· 10 min read

Nine Tips when adding Social Elements to your Mobile Game

Mobile gaming expert, Jupiter Hadley, turns her attention to social games, and highlights nine lessons developers can learn when working on their own titles.

It seems like forever since the lockdown has been put in place. And with so many people stuck indoors missing their friends and families, it appears that they’ve turned to multiplayer games to connect with others.

If you follow this blog, then you know that I not only love playing mobile games, but also finding out what makes them brilliant. And considering what’s happening in the world right now, I thought it would be useful for developers to learn a thing or two from a couple of the best multiplayer games out there. Let’s begin.

1. Too Many Cooks

I have been following Too Many Cooks for a long time now. I absolutely love this genre, and in my opinion, there are nearly not enough multiplayer cooking games out there. 

It launched at the start of April (great timing), and it is a simple game where each player has their own board (or area) to complete with a limited number of spaces. These spaces can hold ingredients, tools, or orders. Like other cooking games, you need to complete the orders as quickly as possible and work with your teammates to get these done.

Add in clear UI elements

When it comes to playing Too Many Cooks, communication is key (especially as it’s online). Unlike other mobile games, multiplayer-cooking games have a pretty intense and fast-paced gameplay, which generally wouldn’t work on such a small screen. But the developers have done a pretty solid job adapting this.

Controls are simple (tapping and swiping, obviously). But they also added in some pretty useful UI elements. A small ‘!’ bubble pops up when you can select an item or ingredient that needs passing. It then is shown again on the chefs, and won’t go away until you’ve addressed it.

Tip one: Use visual cues as and when needed. Sounds simple, but visual cues like this go a long way in complicated games that rely on teamwork. They can help keep the gameplay moving along, without overwhelming your players. Don’t overuse this, though. If every single thing that happened had a big pop out, then they would all lose their impact. Think about what the player might miss and what’s most important to them.

Add in an offline mode

Often, in indie games, developers are unable to add AI to play against if no-one is online. In my opinion, having AI that works well (and actually feels like real players), is the difference between a player being able to actually play online or not. Too Many Cooks does this brilliantly. They assign AIs to the online mode when you’ve been waiting in a queue for too long. Which means you’re guaranteed a game. As you only need three players, you can invite some friends or find an online match and go.

I’ve enjoyed the AIs I’ve played with and barely noticed that they weren’t real players, as they do communicate just like other people would.

Tip two: If you’re considering adding in an online element to your game, then I would strongly recommend incorporating AI bots. This is a great way to overcome long queue times, and avoid your players dropping out.

Don’t make it Pay-to-Win

Finifugu & Friends have incorporated in-app purchases to customize your character and to get bonuses that work for a single run. These purchases aren’t needed to win (or even play better), as you can upgrade your tools using in-game currency and special tokens.

There are a lot of ways to win in-game currency (including rewarded ads), so it doesn’t feel like you can pay to get better at the game. With that said, there is a lot going on when it comes to menus, which is very difficult to follow at first. I spent quite some time trying to understand what was needed to upgrade each item and how to get it. For example, it was a nice surprise finding out that the faucets needed to upgrade my sink wasn’t sold within the premium shop and instead needed to be earned through the game, as I had assumed the game would become pay to win.

Tip three: If you’re going to add social elements to your game, do not make it pay-to-win. There’s been a lot of stuff in the news about it, and honestly, it really annoys players. Just don’t do it.

2. The Battle of Polytopia

  • Developer: Midjiwan AB
  • Launch date: May 24th, 2016
  • Price: Free, with in-app purchases
  • Available on: iOS & Android

The Battle of Polytopia is a hugely successful turn-based strategy game that has players picking a tribe, exploring land, upgrading their nation through a skill tree, and trying to gain the most points as possible in just 30 turns. Known for taking a notoriously time-consuming genre and creating a smaller, bite-sized version, there is a lot to love about The Battle of Polytopia. What’s more, it has a multiplayer mode that pits you against someone else in order to really challenge your skills.

Use push notifications

When you first go to connect to multiplayer, Midjiwan AB has two different requirements, one of which is push notifications to your mobile phone. You’re actually able to dip in and out of this strategy game, taking your turns and then allowing the other player as much time as they need to take their turn. As such, push notifications are actually required to play this game.

Sometimes, strategy games can actually take a lot of time, so having this push notification requirement makes a lot of sense. Much like Too Many cooks, The Battle of Polytopia does have AI if you can’t find anyone to play against, which does work quite quickly. But when playing against a real person who might need to check on dinner, these notifications are wonderful.

Tip four: Optimise your push notifications. But only if your game relies on it. Remember that push notifications are intrusive and can be annoying. So does your game really need it? If yes, then great, go ahead. If no, then maybe limit them to exclusive offers on an irregular basis.

Think about your core gameplay

As mentioned, when you play The Battle of Polytopia as a single player, you’re playing against AI. Playing in the multiplayer version of the game, there is virtually no noticeable change in how to play and the game feels exactly the same.

This may not apply to all of you (as you may be here to learn how to add social elements to an existing game), but this is an important tip. There’s a difference between making a multiplayer game and adding social elements to your game. Midjiwan made it so that their offline game and online game were exactly the same, which is incredibly essential for their title. And although this is recommended, this may not be the same for you.

Tip five: Think about why you’re making your game online, and what really makes sense to it. Midjiwan already decided from day one that this was going to be online, so there would have been months of planning. Only add online services if it makes sense for your game.

Add factions to build a community

When you play The Battle of Polytopia, you start with three factions (but you can purchase a bunch of new ones later). Each of these factions have different play strategies, most of which are better than the starters due to having more variety in their play style. These factions bring a community around each of the different play styles and can make players feel they belong with a specific group. Players end up recommending factions to other people to complement their playstyle, encouraging more people to play.

That said, in multiplayer for this game, you aren’t placed against people who have the same starting factions as you, which can feel a bit unfair at times (especially as you need to purchase most of the other factions). This does encourage in-app purchases, but it feels forced and like something you need to do. The game does feel quite pay-to-win in some cases during multiplayer.

Tip six: Guilds, factions, or clans are brilliant ways to bring your players together and build up your community. One of the best ways to increase your UA is actually word of mouth and recommendations. And during tough times like these, people are looking for new ways to stay close to their friends (or even make new ones).

3. Butter Royale

  • Developer: Mighty Bear Games Pte. Ltd.
  • Launch date: February 19th, 2020
  • Price: Free, on Apple Arcade
  • Available on: iOS

Butter Royale is a bright and colorful battle royale game full of puns, dances, and ketchup squirters. You’re able to hop into rounds at your current location and fight against the world.  Or you can join squads of people in online play, working against another team to stay alive. Like most battle royale games, you start each round with nothing, rushing forward to find a weapon before you start battling against others!

Family Friendly Shooter

One of my favorite things about Butter Royale is the fact that it’s a family-friendly shooter. All of the colorful graphics, the jokes, and the weapons are completely family appropriate, which means this is a game for all ages. Shooting popcorn and gumballs feel way less intense than shooting guns – and avoiding butter adds a silly twist to the game.

Players earn tickets that can be used to purchase prizes to change your looks and make your character more interesting. Everything looks fun and kid-friendly, which is great for large families looking to fill in the spare time on their hands.

Tip seven: Think about the current situation we’re in. A lot of people are at home at the moment with a lot of time to kill. Making your game online, but also family-friendly, might get you a nice bump in DAU. This, of course, really depends on the type of game you have.

Diversity in Characters

Mighty Bear Games spent a lot of time creating a diverse cast of characters in Butter Royale. From grandmas to aliens, there are so many different characters that you can unlock and play. Many of these characters are silly or funny, but there is enough variety in gender and ethnicity that everyone could find someone to relate too. There is even a father playing with his baby in a carrier on his chest. There is something super lovely and refreshing about this cast – which I have personally enjoyed scrolling through and seeing.

Tip eight: Allow personalization and customization so that players can identify with their character. When people identify with the character they are playing as, it makes them more attached to your game. It’s also great for online play, as friends can recognize each other.

Online Mode is not sorted by rank

My biggest issue with Butter Royale is how online mode works when you join a team. Your teammates could be in any rank. This meant that when I was first starting out, I often was playing against much more challenging players who had a lot more experience than me.

So I’ll go straight into my last tip: add a capped rank. Or least try to balance as much as possible with your algorithm. I know that there are smurf accounts out there (skilled players who make new accounts to fight weaker opponents), and that’s just something incredibly difficult to overcome. But as a level 1 newbie, it’s vital to pair them off with someone similar in skill and rank. Otherwise, you’ll risk them rage-quitting.

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