Discovery is and will continue to be the biggest problem facing both mobile and social game developers today: you can put out the most compelling game in the world, but if no one knows it's there, it's not going to matter.
In a panel discussion at Facebook's F8 conference on Thursday, app developers representing companies that include Zynga and EA-owned Playfish were asked to discuss their tips for getting the word out.
Everyone agrees: social evangelization and word-of-mouth is not only attracts new players for (mostly) free, it also attracts the best players.
"The quality of users that come in because of the evangelizing ... they're much higher quality users in the app because their friend invited them through the door, which is very different from utilizing something like advertising or the normal channels to try and drive visibility," said Zynga's Paul Bettner (co-founder of With Friends
creator Newtoy, a Zynga studio).
Bettner went as far as to suggest that word-of-mouth through social features should be the "core driver" for discoverability.
A Reason To Post
"I think that by giving people something surprising or worth sharing, you're causing other people to evangelize your app for you," said Foodspotting's Alexa Andrzejewski. Andrzejewski suggested to the developers attending the panel that they "leverage people's narcissism," pointing out that the most-viewed page on Facebook for an individual tends to be their own profile.
PlayFish co-founder Kristian Segerstrale agreed, saying that was a huge part of The Sims Social
"We worked really hard to do with The Sims Social
... to create social interaction that would feel genuinely meaningful and genuinely funny and interesting." he said.
"It's surprising, it's funny, it's interesting. I think that's really important."
One effect that Bettner didn't anticipate was the ability of a new platform launch to leverage the audience on the original platform.
"When we brought Words With Friends
from iPhone to Android, it actually caused a huge echo effect back to the iPhone audience," he said.
"Kind of looking back with 20/20 hindsight it makes sense, all the people on iPhone suddenly had a huge audience of friends that they couldn't play with before that now they could play with. But everything surged. It was a rising tide that lifted all platforms."
That cross-platform effect is now a major focus at Zynga, he said, though he admitted the technology isn't there yet to make it feasible for everyone.
"There's not very good technical solutions yet ... for delivering the same IP across multiple platforms," he said. "But I do think it's really worthwhile."
A Slow Burning IP
Finally, Segerstrale emphasized an important point that, while seemingly obvious, bears repeating: players respond to a good IP, and keeping that IP alive and in the public consciousness provides a significant boost in discoverability.
"You can get visibility on a new platform purely by executing very quickly and figuring out the platform ... but in time, once everybody has that skill, ultimately IP that consumers love stands out," he said.
"It grows faster and is able to actually capture consumers quicker. I think the growth of The Sims Social
... is a great example of that."
Facebook announced a number of changes at the conference that will "re-open virality" for game developers. For more details refer to Gamasutra's report