Feeling Special

by , Apr 27, 2012, 1:15 PM
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Every day, social games are enabling players to express themselves in subtle but powerful ways. By sharing the achievements we earn and challenging our friends to beat our scores, we are broadcasting elements of our personalities and hoping our friends take notice. Brands are taking notice, too, and are starting to deliver the types of experiences in social games that players will relate to and want to share.

We all love to feel special -- and  we love when others feel we’re special. Being smart, funny, and attractive isn’t much fun when nobody notices, but society frowns upon brazen status updates of “Hi,friends! I’m smart, funny, and attractive!”

On some level, this has made sharing the content we consume into a meta-game where the goal is to bring our friends’ perceptions of us closer in line with our own ideal self. Our friends are broadcasting signals about their own self-image all the time, hoping that we’ll take notice. Posting a link to an article says: “I care about this issue.” Posting a movie trailer says: “I relate to these types of stories.” In every case, our friends are saying: “Maybe you didn’t know this about me, but it’s true!”

Social games are a powerful way of engaging with consumers, because they invite players to express themselves through their actions. Our high scores are a public declaration of our investment in a specific game; our achievements, a travelogue of our experiences and the actions we’ve taken. Some of the most successful games even let us show off real-world skills: our artistic prowess in "Draw Something," our genius-level vocabulary in "Words with Friends," or our rhythmic mastery in "Rock Band."

Personal Expression and the Brand’s Message

The first branded social games were simple, taking a successful formula and applying a branded coat of paint. The forms of self-expression they enabled for players rarely amounted to more than “I like this brand!” or “I’m playing this game!” These games were limited by their ability to enable player expression.

Today, a new wave of branded social games is delivering more diverse opportunities for players to share. In "Marvel: Avengers Alliance," players create their dream team of superheroes and can help friends unlock characters for the perfect team. The message they share is “This is my team, suited to my strategy, and made of my favorite characters.” This message is more personal than a simple “I like the Avengers,” and prompts more conversation amongst the player’s friends -- validating not only their choices within the game, but an association with the brand  as well.

Another game with a movie connection, "The Hunger Games Adventures," lets players customize their avatar with options that are suspiciously similar to fan-favorite characters from the film. Players win because they get that special feeling of creating something cool for their friends and fellow fans will appreciate -- and when fans are sharing branded content with their fans, the brand wins too.

Players want to show off what makes them unique, and will seek out the games that empower them to do so. We’re all guilty of gaming narcissism. The best thing brands can do is embrace that by creating experiences that players will love. Every person has aspects of their personality that they feel go unnoticed. Give them games that make people take notice, and they’ll take notice of your brand’s message, too.

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