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Building Games for the Long Term: Pragmatic F2P Guild Design (GDC Europe 2013)

  1. Building Games for the Long Term: Pragmatic F2P Guild Design Anthony Pecorella Director of Production for browser games
  2. Who am I? ● At Kongregate for 5 years, directing our browser-based virtual goods business ● Also an indie game designer, cofounder of Level Up Labs
  3. ● Open platform for browser-based games ● Flash, Unity, HTML5, Java, etc. ● 15M monthly unique visitors worldwide ● Core gamers – 85% male, average age of 21 ● MMOs, RPGs, CCGs, TD, shooters, etc. ● Platform level virtual currency, “kreds” ● Mobile publisher of F2P games for core gamers ● Acquired by GameStop July 2010 What is Kongregate?
  4. Some of Kongregate’s Developer Partners
  5. Context for the Talk • Focus will be on free to play games, generally core-gamer in design • Primary experience is in browser, but most lessons carry over to mobile • There is no “ideal” guild, but this talk will try to help guide your design process with the right questions to ask
  6. Social Structures in High School ● Ad hoc teams (dodge ball) ● Social group or friends ● School Team (football, basketball, algebra) ● School Population
  7. Social Structures in Games ● Ad hoc teams (Halo, League of Legends) ● Friend list (Mafia Wars, Candy Crush Saga) ● Guilds / Clans (WoW, Clash of Clans) ● Factions / Races (SW:TOR, Planetside 2)
  8. A Note on Ad Hoc Guilds • Nimblebit has tried “ad hoc” guild designs • Super flexible, but this can be a disadvantage • Decentralized membership • Little to no mutual relationships • Acts better as a fluid leaderboard than a guild
  9. How Important are Guilds?
  10. All That Glitters is Guild • Every one of our top 10 games has some type of guild construct • Guilds are an essential part of high-level monetization in core F2P games
  11. Numerical support for guilds • Dawn of the Dragons, by 5th Planet Games • Of players who reached level 10, 49% joined a guild • Didn’t join a guild: 3.2% buyer rate • Did join a guild: 23% buyer rate
  12. Numerical support for guilds • Tyrant, by Synapse Games • Looking at installs over the past year… • Non-guild members ARPPU is $36.59 • Guild members ARPPU is $91.60
  13. Long Term Retention is Key
  14. What can Guilds do for Me? ● Retention – regularly returning to your game (rolling D7 retention, regular players, etc.) ● Social connections create sense of belonging, and duty ● Players don’t want to let the guild down ● Keep coming back for sake of others (the Draw Something effect)
  15. What can Guilds do for Me? ● Engagement – playing deeply into your game (session time, user level, advancement pace, committed players, etc.) ● Guild members are great teachers for new players ● Share late game strategy and wisdom ● Powerful elder-game content ● Members need to perform at a high level for the guild to be competitive
  16. What can Guilds do for Me? ● Monetization – spending among guild members (% buyers, ARPPU, LTV, etc.) ● Indirect monetization as members upgrade their own status to be able to perform better for the guild ● Direct monetization can be done in the form of guild items and bonuses ● Helps mitigate “pay to win” feelings when you have a big spender on your team ● Some guilds exclusively recruit spenders and require continued spending from members
  17. The MVG • What are the characteristics of a Minimum Viable Guild? • Guild Name: needs to be persistent and visible outside of itself • Controlled Member List: membership persists and is managed • Guild Owner: a leader/organizer that at a minimum controls the member list • [Shared content: Some sort of content, even just a score, to unify the guild members]
  18. Guild Features & Decisions ● Now that we have an MVG, what, if anything, should we add to it? ● What other design questions should I consider for my game? ● We’ll use an example game…
  19. Guild Design Example Game
  20. Guild Attributes
  21. Creating Guilds ● Should I charge money to create a guild? ● Avoid creating too much friction ● Guilds are only a means to an end, a powerful tool ● You want as many legitimate guilds as possible ● Soft currency prices make sense to avoid careless guild creation, add more sense of ownership, or to pace the player lifecycle Swords & Potions Edgebee Studios
  22. ● Call them “Teams” not “Guilds”: appeal better to the demographic ● For consistency, will be referred to as “guilds” in this talk anyway ● Collect 7 tickets from friends to start a guild and become Guild Owner ● Enhances sense of ownership ● Acts as initial seed for guild members Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  23. Joining a Guild ● Introduce guilds at an appropriate time to players. Once they unlock them then they’ll be interested in exploring them. ● Have a good matchmaking algorithm for players who want to find a guild. ● Guild owners will generally want options for open enrollment, approval, or invite-only
  24. Joining a Guild ● Provide incentives for joining a guild. Game of War Machine Zone Dawn of the Dragons 5th Planet Games
  25. ● A player searching for a guild will be matched up based on having similar game progression to the average guild member ● Players are encouraged to join a guild after they finish level 20, incentivized to do so with a free power-up or free progress to next section Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  26. Guild Size ● Not a clear best practice that I’m aware of ● Many games max out guilds in the 40 – 50 range (Tyrant, Clash of Clans, Clash of the Dragons) ● Other games much larger (Wartune: 210, Dawn of the Dragons: 250) ● Some games use alliances, officially or unofficially, to increase guild size ● In many cases guild size increases as it levels up or gets items. Tyrant ranges from 15 – 50, Wartune from 30 – 210.
  27. Guild Size ● Focus on the functionality within your game ● Do you need lots of concurrent players in a guild for live, real time events? Larger may make more sense. ● Is it important for members to know each other well and coordinate strategy and plans? Keep it small and intimate.
  28. ● More casual, social demographic, likely to already know everyone, or want to get to know everyone, in the guild ● Ideal size is probably around 20 ● Keeping with the more simple, casual style we won’t have guilds level up or increase in size Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  29. Guild Identity ● Help your players develop bonds to their guild and guild mates and to express themselves ● Name – often has hobbies, national pride, or puns ● Guild colors/emblem/image to show off ● Many will build their own guild pages, forums, etc. Clash of Clans Supercell
  30. ● Guild emblem creation ● Option of background shapes, textures ● Choose main overlay image ● Choose primary and secondary colors Candy Crush Guild Battles Game of Thrones Ascent Disruptor Beam Diablo III Blizzard • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  31. Guild Features
  32. Guild Communication ● Guilds are a social construct, so let people communicate! ● Focus first on guild-specific, necessary communication ● Asynchronous ● Announcements: one-to-many from the guild leader, useful and important ● Forums: much more flexible, good for persistent discussion of strategy, planning, recruitment, etc. ● Guilds will often do this for you!
  33. Guild Communication ● Synchronous ● Chat: good for larger guilds, real-time games, or long session games ● Semi-persistent gives a “best of both worlds” Clash of Clans Supercell
  34. ● Guilds are likely to contain a lot of real-life friends ● A semi-persistent chat would be a fairly simple and effective communication channel Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  35. The Guild Bank ● A place for players to donate or contribute currency to a shared pool for the guild ● One-way process, typically converted into a guild-specific currency that may or may not be spendable ● A fantastic sink for soft currency out of the economy ● Typically hard currency can be used at a substantial multiplier to soft currency
  36. The Guild Bank ● Leveling up ● Simple implementation, more akin to XP. Players contribute to the guild which adds to the guild XP. Guild levels up at various thresholds. ● Spendable bank currency ● Similar to leveling up, but gives the guild owner the ability to select guild-wide upgrades to buy with the currency. Gives more direct ownership over the guild growth, allows leader to give goals for players to meet.
  37. The Guild Bank ● Membership dues ● An even more effective way to sink soft currency. This is a guild-wide, weekly amount that must be paid to keep the guild from demoting. Scales with size, very useful lever for balancing. ● Contribution credits ● Members get a credit for each donation to spend at a guild shop. ● Opens up possibility of guild-exclusive items. ● Gives top guild members an individual benefit scaled to their own contribution.
  38. ● Lacking a currency there won’t be any way to donate or contribute to a guild bank ● That said, I would strongly consider adding a guild bank to house winnings from competitions so team captains can buy cool stuff for the team Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  39. Guild Items ● Bonuses for the entire guild, acquired either from the bank or by players ● Paid guild items seem be to fairly rare, but a great opportunity ● Caesary had a $100 item that would increase the guild size by 200 people, sold quite well ● Collective purchasing is a possibility too ● Items should travel with the purchaser
  40. ● Guild Store ● Allow captains to spend team points to buy guild banner customization ● Some options in the store would also be locked off by league level ● Purchased Guild Items ● Aesthetic items can be sold to guild members directly to share with the guild ● Potential for high-priced shared items: all guild mates get +1 life permanently for $99.99 • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues Candy Crush Guild Battles
  41. Guild Competition / Cooperation
  42. Intra-guild Cooperation ● Cooperative PvE ● Often not guild-specific, but may offer bonuses for doing it with guild mates ● Guild raids ● Summon guild-exclusive raids to challenge with just your guild mates for rewards Dawn of the Dragons 5th Planet Games
  43. Intra-guild Cooperation ● Event participation ● Guild members work together to achieve goals during events Kings & Legends ChangYou
  44. Intra-guild Cooperation ● Cooperative construction ● Work together toward persistent improvements Swords & Potions 2 Edgebee Studios
  45. ● There really isn’t anything that would make sense for intra-guild co-op, at least not for a first pass Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  46. Intra-guild Competition ● Not necessarily explicit, though sometimes is (Clash of Clans) ● Provide player progress metrics for members to see how they compare to everyone else. Level, trophies, etc. ● Am I pulling my weight? Am I behind everyone else?
  47. Intra-guild Competition ● Provide short term metrics to track recent activity. Last login, weekly contribution, etc. ● Did I do my fair share this week? ● As a guild owner, is there anyone I need to speak to or cut? Wartune R2 Games
  48. ● Provide leaderboard within a guild ● Player name ● Highest level unlocked ● Games contributed this week ● Score contributed this week ● Tapping on a player’s name brings up a second page that shows the specifics of their weekly contribution Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  49. Inter-guild Competition (Passive) ● If you have a metric you can rank all guilds. ● Provide a regular benefit for high-ranked guilds to incentivize performance. ● Clash of Clans does this well…somewhat. Clash of Clans Supercell
  50. ● We need a guild metric to compare ● Requires regular, continued participation ● Rewards skill ● Rewards persistent growth week to week Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  51. ● Weekly contribution from each member to the guild score ● Completing a game generates a guild contribution value ● Top ten contribution scores from each player count toward the guild’s weekly total points Contribution = Level _Score 3_Star_Score ´ Level _ Number Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  52. Inter-guild Competition (Active) ● If it makes sense for your game, active competition can be very powerful ● Can be synch or asynch, scheduled or ad hoc Tryant Synapse Games Watune R2 Games
  53. ● Don’t need any direct, active competition – the ranking system should suffice, especially for a first version ● Could potentially be done through a challenge system on a particular, or randomly-generated level ● Each guild has 24 hours to post scores ● Top 10 scores from each guild count Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  54. A Quick Look at Leagues
  55. Leagues ● In Clash of Clans, the top 3 clans get a reward. Competition is fierce at the top, but what about everywhere else? Weak Strong All Guilds Intense Competition
  56. Leagues ● Leagues are sometimes used in highly-competitive games like League of Legends and StarCraft II. ● Clash of Clans actually has leagues too, but they’re individual rather than clan-based. ● Players move into higher leagues by increasing their core metric, being promoted when they hit various thresholds.
  57. Leagues ● Could we design a better league for free to play? Can it work for Guilds? What would it do? ● Have a relatively short season or cycle ● Provide rewards to promote retention and engagement ● Be directly competitive, zero-sum to promote fierce competition and indirectly engagement/monetization ● Provide sufficient number of tiers to allow for feeling of growth
  58. Relegation/Promotion Leagues ● This is pretty foreign to American sports fans ● Move away from score tiers, instead make it population- based ● Each level has a fixed percentage of population, guilds must fight to move up or down each “season”
  59. Relegation/Promotion Leagues ● Reconcile on a weekly basis ● Each week, process promotions and demotions ● 1/3 jeopardy rate: 33% of each level moves down one level, corresponding guilds from lower level move up ● After the moves, give out weekly rewards for membership Weak Strong All Guilds Intense Competition
  60. ● A 16-tier promotion/relegation league system ● Weekly rewards would include team cash (to buy emblem customization items) ● Special rewards for top 10 teams in each league (small number of boosts) Candy Crush Guild Battles • Creation • Joining • Size • Identity • Communication • Bank • Items • Intra-guild cooperation • Intra-guild competition • Inter-guild passive • Inter-guild active • Leagues
  61. Wrap-up ● Design guilds with a focus on retention, engagement, and monetization ● Think about how decisions affect player behavior and relationships ● Be creative, look for new applications and mechanics that make sense for your game
  62. Thank you! ● For these slides & more talks, visit ● Web games: ● Mobile publishing: ● Follow us on Twitter: @KongregateDevs

Notes de l'éditeur

  1. It can help to think about social structures in games as metaphors for relationships that we have in the real world. This gives perspective and context for interactions and can help you better understand what a player may be looking for depending on the type of group.
  2. These types of guild are a clever extension of typical systems and worth noting, even if they lack features we will consider necessary for this talk.
  3. I violated rule #1 in this slide: “Know your audience”. Making an obscure reference (“You don’t have to take my word for it!”) to an 80’s children’s TV show when talking to a European audience of game developers went about as well as one would expect. *sigh*
  4. This isn’t pure causation of course, but represents an extremely strong correlation. Thank you 5th Planet for sharing your stats!
  5. Similarly we see a strong correlation in ARPPU, which between that and buying percentage means that overall ARPU/LTV can easily be 10x – 20x for guild members compared to those who aren’t. Thank you Synapse for allowing us to share these numbers too!
  6. I borrowed/stole this slide from my co-worker David Chiu’s talk he gave on monetization of Eastern vs. Western games, but the pattern holds for both. The real takeaway is that long term retention is extremely powerful – here, only 2% of players get to 100 gameplays or more (that’s the left column), but those 2% represent 80% of the revenue. Guilds are a powerful long term retention feature (along with competitive PvP and really deep PvE content).
  7. By “the Draw Something effect”, I meant that many players may have forgotten about the game on their own but continued to come back for the sake of friends/family who were continuing to play. They were retained not just by their own inherent interest in the game but also by wanting to play for the sake of others.
  8. A great question was asked by an audience member about whether or not communication is a requirement for an MVG. Because players will often find their own communication methods I hadn’t considered it necessary, but there’s a very good argument that you need at least some basic ability to post an announcement.
  9. Please note, this talk is by no means an exhaustive list of decisions to make. There are plenty of other elements too (guild membership hierarchy, alliances between guilds, dealing with idle/dead guilds, handling an overly-dominant guild, etc.), but this is an attempt to be a checklist of some of the bigger and more essential things to consider as you design a guild for your game in particular.
  10. We’re going to imagine how we might add a guild construction to a more casual game. I needed a game that the audience would be familiar with but that didn’t have guilds, so this seemed like a good option. And if guilds can work for a casual game it should be an easier fit for a more core game. Hence the earlier reference to Rip Torn’s immortal quote from the movie Dodgeball, “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”
  11. Swords & Potions, an item shop simulator, did a lot of things really well. But they had no cost for guild creation, and since you had to be in a guild with someone to trade items the result was that guilds were created frivolously, sometimes for the sake of a single trade between two people. Some guilds were still competitive and big, but it created an odd dynamic where lots of guilds were just temporary shells since there was no creation cost.
  12. As I touch on each of these design decisions to make, I’m going to then try to apply them to Candy Crush Saga as if we were given the assignment of designing guilds for the game.
  13. In Dawn of the Dragons, the purple “Honor” energy bar is only usable for guild raids. As such, to play most effectively you need to be in a guild, otherwise you’re wasting 1/3 of your energy. It’s less explicit than Game of War’s pitch, but still very effective for anyone who cares about the game.
  14. While Candy Crush may be best not to have the RPG elements of guild leveling, for core games you want to very strongly consider this. RPG elements end up being a better predictor of monetization than having multiplayer – that sense of progression and improvement is very compelling and lends itself well to free to play mechanics. Tying it in to guild features makes a lot of sense for core genres.
  15. You can see in the Clash of Clans leaderboards that national pride comes out quite often in big guilds.
  16. Being a bit more limited to aesthetic improvements, I would consider having a pretty sophisticated banner creation tool to allow the guilds to differentiate themselves, especially once they start unlocking and buying additional options.
  17. This first option, “announcements”, is the most important and probably the one that is required (potentially even for an MVG, as mentioned in an earlier slide).
  18. Guild “banks” are a pretty common construct in Asian MMORPGs and should definitely be considered for any guilds as they create some very fun and engaging experiences while also opening up options for monetization and economy adjustment.
  19. There are two primary implementations of a bank system. Leveling up is the simpler one, albeit still fun for guilds. Having a spendable guild currency gives more sense of control over progress within the guild.
  20. Membership dues change the dynamic so that instead of just occasionally putting currency into the guild to help it grow, you have to continue to donate to keep the guild at a baseline, and then go above that to grow. This helps promote regular retention while also sinking currency out very effectively.
  21. This is a case where Candy Crush is more limited, but guild bank systems should be strongly considered for every core game with guilds.
  22. I haven’t seen collective purchasing done well in a game yet, but it seems like it could be a powerful and fun system. For example, let’s say your game has sprockets, widgets, and doodads. If members of your guild collectively own a golden sprocket, a diamond widget, and an opal doodad then the guild gets a 5% damage boost. This would allow guild members to each work toward, or purchase, different parts of the collection. Spending can be spread out, or a single guild member could acquire them all, providing flexibility for members.For that last bullet point, I mean that purchased items should still be tied to the purchaser account rather than the guild. The reason is that drama will invariably occur, and if someone leaves or gets kicked out, they should keep their purchased items – otherwise you have an annoyed spender who feels cheated by both their guild and the game.
  23. By “intra-guild” I mean cooperative elements among members of a guild (as opposed to “inter-guild”, which is between different guilds). Dawn of the Dragons has guild-exclusive raids that only guild members can participate in and that use their extra purple “honor” bar instead of the normal stamina bar.
  24. Kings & Legends has regular events that guild members can participate in with each other to help the guild grow and to earn their own rewards.
  25. Swords & Potions 2 groups players into cooperative towns of shops. Players work together to fund growth of external buildings and resources to unlock new materials and customers in a persistent meta game.
  26. Not every point in this talk is going to apply to every game, and this is an example where Candy Crush is not likely to have a good explicit intra-guild cooperative element, though guild members will still cooperate to be competitive against other guilds.
  27. In Clash of Clans, only the top 10 members of a guild can get rewards if the guild places in a tournament, so there is competition to try to be in those top 10 slots. Regardless of whether there is an explicit reward, you want to give your players information to see how they measure up against other guild members.
  28. Additionally, you want to help players, and especially guild owners, track recent progress and contribution to the guild. Wartune is a great example of lots of guild design elements, but you can see in the “Contribution” column there are two numbers, the first is weekly, the second is lifetime.
  29. This sort of passive competition can be great even in casual games (which often feature high scores of friends) and help guilds optimize their members as best as possible.
  30. Clash of Clans only rewards the top 3 guilds each 2 weeks – we’ll talk about that more in the Leagues section later.
  31. First, we identify what we want our metric to be able to measure. A metric is not inherently good or effective, you need it to capture the right information. We could for example just track most games completed, but that wouldn’t reward skill or persistent growth. We could track highest level completed in the campaign, but that wouldn’t require regular participation or have any optimization.
  32. This construction for a score metric hits our 3 main goals. We normalize the score by the 3-star score (I’m assuming King has roughly balanced 3 star scores for difficulty) to measure the skill of that particular play – were you at or above the 3-star score? If so, was it by a lot? Then we multiply by the level number to scale based on difficulty roughly, but also to reward players who are farther through the campaign (thus persistent growth). And finally contribution resets each week and requires each player to complete at least 10 games to participate effectively, so we get good retention and engagement on a weekly level.
  33. Tyrant features asynchronous, ad hoc (on demand) guild battles. One guild challenges another, and then each guild has 6 hours to do as much damage as possible to the other guild’s decks. Wartune on the other hand has huge, weekly 50v50 live guild battles, which is part of the reason why the guilds get so big, since you need 50 guild members online at a time for an hour, each week.
  34. For a first pass at guilds I probably would focus on the passive design from earlier, but active challenges can certainly be added in a later release. A challenge would be best done similar to Tyrant’s system. In the talk I went with 24 hours, but I actually think that could be shortened to 4 – 6 hours on further reflection. Because this is a mobile game players always have their phones, so having to play a single round over a 4 hour period is not unreasonable and could lead to some pretty intense competition.
  35. With rewards given to only the top 3 guilds, competition is limited to only the top sliver of guild rankings. Even if you consider the passive reward of showing up on the leaderboards, only the top 50 or so of the tens of thousands of guilds really care. If I’m guild rank #1024, do I really care to move up to #1021?
  36. Similar to how we designed our Candy Crush metric, we first want to figure out what properties we want our guild competition to have, then try to create a system that satisfies those.
  37. In the 2011-2012 season, the Charlotte Bobcats won less than 11% of their games, but still remained in the NBA. Clearly this is not a system Americans are used to, but it’s a pretty interesting one, and one that I think would work well for guild competition in F2P.
  38. There are bands of competition centered around each 1/3rd of a league as guilds try to avoid being on the wrong side of the relegation/promotion line. We can also give out rewards to the top few guilds in each tier to provide good competition up there as well. In reality we would likely not have evenly-distributed tiers but instead get more narrow at the top to make it feel more exclusive and to constrain the rewards we’re giving out for membership in the better tiers. A great question was brought up after the talk: if you need to scale, do you increase the number of guilds in each tier, or the number of tiers? At the simplest level you should be fine increasing the number of guilds in each tier. Because each relegation/promotion is based on a percentage you still have lots of movement and competition. A suggestion was made to have sub-tiers instead so that guilds are grouped into smaller sections (perhaps of a fixed maximum of 100), giving closer-range competition and even more sense of movement and growth.