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About kevinharwood

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  1. kevinharwood

    Crowdfunding as Marketing

    I was chatting with the incredible PR guru Emily Claire Afan this week and received insight into the merits of using crowdfunding as a form of marketing. This is perhaps not groundbreaking news for some, but upon evaluating a lot of independent releases this year, few have done this properly. We should start by outlining what crowdfunding really offers developers. If your new to crowdfunding, take a look at my intro to game crowdfunding article. In the advent of digital distributors like Steam and Humble Bundle, developers have the ability to produce a game with a full end run to their customers without a publisher. With the typical publisher financing model now removed, developers require funding from a new source. While I rarely see a studio who can fully finance a game through crowdfunding, it is a great opportunity to supplement financing for production. So for this argument, let's define a crowdfunding initiative as a platform for early monetization and community interaction at the center of an awareness campaign. After creating a basic media kit and pitch deck to interact with your customers, your crowdfunding portal becomes the base of operations for sending potential customers. The concept I think many developers should consider is creating a game crowdfunding operation as a means to gain awareness and present your game concept in such a way that the effort, time and resources can be offset with monetization. Regardless of if you make a profit with the operation, you've exposed your title to potentially thousands of potential customers - an operation usually costing independent developers an arm and a leg. So what are some major actionables to include in your campaign? Community Engagement I am a huge advocate of creating dialogue with your customers in a community based fashion. Forming a community around a game is hard work and requires strategy and effort, but has the potential for massive payoff! Many ignore this function of marketing because the cost and return allocation can appear disassociated and impossible to determine, but rarely do I see an excited community who isn't evangelizing the game to their friends and peers. My biggest recommendation is to encourage crowdfunding backers to participate in your community. Even if it's just a Facebook page, having a way to dialogue and interact with your users becomes one of your most important assets. Talk "with" instead of "to" Turning your presentation into an infomercial about your game feels natural and is easy to do, but it's likely the biggest mistake a developer can make. Gamers crave an authentic relationship with developers to know what experience they can expect with their game. Invite your audience to a dialogue instead of a lecture. This is as simple as asking specific questions of your audience and responding to answers they give. Ask what your audience is excited about and comment with expansions of how these points play a role in your game. Show Gameplay To state this frankly - players are interested in what the game experience will be and not in its concept. I know from experience that customers are far more critical and distrusting of a game that doesn't have gameplay footage to show. And why shouldn't they be? Would you buy a home you couldn't tour first? I know this is just scratching the surface of the discussion so let me know advice you'd give to developers in crowdfunding their game. Are you thinking of putting together a crowdfunding campaign? I'd love to brainstorm with you!
  2. When I was 14 my favorite game, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, came out. I biked 10 miles to the Big Name Box store and paid $70 for the massive tombstone sized box with my new prized game inside. Nobody even knew about the game and I had to follow community blogs to even know when it was released. To me, this was the golden age of gaming. I contrast this memory against the current massive ecosystem of games where everybody is more interested in talking about games that suck instead of games they enjoy. I believe it's because there are a few elements working together which allow for bad games to be released and still make massive sales - and here they are; reasons why games don't have to be good anymore. Steam Early Access "If you buy early access, you're going to have a bad time" I have nothing against Steam and nothing against people doing this, but it has single-handedly changed my perception with the gaming marketplace. When I was a teenager, it was exciting to find a bug in Pokemon but now it's just blatant negligence. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because a ton of amazing games have come out of this program, but I do wish there was more diligence on Steam's behalf to ensure a level of quality. I'll lump crowdfunding into this section because it's the same principle. You're paying for the idea behind a game rather than the game itself. The potential abuse of the system is evident in the countless refund requests that Steam users open and almost never receive. Open Source Engines When I first started marketing games, the only companies to do work for were the major studios or new start ups. Now, the majority of my work are small team projects, often with the development team living in their parent's basement. There's no problem with this, in fact, I love it! Everyone has the ability to make their own games, but at the same time... everyone has the ability to make their own games. I will confidently say this has lowered the quality of the average title launched through a digital distributor, but there still is an obvious tier of excellence in quality a large portion of games strive for. That being said, I find roughly 90% of games on Steam or bundles have zero interest to me. So many games just reiterate an old concept and the number of studios looking to capitalize on pop genres is disturbing (zombie/survival open worlds). What blows my mind is when I talk to some of the studios who launch these crazy knock off games who have still earned millions in revenue from Steam sales alone. Game Marketing It's only now being openly revealed, but there is large dark side industry around game marketing. The latest revelations about YouTube sponsored videos have become a mainstream tactic that most games include in their launch strategy. It's obvious that every YouTuber will get access to your game once on the market, but marketers and product managers know they only have to manage the opening reception of a game to acquire the initial onslaught of sales. A game should speak for itself and if you have to curate who showcases your game (because you're paying those people to like it) you're manipulating the perception of the game. I do think YouTube should be an essential part of any game's strategy, but only through unbiased means - I wrote about this before. This issue is further compounded by a copyright holder's ability to pull a video which doesn't give a favorable review of their title. Total Biscuit has already exposed the very common occurance of this happening. I won't pretend that the majority of YouTubers ask for a paid review, but enough of them do. It's hard to judge though - would you turn down $10,000 to play a game and make a few videos about it? Massive Publishers Take a think on your favorite big publisher. EA, Blizzard and Ubisoft are no longer in the business of publishing video games, but instead sequels. Once a game has been well received, the development and monetization team figure out how to milk the property dry. There's rarely attention given to how the gameplay can experience innovation or advancement and a string of titles and transmedia merchandise burst forth onto the market. I've worked with some of these guys, so I won't play innocent. The politics of gaming companies has become something fascinating as you see people with a shocking disregard for consumers brought into leadership rather than committed and passionate creative individuals. The saddest part is that the majority of the decisions I saw made while working for bigger studios were based around better earning potential rather than the consumer's enjoyment. What This All Means There is a life cycle in economics where demand and supply enjoy an exciting relationship. With the video game industry entering an age of maturity we're experiencing the shift from pull marketing to push marketing. Games used to rely on putting out marketing material like press releases, screenshots, demo disks (remember these in cereal boxes?) and maybe a cinematic. But now we have Steam sales to push volume, obscene bundles which cannibalize the perceived value of games and social media platforms urging you to join so they can propel marketing material to you. The average game can't rely on sharing basic trailers and screenshots, but with sales teams and distribution tactics. I realize that games rely on large investment to make and require huge sale payoffs to be considered successful but the gaming industry is starting to be run by business executives rather than game makers. GameDev.net Soapbox logo design by Mark "Prinz Eugn" Simpson
  3. kevinharwood

    Humble Bundle Distribution

    A few people have asked this question by email and I was happy to offer short answers, but perhaps a long answer is warranted. How should marketers or even game makers view bundling platforms? I've met a few people who have openly stated their dislike for the service. "They cannibalize the market", "they profit at our expense" are some of the comments I've heard on forums and in discussions with game developers when the conversation is brought up. These are valid observations but I think context is key to start off this discussion. We live in the days of conglomerate communities. It isn't a wild idea to seek out a gaming community with 10 million+ active users, but this wasn't always the case. Actually until very recently, developers were forced to distribute through physical retailers therefore relying on publishers. I'd say extremely quickly, we had a market maturation where reliable affordable platforms came about where you could distribute and market your product. Yes, the 30% publisher fee was swapped out for distribution fees on Steam, Apple, Sony or the Microsoft games network, but at least it gave more control to the developer. I urge people to look at bundling services which allow mass distribution as a "solution" best suited for a specific set of "problems". Price Obviously Humble Bundle isn't going to be realistic for a title which costs $50 per unit at normal rate. Imagine selling your $50 game and making less than 30 cents per sale. There's no way around it, it's just a bad decision. That being said, there are a bunch of older games a developer might have in their collection which could be revitalized through a Humble Bundle. I also always urge developers to consider their game as a means to build legacy around their studio. If you have older games which aren't selling anymore (even if you charge $30 each) you're not losing potential sales because you can't lose what do you don't have! After a certain period of time - maybe 6 months, maybe 2 years - consider distributing your title. If your decisions are purely driven by profit, I'll give you an outline of what you can expect. Say you sell 500 units per month at $20 through a service which only takes 5% for distribution. This leaves $9,500 of profit. Humble Bundle gives you an opportunity to be apart of their bundle. We'll use Humble Bundle Indie #11 which sold 494,153 units. Let's say your game earns 25 cents per sale earning you $123,538.25. There. Just do it. Age One of the worst decisions you can make in regards to bundling is selling a game you've just released. I can't recommend enough you wait for market maturity. For some of the smaller titles I've worked on, it was reasonable to actually participate in a bundle less than 4 months after launching the title. See below. My criteria is simple; when you've reached end of your big buzz, stimulate the late buyers with the incentive of a lower price. The example above, I admit, was a bit pre-mature, but I couldn't turn it down. I obviously approach this discussion with the perspective that a game should have life breathed into it and with as many people exposed to its content as possible at an affordable price. Cross Title When Electronic Arts distributed a bunch of their titles through Humble Bundle my jaw dropped as I desperately grasped for my wallet. The games available were so fantastic and all for dirt cheap. Later on the same day I purchased the Bundle, I called a friend of mine who used to be an Executive at EA to find out what would drive the tactic. He intelligently said "The bundle is built around Battlefield 3 (it required you to pay a slightly higher amount to get it). With Battlefield 4 coming out next week, the marketing team likely wants to get attention on the franchise. They can push out the older version, get a huge number of people interested in the gameplay style, then upsell them the new version in the coming week." Most times that I write about Electronic Arts, I usually receive disapproving responses. We can't deny that this is a brilliant ninja marketing move though. They took their old franchise title (BF3), distributed a potential 2.1 million units (not everyone might have paid the threshold to unlock it), got people interested, excited and aware of their upcoming Battlefield installment and made a profit doing all this - genius. Social Sharing I am a huge fan of the holistic approach. I really encourage you to read my article on the k-factor to understand the way in which marketers can actually facilitate and foster a social sharing viral reaction from their customers. So consider this; when you flood the market and push your game to a huge volume of people, even if your current k-factor is cut in half, your going to have "earned" sales through customers who enjoyed the game purchased in the bundle and recommended it to their friends. For the most part, sales beget sales. This can be seen through simple means such as games that are selling in larger volumes on Steam get first page exposure in the "Top Sellers" section thus driving more awareness and sales. On a deeper level, mass distribution through bundles drives awareness by more YouTubers (I'm a huge advocate of YouTubers) and reviewers checking out topical products (games more people are going to know about) thus fueling your game and its content as "trending", leading to more exposure. If you look at the decision to distribute your game through a bundle as an isolated event purely analyzed by direct earning potential, you're going to be scared away. When you understand the "marketing mix" this decision creates and supplements, you likely can't find a better way to gain attention for your game. Too many people write on the theoretically of important topics, and I refuse to conform - so here's some practical market data. Here is a really standard indie title's sales. Important take away; Bulk Distributors (Humble Bundle) contributed to 11% of the total revenue Bulk Distributors earned 63% of total sales volumes There's probably far more valuable data you can pull out of this, but for the sake of this discussion, I hope it gives you insight to the returns you can expect from Humble Bundle Distribution. Summary In short, Humble Bundle distribution for your game is a fantastic move when done carefully. Consider; The age of your title; is it too early to discount so early in its life? The price; how much are you discounting and will you earn more through the decision? Your marketing mix; how will this decision synergize with your other efforts? Originally posted on Video Game Marketing
  4. kevinharwood

    Humble Bundle Distribution

  5. A basketball coach once told me "if you want to get good, play against someone far better than you". This led me to a bruised ego, but much better performance in the long run. I want to do the same exercise right now breaking down a Triple A studio's gameplay trailer and even if this is far beyond your project's budget my hope is that you will understand the high level concepts and apply them where you can. For those who don't know, Quantum Break is a new IP by Remedy Entertainment in development for the Xbox One. It's another contestant to the high risk game of trans-media development featuring a live action show to accompany the game. Watch Quantum Break's gameplay trailer below (or as much as you can) I'll try to break down as many of the concepts as I can. 1. Develop a Story You will probably notice that for the first three and a half minutes, there are no "gameplay" mechanics shown. Sam, the Creative Director, spends the entire time setting up the story to give players a sense of immersive context. Why? There needs to be an emphasis on the backstory so character development, narrative exploration and plot arc will mean something to the player. In a trans-media property, developing an engaging story to share across your media platforms is a primary goal. 2. Worldbuilding Books work best when the author tells you about the world you're reading about. In videogames, the audio and visual experience should do all of the talking. Again, notice that while Sam is talking for the first portion of the game, all the worldbuilding components have been depoloyed to show players what is going on in the world; citizens are panicking and feel out of control martial law is in effect and defines the "authority" as the enemy the overall atmosphere of a totalitarian regime in infancy you are an underdog hero These moods and tones have to be shown and not told. Specific examples? I think the biggest theme in this trailer is the fact that you are an underdog hero. I see this tone set by a variety of methods; You are creeping and hiding through a derelict building while the streets are ruled by the militia. Seeing someone up against the glass with police lights flashing behind them shows the need to find indirect alternate paths because the traditional routes are not safe. Confirmed by the need to crawl out an old window. The character reacts out of necessity and not out of expertise. When moving through the building, he doesn't move confidently but hesitantly. The developers wanted to show this clearly as he holds his hands up to block the light when a bright light pierces a window. Forced to make use of what you're given. When entering a new section, the character's head looks around curiously as if to analyze the new environment he's in and what he can make use of. 3. Don't Sell the Features, but Instead the Benefits This is a super old marketing practice you'll see in most well run establishments. Don't discuss what hardware a computer has, explain why it should matter to a user (Example - This computer has 256GB SSD with 16GB of RAM - This computer has a 15 second boot up time with the ability to run multiple programs so that you can multitask) Sam really understands what the benefits of his game are. Watch at 5:00 and listen to what Sam says. "When Jack uses time powers, the enemy loses track of him resulting in exciting cat and mouse gameplay". 4. Pacing A most important concept - remember that you are attempting to create a short story encapsulated in this trailer. Plunging a character into action yields apathy and confusion. Spend the time to tell a story which sets the tone for the game. Anytime you want to show a moment of intensity in respect to plot, mechanics or conflict give the player breathing room to process it before exploring something new. 5. Silence During the fight scene you will notice there are a few minutes without any talking. Sam has described the context and built the stage for what players are about to see - so he stops talking so they can watch. Understand that your goal is not just to have a viewer watch your trailer but to become engaged with the content. If you find yourself constantly talking you need to back up and decide what are the most important things which must be said and leave out the rest. My Process I urge you to start with your Creative Mandate - what is a one sentence theme or concept you feel defines your game's strengths? Based on this, come up with 3-5 of the ways in which you're going to demonstrate this to your audience. Call these your "means". Finally, develop the technical specifics for how you will expose these means. I'll write an example creative mandate based on Quantum Break. Create an interactive immersive experience empowering players to overcome enemies and obstacles by bending the very fabric of time We have our goal defined with several major portions (the means) that we want to carve out. 1. {Create an interactive immersive experience} empowering players to overcome enemies and obstacles by bending the very fabric of time I can think of no better way to showcase this than to give a rich sequence of audio and visual worldbuilding. If you look back at the first 3 minutes of the footage, the content focuses on the character navigating through an eerie and dark warehouse filled with cold and sterile objects. Your player skulking through shadows and flinching at noises aims to mirror the player's internal psyche. 2. Create an interactive immersive experience {empowering players} to overcome enemies and obstacles by {bending the very fabric of time} This is an obvious component of the game which needs to be displayed. With your audience being introduced to this mechanic for the first time, ease them into the experience with strong visual and audio cues. Have the player camera pause to first witness the time freeze prompted by the visual and audio functions which accompany it. Let the first few times it happens be like art - something to be viewed. 3. Create an interactive immersive experience {empowering players to overcome enemies} and obstacles by bending the very fabric of time Consider the careful progression one must make whenever teaching someone anything new. In the trailer, the first few seconds of the first combat experience is about demonstrating the very fact that the character is facing an enemy. Before shooting back, the character has hidden behind multiple objects and moved tactically. The character shoots down his enemies with traditional shooting mechanics before introducing the time warp abilities allowing an augmented experience to the classic 3rd person shooter. By the end of the sequence, chained combat animations allow an informed audience to be captivated by visual effects and animations because they understand what they are watching. 4. Create an interactive immersive experience {empowering players to overcome} enemies and {obstacles} by bending the very fabric of time Call it platforming, action based quick-time, intuitive environmental problem solving or whatever you like - a major feature of the game is applying your time powers to the world around you. Showing unbroken sequences of puzzle solving with increasing visual and audio intensity showcases the player conquering their world. We now have 4 primary means of communicating our creative mandate to the audience. Take time and create a trailer you're proud of. Show friends and your team before publishing. It's entirely about quality when showcasing your game. I sincerely hope this helps with your promotional efforts. If you have any more questions about the process, get in touch with me here Originally posted at videogamemarketing.ca/2014/10/28/make-trailers-like-triple
  6. kevinharwood

    Crowdfunding as Marketing

  7. kevinharwood

    WildStar CREDD System Explained

    I rarely think it's worth talking about MMO's and the slightly innovative things they do - the scene has become too bland to see significant differences. That being said, WildStar has designed and implemented an exceedingly interesting monetization system that I wanted to analyze - so let's discuss WildStar CREDD! This entire design concept is based around a monthly subscription model with options of payment. The first option is a "CREDD" system, which functions as an in-game commodity, which can be bought and sold like any other virtual good. WildStar CREDD can be consumed by a player to lengthen the subscription of an account by one month allowing players the option to exchange game gold for their subscription. If players don't want to bother farming gold they can just pay a regular subscription themselves. A real point of interest is that a normal subscription is $15.99 per month while CREDD costs $19.99. I'll start by saying that I think this is one of the most brilliant monetization systems I've ever seen, and here's why. This system rewards whale users, who play substantially more than other players, with potential for a free subscription and WildStar earns more money each time WildStar CREDD is exchanged. Typically, an MMO relies on the heavy micro-transaction buying whales to contribute to the main revenue of the game, but this design supplements the time invested by whales to be a "play to pay" model. What's interesting about this idea is that it potentially creates two distinct player demographics for their game and WildStar is aware of the nature of the two player types. I know some of the folks doing the monetization of WildStar and they're not fools; they know exactly what they're doing. Here's the irony of this player type segmentation. Players who contribute a ton of time to a game, far more than the average, are generally called Whales. These players usually represent less than 5% of a total player base and quite often are buying micro-transactions significantly more than the average casual player. WildStar is saying players who typically become whales in nature won't have to spend their money to play the game. It's basically the reverse of what happens in a typical MMO environment. Concerns Although my initial first thought of this model was positive, I found some immediate issues with the concept. Value Drain - Because players have to spend their time in-game gathering gold to then pay for their month of play you can actually attribute a time frame of how many hours a player is playing to contribute his earnings towards his subscription rather than in-game pursuits. Have you ever been to one of those restaurants that lets you wash dishes for an hour in exchange for a meal? Rarely is the food they are serving top notch and a meal is usually less satisfying when you're eating at a table then working in the back. Value Extension - WildStar isn't doing this because they are philanthropic care bears - they are experimenting with a new form of monetization that they believe will draw more players in and therefore earn them more revenue. This also isn't just a random addition they added to the game. This is a specific design meant to earn 25% more subscription revenue for WildStar. Value Mis-match - This model has one assumption that I am unsure about - that a regular player is willing to pay $15 for their subscription and another $20 to earn more in-game gold in just one month. $35 for one month of game-play is just too high and I can't imagine how a game can deliver content that ensures players feel they are getting good value out of the exchange. Variable Rate Value - This concept still doesn't make sense to me so I hope I'm wrong here. It is going to be far more difficult to earn gold at lower levels than it will be at higher levels. The issue I see here is that the price of WildStar CREDD will be too high for new players and exceedingly low for high level players able to do raids and end game farming. The price of CREDD needs to, in some way, be constant for all players regardless of income rate. My guess is in the early months players are going to be buying CREDD like mad to enjoy the gimmick experience which will drive up the price. As the game matures CREDD's price will fall after the regular player volume drop off occurs (always happens around 3 months after MMO launch). Value Extension - This idea is somewhat basic. If the gold you have in game can be used for a variety of things like new items and repairing armor but also for CREDD, then any gold spent not on paying for your subscription now has real world value because you could have spent that gold on WildStar CREDD. This always ruins a game for players like me who want to feel like he's getting value from a game instead of having to fight to get value from it. Potential Abuse I'm not going to state this concept as something which may be happening, but something which is possible due to the system design. Imagine I decide to buy WildStar CREDD and list it on the in-game marketplace for sale. Now the very important role of the CREDD system is that the price of CREDD stays high in-game because no player is willing to pay $20 for just a few dollars of in-game money. So what's to stop WildStar from buying up any excess CREDD in the market place to keep the value high? Letting the fox guard the hen house is a concept that any good design should stay away from if only to disprove any accusations of market manipulation. On top of this, the desire to keep the in-game gold volume low is exceedingly high. If players have too much spare game gold, they will throw it into CREDD and basically play for free without even trying. WildStar has a strong interest in keeping your gold income low with money sinks like armor and item repair from dying. If there's any relationship between CREDD sales and how hard the game is (ensuring players die more) the very design of the game may be compromised. This really isn't different from the controversy that Elder Scrolls Online faced with the collectors edition version which came with a mount. Essentially players could spend the extra $15 or $20 to purchase the special edition of the game which came with an in-game mount for players. To purchase a mount regularly with in-game gold was just too time consuming so it became an obvious pay-wall. Summary It's a brilliant monetization strategy and I'm excited to study the long term effects it has on the game. It creatively distributes the cost of subscription and will allow for some fascinating economic experiments. My guess is that players will really enjoy WildStar CREDD and it will enhance their experience. I'm drafting a monetization design for another MMO in development right now but I wouldn't consider utilizing this design. I believe a game should belong to a player for 10 days or 10 years based on their decision without a variable fee dependent on their time invested. What do think of WildStar CREDD? I'd love to hear your experience with it or ideas you've had about the concept!
  8. kevinharwood

    Investing in Community Management

    I can't state how painful it is to see poor community management from a monetization and marketing perspective. It's the single best return on investment when you have an established player base. If anyone here needs to have a strategy session, I'll chat with them free - I just want to help any studio get their community management super charged.
  9. kevinharwood

    Investing in Community Management

    I'm only making this point because I talk to enough studios who aren't willing to invest in their community management - and that scares me. Sure, the big studios do it, sure some small games achieve a good social following, but we're right now trying to answer the generalized question for everyone - should you invest in your community management? Video Game Community Management Let's first set the expectations of what professional community management for a video game studio looks like. It's more than creating a Facebook page. It's really about leading and growing a group of intention-based individuals through discussion and action in regard to a specific subject. It balances a role between loyalty to the player-base and the studio and helps information freely flow between the two. You shouldn't be the figure head celebrity of the game, but instead the facilitator of the studio's identity and personality. If you agree with my understanding of above, then consider the outcomes of proper Community Management that I've noticed over the years. Advocates People are always looking for interesting stuff to share with their like-minded friends. The entire concept of viral marketing is centered around the assumption that people will want to share what they find. One of my last articles was about urging developers to create viral assets that can easily be shared (videos, pictures, art etc..) and I'd strongly recommend implementing the concepts. There is honestly nothing more rewarding than creating these assets and watching them be shared by the community - and it's really not as complicated as you think. From a financial standpoint, you will never find a cheaper CPA for users than when you push for a high social referral. The entire idea of a k-factor being "how many new players will one player invite" emerged because a significant number of users were attributed to existing users' referral. I prefer practical to theoretical, but there's a concept in marketing theory which speaks about how the "fully actualized" customer will have your product (or game) as a part of their identity and naturally represent your game and actively promote it to their peers. You'll always find whales who really take on this role so consider enabling them with viral intent-based content. Retention In recent years the average lifespan of a player has plummeted, in my opinion, due to all the other affordable games they have access to. For some titles it makes sense, I can only play BioShock so many times, but for non-linear or narrative genres like MOBAS, MMO's and casual/puzzle games there needs to be more than just a game for players to stick around. Starcraft BroodWar wasn't being played by a large active player base more than 15 years after game launch because its content stayed fresh - instead, organic communities sprang up which gave new life to an old title. Community is essential to creating any staying power for your title, and people are masters at finding new goals or ideas for games. If you look at games which have the highest video game LTV they commonly have the greatest attention to their community. Examples? The Battlefield series which even won a social strategy award World of WarCraft League of Legends - which I think has one of the largest social platform communities ever? Basically, if your game relies on continual APRU, then it appears the best in the business rely on community management to further create value with their players. Feedback I can speak for certain that this function is the most neglected in all of community management, especially for video games. The concept of "co-creation" has many proponents and still many opponents but what I'm referring to is a stable user base who wants to give you detailed feedback on their user experience. I've worked on QA, and unless you have a team who really is motivated, getting good information on user experience is like pulling teeth - so instead draw answers from your players who will give you endless feedback and even ideas on how to improve your offering. In this function a community manager is able to fulfill the role of an intermediary as an advocate of the player community to the development team. Is there a mechanic or gameplay issue that the community in general isn't a fan of? A community manager should be the role who is continually giving feedback to the development team on what players think and want. Look at how the Diablo 3 Auction House was shut down because the community insisted it wasn't giving a positive user experience. I'm a huge fan of feedback and in a stance of humility, developers can get fantastic feedback from their players on what would improve their experience. So What Does Investment Look Like? It does not mean you hire someone to get you more Facebook likes. What it does mean is making the shift to consider your social platforms (social media, forums, sub-reddit pages) as a source for communication to your players and committing to building their integrated role. Here's my checklist. What's your offering? (example; share in-game rewards with any users who join your social platforms) Offer unique interesting content for your users - (League of Legends posts cartoons every Sunday. They understand their demographic enough to know comics are a perfect fit) Promise real-time news updates on important game information. This is so important! Your users should be coming to you for updates on your game. Having interesting contests run through your social platforms! Be creative - it's not hard (if it is for you, ask me and we'll come up with something) Is your game complex? Consider building and promoting a forum which allows for topic specific discussion. Development blogs help a community know how a game is changing and that it is continually being improved. The Paradigm Shift I really want to encourage you to see that community management isn't another "job", it's a function that connects to so many parts of a studio. Doing Alpha or Beta testing? You probably want a medium for users to report bugs. You probably want a medium or voice to even give them early access in the first place! I could go on for pages about why community management is an essential part of a game's marketing mix. What has been your experience with community management and tangible growth of your game? Do you too see the reward? Cover image courtesy of iStockphoto, romakoshel
  10. I'm going to guess that many might not see the significance of this article. Microtransactions are a hot topic in the realm of the hated corporate agenda of video games, but I don't think it's enough to just "hate" microtransactions or the companies pushing them, I think you should know what they're trying to do. The nature of experiential microtransactions is simple when compared to real world examples. Experience as a Product If you ever have gone to StarBucks you'll understand what an "experiential" product is. The basic idea is that you're not just buying a coffee, but buying an experience - the ethnic/exotic music being played, the decorations on the wall (usually dark and warm colors) or the rough wood grained table that feels different under your fingers compared to your regular IKEA table. I don't want to get weighed down with this point, but Harvard Business Review has a great article expanding on it. Main stream marketing has clued into the fact that people aren't so interested in the utilitarian function of a product anymore - it's about how the product is experienced that's the focus of modern marketing. When I chat about MTX design and examples with friends, I often hear examples pulled from WarCraft and GuildWars. It's long been the classic standard where you exchange an in-game commodity for real world currency and the value is in how great the "product is". When there is an agenda to increase sales volume, awesome equipment and items might be put on sale as an incentive for players to buy. Having worked with clients to balance their in-game economies, I've seen first hand this isn't a reliable or sustainable model to work with. You can flood the in-game economy with epic items but this unbalances other systems and devalues other items, forcing you to find new items to put on sale. This conundrum sparked the desire to put the emphasis off the actual item subject to the microtransaction and more to the experience. Examples In my series on HearthStone and its monetization strategy I mention how the principle MTX mechanic, purchasing packs of cards, is built on the experience of opening the pack. There are flashy visual effects, sounds and even an interactive function to create a "moment" when you're receiving your cards. I need to dispel the thought that this is just a "random" occurrence - video game design resources on IPs this large are calculated and have a purpose. An even better example is the Arena mode of gameplay in HearthStone. You pay $2 to make a random deck of cards and see how well it performs. Once you have lost 3 matches you are given prizes in volume based on the number of wins during your Arena run. the picture above shows the screen you're given with your prizes - the experience is so based around earning prizes, the prizes are "wrapped" so you can open them to fully experience the surprise along with flashy animation and sounds. The reason HearthStone marks a landmark in MTX design is the Arena was exclusively designed for users to pay money (or hard to earn game points) to experience. For players who get bored of the regular HearthStone gameplay and want a unique or more challenging game mode they have this experience always ready to purchase. I pretty much see this design as a carnival on a video game. You're not paying for the crappy prize they give you, you're paying for the experience of achieving. The Battlefield series has just implemented a similar system. From a consumer's view it would seem straight forward to just be able to purchase the specific guns and equipment desired. The regular course of acquiring guns is a long drawn-out process and many hardcore clan members would likely pay $2.50 for a given item, but instead players are only given the option of purchasing battlepacks which are filled with random pieces of equipment. One final example is the new mystery skin gifting in League of Legends. The basic concept is that instead of buying a specific skin for your champion, you can buy a random skin for one of your owned champions. On top of the excitement of randomness in the skin you'll receive, you might even get a rare or legendary skin. You're able to gift the skins to other players and it becomes a new skin buying experience less about the actual skin but more around the excitement or surprise. The Historic Method If you remember back to your first time playing Zelda: Ocarina of Time, your heart would race when you'd see a big chest in the middle of the dungeon. The chest opening animation and music was done in such a specific way - to build anticipation and further the excitement of the player in opening the reward for their progress. This new MTX strategy is putting a coin slot on the experience of achievement. Game design is fundamentally about having players achieve progress and we're Microtransactions experience devaluing the process by creating an MTX model around selling progress. Yes, this is nothing new to the arguments against "pay to play", but what really discourages me here is not that the MTX element exists but that the game systems are adjusted to further incline players to the monetization strategy. Usually, you make a progression system oriented around having a player feel they've earned their reward when they've spent sufficient time commensurate with that reward. If the rewards are too low for the time or effort invested, a player will naturally feel unsatisfied. Experiential MTX design relies on this dissatisfaction to push players to spending What's always fascinated me about MTX theory is that it has generally mimicked the Western consumer economic theories. If you're familiar with the idea that the very first goods sold in the historic economies were products which then led to the service based economy you'll understand how we're experiencing this exact same thing here. The Ultimate Dangers of This These should be super obvious; 1. The excitement in videogames becomes a virtual good bought and sold. I personally wouldn't be interested in a game where the design is meant for me to be under-satisfied or underwhelmed by the content unless I was willing to pay more than the price to acquire the game. It's a bait and switch tactic that I find repugnant. 2. Content becomes optimized from a financial perspective creating redundancy. Once the magic formula of what sells the best is found, every developer will just copy it. We're seeing it happen right now with the major titles all springing to implement random MTX purchases. 3. Game content becomes about the experience of progress rather than the acquisition of achievement. This might sound unimportant, but it means that games will be made in such a way to encourage players to achieve ambigious goals rather than the traditional PvE, PvP or social goals. Maybe I'm looking at this really subjectively. Do you like the way this works? Do you think this has a positive impact on game development?
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