Designing for social interaction

I love autumn in Japan. Trees are full of leaves in different colors, weather’s no longer humid, and you can empty your wallet stocking on amazing coats made in Japan.

But this post is not about seasons nor shopping – just wanted to share with you my love for autumn in Japan.

Recently my friend and I published this article on Clash Royale and player communities, and here I’m using those ideas as a sort of springboard to discuss how games are being designed to enable social interaction.

Roughly speaking there are two extremes for social games: on the one end we have games where ‘social’ means you can spam your friends’ newsfeed on Facebook, and on the other end we have a more profound design philosophy that explores how games can promote social interaction. Needless to say, it’s the latter end of the spectrum that should be investigated further.

Now when you think about games on a more fundamental level, Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens serves as a good source to start. Written in 1938, Homo Ludens explores the concept of play, which is essentially connected to systems and rules. Play, then, is a set of rules that separate games and play from ‘reality’. The reason this is interesting and worth mentioning here is that games are designed with certain use scenarios in mind: it doesn’t necessarily mean the developer has a certain fixed path for the user in mind (from A to B without any exceptions), but think of it more as an imagined set of potential uses.  (Footnote: resonates nicely with Guilford’s Alternative Uses Test!)

And here’s the beauty of it all. Although the developer has certain uses in mind, it doesn’t mind this list an exhaustive one, and the more inviting the game’s design is, the more (some) users will eventually start exploring different and alternative ways to enjoy the game.

Consider YouTubers playing Clash Royale, for instance:

In addition to playing live on Twitch or posting videos with commentaries on YouTube, some players entertain their viewers – or fans – with matches where they create custom rules.

From a design perspective, designing for social interaction is worth exploring from various perspectives, but personally I find it interesting to explore how these YouTubers are tinkering with the game, and how does Supercell’s internal design process look like. Namely, how do they frame their games so that they aren’t too fixed while at the same time containing enough narrative content and depth to create emotional bonds with their users.

From a business perspective, it is worth exploring the business model. Who benefits from this kind of design? Well, obviously in addition to Supercell.

That’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed reading this brief piece on game design, and let me know your thoughts on it in the comment field below!



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