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Is it possible to create network effects in a game? How?

Usually a product with network effects present gets more valuable to a user as more people have the same product. Examples can be Skype or Facebook. The more people are using them, the more it's important to a single user.

Does it even matter in games?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is 'network effect' a term? Do you mean social media connections? \$\endgroup\$ – David Aug 21 '16 at 11:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a term. Just learned from a potential investor. Applied to some specific products. Wondering if game maybe one of them. \$\endgroup\$ – Sourav Paul Aug 21 '16 at 11:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reconsidering my "opinion" comment. There are definitely some absolute cases, given the criteria, or as I understand it. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Aug 21 '16 at 12:50
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Network effect can most definitely exist in games. I can personally think of some clear examples, and they all have one thing in common: Networking.

MMORPGS

MMORPGS have become a lot more common, of late. It seems like everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon. If you are unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. The thing is, while a game can boast being massive multiplayer, it needs people to make this claim a reality. These games also commonly have a greater focus on the role part of the RPG genre; While most general RPG titles have some allowance for the user to play the game 'solo', many MMORPG titles restrict the player in such ways that many activities simply can not be engage successfully without the cooperation of a group of players.

World of Warcraft is always a good case example for MMORPGs. In the earlier days of "WoW", you would sit around the nearest main towns, and yell out to the many other users playing that you were "LF2M HEALZ DPS DM" (or "Looking for two more, one healer and one damage dealer, to run Dead Mines). Veterans will snicker at the trivial nature of running the Dead Mines in early WoW (given that at the time it was a very low level dungeon), but the point remains; Core damage dealers were generally not very good at absorbing damage, and relied on "tank" characters who were better at distracting enemys and absorbing damage than actually dealing damage. Tanks would not last indefinitely, and relied on a healer to keep them alive, to in turn keep the heat off the damage dealers.

Given that the cooperation of multiple users was required to engage many of the activities, it is not surprising that the reliability of being able to quickly get a group together and run a dungeon was somewhat based off how many users were actively playing on that server at the same time. The amount of users become a point of advertisement.

Early boxes for World of Warcraft went out of their way to advertise how many people were playing.

The above picture is my old box from roughly 2006. You would be naive to think the big gold "Over 5 million online!" was not placed with extreme deliberation; In reality, it is clear that someone has stuck this sticker on after the original box was printed. Almost as if they wanted to make sure the players new that even more people were playing World of Warcraft.

Online Competitive Games

The thing about any game that basis most of its game-play off online competition is that much of the game becomes unplayable if there isn't actually anyone to compete against. Games like League of Legends are only playable in online competition - without other users playing the game, online, you would not be able to play it. These games rely on networking, in that sense. Nobody wants to look at menu screen all day.

Other games may provide a single player experience, but are arguably much more substantial due to their online counterpart. Star Wars Battlefront, Call of Duty and Battlefield come to mind. While these games offer varying degrees of single player campaigns, it is the online multiplayer that has players racking up hours on hours. These days, such games matchmaking the player into giant battles featuring dozens of other players, a system that basis its productivity off of how many users are currently online.

These games become more valuable as more people play them, because it provides greater reliability of being able to find a game. Likewise, as a games user-base dwindles, the hardcore fans that stuck around start to worry that the dwindling number of users might lead to server closures, as the game company behind the IP move their investments towards more popular titles.

Augmented Reality games

Yes, I'm talking about Pokemon Go. Games like this may increase in value as you notice more people playing, as it simply becomes more socially acceptable.

In the early days, I personally gave a couple of AR games a go. Along with killing my battery, I often stopped playing because they made me feel weird. The people around me would be oblivious to the type of game I was playing, and it would not be uncommon to get curious stares, as onlookers tried to work out why I was waving my phone around like mad.

These days, I go to my local park, and there's always a group of people walking around playing Pokemon Go. Seeing so many other people play it, its value increases, for me. I see that it is socially more acceptable, and am less concerned about pulling out my own phone and trying to catch a Pikachu.

It is worth addressing that while I do not have any social phobias, I do know people that do. This sort of "oh hey, other people are doing it, too! I'm allowed to" feeling goes a long way for someone who feels social anxiety, or otherwise doesn't want to 'stand out'.

Any game you want support for after 10+ years

Ultimately, I personally see increased value in any game I enjoy, as more user take it on - even if I never engage with any of these users whatsoever. Ultimately, I know that if many other users are playing the game, the developer is more likely to support the game for longer, and release more content for it.

A good example is Diablo 2. One of my all time personal favorites, and made that much more valuable to me by the consistency in others playing it. In part due to the fact that 16 years down the track the game is still very popular, Blizzard have recently released a new patch for it. As a result, I can now replay my old favorite on my brand new Windows 10 laptop. It's value absolutely skyrockets, in part due to personal opinion and nostalgia.

There's always a downside

There is always a downside to increased 'traffic', if you will. In my personal experience, these downsides take a while longer to reveal themselves, and are far rarer.

  • Congestion: If too many people play a game, it can mean longer waiting times. I use to leave my game queued for half an hour or so to log in to World of Warcraft, because too many players played on the same server, and it was always full. Too long experiencing such wait could easily devalue the experience, and in turn, the game. Blizzard quickly countered these issues with new servers, and free character transfers to pull your high-level characters off the highly-congested server.
  • Law of Averages: If you put too many people in a room together, your pretty much guaranteed to not like a group of them. It is not uncommon for me to hear that particular users have stopped playing a game, because the community was off-putting. A good example might be Battlefield, where it is not uncommon for users to be hesitant to join team chat. Another good example that springs to mind is the early days of RuneScape 2. RuneScape is the first MMORPG I was ever able to play, due to having incredibly low system requirements, and offering a freemium model to play. Unfortunately, the users that made up the free-access servers were often very immature, especially as more mature users jumped to the subscription model and could access members-only servers. Ultimately, too many users can kill the mood of a game, if their all a bunch of 15 year olds fighting over one block of iron.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Tried to list some good examples. Hopefully might come back on tomorrow and try to clean this up, a bit, or provide some more concrete examples. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Aug 21 '16 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SP, I feel I could write a lot more on this topic, but I have a habit of being verbose so I may leave it until I have enough time for a few proofs. But in essence, I would argue any game with multiplayer has the network effect. This extends to consoles and platforms that offer networking, too, of course. I would say single-player games have allowance if you consider who else is playing, not so much how many others are playing. If your best mate picks up a single player game, competitiveness might lead you to do the same. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Aug 22 '16 at 6:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ If this is business related (it sounds it), look up Fury. A good example of what happens when you rely too much on the network effect, too early on. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Aug 22 '16 at 6:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice Answer, makes most of mine obsolete. I'd like to add that for online pvp, having a few opponents available might be just as bad as having none, or even worse. New players will find no opponents or be pitted against much stronger opponents, soon get frustrated and leave the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Estharon Aug 23 '16 at 10:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SP. Mobile (phone/tablet) games have the best opportunity to access and utilize network effects, since they run on devices built and bought for the very purpose of connectivitity. \$\endgroup\$ – Estharon Aug 23 '16 at 12:06
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@Gnemlock said most of it already.

There's another concept I'd like to point you at: The business model used by Rayark Games in their game Cytus.

I am not sure if it really fits the term "network" effect, since it technically it rewards a big 1:N connection instead of N! 1:1 connections, but since the benefit scales with the userbase and there is a user-to-user connection of some sort, I'd like to mention it.

Cytus is a rythm Game for touchscreen devices. They made it possible to play completely free with a 30 second timer before every round, which can be removed by a small one-time purchase of 1,50. Content is released in chapters, sets of 10 songs. The first few were free, later chapters cost 4,99 each.

So far so f2p, but here is the genius part:

For every 100.000 purchases, another chapter was made available for free. So you invest 1,50 and get multiple sets of content each worth three times as much, great deal for the player. Every player that gets hooked (and that's likely) is a potential buyer of yet unlocked chapters, great deal for Rayark Games. By now the counter has exceeded a million purchases and is still climbing. Purchased chapters are not factored in, that's just the number of monetized game downloads.

Interestingly, while this system ultimately aims to increase the userbase and make money, it doesn't feel that way. Instead, it feels benevolent. And who can honestly say that it isn't?

It also manages to foster a sense of community without enforcing or even enabling in-game contact to other players (although players do communicate through other networks like google play games, youtube, twitter or facebook, also the wiki).
Even if you just play the game, you know that there are hundreds of thousands of players who unlocked all those chapters for you. And when a new chapter is unlocked, you know that you helped accomplish that. Some might underestimate the impact of a mostly psychological connection, but that's what really counts.

Another aspect is that there is no diminishing effect for the userbase if players don't keep playing regularly, the worst that could happen is less new content. There's also no chance for conflict within the game.
What we have here is a system that - at least for the player - scales up but not down with the userbase.

For reference, www.rayark.com/g/cytus

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Cytus have it. Great implementation from Rayark. \$\endgroup\$ – Sourav Paul Aug 23 '16 at 13:50

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