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How little changes made a big difference : case study in one aspect of game design

A case study showing how carefully encouraging your players to write positive reviews can result in a near perfect overall rating. How small modifications can have great impact.

Greg Bala

March 22, 2012

5 Min Read

Let’s face it, just building a great game is not enough! An indie shop can only buy so many clicks, so much PR and advertisement. 

But if you got a great game with a dedicated player base, you should leverage this!

This blog is not about all the ways you can leverage your active player base. It is just one story of how small changes made big differences in one aspect of engaging our players. Lessons learned can be applied to a wide verity of scenarios.

One of critical weapons in your arsenal are good, unbiased player reviews and ratings. That holds true in all marketplaces

realm of empires

realm of empires

In Realm of Empires, an MMORTS  launched in 2008, despite thousands of very satisfied players, few of them were rating the game. Worse, because the game is very competitive it was the disgruntled players who were often rating the game, and rating it poorly – simply because they got beaten in game!


So how to improve your rating by getting more, genuine reviews? 


Simply ask player for it, and here is how: 

Ask them to rate your game but do so at the right time

Only player who hate or absolutely love your game will rate it on their own. For the vast majority of players, you will have to explicitly ask them to do it. But do so at the right time.

You should ask your players to rate your game when they like it the most – all games have a time when players get the biggest high from it. Find out when that is in your game.

In case of Realm of Empires, it is when a player captures their second castle. Therefore, immediately after this event, we decided to send them a “congratulations“ email asking them also to rate the game.

We had good results - we got more reviews but not as many as we expected. Perhaps 10% of those players wrote a review - up from 0.1 % -  a significant increase, but still not good conversion.

Offer an incentive

Why should a player take the time to help you? Some LOVE your game so much, they want to tell the world, but that’s a minority.

Why not offer them something for their efforts?

We tried this in Realm of Empires. We offered just a few credits  “as a thank you for your efforts”. Conversion skyrocketed! Well over 50% of those players wrote a review; up from 10%.

Tell them exactly what it is you want from them!

As ecstatic we were about the conversion, quality was an issue - we got lots of 3/5 or 4/5 ratings, with comments like “excellent game!”, “Love it!”, “Hopelessly addicted”

How could this be? So do they love it? or kind of like it?

Problem is, ratings mean different things.

When rating a game, are you thinking you are offering feedback to the developers? Or sending a message to new players?

Fact is, when players are rating the game, they are often in the “feedback mode”.

They ask themselves questions like: “is the game THE BEST?”, “Is there nothing that should be changed?” Unlikely. Therefore 3 or 4 out of 5 will do so that developers know there are things to improve.

To a potential player however, ratings help him decide if he should try the game. 5 out of 5 means the game is worth trying, 3 out of 5 means the game is seriously flawed.

Whatever the reason, we decided to ask players for a perfect review - we just appended “5 start reviews are much appreciated and help us grow” to the message

Voilà! Suddenly, 95% of reviews were perfect 5/5 , and after 3 years and a few thousand reviews, we are at 4.7 out of 5

Make the message clear and direct 

Don’t sugars coat the message if that obscures the meaning. Perhaps you are afraid player will see that it’s just shameless self-promotion. I don’t think they will care, and more on this below, however for now, my point is this - from my experience, a direct message will get through to players easily. A hidden one will be confusing and likely missed. Don’t make them think too much, they are playing your game to relax!

Make sure to tell them why they should do what you ask, and make it a “speak to them”

We already offered an incentive to get the player to rate the game, but why should they give you a perfect score? To increase your chances, justify your request in the way they can appreciate.

Consider our addition of “[5 star reviews] are much appreciated and helps us grow”.

Player want the game to grow, and are happy we appreciate their help and found these reasons compelling enough to give us perfect ratings.

Is this all wrong? Just shameless, carrot dangling self-promotion?

NO, and here is why:

  1. Is asking your players to rate the game wrong?  No, You are just telling a player that you would like a review, nothing wrong with this

  2. Is asking at the right time wrong? No, that just good sense.

  3. Is offering credits for rating wrong? No, it takes time, why shouldn’t they get something for helping you?

  4. Is directly asking for a perfect review wrong? No, you are just asking; the player can still decide what they want to do.

Bottom line is - players have full choice to do as they wish.

Most developer will not even question if this is right. If you have a conscience, you will. I did. After 3 years, players proved its ok!

Do you have a simillar story? Would love to hear what you think! 

P.S. If you have not yet read Malcolm Gladwell's “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”, then pick it up today!  It’s a careful analysis of why what I described above works.

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