Recently as I have been between consulting gigs I have been playing a lot of Mafia Wars on Facebook. I started playing in hopes that if I had an interview with Zynga (the creators of the game) that I would have something to talk about. However that interview never came. Meanwhile I ended up engrossed in this game. (If you could call it that.)
There is something fun in the experience of being a Mafioso and going out on jobs doing what you. I partially enjoyed the aspect of living this double life as my character grew and I was able to take out other families (hitlist) or rough up a local “gang” (robbing). For a period the challenge of getting to that next level (street thug to hitman to capo and so on) was an incredible thrill. If I mastered a level then I got a bonus and even going after that seemed like an interesting challenge. However, with most games there comes a point when you find yourself losing interest.
What’s interesting about Mafia Wars is not only the role playing aspect but how they used that in relation to a casual game. It is literally a game you can pick up and put down whenever the mood strikes (unless you are out of energy and/or health). However this is also a problem for the game. As one starts to lose interest they stop going to visit the game as much thus energy or health builds faster (seemingly) and they eventually find themselves in a place where they need to invest in the game (to buy Godfather points) or invite other friends to play with them. The first creates a problem for the recently unemployed and the second creates a problem with friends whom don’t care to add extra apps. Leaving customers to feel “put upon” to spend money or invite friends (who will probably grumble at the invite). Lou Carbone said in his talk, “Creating Customer Loyalty”, (at MX West 2007) we need to concern ourselves about with customers feel. User experience and (for games) “fun” is only one aspect of creating a system (games or otherwise) but really how does the customer feel?
I understand that companies need to make money in order to thrive but a customer feeling “put upon” is really only going to walk away. Thus how about an added solution to the game of Mafia Wars? Add an extra element to the game to allow users to make more Godfather points because as it stands now it takes weeks to get enough to do anything (unless you pay) and I feel there should be a balance that encourages me as a user to come back.
Give users an opportunity to win Godfather points through a shooting game (learning to be a hitman) or a “grand theft auto” casual game that teaches about other aspects of being a Mafioso. They must gain a certain number of points in the game to get a certain number of Godfather points and perhaps they can only play so many times a day.
All this does is add another level of rewards to help keep users engaged. If they still don’t feel like they are making enough and still want to invest in the game then definitely give them that option but adding this adds a balance that doesn’t exist right now.