Three lessons social games can learn from Skyrim

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the mother of all go-anywhere, do-anything role-playing games, arrives on store shelves today, and you can bet there are a more than a few people ditching work due to a sudden bout of the Skyrim flu. With all of the buzz surrounding this new game (and the fact that not too many people seem willing to skip work to play a new Facebook game), here's a few lessons social game makers can adopt.

1. Let the players pick their own style

One of the things Skyrim does best is throw away boundaries found in most games and let the player dictate their own experience. That includes everything from your avatar's physical details (right down to nose length and chin width) to what type of player they want to be. Do you want to rush into battle wielding an axe? Shoot magic spells from your hands? Both? You can do it all. There's also the option to jump headfirst into the main action or dabble with alchemy, which involves collecting plants and other items, mixing them together and watch the results. It would be interesting to see more social games give players more freedom to craft the entire experience. Imagine being able to mix a purple cow with a certain type of tractor in FarmVille for some interesting results.

2. Make the game feel expansive

Skyrim offers players a big expansive world to play in, and that's one of the biggest selling points in the game. You can literally walk dozens of square miles in the game, while taking in the vast landscape around you. There's something about being given a wide-open playground that lends to the fun, as if anything can happen at any given moment. Games like FarmVille, CityVille and The Sims Social tend to take place in a small, confined area that the player can claim as his/her own. There's the option to visit your friends' homes/farms/cities, but that is also in the same confined area and there's nothing connecting the various locations, taking away from that go-anywhere, do-anything sense of adventure.

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3. Don't ignore the story

Story is an essential element in Skyrim and helps you pull you into the game from the very beginning. And, as any good game storytelling should, it keeps you playing just to see what happens next. In social games, story is still mostly an afterthought. FrontierVille/Pioneer Trail was the first big social game to take a stab at having a central story to back up the action -- and other games, such as Playdom's Deep Realms, have followed suit -- but there is still plenty of room for social games that take storytelling seriously.

What other lessons can social games take from more traditional video games? What would you like to see? Sound off in the comments below. Add comment.
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