What is “viral gaming,” you ask? Think Mafia Wars, a social game where inviting others to join is one of the goals. Microsoft is investing in this strategy as a way to tell friends about a game and as a gameplay mechanic.
A patent filed by Gary Hall, the Director of Platform Development at Microsoft’s Xbox division, and Joshua Howard, previously the studio head at Microsoft’s casual outpost Carbonated games, details their viral gaming strategy.
One plan is an invite system where you invite a friend who invites two friends and so forth. Basic geometric expansion. Nothing big there. The other model is a twist on the invite system where you invite a person to play a game, which has different sub-games for invitees. Sounds pretty abstract. Let’s look at some of the sub-games, games based on inviting others to play, detailed in the patent.
- A simple example of this is a traveling journal which is passed from user to user and records where in the world it has been as well as entries from each new user. Part of the game mechanic may be to forward the journal to as many friends as possible so that friends can then add entries and forward the journal on to their friends, and so on.
- Another game making use of the present system may be a global icebreaker game. All players start the game by submitting facts about themselves. The facts for a single player get published and other players need to search for the player who fits those facts, or for players who know who fits those facts. The game allows players to pick people from their friends list to ask if a fact applies to them. If not, the friend then has the option to help find the subject person by passing the question on to people on their friends list. In the end, a player can see the facts, the person who it is about, and the chain of friends that led to that person.
- In another game, one user from a group of users is randomly selected. His or her biography is posted on a message board accessible by all users. The race is then on to find a buddy chain that links a user to the selected user. The selected user may be identified by players communicating with others and creating buddy lists to connect to the selected user. This drives new social relationships, encourages buddy list expansion and increases time online. In a modification of this game, a user may be given information about someone else who is a number of degrees of separation from the user’s buddy list. The user then needs to connect with others to identify the selected person.
- A further game is similar to the Taboo board game where a player gets a phrase that he or she tries to get other players to guess one word at a time without using the taboo phrase. The person who guesses correctly may then see the entire phrase, and then they try to get their friends (a different group) to guess the second word in the phrase. Once a player is done with their part, they can watch the rest of the conversation but not participate. If there is a taboo anywhere along the way, the game ends. A wide variety of other games designed to use the in-game viral invite mechanism of the present system are contemplated.
- One simple example mentioned earlier is a game of tug of war between two players, where the victor is determined by the number of direct and downstream players accepting an invitation to join one team or the other. Traversal maps sent with each invitation may show how large a team is getting, how deep the invite levels were and where the players are from. In a slight variation, invites may be weighted, so that invited users who are geographically farther away are worth more than invited users who are geographically closer.
All of these sound like potential Facebook apps, but Microsoft makes it clear that this social system is in development for the Xbox 360. The patent mentions the Xbox 360 multiple times and the authors added drawings of the console and its hardware.
Perhaps, Microsoft is planning a group of Avatar Party games for Project Natal.