If there’s one thing that most mobile games have in common, they’re more fun when played together. Social features are arguably the hottest trend in the market, with almost all of the highest-grossing games - even games designed for solo play - adopting multiplayer and community-based mechanics.
Social features experienced a surge in popularity during the pandemic, as they allowed people to connect with their friends when there were few alternative ways to do so. Once developers realised that such features had a significant impact on player retention and engagement, and opened up new monetisation channels and in-app purchasing (IAP) opportunities, there was no turning back.
That said, many developers don’t realise that successfully implementing social features can be complicated. Different social features have their own nuances, and their impact on performance in different regions can vary.
To help, we’ve highlighted some of the most impactful social features currently on the market and outlined how these can be integrated into a successful LiveOps strategy.
Tapping into competitive motivations through leaderboards
The desire to ‘be the best’ is a key motivational driver for games. One of the simplest ways to take advantage of this mindset is through old-school leaderboards, which typically rank players based on their high scores or speed. Leaderboards can be integrated into any genre without altering existing mechanics. GameRefinery data shows that leaderboards are present in nearly every top-grossing game worldwide, prominently featuring in the top 20 percent of mobile games in China (93 percent), the US (87 percent) and Japan (85 percent).
Even a growing number of mobile games you wouldn’t typically associate with competitive gameplay incorporate them through new gameplay modes. The GameRefinery platform shows that leaderboards in select genres have scaled in popularity over the past four years. The feature grew 13 percent in tycoon crafting, 13 percent in interactive story titles and a massive 50 percent in time management games.
To ensure leaderboards are successfully promoting engagement, be sure to integrate them into a LiveOps strategy. Our live events tracker is a great way to find inspiration from other popular titles. For example, by filtering for competitive events, we found that Merge Mansion hosts a recurring leaderboard-based tournament every few months.
One recent iteration in Merge Mansion, the Great Bush Bonanza, saw players combining items in a special merge chain to turn them into points. The players who earned the most points climbed to the top of a leaderboard and earned reward boxes containing boosters, currencies and sought-after merge items as a reward.
The prospect of a good reward was enough to boost engagement, but this was just one part of the strategy. Some events in Merge Mansion require unique “energy” (a form of currency), which is necessary to play. Players get a limited amount of daily energy for free, but the event only lasts for a limited period, so ranking high likely means visiting the event shop. Our tracker showed the event positively impacted both downloads and revenue, with the latter increasing by 35% on the last day of the event when rankings were decided.
Driving engagement through community-based guilds
Guilds (also known as clans or teams) have featured in video games for many years, but they were a niche idea relegated to PC MMOs, such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars—that is, until recently. Guilds are now a common feature in mobile games from all genres, including casual and midcore. They’re prevalent in China, featuring in 81 percent of the top 20 percent of mobile games, although they are still prevalent in both the US (61 percent) and Japan (58 percent).
Guilds allow players to create and join long-term social communities or groups inside the game, enabling them to interact with people with similar playstyles, interests, and levels of engagement. More importantly, guilds act as the foundation for the introduction of other social features, such as shared tasks, competitions, co-op development, communal goals and even guild bosses, enabling developers to design a long-term engagement plan—perfect for those contemplating the next stage of their LiveOps strategy.
For example, in March, Diablo Immortal introduced a massive ‘clan war’ mode called Accursed Towers, which also features PvE and PvP elements. The mode sees clans vying for control of demonic towers that drop special legendary items. Once a tower has been claimed, its members must work together to hold it against PvE invasions. Alternatively, the clan leader can “power up” the tower, halting invasions, but activating a “conflict mode” where other clans can invade to take control by taking up arms side-by-side.
Diablo Immortal’s daily downloads increased by over 180% following this update. Given that taking control and holding these towers is a challenging ordeal that requires everyone to get involved, we suspect that some of this increase can be attributed to clan leaders encouraging their friends to join their forces. It’s worth noting that Diablo Immortal launched a Recall a Friend event at around the same time, where you could get rewards for encouraging players who’d lost interest to get back into the fray—this likely also contributed to the download surge.
A few weeks later, Diablo Immortal introduced a communal task event, All Clans on Deck, which tasked guilds with cumulatively defeating elite monsters throughout the game to earn rewards for the whole clan, driving further engagement. Diablo Immortal clans can also participate in a massive faction-based mode called Cycle of Strife, with various communal and competitive features—you can read more about this in GameRefinery’s live events tracker.
Boost monetisation through social interaction
Some of the most significant innovations in social features are found in the Chinese mobile market. They have a considerable focus on interaction and relationship building. One of the most prominent examples is social hangout areas, where players can freely interact and chat with each other outside of core gameplay modes and feature in 62 percent of the top 20 percent of mobile games in China.
These spaces can be an excellent way to boost revenue, mainly for titles with a cosmetic-driven economy, as many players will purchase items to personalise their character when interacting with friends. Bilibili’s Fall Guys imitator, Eggy Party, offers an excellent template to follow. They replace a traditional static main menu with an interactive social hub that players are dropped into when starting the game. In the hub, players can take part in social minigames together, drive around in karts and show off their unique avatars.
As with guilds, social hubs can be used to introduce new features as part of a LiveOps strategy. For example, in October, Eggy Party added a limited-time ‘Pedestrian Street’ where players can open their own restaurants, clubs, spas and stores as they serve other players in the game. Players can also give gifts to the stores they enjoy visiting, increasing their rating and rewarding the owners of these stores with their own special currency, which can be used in-game.
Numerous games in this market also incorporate aspects of matchmaking through relationship systems, where players are encouraged to find someone who would like to form an in-game relationship (often referred to as marriage or an apprenticeship). By ‘bonding’ with another player, users unlock special rewards or gifts or increase their ‘friendship level’—a scoring system that grants rewards after passing certain thresholds.
These systems work particularly well in MMORPGs, as these titles already have many online users interacting with one another. For example, in the costume drama fantasy MMORPG 花与剑 (Hua Yu Jian), one co-op event saw players matched with another random player of the opposite sex and sent on a “journey of love” that lasted for seven days and saw them taking on new missions together daily—encouraging both players to log in every day throughout.
Which social features are best for my live events?
We’ve discussed only a small selection of the entire library of social features that mobile developers have at their disposal and have already identified several key findings:
- Many players are motivated by their competitive nature, and leaderboards are an easy way for games from any genre to tap into that mindset. Plus, they can be used to add a social element to even predominantly single-player-focused events.
- Guilds bring together entire communities through shared goals, encouraging everyone to keep playing. Guilds also act as a test bed for additional social features for future live events, such as co-op modes, competitions, and shared challenges.
- Social hangout areas give players the chance to hang out with their friends outside of regular gameplay. They also encourage users to invest in premium cosmetic items for personalisation—so be sure to introduce new options regularly.
- Relationship systems are an excellent fit for titles with a large online user base. Identify opportunities to encourage partnered players to cheer each other on, such as through time-limited events with unique partner rewards.
Of course, there are also features such as PvP modes, user-generated content, guild bosses, spectator modes, and even social media integration to consider. Most likely, the way to figure out which social features work best for a title is to experiment with different features and analyse the results.
Developers should also consider monitoring how other popular titles on the mobile market implement social features into their live events and how players respond to them. The best way to go about this is by using GameRefinery’s Live Events Tracker, which allows you to monitor specific types of live events, breaking down how these work, how long they last, and their financial impact.