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I will be completely honest: I knew nothing about mobile gaming before December 1, 2014. I had no games on my phone, no idea about the model of success for gaming studios, didn’t know the concept of player acquisition, and F2P wasn’t in my vocabulary.

But I wanted to know. I was hungry to learn more for my team and my brand. As the Director of Marketing at Helpshift–a mobile first, in-game customer support platform enabling mobile games to improve player experience, drive higher ratings, and increase retention–I knew I wanted to create an experience that would bring gaming experts together to share best practices and stories.

So I said: “Let’s create our own Summit.”

Fast-forward three months. After our Roadshow to GDC and M.O.R.E. Summit, I now feel like a gaming connoisseur. I can speak to gamers, game developers, community directors and anyone within the gaming network.

I want to share with you the wisdom I collected from our thought-leaders and tell their story. What have I learned?

How Top Companies Engage and Retain Players

Dean Takahashi set the stage when he said “Retention and Engagement will count more than ever for a mobile app’s success.” Pure competition in mobile gaming has raised the cost of player acquisition. And once you get those new players to download the game, developers are often unprepared when they quit after a week.

The biggest hurdle that developers face is shifting the conversation from user acquisition to retention and engagement. How should gaming companies keep their hard-earned players in the game? How can you reduce costs and maintain profits to keep your game standing?

It starts with helping players and it is carried on by the community.

This is the newest trend amongst the top grossing games. A game itself can only carry you so far. It’s your player community that drives engagement and collaboration. You need to bake community into game design and strategy.

One thing that has stuck out to me as a new gamer is that a games are a living service. Games give me something I want, but those wants are never stagnant. So really, gaming success means having an on-going conversation between players, customer support and community. Great games are those that provide lively and fresh conversations to facilitate long term fun.

Success also comes down to engagement over time. Better engagement cannot and should not happen overnight; it’s a gated development process. You need to measure retention as part of the LTV formula. It’s not easy–improvement takes hard work and iteration. Player engagement is a summation of events in your game. You have to study the KPI’s/engagement metrics. Determine K Factor, virality, sharing, and retweeting.

Engagement is like a puzzle. And for it to fit, you need to see all the pieces. Solving this puzzle allows the community to tell the story of your game for you.

How should gaming companies really think about engagement?

Engagement is not about initial out-the-door solid numbers. It’s about growth over time. You need to constantly be asking yourself: Why will people keep playing?

Comparing yourself to the industry standard is too hard. Results will be different for indie, enterprise, and everything in between. Don’t rely on solely on 15-20% day 7 retention. What do these numbers really mean so early? True retention is more about day 30 and beyond. Some companies even look at 180 day engagement.

You should know there will be player issues early. But it’s those issues that can inspire improvements to meet the need of your players and increase LTV. That’s why focus is shifting to the longer term numbers. Retention is about the bigger picture.

So what happens when things go wrong?

Finding actionable strategies in all the noise can be tough. Players often “rage quit” when they invest a lot in the game. But complaints can be addressed and mitigated to everyone’s advantage. It’s about keeping in touch with players. The contact pays off. When launching a new game, reach out to past users and introduce them to the next game. Mobile gamers are a part of an ecosystem–if you continue to connect with them, they will support your future products instead of moving on.

It’s also about catching problems as soon as they occur, watching crash rates, and analyzing early reviews. Customer support channels are the “canary in the coal mine.” It’s not about being reactionary. Discover if the community reacting like we expected or if the issue is something more.

It’s about reviews in the market and being transparent to the entire business. Feeding these reviews to the product team will make the game better. Fact.

Problems are inevitable, but listening to your players is key. They will tell you when something is wrong (and often what to do). Yet you must acknowledge it with human intervention.

CRM was born in other industries, how do you strike the balance between human connection and automated services?

A triage service can work depending on how your players are engaged in the game. If they have a high degree of influence in the game then rest assured–this type of player can and will relay that information to the player community. A VIP program can be extremely useful. At Helpshift, we always talk about meeting your player at every point of need. This means that chat rooms must consist of not just players, but your support agents and community managers as well.

It’s about the transparency and constant marriage between customer support, the production team and the social community team. This provides the ability to have the human touch and personalize support to your players. Happy players become your game evangelists. But you need the right tools to provide this personalized experience. Positive news can spread like wildfire. Having a strong player community is invaluable.

Can community work for mobile games?

There has been a shift away from forums and towards chat apps in mobile. Chat cannot be an afterthought from developers! Chat apps are designed to be more immediate and naturally more personal–use that availability to succeed.

Your community can succeed by utilizing content marketing. Align your marketing to the concepts that your community likes. If they like jokes and comedy, adapt your content to that. Mobile allows you to meet the needs of players in the places they live and giving them content they crave.

Stay tuned for Part two, where I dive into how our panelists (industry leaders at TinyCo, Glu, GREE, and Scopely) shape their player community for success and longevity.

Published March 9, 2015
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