Back in October, Raph Koster wrote about a PC World interview with the lead designer of Dragon Age, a major single-player game from Bioware. Mike Laidlaw on single-player games talks about the idea of creating such games today, when games such as World of Warcraft and even Facebook games such as FarmVille dominate by leveraging their social components.
Social networking games are the current big thing. For indies who would prefer to keep making shareware, the idea that someone could make a ton of money through a relatively simple MMO is as frustrating to hear about as major game developers who learned that Tetris, as simple as it was, sold much better than anything they were working on. I know more than a few indies have grumbled that while selling virtual items and subscriptions to an MMO is piracy-proof, they don’t want to make those kinds of games. With major indies reporting piracy rates of for-sale games in the 90+% range, sticking with single-player games sounds like a tough bet.
So what do you do if you want to make single-player games? Give your player a way to share his/her story.
Instead of a game that tells the player the same story that every other player will hear, give the player the means to create his/her own story. Make the experience of playing the game personal. And make sure the player has a way of sharing that experience.
NetHack is a perfect example of a single-player game that lets you experience a story to share with others. The in-game story is minimal, the NPCs aren’t very complex, and there’s not a lot of dialogue. What the game does do is provide plenty of fuel for stories that players love to share with one another. Yet Another Stupid Death, or YASD, is a common phrase for NetHack fans. I’ve even posted my own stories of these deaths. See Engraved Note to Self and YASD, the First for 2008 for short stories about my own travels in the Mazes of Menace.
Of course, those stories aren’t shared inside of NetHack. While you can watch others play online, most people talk to each other or write about what happened. The game doesn’t easily facilitate communication between friends.
But your game can. Dragon Age apparently has a Social Engine, but as Koster points out, most successful Facebook games are successful because of the player’s ability to interact with others. Even if your game is meant for one person to play, it doesn’t have to be a solitary experience.
Dragon Age has its Social Engine.
There are iPhone games that allow players to send progress updates to Twitter.
Facebook notifications let you know if someone has challenged you in Sea Friends.
Can a friend go to YouTube to view a replay of the way I handled a tricky boss? Can I show off an achievement? Could my friends send me time trial challenges?
What does your game do for allowing shared experiences?