How to enhance player experience with in-game social features

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Social functions play a crucial role in enhancing player engagement. Take a look at how to implement in-game social features using Pusher.


Engaging players with social features

As a game developer, you’re always aiming to create the most immersive and engaging gaming experience possible.

Game design comes with a fierce set of challenges — between generating essential gaming elements like gameplay, graphics, characters and creating a deep and captivating narrative you have a lot on your plate to achieve success. In addition, you also need to consider how to keep your players interested and craving more. 

Incorporating social interactions into your game is a tried and tested method for improving game engagement. Social interactions are ubiquitous in modern-day video games. It should go without saying that players highly value socially interactive features. 

Whether you are an experienced game developer or are just starting out, this article will help you decide which social features are most suitable for your project and for the requirements of your target audience. 

We'll also look at some insights into the importance of social components in games. Additionally, we'll discuss several methods for developing in-game social features and demonstrate how real-time infrastructure like a pub/sub model may hasten their implementation.

In-game social features are among players’ top expectations

According to a report published by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), video games have the power to bring people from all over the world together, creating connections and communities.

88% of players think that video games unite people of different backgrounds.

83% of players concur that they foster a sense of community. 

Nearly half (46%) of players say they've met a close friend, spouse, or significant other through video games.

More than 3/4 (83%) believe that playing video games can help people form new friendships and connections.

Moreover, interacting with other players also figures within the top most important video games features according to a Statista study, alongside game performance, connectivity and storyline. 

According to Unity's Multiplayer Report 2022, matchmaking at the same skill level and the ability to join a match or party with friends are among the top performance-related elements that players need for a fulfilling gaming experience. The same study notes that 56% of gamers like to organise in-game chat parties.

Games have become social spaces. It is critical for game developers to leverage this opportunity and create unique engaging experiences for their audience. Enabling players to socialise, cooperate, compete and create in-game communities is a proven strategy to increase player retention and stickiness. 

Social features increase player acquisition by allowing users to share their gaming experience through social media platforms and word-of-mouth, which helps spread game awareness and incentivizes new players to join. 

In-game social features are also a monetization opportunity. For example, you could create social events that players can participate in for a fee. Not only do in-game social features contribute to player engagement, they can also help contribute to the financial success of the game.

Creating the best gaming experience with realtime social features

The first step when building realtime communication features for a gaming platform is to define the kind of gaming experience and interactions you want to create for your players. Here are some examples you might consider:

  • Players state and information: If you want to add social aspects to your game, chances are you'll start by looking at enabling players to check other players’ profile information.
    To make the social experience even more relevant, you’d want players to get realtime information about others. An example that fits in this category is presence indicators.  This would allow players to check the online status and latest information of the person they’re playing or interacting with.
  • Multiplayer communication and interactions: You can create activity feeds to tell players of other players' actions so they can stay informed while competing to defeat a boss or win a race. Players can then decide who to play with or compete against next by keeping track of each other's progress in this way.
    • Cross-platform Communication: One important consideration when building your game is making it OS-agnostic, so that players can interact with one another even if their devices do not operate on the same system or version. This is an important implication if you’re looking to expand your player base and allow them to pick their hardware and whatever operating system supports it.
  • Online chat: In the “remote” world, everyone is used to connecting with people instantly regardless of where they are. We’ve grown more and more accustomed to realtime socialising, and rich, interactive online chat is likely one of the first features required in any community-led application. Whether it’s a party, clan, guild chat, or a 1-on-1 communication, players need to talk strategy, coordinate their team or just share thoughts. According to insights published by Facebook, 32% and 38% of new game players in the UK and the US respectively prefer chatting with others when playing games. This is a significant figure when you consider that gaming has wrongly been considered a solo or even anti-social pursuit. New gamers are evidence of a strong and growing appetite for community building among game players.
  • Game event notifications: It’s important to keep your players aware of what’s happening within the game in real time. You can let all players or a certain group of players know about newly available items, events, like open arenas, or live streams as soon as they’re available, so that they have immediate access. This way your player will stay engaged and will never miss the opportunity to try new attractions – keeping the thrill of the gaming experience going. 
  • Realtime leaderboards: Players can track their progress and compare their progress to the rest of the existing players. Keeping the thrill and motivation of improving one's score and ranking against others is definitely a great reason to keep playing. Who doesn’t like a good challenge?

There are endless features you could build and customise different social features to allow players to interact and socialise. The choices you make highly depend on how you envision the gaming experience to be for your players.

Pub/sub as the best tooling for realtime in-game social features

As your player base grows, scalability, cost, time-to-market and security will become increasingly important considerations in your game development journey. The same considerations apply to decisions you make regarding realtime social features development.

Pub/sub messaging is an easy, fast and proven way to implement social features for different types of apps. In the game development context, pub/sub enables realtime communication between players in a flexible and scalable fashion by allowing multiple subscribers to read a message sent by the publisher through a  message broker, like Pusher

There are a couple of alternatives to using a pub/sub message broker in order to allow players to interact socially. Here are a few examples:

API calls: You can use API calls to allow players to send social interaction requests to an API endpoint on the game server. This solution is attractive by its ease of implementation and simplicity. However,  API calls can raise latency and server load issues – especially when your primary goal is scalability and having a large number of players and players interactions. The last thing you want is for players to grow frustrated with how much time things take.

Building your own infrastructure: You can also spend time and resources building your own websocket and pub/sub tooling instead of using a broker’s hosted APIs. Picking this path gives you 100% control over your infrastructure. However, it comes with the challenge of understanding what needs to be done, spending months in software development and paying hefty costs. This goes without counting all the security considerations that you’ll have to comply with and the scaling and maintenance implications you’ll need to consider if you’re successful in growing your user base.

Off-the-shelf solutions: Since you have so much on your plate, you may consider exploring buying a ready-to-go solution. This could be the case for online chat as there are so many great chat app providers out there with suitable solutions. However, using an off-the-shelf solution limits you to the features built by the third party provider – making you lose flexibility and ownership over the experience you want your players to have.

Unlike the alternatives we just mentioned, harnessing hosted pub/sub tools, like Pusher Channels, is a great way to maintain a centralised realtime messaging system between players, reducing infrastructure complexity and latency while owning your own business logic.  

It helps speed things up, saves you time, reduces your costs and gives you the control and flexibility needed to customise features or modify them as your players' needs change.

Check out the Build vs. Buy: Adding chat to your app blog post written by our Pusher team to learn more about how Pusher can help you build solutions, using chat as an example.

Using Pusher to build multiplayer social features

Pusher is designed to handle messaging infrastructure at a very large scale, allowing you to focus on developing exciting and engaging features instead of worrying about messages volumes and latency issues. 

Plus, player authentication, encryption and sensitive data handling are functionalities already built-in to Pusher Channels helping you to comply with current data and security protocols. Using Pusher’s pub/sub realtime messaging technology not only helps you experiment with an indefinite pool of ideas, but it also allows you to focus on your core gaming features, while our software engineers take care of the tooling backing up your social features for you.  

Pusher helps you take care of the infrastructure headache, and powers your game regardless of the number of concurrent players – helping you scale faster. Check out gaming tutorials using Pusher Channels to learn the how-tos and get inspired.

Take a look at social features we described previously as paired with Pusher features. 

Implementing social functionality with Pusher Channels

Player state and information

Pusher presence channels offer the functionality to notify players when others join or leave a channel that they’re subscribed to. This gives a broad overview of who is online in a game at any given time.

Extending presence further, you might allow players to check what levels others are in, whether they’re currently busy playing or not, or more depending on the nature of the game.

You can also narrow things down further by using online status for Pusher watchlist. Watchlist allows players to stay up to date about the state of their groups of interest only, such as a friends list, cutting out any undesired noise from unknown players.

Multiplayer communication and interactions

You can use Pusher client events to send an event from a client to other clients subscribed to the same channel.

In addition to that and if you’d like to receive messages on the server, use webhooks in a format that makes sense for your scenario and is easy to manage on your server.

Online Chat

Chat is also one of the most popular use cases for Pusher’s realtime tools. Check out stories from other users who have built powerful, engagement-driving chats with Channels.
Presence channels are a relevant feature to use here to help players know who’s online and available to chat.

If you want to learn more about Presence and the chat use case, here is an article written by Pusher engineers on Building an app with information-rich “Who’s online” feature.

Game Event notifications

Pusher offers a feature for subscription counting. Subscription_count events automatically provide the number of connections currently subscribed to a given channel. In the online gaming context, that would translate into how many players are in a specific event, arena, quest and so on.

This could be an indicator for players on how interesting the event is and if there are enough players engaging with it already. To learn more about subscription counting, refer to the Counting live users at scale with subscription_count events blog post.

Dynamic Dashboard

Here you can also use Pusher cache channels to help players who just joined in or lost their internet connection to know who’s leading the game and by how many points.

Ready to start building your social features with scale in mind? Try Pusher for free or reach out to us.