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Are the users of your game's direct competitors your core players?

Developers hope to, in the whole life cycle of our game, identify the core player group, who would like to try it and be willing to invest their time and energy in it. But are the users of your game's direct competitors your core players?

At the beginning of the design process of a game, we all hope to have a core group of players who will enjoy playing our game and to whom we could offer a different gaming experience so that they will take the game as interesting and enjoyable. Developers hope to, in the whole life cycle of our game, identify the core player group, who would like to try it and be willing to invest their time and energy in it.

1. Pay attention to the user of our game's direct competitor during the entire life cycle of the game

In the early development stage, we usually consider the players of direct competitors as our pre-set core players, but will most of them be converted into our core game player group? This question requires the consideration and verification of UX researchers. And during the open beta and pre-launch stage, the actual performance of the players which requires our close attention could be analyzed by both qualitative and quantitative analysis as they actually played your game. When it comes to the stage of long-term operation, it is also necessary for us to focus on the recent market changes, for the number of our direct competitors continues to rise over time and some of them could be threats to our player base.

Therefore, during the whole life cycle of a game, developers should pay continuous attention to the question that whether the users of direct competitors are core players we need, and find out methods to distinguish and identify our core players in different development and operation stage.

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2. Define the core gameplay and map the competitor

It is essential to define the game's direct competitors, but how to do it effectively? First of all, make clear what the core gameplay in your own game is. Different games have different core gameplay, for example, in MOBA games, 5V5 group battle is one of its core gameplay and players love those different hero battles and the strategies behind it.

After clarifying the core gameplay, find games with relatively large player groups and good results in business and player's reputation as our direct competitors. Of course, games within the range of the corresponding gameplay category can also be listed as one of the competitors, and all players of the games in this list are included as players of our competitors. The range, though, is big, it still can be regarded as a method to distinguish.

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3. Distinguish and Identify in early user experience testing

In the early development stage, when the conditions for launching and testing of larger scales are not available, we are also very concerned about the question, of whether the users of direct competitor products are really our core players? So in this stage, how can we verify it? The UX researchers will do investigation work about which game offers the players a better experience, after experiencing our game compared with the competitors, and confirm whether the core gameplay of our game can attract this group of players.

Often, in the process of player experience, the lead designers could already find out some clues to acknowledge the real feelings and experiences of players about the game. In this stage, it’s better to get a playable version of the core gameplay in playtests for players to participate in, so that in the process of testing we could understand the real feelings and honest feedback of players to verify our assumptions about the core player group. What designers thought might not be exactly true.

For example, when testing an action game demo, we unexpectedly observed that a portion of the ARPG game players who were regarded as core players failed in the game frequently during playtest, on account of the high difficulty of the game. It can be discovered that the players who failed were usually killed by the boss, owing to the players' continuous attacks towards them. And it became quite difficult for players to even clear the basic levels.

Therefore, players were unlikely to continue to play the game after trying its demo, because they felt that it was not as 'fun' as the ARPG games they experienced before. In this situation, designers and user researchers could consider how big this player group is, and do more in-deep analysis to decide whether to adjust the difficulty of core gameplay or keep the old direction for the different target groups.

The core player group is not set and should not be completely decided along the development process for any games, however, all assumptions need corresponding verification constantly during the whole development process (especially in earlier stages), for lower risks and a higher possibility for business success when a game faces its official launch.

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4. Target user segmentation and key indicator tracking in-game

Just after the launching process or when it is ready for an open beta test, the quantitative data could be helpful for developers to verify whether the players of direct competitors are our core players of us. First, we can classify the player base to get a clear picture of their gaming experience and take this as the basis of classification. Then, based on this classification standard, we need to get the critical data of player behaviors in the game so that we can verify who might really be the core players of the game, by the analysis results of core data. There may be inconsistencies for data indicators in different games, but some core indicators are quite similar.

The main factors here to analyze consist of the player's retention rate, payment rate, total time, and other operational indicators in the game. In the process of quantitative analysis, it is possible to find out that some gamers who were not defined as the core users of our direct competitors as we assumed before surprisingly performed quite well and showed great passion in our games, which also brings new inspiration. In this process, user experience researchers could interpret the data more, to have full knowledge of the problems that players encounter in the game and the new requirements and needs they have so that we can optimize the game to make it more enjoyable for targeted players.

These indicators seem similar to some developers. However, one key step to analyze them all is knowing your players well by throwing some surveys earlier before they log in in-game to match player persona and their behavior data. This crucial step would help you validate your hypothesis by linking strongly player data with the corresponding persona.

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During the operation period of a game, the necessary work that needs to be done is to examine if it is probable to turn the users of new competitors into our core players. For them, the quantitative data to support our verification process as mentioned before might be not enough, and the information about the reasons and expectations of the players to start a new game is what we have to obtain. Hence, we could classify the players into different roles by this dimension, and view data to observe the performance of players both in the short and medium-term.

For example, here are two types of players: the first is play-and-leave players, who are tired of their old game, may have a strong interest in the newly-launched similar game for a short period of time after hearing the good comments of it. However, after the short-term honeymoon period, they may get tired of it gradually and then get back to the old one again. The second is what we called complementary players. They play another new similar game while not giving up the old one, for some requirements and needs are not met in the previous game but are filled in the new game. They tend to choose to play both two games at the same time.

5. Summary

In this article, I mainly focused on how to identify core players from the players of our competitors in the early developing stage, open-beta period, and post-launch stages of a game. Different methods could be used in different stages. In the early days, it depends more on playtesting process. And in the open beta test or online operation period, we can employ a method of combination of qualitative and quantitative to distinguish our target players. And remember to keep an eye on the changes of core players of your game since some of them come and go quickly, and of course, the consistently changing gaming environment and marketing activities could probably make the core player group of any game unstable.

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