Discovering the secrets of entertainment.


A little bit of context. I wrote this article around the summer 2014. On those times, I was working at Social Point, maintaining alive some Facebook games and also prototyping new ideas for mobiles. Mobile was, at that point, the new platform that started to be more profitable than Facebook. The article was about to be finished, and the only missing thing was a last grammar check. After that, the article would be ready to be published... But the thing is I never did this last grammar check, so the article was never published.

On Christmas 2018 I came across with this article in my laptop. After reading, I though it could be interesting to spread the word, keeping in mind the perspective of the time it has been written, of course. So I decided to do this last grammar check and publish it on my website. You can find in this article some interesting thoughts about Social Networks and social games VS Arcades and arcade games.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed reading it 4 years after it was written.


What Social Games Can Learn From Arcade Games

By Xavi Fradera

I've worked in the games industry since 1991. I’ve created arcade games, console games and, on the last 3 years, I've worked on free to play games for Facebook and mobiles. During this last period, I learned tones of new concepts, new ideas, new game rules which I had never imagined before. Some of them are really different from what I’ve learned during my experience on classic games, but some others are quite familiar to me and they remind me some classic arcade concepts.

Share the score or achievements, invite friends to play, ask for help to friends, improve monetization… Do they sound familiar to you? They are currently related to F2P games but, for me, they are also related to arcade games. On this article I will talk about these concepts and I will explain why I think they are related to both worlds.

Arcade Venue

The arcade venue was more than just a place to play video games, it was the teenagers meeting point. A place where to go, find friends and make new ones. People spent the most of their spare time there, talking, sharing experiences, laughing, gossiping and... flirting with girls.

Of course, people also played games, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. The most common situation was a guy playing a video game and, around the screen, some friends watching him playing and waiting for their turn. People also could play simultaneously. The most common was two simultaneous players, but some top games let to connect up to 8
simultaneous players! I remember having a lot of fun playing Sega's Daytona with my friends.


As you can see, all these behaviours are very similar to what people do now when they are connected to a social network: interacting with friends, meeting new ones, sharing experiences, gossiping, flirting with girls and playing games. In fact, we can say that arcades were the 80s and 90s social networks... or we can say that social networks are the XXI century arcades.


The main purpose of the arcade business was having people playing games and, of course, make money. There were lots of games on arcades that could be classified by game type, by publisher, etc. but I always liked to classify them by antiquity. I distinguish these four groups: "Rookies", new games that push hard for its opportunity to glory; "Milky Cows", the ones that really make money; "Old Glories", old games that wait there for romantic players; and "Failures", new games that none play.

First thing players did after having played a Rookie game was to tell friends how fun the game is and encourage them to play it too... Or, in case the first experience wasn’t satisfying enough, warn them not to play it. That's why the first experience is always so important. In the first case, he would keep beside the cabinet helping his friends in their first steps, telling them how to overpass obstacles, how to solve puzzles, where to cover from boss attacks, etc. It was very common assist friends while they were playing… who haven’t done this before? In the second case, he will wait for other players to see how they play, with the intention to learn more about the gameplay and maybe, give it a second chance.

It was also common to assist friends when the last live was lost. The "Continue Play?" question appeared on the screen and the player just realized that he had run out of coins: "9…8…7…! Thanks God some friends were always there to borrow them a coin! Did someone live this situation before? All these experiences were part of, what I call, the Arcade Social Interaction.

This social interaction is very similar to what people do now when they play social games: assist friends by accepting to be part of the crew on a Social Building (buildings that need to recruit friends to be able to activate them) in a CityVille style; or by asking for some special tickets that players need to overpass a barrier (“paying wall" technique) that blocks the player to get to next levels; or by sending gifts (gold, gems, coins, food, etc.) that are needed to progress in the game; or by sending lives to continue playing when the player runs out of lives in a Candy Crush style game, etc. Can you see that Candy Crush Saga and other puzzle casual games are using the iconic “Continue Play” technique as a way of monetization? They are asking players to pay for 5 more movements when they fail a level!

An important element to share achievements in arcade games was the Score Board. When a new high-score was made, players were allowed to write in the score-board their names along with the score. Most of the times, after that, players called their friends to show them off the new high-score achieved. I just remember that, many years ago, the first thing I did after getting in “my arcade” was checking the different games I used to play and verify if some of my highest-scores had been beaten, in which case I would play the game immediately until beat it again and… restore my reputation!

In a similar way, when we play social games, we are constantly sharing our achievements to friends (high score, level up, battle won, surpass a friend…) because we have the human need to show them off. Developers know that very well and they are using our needs to make us spam and generate virality. Another way of sharing achievements is when we play Candy Crush Saga and our avatar overpasses our friends avatar on the map. Players know that sooner or later their friends will realize that they have been beat… and that’s very exciting! Another way is when players complete a level and the score is shown on a Level Score Board with the intention to reinforce competition between friends, which brings engagement, which brings monetization. And these are only some examples, but they are many more.


One of the most criticized topics about social games is its "analytic driven" development methodology. That means that tones of data are collected from the player’s interaction with the game while we are playing. All these data are used to improve the game in a permanent loop that ends up -in fact it never ends up- with a more fun, engaging and profitable game.


That could sound a bit cold, something like "data is more important than designer’s intuition on gameplay, fun and player experience”. At this point I have to say that, first of all, fun is always the first priority. Secondly, analytics is a fantastic tool that, once the game is fun enough and it’s showing that has potential to be a success, let developers tweak and improve its performance (KPIs) in a way never seen before. Some important KPIs are: retention, lifetime value, monetization, average revenue per user (ARPU), average revenue per paying user (ARPPU), conversion rate, etc. Managing them wisely could make a game make a lot of money.

At the other hand, analytics are not necessarily related to cash. They can be related to anything else, for example, it could be a graph showing the average in-game resources by level, so you can perfectly balance in-game economy; or the amount of players by level, that indicates clearly where players drop, so it’s the point where they get bored and leave the game; or the amount of game crashes, so you can measure how stable is your game... It can be recorded and put into a graph anything you think could be interesting to be measured and compared. I wish I had this when I was working on arcade games... but, would you believe me if I tell you that on those times I had something quite similar?

We beta-tested both, cabinet and games, by putting the whole thing into different arcade venues, so we could physically check how players interact with our games and cabinets. We used to go to the arcade to visit our game in a daily basis and to talk to players to ask for feedback: degree of satisfaction, what they like, what they dislike, opinions about the art, music, etc. Apart from this qualitative feedback, we also had quantitative feedback. We created a tool that automatically collected data resulting from players interaction and stored all them into the game memory. Later on, that data could be consulted on a secret menu we call it “the book-keeping”. That menu could be displayed by entering a secret interface + buttons combination.

In this book-keeping we collected, for example, the time the cabinet was on VS the time the game was active, number of games played, number of credits spent, number of credits spent when starting a new game, number of credits spent when continuing a game, the shortest game length, the longest game length, average game length, part of the game where the player abandons..., and a lot more of valuable data.

With all these data we could tweak the game to make it more fun, more engaging and, of course, more profitable! So now, when I read articles where people claim that social games are not made for having fun but for squeezing players pocket instead, or claim that data driven development is like a video games disease... It just makes me laugh!

The future

It seems obvious to me that arcades and social games are quite similar, and that makes me thing that maybe understanding what happened to arcades could let us guess what could happen to social games in a near future. Let’s see!


Let's go straight to the point: Arcades went out when sixth-generation consoles (PS2, Xbox, Nintendo Game Cube, Dreamcast) invaded our homes. Fifth-generation consoles (PS1, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn…) were a very good try, but its hardware was not powerful enough yet to drag players out from arcades. On those times, people still went to arcades to play the most stunning and exiting games. Even though arcade and console games style were quite different, playing at the arcades was like playing the Champions League!

But with the sixth-generation consoles everything changed. These incredible devices gave top-notch graphics at a fair prize, and led players play for hours and hours without having to pay one more coin for that. Arcades hardware just couldn't compete with them, so the way to keep profitability without having to increase credit's prize was keep graphics quality as it was.

People also changed their habits. Instead of meeting their friends at the arcade, they started using the mobile to communicate and they met at someone’s home to play console video games. These two elements -platforms quality & habits change- mixed together were the nitrogen and the glycerine that blew up arcades.

Arcade venues started to shut down, and the ones that survived (normally the ones in malls) replaced video games by redemption cabinets, more suitable for family audience.

Nowadays, it’s well-known that Facebook isn't giving the same support to video games as it did a couple of years ago. Facebook is now focused on supporting brand sites instead. Also, people are changing their habits again. Instead of using the PC to connect to social networks they started using the mobile more often. So, once again, platform and habit changes are wiping out video games from the place that let them be possible to exist. I can guess that, similar to what happened to arcades, just a few flash games will keep on Facebook at the end, just as a recall of what flash social games were, and never again will be as profitable as they were.


The sixth-generation of consoles changed everything, pushing forward standards to where they never had been seen before: Apart from allowing to save the progress, play for hours without having to pay a cent, continue-play as much as you like, etc. this consoles generation also had stunning graphics, with many simultaneous characters on screen; new and more immersive game genders; specific game controllers and gadgets (steering wheels, guns...) to improve game immersion and the whole game experience.

People just didn't want to go to arcades anymore because they had all they need to have fun at home. Arcade developers reacted to avoid this constant players migration. They built spectacular cabinets provided with electric motors that shake the whole cabinet to simulate inertia and improve immersion, some of them even put players up-side-down to simulate piloting a plane; they added special pedals and movement sensors to read player's body movement and use it as a gameplay input; they added card-readers to let the player save the game progress in magnetic cards, so the player can continue the same game later on; they also connected different cabinets through internet to create worldwide score-boards to leverage competition between players and arcades, etc. Some ideas were more successful than others, but even putting all these improvements together just couldn't save the situation. At the end, games moved from arcades to home.

In a similar way, social games are currently moving from PC/Facebook to mobile devices since smart phones have shown up. They are improving considerably its graphics quality and performance, offering a well-balanced game experience. Another reason is that smart phones are permanently connected to the internet, as PCs are, so games that need server connexion to be played can be also now played on mobiles. So, at the end, they are offering, at least, a similar game experience as PCs do, letting the player have a real time interaction with friends while playing.

The permanent internet connexion on mobile is allowing cross-platform games to be a reality. That means that you can play a game at home on your PC and then, for example, while going to school or work, continue playing the same game on your smart phone. Nowadays, having a cross-platform feature on video games seams normal, but believe me, it's not that easy to achieve!

At the other hand, Mobile ecosystem is also offering to developers a much better retention rate -so monetization- since smart phones are always in player's pocket waiting for some free minutes to play. Push Messages are also doing the job, constantly recalling players to play the game. Developers have adapted their games to the new mobile platform and the new users behaviour, so they have shortened its game-loops to let the player play shorter sessions, but more often.

New devices

Technological advances are improving smart phones performance, so they can offer even much better graphics and “bigger” games to play in a near future. Innovation on new platforms, such smart glasses and VR, is giving to developers a whole new world to create new ways of entertainment. At the same time, game genders now restricted to consoles will adapt and be a success on mobile, so we will possibly see FPS and action games on the top charts in a near future. I think that even Nintendo will make the move to mobile at some point.


Arcades audience was on those times mainly mid-core and hard-core. Massive Casual audience has not been “invented” yet. Arcades audience liked to play and replay the same game until finish it, and once finished, they would replay it more and more until master it. Arcade games were difficult to play in general. Nevertheless, they had an easy to enter gameplay to let everyone enjoying the first minutes of the game. But after this first minutes, arcade games entered in a mode of increasing difficulty that provides a strong challenge to players. This challenge increased until made them thrill, lose, and wishing to play again... and pay! That way, only the most experienced players could play for long without having to pay more coins. Less experienced players, or more casual players, should have to pay to progress further.

While games moved to new platforms and entered at home, audience widened to a massive and more casual players. As a result, you could find console games for any audience: casual, mid-core and hard-core. In fact, each console has specialized on a specific audience: Nintendo found its success making games for more casual players, while Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox are in a fight to the death for the mid and hardcore audience.

Social games audience had a similar change, but in the opposite direction. It started targeting a very casual audience, playing farming games at home, etc., and, while games are moving to mobile, mid-core players are joining in, playing now these popular and lucrative strategy games. Year by year mobile audience will become more and more hardcore, and player that are currently playing hardcore games on consoles will finally find his way to mobile.


Video games are currently in a mature stage. As we can see, history repeats itself and the shade of past gaming scenarios is present in the current gaming scenario. Social games have already existed from the very beginning, since arcade games were authentic social games, and current social games are the XXI century arcade games.

However, there are some differences between arcades and social games. One big difference, for example, is the magnitude of the ecosystem where the games are taking action. In the Arcades era, each arcade itself was an ecosystem, with its own games, their group of players and their social interactions. In the Social Networks era, each social network, with means thousands of millions of users, is an ecosystem.

This increase in the magnitude of the ecosystem is affecting the way developers approach games. For example, they added chat and clan features to games, so players can plan massive attacks in group, or even borrow soldiers and give away items. The increase in the magnitude of the ecosystem also affects the way players interact with them, so communication between players is currently digital instead of physical. Nowadays, players from opposite sides of the world can interact together as if they were one beside the other at the arcade.

For sure It will be more differences, but the purpose of this article is just to talk about similitudes, which in my opinion, the most important have been related in this article.

Thanks for reading this article. Comments are welcome.


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