Every project allows us to build on previous experience and try out new things. Trafalgar Origins was no exception, giving us the opportunity to evolve the multiplayer system used in 1066 as well as take our first big step into the muddy world of Facebook Connect.
Facebook integration was an integral part of Trafalgar Origins but was developed as a separate set of components that could be used by other Channel 4 indies in future commissions. We wanted to demonstrate by example, best practice with the heady ambition of it ultimately unifying how future Channel 4 projects integrate with Facebook.
This blog post is all about the learning from this process and the reasons behind the specific implementation of their new system.
Socialising the game design
Our biggest inspiration for single-player socially connected gaming was Trials HD. Being a firm studio favourite, it motivates play by showing your score in the context of your friends. The ambition was to design a similar experience, utilising the social-infrastructure provided by Facebook Connect in the same way that Trials uses the 'xbox-live' friend group.
This intention radically influenced the game design and how we rewarded and encouraged repeated play:
Asynchronous level design
All levels are unlocked from the outset, encouraging as many recorded level scores as possible. Each level is designed to present a different challenge rather than be part of a progressively taxing linear experience. This approach exposes more of the game to the casual player, increasing appeal and reducing player drop off. It also allows levels to be designed in parallel, speeding up the development process.
Each level is designed to be highly re-playable. A broad variety of level scores are achieved through a combination of xp, mission gold and in-level gold. The level's difficulty is pitched relatively low to encourage the completion of the game, taking an average player approximately 45 minutes.
Achievements are used to motivate deeper play, encouraging exploration of the game in specific ways. Named achievements are a great way to expose as much of the game design as possible as well providing another metric to engender social competition.
The stuff that (almost) comes for free
The by-product of using Facebook connect is the presence it gives your product on Facebook via the app and it's associated elements. This footprint provides the crucial return stream back to the game, and for Trafalgar takes the following shape:
The application acts as the game's score card, and a simple way to view your friends' (or your own) game progress. It also includes Friend and global leaderboards.
Fan pages delivers the all important context for an application before you have installed it. It also contains basic community features as well as providing a useful means of communication between the developer and the end-user. Our fan page provides a top-level overview of the game, promotes the installation of the app and also includes a direct link to play the game on Channel 4.
Wall posts are dynamic 'braggable' nuggets detailing increases in rank, unlocking of achievements or completion of objectives. Their purpose is to promote the game to the player's social group, driving gameplay or app installation via the fan page. They are generated within the game only at the player's request.
Asking the player before posting to their Facebook wall is not only good manners but simplifies the 'connect' process, limiting the amount of permission dialogues the player is subjected to and thus decreasing drop-off.
Risk vs Benefit
Trafalgar Origins was our first opportunity to comprehensively integrate Facebook Connect into any game, and as such provided a lot of learnings.
The shifting sands of Facebook development has always meant the studio had a love-hate relationship with it. The continued question mark over a lot of the functionality it purports to offer or ease of actually implementing it has made it a risky platform to innovate on.
It remains a moving target with new features being announced daily, however alongside this uncertainty comes the opportunity to genuinely enhance a game's experience. We're really pleased with how Trafalgar Origins integrates Facebook seamlessly into the game - we'll just wait to see how many people actually use it and how Facebook manage the API moving forward.
'Motivating play through score' thesis