If You Build It, They Will Come: Getting to a Hit Game by Listening to Your Players

Players are discovering and playing your games? Check! Now, it’s time to start thinking strategically about how to keep the players engaged and happy so that your games will be a continual hit.

While there are many variations to this “secret sauce” in mobile game development, one of the most critical of “ingredients” hails from the most basic of sources — the players. When you’re developing free-to-play games, it’s important to embrace them as “games of service.”

At GREE, once a game is launched, we treat each title like a perpetual service that continuously provides players with an engaging and entertaining experience. Think of a game as restaurant. The likelihood of a patron coming back rests on two criteria:

1) Was the food good?

2) Was their experience pleasant?

In order to succeed in free-to-play games, you not only need to constantly update games with new content and features that are fun and entertaining (aka “the good food”), but it must also continue to satisfy the changing needs, tastes and wants of the players (aka “the good experience”). This is especially true in the crowded mobile market, where players are constantly being introduced to new games (in fact, over 4.2 million iOS games are downloaded per day in the U.S.). The combo of keeping up a steady stream of fresh and exciting content along with an engaging and positive experience is essential.

At GREE, we are particularly passionate about our live operations approach. Not only do we have game designers dedicated to planning new game updates, developing new features, and strategically rolling out new content, we also carefully evaluate data and analytics to assess what is working in a game, what isn’t, and how to make it better.

The numbers are telling and an analysis will most often lead you down a positive and success-oriented road. However, sometimes, developers just have to go straight to the source – the players – to seek guidance on how to make a game more enjoyable and more successful.

The GREE player community is intensely passionate about the games they play, as evidenced by the over 12,000 forum posts published per week and the over 2,000 emails we get daily. We make it a priority to constantly communicate with all of our players regardless of spending level to resolve issues, respond to customer support tickets or show our appreciation for them.


A top guild became an Epic Boss event in Kingdom Age

Recently in Kingdom Age we celebrated the success of the game’s top Guild, Forum United Nations, by dedicating an Epic Boss event to the team. We incorporated the real-life Guild members into the game by giving players the ability to battle the Guild Leader and the chance to capture other Forum United Nations players. Not only were the members of the Guild delighted to see them honored and valued in the game, but it also excited the other players. This gesture gave all Kingdom Age players something to work towards, and helped further deepen the personal connection, competitive ambition, and commitment towards the game.

While the positive feedback is a great gauge in understanding the level of player satisfaction, engagement and connection to the game, proactively going through and understanding the negative reactions will get you the necessary constructive feedback that can move the needle in making a game more successful. Listening to negative feedback and doing something about it shouts an important message to players that we care about them and their concerns. It’s essentially good customer service, and in the business of “games of service,” keeping your customers happy, engaged and connected is key.

While it’s impossible to take action on every single player request or feedback, developers shouldn’t be too quick to brush off feedback that doesn’t initially scream “positive ROI.” Sometimes, you’ll get a few requests that don’t appear to be too critical at first, but in reality they can be game changers.

When we initially launched the World Domination feature (a live event that allowed players to create teams and then battle each other) in Modern War, it ran every two weeks for five consecutive days. We saw major success the weekend we launched the feature, so naturally we thought longer duration and higher frequency will continue to yield high excitement and engagement. We were wrong.


World Domination was too much of a good thing for some players, so GREE tweaked the frequency

By the second installment of World Domination, we started getting player complaints saying that each event was too long, and that there wasn’t enough time in between each one. When we looked into the issue and their concerns we learned that it wasn’t stemming from players getting bored or experiencing fatigue of the feature, but rather they were concerned that they didn’t have enough time in between each event to strategize tactics for upcoming events. Also, players were getting so enthralled in World Domination that it was eating into their personal and professional time, so they needed each event to be shorter.

We eventually made the events three days long and spaced them out so they occurred only once a month. From a business perspective, we were concerned that decreasing the frequency would negatively impact revenue. However, on the contrary, we are generating higher revenue and consistently seeing higher participation in the three day events – something we might not have seen had we not listened to the players.

Another example of when we stumbled upon great constructive feedback where we least expected it was when we saw an influx of requests to implement the ability to change a player’s profile name in our games. We hadn’t thought about the significance of being able to change your profile name until we saw the requests come rolling in. When players first get into a game, they’ll often create a generic or simple profile name, but as they get more invested and involved in the game, there’s an increased desire to make profile names more appropriate and applicable to their current in-game experience, status, and level. Also, as we launched the World Domination events in our other titles, a catchier or unique profile name became more important as players were utilizing them in deciphering who to attack in battles or invite into their factions.


When players were clamouring for a name change ability, GREE listened

So, by the 3,000th request (yes, we saw over 3,000 customer support tickets regarding this issue), we took a chance and began the process of working with the engineering team to make this happen. So far we’ve rolled out this feature in Crime City and Kingdom Age. It wasn’t a momentous game changer in terms of revenue spike or installs by any means, but we were able to achieve another important milestone – making our players happy by listening to their needs and concerns, and doing something about it.

By embracing that our titles are services we provide players rather than looking at them as stagnant products, we’re forced to be more strategic about the way we work and engage with our players to keep them happy, returning customers. With the sheer amount of mobile games available today, players are becoming more selective about what they play. And the competitive landscape of the mobile gaming market allows them to be more demanding about what they want out of their games. As players become increasingly sophisticated, building a successful game means you not only have to develop quality games that capture the attention of mobile gamers, but also continuously innovate and improve upon existing games with new features, content, and game tweaks that satisfy the ever-changing needs and tastes of players. And the reality is, you can’t do that without having open dialogues with players.

Mike Lu is VP of Product at GREE International, Inc. where he oversees teams working on popular games like Crime City, Modern War, Kingdom Age as well as upcoming new titles. His titles have reached top charts for both iOS and Android. He has over 10 years of product experience working in mobile social games and online media. Mike was the executive producer at Funzio when it was acquired by GREE and previously he was the General Manager of popular social mobile gaming company RockYou and employee number five at Yume.

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