Big Fish: social is not the same as viral

Social games should be more about connecting people rather than viral user acquisition, according to Chris Williams, the general manager of casual game development studio Big Fish.

Williams recently spoke to Polygon at the Game Developers Conference and discussed Big Fish's strategy for deepening casual games. While he was not ready to discuss the studio's forthcoming titles that were built with this strategy in mind, he was able to share its approach to making its games social.

According to Williams, many people associate the social component of casual games with viral tactics, and so it has mostly been seen as a user acquisition tool. He believes that a true social ecosystem is about engagement and how players choose to interact with each other, not about how players can get their friends to play the game.

"Typically, 'social' has been very viral, and the whole social component on Facebook was sort of just forcing people into these pinch points, whether it was asking people to invite their friends, or asking people to ask their friends to help them," Williams said. "That's very different from creating a very true social ecosystem and platform where people are engaging with each other every second, where they're aware of what other players are going."

Williams used the example of Big Fish Casino, which is one of the most popular casino games available on mobile at the moment. Players sit with other players around a table and compete in real-time. Players can gift each other chips and presents, message each other and befriend each other. "It's a social network that happens to have a casino on it," Williams said.

Based on the studio's experience with Big Fish Casino, Williams said players are more inclined to make connections when they're aware that they're playing a live game with other people. He said it's about creating an experience where there's lots of awareness of other players' activities, rather than forcing players to invite three of their friends to the game in order to clear a level. "That may work as a viral tactic, but that's not really allowing a player to feel connected to the other players," he said.

"You should sense that other players are there even if you haven't yet become friends with them," he said. "Every time you launch a game, you should feel like it's live."

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