Upgrading Your Player Experience for 2021
If we can pinpoint one clear trend from the biggest companies out there over the past few years it’s that branding is no longer about the product. It’s about the lifestyle.
Regardless of whether a company is involved in gaming, tech, IT, fast food, or fashion, branding has moved on from how good a product is and rooted itself firmly in establishing a tight bond with the consumer. What’s brought on this seismic shift in how we brand and market the products we make? The rise of customer experience theory. And if you’re going to get ahead in 2021, it’s time to start taking it seriously.
For many of us working in the gaming industry, we remember the philosophy of “build the best game and you’ll make it big”. This isn’t the case anymore. Gamers very seldom make purchase decisions these days based on the quality of the game alone. The market is saturated; technology and creativity have become so prolific that almost every game is a great game. So then what keeps players loyal and coming back for more? The experience you give them, inside and outside the game.
Let’s Talk About CX
What do we mean when we say customer experience? Customer experience (or CX) is the outcome any interaction a customer – or player in the case of our industry – has with your brand or as a direct result of an interaction with a product within your brand. It relates directly to how your players feel about how your brand treats them or where they fit into your community. Are they valued? Are they taken care of? Do they matter to you on an individual level? Do they believe you’ll go the extra mile in solving their issues or giving them the best holistic gameplay experience? For brands with a strong CX strategy, the player’s answer to all these questions will be a definitive yes.
In a 2020 market study on customer experience and expectations, experience management company Walker found that customer experience will outrank both product and price as drivers of brand differentiation and purchase decision-making by the end of this year. A separate study by PWC showed that 42% of customers would be willing to pay more for a “friendly, welcoming [customer] experience” – a figure that has almost doubled in the last two years alone – while 92% would sever ties with a brand after only two negative interactions.
What does this tell us? In essence, the efforts you put into making your brand relatable to your players matter more to them than the quality of the games you put out. So much so that the customer experience has become a truly make or break issue. So, you can clearly see how far a little extra effort outside the world of the game can go.
Certainly some food for thought, right? But how do we go about improving the customer experience for players? Unfortunately, there isn’t a switch you can flip to boost your approval rates overnight. You need to get to know your players on an almost personal level. You need to understand what’s important to them and what they want from your game or from brand interactions in general. Because no two audiences are exactly the same, this will involve some time, care, and targeted investment. Luckily, you may already have significant data to hand that you can leverage across your membership, player profiles, or throughout your social media engagement analytics.
As a key player in the games services industry for more than a decade, with a particular focus on providing solid and holistic experiences for gamers, we have a few tips on where to get started in planning your customer experience strategy!
Keep Your Player Support Game Strong
Great player experiences create advocates and ambassadors. Good player experiences keep players happy and maintain the base. Poor player experiences kill games. There’s an old rule of thumb in word-of-mouth marketing that says if a customer has a good experience with a brand or product, they will tell three people. However, if they have a bad experience, they will tell five. In other words, negative experiences resonate more and travel further than positive ones. Nowhere is this knowledge more crucial than in front-line player support.
Every interaction your player support teams have with players needs to be treated as a strategic event. You don’t want to just solve the player’s problem; you want them to come away from the engagement with a smile on their face, excited to tell a friend about how your brand treated them. There’s lots of simple ways to measure this. Many teams use standardized QA systems and techniques like CSAT, DSAT, or regular follow-up surveys, but if this is the extent of your efforts, you aren’t going anywhere near far enough.
In our experience on the player support battlefields, unless there is a clear and obvious issue, players don’t tend to tell you when they’re unhappy or dissatisfied. Constructive feedback and suggestions can be few and far between, so you need to be proactive in seeking them out. Talk to your players regularly, ask what you can do better – in your support efforts as well as in your game. Not only will soliciting player feedback make for a better game or a better support service, it will make players feel like valued members of your community.
Another useful support tip is to keep the introverts and the quiet ones in mind! Nobody likes complaining unless they have to. And when it comes to simple information requests or asking questions about gameplay because they don’t know how to do or where to find something, some players can feel a little embarrassed or anxious about a one-to-one interaction!
Think about the questions your players ask the most. Or the issues that crop up most often. Is a one-to-one interaction always necessary? Probably not. Empower your base with solid self-service options.
In a 2013 survey conducted by Zendesk (the gold standard for many customer support providers), 67% of consumers revealed that they prefer self-service options to speaking with support staff. To drive their point home even further, the same survey also revealed that 91% of consumers would actively use public information resources or knowledge bases if they were “available and tailored to their needs”.
Think about your last trip to your local supermarket. Did you use the self-service checkout? If there wasn’t one there, did you wish there had been? Gamers can be an especially independent bunch with a tendency towards introversion. Provide them with resources to diagnose and solve their own issues and they will thank you for it. FAQs and regularly-updated forums can also take a lot of pressure away from support teams too, saving time and money!
World Building: Being Everywhere at Once
Part of creating a total brand experience is engaging with your base on multiple fronts to integrate as much as possible with their day-to-day lives. Not necessarily in an intrusive way, but to let them know that you’re there when they’re ready to play. There are a couple of fundamental things you can do to make sure you’re never limited in how you can engage with your players.
Social is the obvious one. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Discord, TikTok, Reddit, and Instagram are where a vast majority of players live. Some of them will work for you, some of them won’t. Undoubtedly, you’re already utilizing at least three or more of them already in some form or another. But are you consistent? Analyze and adapt your processes and strategies for each channel accordingly.
Let’s take Twitter as an example. Twitter is lauded for its immediacy and openness. For gaming brands, that can often mean that Twitter is a player’s first port of call in reaching out about an issue or complaint. This leads to a lot of publisher and developer Twitter presences becoming a second line for player support tickets. This isn’t a bad thing, but for a lot of potential or new players looking up your page for the first time, what they’ll see is a lot of negativity clogging up your feed. Make sure you don’t neglect fresh and engaging content to keep things interesting, positive, and fun.
Installing dedicated community management teams to seek out where your audiences are most active and engaging with them directly is key to keeping your game or brand constantly in their hearts and minds. Teams should always cater content to each platform’s unique strengths, but it’s important not to forget that responses and communications need to remain consistent across all channels too – never leave one channel’s comments or DMs unresolved just because your audience may be smaller there right now! (Confused about the differences between player support and community management? We’ve got a quick explanation for you).
Another key world-building tip is localization. This is a pretty simple one. The more players that can understand your game, the bigger your potential audience. The better the quality of the localization, the better and more immersive gaming experience they’re going to have. You can go as big or small scale as is required for this one. Have you got a massive South American audience? Maybe it’s time to think about localized social and digital marketing content. Maybe you’ve just launched in Asia and you want to introduce more specific, targeted language combinations than the traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Where multi-lingual audiences are concerned, you get out of it what you put in.
Stay on the Move with Mobile
Mobile accessibility isn’t a nice add-on for players anymore, it’s a prerequisite. Let’s look at some quick stats.
Mobile devices and tablets count for over 50% of all online traffic, with desktop usage on a steady decline. In 2018, mobile ecommerce revenue made up 50% of all ecommerce revenue in the US. A figure that is set to grow steadily year on year. Additionally, up to 57% of consumers say they would not recommend a brand with a poorly designed mobile website or application; while 85% believe that a brand’s mobile site should be as good as or better than its desktop site. Finally, according to PWC’s independent consumer experience research, 63% of Gen Z consumers are even willing to pay more for quality mobile-ready services.
What can we take away from that? Go mobile and quick. The audience is there and they are discerning, the potential revenue is there, and consumers are willing to pay more if you can meet them there too.
What does this mean for games? Again, it’s a matter of scale. Social will play a large part of your mobile strategy if you’re a console or PC-only developer, as well as a strong, well-designed website. But it wouldn’t be out of the norm for smaller, scaled-down mobile games to be released in an effort to proliferate the brand either. Just look at Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls: Blades or Final Fantasy Brave Exvius. Titles like these can be wrongly conceived of as loss leaders for developers of massive AAA or franchise games, but with mobile game revenue surpassing $19.3 billion in Q2 of 2020 alone, they should not be underestimated.
If you really want to get ahead of the curve in building the ultimate player experience, now also might be the time to start thinking about the cloud! Cloud game streaming technology is growing quickly and with it comes very real player empowerment. It opens new audiences worldwide but also allows existing players to play games anywhere and at any time.
Mobile games and cloud gaming platforms are key tools in expanding the player experience. They shatter barriers completely in terms of where and when a gamer can play your game, and allow them to take your games and your brand even deeper into their everyday lives. How far can your name be from their mind when it’s always in their pocket?
Strange Times are Times for Change
The world has been a very different place this year. It will be a different one again when things return to normal post-pandemic. Start planning now to ensure you’re not left behind.
We have witnessed an industry-wide boost in game downloads of up to 80% so far this year. More new players are taking to gaming than ever, seasoned gamers are playing for longer, and more money is being spent across the board. Now is the time to make your voice heard in the market and doing it has never been easier: just be there for your players.