In Part I of this article, game designer Mitchell Smallman explains the importance of value points and how value points drive users to support and play a social game. In Part II, he relates how metrics help discover value points.
But we’re still talking about social games, so metrics are still going to be your best friend in STARTING to figure out what your players want. The simple, blood-sweat-and-tears answer is design new features and A/B test the hell out of them, knowing the numbers of each change in detail, until you know the type of player you attract as a second nature. However, this method takes a great deal of time and risk and often involves not a few failures, things that are difficult to justify with a venture capitalist,publisher or management breathing down your neck.
My favorite metric for a starting point, and other designers may have other terms for it, is the EFPA, the Engagement at First Purchase Average. How long have your players been playing before they finally say “you know, this game is worth some of my hard earned money?” From here, you can start analyzing where you can best meet the needs of your players and create value for them. The EFPA represents a value point, you just need to discover what it is. Perhaps players interested in progress reach a significant hurdle there and are paying to bypass it quickly. Perhaps that is when you start offering premium content that suits your player base very well. Perhaps your EFPA is very long, and they pay after weeks or months of play instead of days, and you then have to accept that your game may not have many value points at all. Or perhaps your EFPA is very quick, and there may be some interesting thing that players are buying right away. As you can see, discovering your EFPA doesn’t give you an immediate answer, but provides lots of interesting questions to help you discover the value points of your game.
Value points are regular bullets, not silver ones. They take time to aim, sometimes miss and don’t always get the job done by themselves. But if you have enough of them, and you unleash them fast enough, nothing will stand in your way. You can get a sense of them through many avenues aside from metrics. Your community forums and groups, while they may not always ask for things that are in your business interest, will tell you very vocally what they value. Observations in similar games may help you discover your next feature or release based on an understanding of why it is successful, rather than copying wholesale. Be prepared to discover new things. Maybe you didn't design your game to hook players on the story, but maybe that's what your players are showing you they are willing to pay for! Don't be stubborn in your direction if it turns out players value something you didn't intend. In the end, it comes down to understanding the players that enjoy the game you have created… and that is part of the job that is never truly complete.
Mitchell Smallman is a Game and Narrative Designer currently working for Big Viking Games in London, Ontario, Canada. He has seen Gremlins 34 times, trained as a luchador and once brightened up Vin Diesel's day. You can read this and other articles of his on his blog.