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Read, Listen, Learn: How To Keep Your Customers From Hitting Cancel

Robert Levitan, CEO of Pando Networks, describes the vagaries of establishing installs in free-to-play gaming, from download speeds to the download client and how the experience differs from country to country.

Robert Levitan, Blogger

August 1, 2011

4 Min Read

What are the best countries to live in if you are a free-to-play MMO gamer?  If you are a game publisher looking to select a territory to launch a new game, in what countries do you have a greater likelihood of success? Based on the free-to-play gamer base and the points of origin for many free-to-play titles, you're likely to think of China, Korea, or the United States. However, would you believe that one of the countries most friendly to F2P gaming is - of all places - Romania?

What makes me say this? I am defining "most friendly" as having fast game download speeds. Nearly every free-to-play game is published today through digital distribution, which allows gamers with faster, more reliable internet services to easily delve into a broader selection of titles. Gamers in Romania download games at speeds three times as fast as US gamers (with Romania enjoying an average download speed of roughly 16 Mbps to the United States' average 5.5 Mbps) and almost as fast as gamers in Korea (average 18+ Mbps). We collected these statistics during the first six months of 2011, over the course of 27 million downloads around the world.

As traditional game publishers enter the world of digital distribution and online game companies expand around the globe, they quickly learn that despite its ideal of a global audience and access to a vast supply of players , the internet is not exactly a level playing field when it comes to getting their product to gamers. If you want to distribute a high quality game online, it's vital that your customers have the ability to receive it quickly and reliably. This may seem obvious, but consider how much more important this becomes for a free-to-play game. In free-to-play, a player cannot become a paying customer until your game is already transferred to their PC or console - if getting it there is too much of a hassle, they will move on.  With no money invested upfront, free-to-play gamers have nothing to lose by hitting the "cancel" button when downloads are too slow or complicated.

I'm in the business of data delivery. Pando Networks provides accelerated delivery services for more than 150 titles, working with a wide range of games  from Lord of the Rings Online, to Maple Story, to League of Legends. During the first half of 2011, we served 35 petabytes (35 million gigabytes) of data to players in 225 countries, all of whom consume games differently based on what is available to them. A gamer in the United States may not think much of a 1GB download to try a new game; at a speed of 5-6 Mbps (the US average), that's barely half an hour of transfer time. But receiving that same game file in Brazil - a key country in the growing South American gaming market - will likely take 5 hours or more, at their sluggish 0.8 Mbps national average. A dropped download, at that level of commitment, will frustrate a potential player and may send him to another game publisher.

But download speed is only one factor that plays into success for online game publishers. It is also important to track and understand behavior, such as when a download is canceled. For example, we have discovered that players who cancel a download, are most likely (by a ratio of 4-to-1) to do so within the first 10% of the transfer. In other words, once a user gets past that first 10%, they are overwhelmingly likely to let the entire download finish. All free-to-play publishers should be testing solutions to get past that crucial 10% mark on downloads, which is a subject that deserves further investigation and discussion on its own, in the weeks to come.

Download speeds and downloader behavior are two very important factors for publishers to keep in mind, but they're just two of many success factors to keep in mind. During the next few months, I'll be here discussing these, along with the ins and outs of getting a free-to-play game off the ground. Check back here every two weeks to read more behind-the-scenes information about what it takes to successfully establish and grow your game audience... in the US, Korea, or even Romania.

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