Over the past 6 months we’ve been busy making our first Facebook-only game. It's called FootFall.
The game lets a player run their own shoe shop with an emphasis on stock management and window design. It's a C4 Education project for teens, and focusses on two of their core 2011 commissioning themes; entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
The game sets out to demonstrate the social, environmental and financial impact of decisions made when running a business, but most importantly that running a profitable business doesn't mean running an evil empire. We've been calling it a socially-minded social game, which we very much like the sound of!
The anatomy of a social game
Most social games have an economy which balances play, and a daily loop which encourages specific interactions within the game. When you get the relationship between the two just right, you have control of the player, and for social games this is important.
Every interaction in a social game costs (or earns) the player certain commodities. Generally speaking the common three are energy (representing the ability to interact or do things), currency (representing the ability to acquire items or progress within the game) and XP (representing game progress). The daily loop uses the inter-dependence of all three to create a well-oiled (and crucially) controlled player journey.
A daily loop is a theoretical play scenario, designed as the path of least resistance for game progress. A generic daily loop might include collecting energy (to allow world interaction), earning currency (to facilitate spending), doing activities (to earn XP to progress in-game), visiting friends (to earn more energy and crucially creating social competition), and finally customising your personalised area (such as a room or patch of land). The loop also creates reasons for the player to return to the game at a future time, often by incentivising repeat visits with tangible rewards such as in-game items and currency. These 'open-loops' are a game designers most important weapon in keeping players coming back, and crucial for retention beyond the 'buzz' of the initial launch.
Interaction in the world is often limited by a player’s Energy. Limiting interaction allows the designer to hold stuff back from the player and thus limit progress. Time will often replenish energy allowing steady but slow progress, however the purchasing of energy with real cash removes (albeit temporarily) the throttling, and allows the player to progress at their own speed.
Our game design is based on these principles of a balanced economy and structured play, but tries to do something a bit different.
It turns out it's very hard to make a challenging social game. By their design they are easy to play and reward ‘interaction’ over skill. For Footfall we wanted to make a game which rewarded good judgement and played more like a casual game, albeit in shorter sessions and over a longer period.
The game has all the obvious Facebook game features you'd expect like gifting, incentivised friend visits, wall posts and other Social-graph integration, however it's not a typical social game - it's not monetized, has no energy rationing, and lacks the obvious 'grind'.
Screenshot of the friend window-cleaning feature
Our design takes a trading game mechanic (with stock management and consumer trends) into a semi-persistent world, set against the backdrop of an unfolding casual narrative which challenges our players to make the ‘right’ business decision.
We are deliberately blending genres and we're actually pretty confident it's going to work!
Footfall places the player in charge of a fledgling shoe-shop, and tasks them with selecting the stock, the manufacturer, a pricing policy and (crucially) the window display to generate sales from a trend-obsessed public. Designed as a semi-persistent world, the game mixes session-based challenges with multi-session game loops to create an experience which should be instantly enjoyable but with enough depth to keep players checking-in regularly.
Here’s some ‘back of box’ information:
- Features over 100 unique shoes to unlock, manufacture and sell
- 8 distinct shoe designers, each with their own style and specialisms to choose from
- 16 different manufacturing options with varying social, environmental and cost implications to consider
- Over 500k different shop-window combinations created through plinths, point-of-sale promotions and backgrounds using a bespoke drag-and-drop design tool
- Seasonal trends on daily cycles, delivered through the game world’s own Fashion press
- A multi-fascetted ‘casual narrative’ directly linked to game progress
The in-game Fashion Press, 'Voogue'
As their shop, reputation and demand grows, balancing and tweaking stock levels and pricing will become increasingly important, so we’re also creating a companion iOS app to manage on the move. This will allow stock checking and provide daily check-in bonuses.
Early screenshots of the iPhone companion app
The vision for the game has always been to make the shoes the stars. We wanted to create an experience in-which collecting them was almost as fun as playing the game itself. Given this focus, one of our earliest challenges was not only making sure we choose the right shoes to feature in the game, but also capture them in a style which appealed to the audience. The curation and creation of the shoes fell to Amanda Luisa and Grace Ward respectively.
When we first won the project we posted a message on Twitter seeking a shoe expert. To our surprise, we were inundated. We selected Amanda Luisa not only because she runs a small and successful shoe-design business and works regularly with the target audience in her shoe workshops, but because she got what we where trying to do from the outset. Her brief was to source a range of shoes which were on-trend, aspirational and different, from which we could create a gameable taxonomy. The shoes that you see in the game are all based on real shoes sourced from catwalk shoes, fashion magazines and in high-street shops. It’s safe to say that for about 2 months the images that adorned the walls of Preloaded made the studio unrecognisable to our regular visitors!
Grace Ward is the brave and talented illustrator who took on the job of illustrating 100+ shoes. Whilst Amanda provided the ‘real-world’ reference, Grace’s illustration brief was to take them ‘beyond reality’. We wanted strange, unique and odd shoes which would genuinely surprise the player once unlocked. We’ve got loafers made out of Conkers, Platform shoes made out of chocolate cake, Candyfloss High heels and steam-punk snowboots. Here’s a sneak-peak of just a handful of Grace’s wonderful creations:
A selection of 'makeable' shoes in game
Beta and beyond
We will be rolling out Footfall onto Facebook with a closed beta test in early November which will help us finalise the balancing shoe prices, shoe unlocking sequences, the value of offers and costs of shoes, amongst other things. We will also be looking at the game data, to measure how the game is being played relative to our expectations, and making last minute adjustments.
The game will be complete before Christmas, and as with any ‘social-game’ we will be tinkering behind the scenes once it’s launched, as well as updating the game with new content (including new shoes!) in the proceeding months. We will also be exploring opportunities for player’s to get their own shoe designs and shop decorations into future releases of the game, which we are really excited about.
In the meantime, if you’d like to be part of the closed-beta and start playing the game, please make sure you 'like' our Footfall Facebook page, and we’ll send you an invite when the shop opens for ‘early’ business.