I recently responded to a Linkedin social games group discussion question about how to design for social games that keep expanding – think Farmville, Social City or Millionaire City. The question was along the lines of; how do you keep the player interested once their ‘farm’ (etc) has expanded from a 12×12 grid to a 50×50 grid and it now takes “100’s of monotonous clicks” to manage it effectively.

I think this is a particularly valid question not just because of the design strategies that can (easily) be invoked but also because this, if not tackled effectively, give grist to the mill of those that dislike the social game space to attack it….”those games are dull, you click 100’s of times…how dull is that?”

My post went as follows:

Don’t dismiss the husbandry/resource management mechanics as boring because that’s not what ‘real games’ give you. That patronizes the 83million people that very much enjoyed Farmville etc. What you need to recognise is that these games – at least those that you seem to be referencing – are about managing a whole series of metaphorical ‘spinning plates’ and yes, at some point that either gets too difficult) players give up from frustration because they don’t have tools to manage things well enough any more) or they give up because the gameplay hasn’t evolved beyond the early game mechanic.

As players level up you need to provide:

1 – delegation tools – e.g. Farmville’s tractors allowed you to automate/rapidly plough land and collect crops
2 – evolve the experience from low-level management/tactical to a more strategic experience. You may be able to manage 5 spinning plates in 1 room but how do you manage 5 spinning plates in each of 10 rooms? Does spinning 50 plates provide the level of challenge/interest that 5 did in any case or has the player moved on/tired of that mechanic?Introduce tools that allow the user to see what’s going on and to manage these (but don’t make it easy else there is no challenge and don;t make it too geeky as these are social game players not traditional gamers!)
3 – keep adding variety/unpredictability/freshness through new content and new challenges like missions. See the game as something that becomes a kind of meta-collection of mini games. That also allows you to cater for digressing tastes and interests so long as you don’t make them all mandatory in order for players to progress still.

The trick is knowing at which point to introduce these and in what measure as too early will confuse/overwhelm newbies.

Have fun – Be Soshible!