Why In-Game Feedback Channels Will Make Or Break Mobile Games
In-Game Feedback: The Lesson EA Games Learned
Do a Google search for “Mobile Gaming” and click on the ‘News’ tab. You’ll find yourself assaulted with excited, optimistic, sensationalist headlines: “Mobile Gaming on ‘Cusp of Golden Era’” (Financial Times); “Kids Abandon PC Gaming For Mobile Devices” (VentureBeat); “Will Apple’s 3D Touch Revolutionize Mobile Gaming?” (Forbes). We truly are in a gaming golden era, witnessing a revolution in terms of the ways in which the next generation will game.
Mobile Gaming’s rapid ascension to dominance has, however, included some problems‐ bug problems, to be exact. At the beginning of 2015, Dean Takahashi, an avid gaming enthusiast and tech journalist for over 25 years, predicted that these bugs would persist, and have major impacts on which games make it this year:
“Bugs are hard to stamp out. They prove so elusive that they’ve ruined the consumer experience in a lot of games produced by mid-sized studios, But in 2014, we saw a lot of bugs in some major games….Based on the track record for 2014, I can only assume that the same sort of chaos [will strike] major games in 2015…This is hard work. But we have to be realistic about bug fixing, which is a problem no matter how big a team is. I don’t see how the situation gets any better in 2015.”
It’s a decidedly less optimistic vision of the future of the mobile gaming industry, but one that has real value for app developers. Essentially, if bugs are to persist (which, we can reasonably assume they will), forward-thinking developers need to implement a system that can identify where in the game a player has encountered an issue (through breadcrumbs and metadata).
Furthermore, developers should have a collaborative system in place for feedback, so that issues are resolved quickly and efficiently. Implementing cohesive feedback loops within the product allow the development team, the support team, the product team and the players to easily facilitate conversations; more importantly, stakeholders can quickly communicate issues, bugs, and gameplay feedback to inform product roadmaps.
Feedback channels with communication systems like this actually result in increased revenue. Take a look at Electronic Arts (EA) since Andrew Wilson, Chief Executive, implemented a “players first” mantra. Prior to 2013, the company’s stock had stagnated, and it had a reputation as one of the most hated companies in America. However, when Wilson introduced processes such as previewing games early in development, releasing public beta tests to collect player feedback, and even delaying releases to ensure product quality (such as he did with role-playing game Dragon Age: Inquisition), the company’s stock tripled, received numerous Game of the Year awards, and its customers are immeasurably more satisfied.
“Players first” is such an obvious idea that it seems almost silly to tout it. However, many companies claim to put customers first, put don’t communicate this to their customers in tangible ways, like EA did.
To successfully put your customers first, you must identify who they are and what they want. When EA released public beta tests, they did so with the simple objective of listening to players’ opinions and thoughts. Unhappy and happy customers were heard alike, and their concerns were addressed. The game improved, the players were happier, and the company made more money. With such a low barrier to entry in the gaming industry, retaining players is the key to a thriving, successful game.
How to Implement Fast, Functional Feedback Loops
A good feedback loop should include the player community during each stage of the app development process, from conception, to beta, to launch, to retain.
Here are the tenets for collecting actionable feedback from a well-oiled feedback loop:
1. Provide Players with an In-Game Feedback Channel
The best way to truly understand your customers and how they feel about your game at scale is through engaging your players in a dialogue and collecting valuable insights about your game from the player’s perspective. That being said, it should be as easy for your players to talk to you as it is to use any other feature in the game. If you want players to provide feedback, then remove all barriers that would create friction and empower players with the tools to communicate with your team. The more intuitive your feedback channel is, the more likely players will reach out to you. One rule of thumb: never ask your players to provide feedback outside the game – don’t ask them to write an email, make a phone call, or post to your social channels to receive help because this only introduces the risk of abandonment or venting about their experience on a public platform.
2. Proactively Encourage In-Game Feedback (and Glowing 5-Star Reviews)
Providing your users with an in-game feedback channel is a good start to collecting actionable insights, but that’s just the beginning. Understanding why current players continue to play your game allows you to zero-in on the gameplay aspects that keep players engaged, while also surfacing the aspect of the game that needs improvement. Most players are not accustomed to the idea of soliciting feedback, so it’s up to you to encourage these players to voice their opinions. Leveraging in-game surveys to deliver a personalized, well-timed prompt not only shows the player you’re invested in their experience, but also gives you the feedback needed to improve the game and ensure future product iterations closely align to player needs.
3. Better Service with In-Game FAQs
Over a period of six months, our team of data scientists tracked various metrics across 1.3 billion devices, in order to take stock of the ways in which consumers are interacting with mobile. The first, and most astounding thing we learned was: 1 in 5 mobile users actively seeks in-app help. In other words, almost a quarter of all app users have questions, issues, or problems that they are actively looking to get addressed. Gamers want instantaneous answers to their questions and problems, and they want them at the point of need and in their current context inside the app so that they don’t have to leave their game.
FAQs are a great way to allow customers to self-serve, but they can also provide an opportunity for developers to see where their customers are struggling. Have your FAQs exist where the gamers do: inside your game. Take it even a step further and use key metrics to analyze the health of your knowledge base ‐ in other words, do your players find the FAQ content helpful or useless? One way to introduce a feedback loop into your knowledge base content is to have a binary question like “was this helpful?” located in the footer of the FAQ, if a player select “no” they should be redirected to an in-app chat support channel to connect with an agent. You can then run analysis on which FAQs are helping players, while identifying those that need more clarification. Keeping an updated FAQ is crucial, because it allows players to self-serve, which ultimately reduces incoming ticket volume. This optimizes both the player experience and agent productivity.
4. Immediately Communicate with Players Inside the Game
Continuing with the motivation to keep players in the game at all times, in-game 2-way messaging allows players to contact customer support at the moment of need. For players that need help with their account, in-app purchases or just wish to share their candid feedback in-app chat provides players with a direct line of communication to developers and/or support teams. Using a product like the Helpshift SDK allows customer support teams and/or developers to collect a great deal of user and device information at the moment the player initiates a conversation, empowering your agents to quickly diagnose and resolve player queries. However, it’s important that you not only answer questions directly, but categorize them to identify possible product iterations that may be necessary. By organizing in-app messages into product categories, you can identify where you customers are encountering issues and seeking this particular form of help.
5. Not All Players Are Created Equal: Segment and Prioritize Your Player Base
The complicated system that lies behind customer support should be completely behind the scenes. However, on the backend, app developers should see precisely what their customers are working with (iOS vs Android, Power User vs First Time, etc) – rather than making players do their own detective work -, and be able to glean patterns based on this information. Segment problems by device information, game-data (sessions, level, currency) and player-properties (paid, engagement, IAPs). After you’ve organized player issues, now you can begin to diagnose and resolve. Prioritize player issues, first by player status (VIP vs. free) and then move to the problems which are most time sensitive (i.e. “game crashed” vs “my credit card isn’t working”). Backend has two different functions: providing excellent customer care based on knowledge of each individual, and using analytics to translate this knowledge into information about the product. Which brings us to the final tenet of excellent in-game feedback.
6. Translate Feedback and Tickets into Product Iterations
EA didn’t just listen to their customers; they translated what they heard into changes to the game itself. At each different stage of the game’s development, EA ensured that their players’ feedback made it into the game, which is why the company received such glowing reviews after implementing this system. Having a clear channel of communication between developers and customers is paramount to having a stellar game.
How To Stand Out
Over half of all smartphone users play games daily. And if there’s one thing we know smartphone users value, it’s speed. The medium itself presumes convenience, rapid communication, and constant entertainment. While having an in-game feedback channel is particularly important to gaming, it is also simply the next logical step in mobile.
The gaming world is flooded right now, and as cost-per-download increases, valuing retention and loyalty is crucial. In fact, 38% of app developers say that improving customer service is their primary purpose. While valuing that customer has no immediate financial benefits, we can see from examples like EA that happier customers make for a more profitable company. Providing convenient, simple service channels is a win-win for everyone involved.