In “The Near Future of Viral Design in Social Games”, Gamasutra’s Aki Jarvinen analyzes the element of ‘virality’ in today’s Facebook games. Aki looks at the key idea that to truly leverage today’s viral channels, marketers must understand and implement distribution into gameplay.
Aki begins by clarifying the role of the marketer/designer:
In this kind of design activity, the difference with marketing as such stems from the organic connection to gameplay – unless the marketer understands the details of gameplay, the viral features are in danger of turning into tacked-on messages that only take advantage of the standard communication channels of the network. The marketer-designer needs to understand the inner workings of the product, unlike with many other product categories. Moreover, the designer-marketer needs to step beyond his/her comfort zone and take the viral marketing aspect into account in the game design.
This is an extremely accurate statement that can be used to analyze popular games like Mafia Wars or Farmville, where the act of giving gifts and inviting friends is integral to the gameplay, but is also one of the key viral elements that allows the game to spread quickly.
He goes on to explain that these marketer/designers are going to need to innovate as social games mature, and a key area of innovation will be to “model viral feeds more strongly towards general social gestures.” This means that instead of simple competitive games, viral feeds will need to hit on other social gestures that humans have, like sharing, amusing, creating, taunting and more. He goes into depth about this idea, and I suggest you give the article a full read.