Monday, March 1, 2010

The Avatar: A Powerful Feature in Social Games

The fact that a successful Facebook game (or any game for that matter) keeps players engaged and interested is an obvious one. What isn't so obvious is what exactly will keep the curious breed of Facebook gamers engaged. These players aren't your hardcore MMO-loving gamers. On the contrary, they are short on time and patience. Instead of playing a game continuously for many hours, an "engaged" user returns again and again, playing the game for only a short period each time. With so little time to devote to these "casual" games, most players want instant gratification. A successful game, therefore, is able to quickly snag a player's attention and keep them coming back for more. But what feature could possibly be compelling enough to capture the dedicated attention of this tough-to-please crowd? As Hui-Neng said, "Look within! The secret is inside you." What is more fascinating to the human being than oneself!

With the Avatar, players are given an extension of the self within the game - they can see, not just imagine, themselves as the story's main character. In addition to giving players a stronger personal connection with the game, the Avatar gives players a freedom and control over identity that isn't possible in real life. Behind the guise of an Avatar, one's appearance is no longer permanent or all-defining. Whether the Avatar is an animal, a superhero or a more realistic representation of oneself, it is yours to change and customize at will. Our research has revealed that customization and Avatars are the two most frequent requests among RPG players on Facebook. The characters and stories players build around their Avatars are integral to a positive game-playing experience.

Virtual goods, such as hair, skin color, clothes and gear, can all be used to customize one's Avatar. The more effort users spend in creating and customizing their Avatars, the more engaged they are in the game. Players gain access to cooler items as they progress in the game, which motivates them to keep playing. In addition, players seek out unique items that will differentiate their Avatars from other players'. This need for special rare items provides a huge opportunity for monetization. 62% of the users we surveyed said they would pay to customize their Avatar in an RPG game. Based on this knowledge, we've implemented Exclusive Items, or highly valuable limited-edition goods, that players can only obtain by paying real money. Just as a cool car or pair of sneakers can make a person feel special in real life, Exclusive Items give players' Avatars (and thus the players themselves) that same kind of elevated status within a game. Exclusive Items rotate in and out of the game, and a specific item may not be available for purchase more than once. This gives players the opportunity to acquire items that very few other players will own in the game.

The need for customization and self representation within a game is widespread among Facebook game players. They are willing to invest time, energy and even money into making their Avatars the best they can possibly be. Thus, it is clear that Avatars are an extremely powerful feature in the world of Facebook games!

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