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Segmentation for Game Developers

Push notifications are a powerful resource to engage and reward gamers. Segmentation is key to ensuring the users you reach out to will be incentivized by your messages. Mix this with your gameplay mechanics as a hook to engage with your gamer audience.

The original author of the article is Mo Firouz who is working on a Game Backend project. He previously worked for VisualDNA - a big-data analytics company as platform architect. This is a cross-post from the GameUp Blog

Game design and development is an art. It's truly incredible to see something that was once someone's imagination become part of someone else's life. Of course this isn't an easy task and there are many tools and techniques involved to help with this.

One of these tools is Push Notification. Push Notifications are a great way to (re-)engage with users and reward those who have been very loyal or entice those who haven't played in a while to come back and rejoin the gameplay. It's particularly good when you can “thank” a loyal gamer with unlockable items or levels; something to make their gameplay experience more unique.

Selecting who and when to send notifications is a very important decision which will significantly affect the success of your games. In marketing terms this process is known as segmentation.

What is Segmentation?

Segmentation is the division of a market or audience into smaller subsets, each with members with similar attributes and behaviours. There are no one-size-fits-all scenarios with segmentation. It depends on your target audience, how wide spread they are, and your specific use cases.

In Game Development - or rather Game Marketing - there are some basic segments that we can use by default. For example:

  • Device types
  • Last time game was played (more than 2 days, 5 days, weeks, months etc)
  • Player profile (if you are capturing such information)
  • Average length of game session
  • How often the player has bought a virtual item (of a given type)
  • and so on…

The trick to get a good response to your push messages is targeting players accurately based on:

  • actions they do in your game,
  • the amount of time they spend in a level,
  • how they responded to your previous Push Notification campaigns,
  • the device they have

and many more game specific data points.

How do Push Notifications work?

Tip: Push Notifications are a best-effort tool and when using Push you should consider that there is a chance they may not be delivered to your target device. 

Push Notifications are platform specific and as a result certain platform providers only opt-in to support certain sets of features:

  • Google/Android - Push works with Google Cloud Messaging (GCM). GCM can deliver notifications with data embedded.
  • Apple/iOS - Apple Push Notification Service (APNS) is responsible for delivering notifications to iOS devices. APNS also supports delivering embedded messages. You can also tell iOS to display a badge number and play a custom sound effect upon delivery.
  • Firefox OS - Simple Push is a Mozilla project for Firefox OS devices. Unfortunately, Simple Push doesn't allow embedding of data in the notification yet. (I'm not really sure what the value of it is at this stage without such a critical feature.)
  • Other services have their own quirks and support, such as those for Windows Desktop/Phone, Chrome OS/Web Push, and more.

To use Push Notifications you'll need to interface with the respective platform provider individually and maintain a list of device IDs which later you can segment. This becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain and manage as the audience grows. Thankfully there are services like GameUp that provides this abstraction layer.

GameUp connects to APNS and GCM on your behalf, manages your subscribed devices, and tracks segmentation preferences. You then use the service to send messages to your game installed on your subscribers' devices.

Monster Dash Example

Monster Dash is a 2D, multi-levelled, fast paced, monster-killer (also known as dasher) single player game. The game features a high-score which is simply the amount of time you managed to survive in a single run of the game. The premise of Monster Dash is simple and the replay could easily get repetitive if it didn't have a good reward system with a strong competitive element.

In Monster Dash, you collect coins during the game play to level up your character which gives you extra ammo and health. The game also awards you gems based on your high score that you use to purchase upgrades such as weapons, or my favourite: a coin magnet! Of course, you can use real currency to purchase more gems to upgrade your character and your assets.

You can segment people who haven't upgraded in a while (e.g. played 7 times since their last upgrade). You can then gift them some extra coins to try and convince them to upgrade and use up their coins and get a healthier character which in turn would mean a higher replay value.

Alternatively you can do things a little bit more dynamically. You can send your game some piece of data through Push Notifications that can alter the state of the gameplay - like place a coin gold pot in their next round. This push notification could go to a subset of people who are subscribed to multiple segments.

Summary

Push notifications are a powerful resource to engage and reward gamers. Segmentation is key to ensuring the users you reach out to will be incentivized by your messages. Think of what gameplay mechanics make your game special; leverage this as a beautiful hook with your gamer audience.

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