How to Maximise User Engagement

Matthew Warneford
25
June
2013

Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin, and other kids MMOs are designed for short (20 to 30 minute) play sessions. The game designers know that parents don’t want their kids playing for hours on end, nor do they want the kids to burn through all game content in a matter of days!

In this post we’ve listed our four tips for designing games that are fun for short bursts and bring kids back time and time again.

  1. 1. Functional rewards: The player is rewarded for everything they do, with rewards weighted to the effort implicit in the particular task. The rewards feed directly back into play, changing play in the player’s favour. This creates a compulsion loop as the player gains in ability, does better at the game, earns more rewards, and gains more ability. There are two categories of functional rewards:
  2. Consumable rewards: The player is rewarded with a power-up that can be used once. For example, a nitrous boost in a racing game leads to better lap times and increased reward. If the player is given one boost per day, they have a reason to log in and play at least one race.
  3. Permanent rewards: The player’s reward is permanent. For example, improved tyres give better grip. This will lead to greater rewards as the player will do better in the game, and also gives a sense of continual progression and the player’s car continuously improves (better engine, muffler, steering, brakes and so forth).
  4. 2. Time-scaled Tasks: Tasks that take different amounts of time to complete create opportunities for player reward and by doing so encourage play. There are three categories of time-scales tasks:
  5. Micro tasks: For example, a child may be encouraged to feed their virtual pet on a daily basis. This takes a small amount of time – say, one minute. The child can quickly do this at any point in their day. The player is rewarded for feeding their pet, and they can achieve this basic reward every day. This creates a strong incentive for logging on daily.
  6. Core play tasks: The player may be able to play a game with their pet. This takes a longer period of time, and the player may choose to do it more than once per day. It is fun in itself, and also outputs rewards. The player will do this for fun, in their spare time, but perhaps not every day.
  7. Long-term tasks: Players are working towards long-term goals. For example, they may be saving up their reward currency to buy a new toy for their pet. This type of reward payoff occurs quite rarely (maybe once per week), but gives the player a high-value reward – in this case, a new addition to the core play.
  8. Together, this suite of rewards encourages different types of player engagement over time, coupled with differing degrees of reward. The player is encouraged to continually access the game, but does not feel forced to do so. They can enjoy the fun at their own pace without drifting away from the product.
  9. 3. Multiplayer experience: Playing games with or against your friends instantly improves the fun factor and increases user engagement time. There are many ways to do this: leaderboards, asynchronous play, synchronous play, chat and social features, community tasks, and so on. Multi-play encourages friendly ‘banter’ between friends in the real world. Giving a reason for kids to talk about the game is important to improve the viral ratio of the game.
  10. 4. Variety: In terms of avatar features, NPCs, quests, environments, games, tracks, vehicles, levels and so on, variety in visuals and features maximizes user engagement time. Kids naturally want to explore what’s on offer and by slowly releasing new content into the world, they will keep coming back to see what’s new.

In a future post we’re going to dig into each of these along with examples from popular kids games.

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