A while back, I got together with some friends and family on Facebook to play-test Pet Society. I’d seen Kristian Segerstrale, then CEO of Playfish, Pet Society’s developer, talk at the Games Gone Wild event held by Kemp Little in London last fall, and I’d been fascinated by his story of how Playfish was gaining traction by exploring the new game design and monetisation possibilities of social media platforms. (I wasn’t the only person to be impressed: they got bought by Electronic Arts just a few weeks later.) So I wanted to see for myself.
I’m going to talk in later posts about the social aspects of the game, and how they are intertwined with the game’s revenue and growth model.
First of all I just want to tell you about the mood of the place. The virtual pets you care for in Pet Society are cute, a specific kind of cute called kawaii. Think ‘Hello Kitty’. They have kawaii (and beautifully animated) characteristic behaviours, and they make kawaii noises. The background music noodles around in a tinkly, ambient, almost soporific amorphous kind of way, looping back imperceptibly, never in a rush, encouraging me to lose track of time and stay a while, or longer.
And the place really is as friendly as it looks. Nobody tries to shoot me. I don’t fall down holes, or into parallel dimensions. Though I do have an Alice-like moment of unease about why all the tree branches are waving around. (Perhaps it’s not something I ate, though. Perhaps it’s just windy.)
I get great big fat hints about what aspects of the environment to explore, and what I can do there. Like the Tamagotchi, the Pet Society pet needs care and rewards attention. I get rewarded for caring for my pet properly, and for trying new things. Hey, I even get rewarded for just being there. (Now I wish that happened more often… )
The reward is not just that I get virtual currency, that I can do stuff with, but I get to watch genuinely pleasant animations when my pet is pleased, or I get rewarded. A virtuous circle emerges in which I can use my rewards to deepen my involvement in the world: I can customise my pet by dressing it up, and I can alter and improve my pet’s house.
So far, so sweet. But… no obvious tama-GOTCHA. However, the engagement and re-engagement features of Pet Society go far beyond what I can do there on my own. And that, my friend, is a story for another day.