Mine the theme space
Earlier this month, Roger Dickey spoke at our Game Monetization meetup event. Roger is the creator of Mafia Wars, one of the most successful social games of all time, and also served as the GM of Fishville once his company was acquired by Zynga. You can watch the full video below, but we wanted to pull out one topic today that we found really interesting: mining the theme space.
Mining the theme space
When working at Zynga as GM for Fishville, Roger Dickey and his team spent a good amount of time doing what he calls “mining the theme space”. They read books on fish and put up fish posters around the office to make sure that they were immersed in the world they were creating. That way, when it came time for game design meetings, the team was usually full of new ideas for gameplay and content. This is a powerful idea, and while I am sure a lot of studios employ it in some form, few embrace it like Roger did.
Mining the theme space can be applicable to any aspect of your game’s evolution, from content design to storyboarding to monetization. Roger recommended monetizing on the aspects that players already focus on within the theme space. For Fishville, 60% of the players just fed their fish every day and that was all that they did. Clearly, these players were most interested in having a pet fish, and didn’t feel a need to dive deeper into the game. Therefore, they came up with superfood that players could buy to make their fish very happy. Roger’s team had planned to take this concept further and build out mammals, a second tier of fish like dolphins and sharks that were very cool, but ate the superfood or smaller fish to survive. This would reflect the theme and also provide greater avenues for immersion and monetization.
Map it out
When working with the theme space, Roger stressed the importance of building a roadmap. You should draw out the entire space and determine where and when you want to release specific aspects of it. An example of this could be the second tier fish that we mentioned prior. Timing the release of the major pieces of the theme space need to be done with the whole space in mind.
These kind of decisions needed to be made with a business mindset, because it is a business need that drives a product need that eventually becomes a game design need. Roger recommended this strategy because it gave you quantifiable goals to hit, and then you could work backwards. One example for this design progression might be:
- Business need: Increase the number of invites sent per day by 50%
- Product need: Give players in-game rewards for inviting their friends
- Game design need: Create awesome fish that can only be fed by superfood that players earn when they invite their friends
This should be directly tied into how the theme progresses in real life. For instance, in a city game, you would want to expand your city, so that should be part of the goals and aspirations of your players. This also serves to keep the game engaging by letting players progress through the theme space in a symbolic, significant way.