Building Customer Relationship through Game Mechanics in Social Games

Building Customer Relationship through Game Mechanics in Social Games

Juho Hamari (Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT, Finland) and Aki Järvinen (Digital Chocolate, Inc., Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-567-4.ch021
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The results provide several game mechanics that are located in the union of game design and business planning. Moreover, the results imply a new approach to game design in general by exemplifying how the traditional way of thinking about game design is no longer sufficient when the design of engaging mechanics needs to meet with business goals.
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Simple entertainment, such as quizzes and games, are a driving force in social networks in terms of business development. This becomes evident when taking a look at the most popular Facebook applications (see games frequent the list. For example, in the beginning of February 2010, 7 out of 10 of the top applications in terms of daily users can be classified as games, and this has been the case consistently over the last two years.

The term 'social games' has become prevalent, and it is usually used for referring to game products on Facebook. Even if the term has been contested, with 'viral games' suggested as a more appropriate term, we will use 'social games' due to its widespread nature.

In terms of the games industry, social media analysts are predicting that social games are threatening the market of so-called casual games (popular downloadable games like Bejeweled and Peggle by PopCap Games, etc.). This prediction is based on social games' extensive virality, accessibility, and scalability (Mayer 2009).

As we will see, most of the revenues from social games come from the sales of virtual items that can be played with in the game. In 2009, the virtual goods business reportedly reached $1 billion in the US alone and the worldwide market size is ranging between $5-7 billion (EightPlusStar 2009). Analysts predict that worldwide social games revenues will reach $1.3 billion in 20101. This shows that so-called social games are a significant business, which is developing and transforming rapidly and therefore warrants continuous study.

The empirical part of this study consists of examination of interaction mechanics used in service design of social games. Most of the studied games (Table 1) have been published and maintained on the social networking service Facebook, and they represent a sample from the ten most popular games in the network at the time of writing. In addition, we bring forward examples from games by the three market leader developers at the time of writing, Zynga, Playfish, and Crowdstar, which demonstrate interesting solutions in the context of the article. These mechanics are further mapped in relation to customer relationship stages, namely categorised under what customer relationship stage the mechanic attempts to progress.

Table 1.
Social games referenced in this study
     Title     Publisher, country     Type2
FarmVille     Zynga, US     Resource management and simulation
Café World     Zynga, US     Resource management and simulation
Petville     Zynga, US     Caretaking
Mafia Wars     Zynga, US     Social RPG
Happy Aquarium     Crowdstar, US     Caretaking
Happy Island     Crowdstar, US     Caretaking
Gangster City     Playfish, UK     Social RPG
Restaurant City     Playfish, UK     Resource management and simulation

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