Social Games: A Comprehensive Review

By Maxim Yeremenko, Plarium

The gaming industry is now dominated by mobile and social apps. These provide the ideal creative playground for new genres and fresh ideas. Industry leaders like Sid Meyer and John Romero are taking their creative talents to Facebook, for the next big hit. Game developers opted in favor of social gaming, replete with its DAU/MAU stats, and engaging gaming. This about-turn cemented the notion that social gaming is the go-to destination for everyone. This article will discuss the merits of the social gaming universe, and how to exploit it for maximum gain. The test cases that will be examined are outtakes from the smash-hit game – Total Domination. I am proud to have been involved in this game since inception. This article will provide plenty of juicy information for gaming fans and social games writers, as well as those interested in practical methodology regarding embedding elements of social games for the ultimate social gaming experience.

Introducing Biotopia

Back in September 2010, we decided to move beyond typical social apps, to create a gripping gaming atmosphere. Our benchmark was the social gaming hit City of Wonders. We were seeking a post-apocalyptic milieu – the opposite of a cartoon-style app. Our game plan concept included the following:

  • Cutting-edge military technology
  • Enticing gameplay with a higher objective
  • Detailed info on the Apocalypse

In just 3 days we completed the concept document. Some of the pivotal game features included:

  • A lost Utopia
  • War brought on by a global pandemic
  • Creation of castes in society
  • Bio-engineering new human beings

The year is 2090 AD on planet Earth. Cyborgs and corporations dominate the scene, and we had carte blanche to create a new creative challenge. 3 human races coexist, and we were tasked with deciding which was best. How do they interact? Since biotech powers the concept, Biotopia was our preferred title. The Viracell-28 virus caused the pandemic, breaking society up into CyberTech, The Union of Nations and Mutants. After the virus ravaged society, a global war ensued. The initial concept was to have an Ark in the Wastelands – those who controlled the Ark, determined the planet’s future.

The Empire Strikes Back

Collaborative improvisation works best with us. Changes readily take place, therefore evolution of the storyline works in sync with game mechanics development. Real-time strategy dictated that we required more elegance in our storytelling, with a more military-style timeline. European players can easily relate to the ancient Roman Empire, and this was our inception point. In fact our concept document makes it clear. In it, we alluded to a future without disease, famine or war; a future where biomechanics reigns supreme. The Achilles Heel in this scenario is the outbreak of the deadly virus. The Wasteland is all that is left. The 3 factions now compete for survival. Scarcity of resources is the number one concern. Viracell-28 created the foundation for an epic game, and the ideal setting for players. The focus moved from Cyberpunk to Military Science Fiction. The Empire was run on the civilisation of the military elite – their ideas, doctrine and weapons design and mechanics. The idea was to create a neo-futuristic Roman legion. Elements of ancient Greek civilisation were inbred in the game, with all sorts of grotesque bio-mechanical Frankenstein’s scattered throughout the Wasteland. Stalkers are the post-apocalyptic nomads, replete with corroded metals and imperial ideas of restoring the old order.


By December 2010 we had to cut some features, or delay release for an additional 6 months. We dismissed the concept of 3 rival races, and we'd almost completed modelling the scientist unit. We merged the Legionnaires and the Scientists, allowing for the introduction of Spaceships. A sub-orbital battle cruiser named Peacemaker was unveiled. Capture of the Ark was abandoned in favor of players fighting one another for world domination. The Matroshka rocket was used to aid in this objective.  Biotopia became Geotopia. By combining Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, we sculpted a gaming universe with enough latitude for creative gameplay. Latin proverbs were infused in the names of combat units, and history formed the bedrock of many of the creations. The Infantry, Armored Units, Artillery, and Air Force showcase a fusion of hi-tech and Middle Age cultures.

Total Domination

Just prior to release, we realised that your typical social game player would probably not enjoy all the Latin terminology in Geotopia. So, we relegated the Empire to the sidelines and Legionnaires became Troopers. The Mercury Reconnaissance unit became a Reconnaissance Drone. We changed everything to create an immersive experience that players could relate to. We wanted to create a breakthrough hard-core social game. We rebooted General Lapidus (Winters) to become a kick-ass war commander.

Our tutorials are fully voiced, adding a brand-new dimensional to this thrilling game. We revisited the dismissed storyline content, focusing on the Emitters. These have a pivotal part to play in the game. At around this time, the final version of the storyline came into being. This is how it played out: 2,200 years ago, Earth was decimated by a nuclear apocalypse. Thousands of years later it happened again. The final battle was waged for Planet Earth Zero. General Winters safeguarded the planet from an outerspace attack with alien technology; a cocoon now exists around the Earth. Within it, a new breed of humans is being born. The goal is to revive the Wastelands, using the Emitters. The story moved from cyberpunk and local apocalypse to a grandiose space opera. The 4 key points used to arrive at this destination include: the idea of the lost paradise, a pandemic leading to global war, the concept of dividing society into 3 castes, and finally biotech experiments & genetic engineering. Of course, it was necessary to rewrite content and descriptions so that it can be enjoyed by the gaming community. We breathed new life into the barren landscape known as the Wasteland, for  the benefit of social gamers. What I've listed above is a cursory look into the behind-the-scenes action and creative flair that led us to this point. Now let's take a look at the advantages of creating immersive worlds in social games.

The Storyline of Total Domination

The vast expanses available in Total Domination allow for many prequels and sequels to be created. There is plenty of latitude in this game. With the storyline, we have been able to define the gameplay features and the visual style of the final product. A large and active gaming community has been created, especially for the explorers. Since it's a long-term investment, dividends will be earned many years after the project has gone live. It is important that the social game universe is complex, multi-layered and intense. We managed to integrate elements of the storyline into the game in several ways. These include: global missions, in-game units, character dialogues and the like. In fact, much of the storyline is available episode by episode, in game communities, and dedicated games fans can explore them in greater detail. This allows us to keep players engaged and chomping at the bit for more. There are other ways to provide additional content, such as: wiki pages, websites and official groups, graphic art, audio material such as the General's quotations, and even official story chapters.

A fine balance has to be struck between providing this type of content in a way that is welcomed and not coerced. It's always a great idea to keep your players guessing and to take the project to a new level, among a rising tide of generic products in app catalogues. It's true what they say: over-analysis leads to paralysis, and you certainly want your players to be firing on all cylinders.

With Total Domination, you will enjoy the ultimate in social gaming prowess – use the power wisely!