Is my social game good?

As a games user researcher, the ultimate question we are trying to answer is usually “is my game good?” This is a very difficult topic – there are many facets that go into making a good game, and although we can help with some of them, there are many more that are difficult to influence. This post looks at how social & party games throw up unique challenges in assessing quality, and what we can do to help answer the question “is it good?”

In the industry, metacritic is often used as the barometer of whether a game is good or not. By drawing upon a wide range of review sources, it aims to collate an “ultimate” review score, and objectively tell whether your game is good or not.

As a leisure activity, “fun” is the goal of games, and unfortunately a well-reviewed game doesn’t always correlate with a fun game. Many games are enjoyed despite receiving poor review scores, especially within the social and party game genres.

Why is metacritic not suitable?

By sourcing its reviews from popular games sites, metacritic is skewed towards a certain type of gamer. Players who would only buy singstar, play Facebook games, and play Wii at Christmas with the family are unlikely to read reviews prior to purchasing a game. This makes it unprofitable for popular review sites to feature these games, and so they often go unreported.

When these games are reviewed, they are often reviewing in an inappropriate context. Professional reviewers are likely to be core gamers, and playing the game during work-hours (since it is their employment), by themselves (since everyone else is at work!). Context is an important element of the experience of gaming, and party games were not designed for the game reviewer’s situation.

This causes social and party games to become either ignored, or reviewed poorly – On metacritic no Kinect required game has scored over 82% and no PSMove required game over 76%. Review scores are not an appropriate way of judging quality for party games, and hence an alternate method is required to understand whether these games are “good”.

How do I tell if a social game is good?

Instead of relying on metacritic for these games, instead we need to look for other sources, more closely correlated with the target market of these games.

The first place to look is ‘user generated’ reviews, on non-games specific sites. For example, the user reviews on Amazon or Argos. Argos offers some information on the reviewer’s age and gender also, to give slightly more insight into how representative they are of the target market.

Forums are also a good way of accessing the opinions of players who wouldn’t normally read review sites. Communities who are not exclusively based around gaming, like reddit or somethingawful, can help access insight into the minds of these players.

Another source of information, but most difficult to gather, is word of mouth from relatives and friends who are not heavy gamers. Asking their opinions of social games they own can give a more holistic viewpoint over what aspects of social games makes them “good”.

Testing social games

When user testing these games, appropriate recruitment is especially important. It’s only worth testing with appropriate users who would typically play games like this. By asking them to benchmark it against other social/party games they own, researchers can not only get insight into the game insight, but also learn about what’s important to social gamers in their wider gaming experience. Therefore, screening players by the types of games they play, and their perceived interest in the genre, can be extremely useful!

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