Tadg Kelly recently talked about “The Two Viralities” on his site. He pointed out that true virality, evangelism, comes from players loving a game enough to talk about. The other, a “false virality,” is just obligation — if you want to play the game, you have to drag your friends into it too.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been on the receiving end of both types of virality in social games.
For about a week straight, my Twitter feed was hopping with people singing the praises of Panda Poet. They called it clever, fiendish, and addictive. (When did “addictive” turn into a virtue?) They didn’t need to do this. Panda Poet lets you invite your friends to play, but doesn’t require you to do so in order to progress. So when a link to the game floated across my desk, I took a risk and hit it, if only to see what the buzz was about. (Turns out the Twitter-folks knew what they were talking about. This game is good.)
Meanwhile, in Facebook land, the all-seeing ticker next to my page started telling me that my social-gaming friends were being pulled into a new game. I cringed, just a little bit, because I knew what was coming. Sure enough, I started getting invites from those friends for that game. Not because it was a great game that they thought I would like to play, but because they’d hit the limit of how much they could play without be forced to go viral.
I think there’s a couple lessons here: one obvious and one not-so obvious.
The Lesson Which is Obvious: Obligatory virality wears out its welcome. Back in the day, I’d click any invitation to any Facebook game. “Cool! My old high school buddy wants me to join his mafia! I like mafias! I vaguely remember this guy! Let’s play!” Today? I gaze suspiciously upon all such invites, and am not above asking the sender, “Is this game any good?”
The Not So Obvious Lesson: Good games that don’t require virality should still make it easy for a fan to go viral. I like Panda Poet. I want to spread it to my friends. (I’m doing so now.) But there’s no Facebook connect button, no Google+ “+1″ button, no easy way for me to shout to my various social networks, “Hey, this is a cool game!” Yes, you can invite friends via e-mail (and I have) but without the ability to broadcast your evangelism, the message might get lost.
Are there other lessons? Probably. And I’d love to have you share them with us below.