whatever the daily cycle is) and respond to gifts and requests, but perhaps you don’t have enough energy or you need more of X resources so you come back an hour later. Shortly after more request come your way and you log back in. That gets you to the next level, so you want to build that new business. Soon playing becomes compulsive and you are hooked.