Free-2-play games are known as a “games as a service”, but often that means only their monetization and operation model - regular updates and a continuous production throughout the entire product life.
I believe, that “service” is a much more extensive concept that includes a full range of entertainment. An ingame experience itself is only a skeleton while the service is all about a sense, community, and support.
In other words, a free-2-play game should become a habit, a part of the player’s identity. The player should feel like a member of the community or a club of people playing this game.
It is vital that player see that the service extends beyond the game session, feel like a part of the game’s community even when they don’t play the game right now. You can think about it like about a club of BMW owners, or members of some subculture or soccer team fans, where a game is just a common ground for communication in a club of interest.
So what is the profit of a community?
Other days, a social and a clans activity was a something for a small group of high-level players.
But now, with all the progress in social and mobile games, the social activity becomes natural and mandatory part of the ingame life for the majority of players.
Participating in game’s community life player gets reasons to keep playing and investing their time and resources. It is a demarginalisation of the game activity. A player gets a social approval, which is excellent for their experience.
On the chart below you can find stats of social-integrated players and loners in one of our games.
As you can see, conversion rate and D30 Retention are up to 2,5 times higher for social players comparing to loners. ARPPU is higher too, so in total social players generate much more revenue.
This data is from players 10+ lvl only, so game’s influence is minimal and if you take a look at the complete data charts the difference will be much more expressed.
Implementing social and clan features WON’T convert your loners to social players, but will attract more social players (which generates more revenue).
I hope now we can agree that community is important. So how to build and grow one?
First of all, you should pick a social platform where you will build your community. The simplest and most efficient choice is Facebook community page (please correct me in comments, if you know something better).
I should inform you: if your game is not promoted and known yet. It won’t be easy to attract first settlers, so I strongly recommend to start building your community long before the actual game’s release - just tease some screenshots and a game’s concept for example.
To attract the new player to our community we use classic viral methods - achievements sharing, friends invites, ingame bonuses for a team play with friends, etc.
However, it is also important to integrate your current players into community’s life. To do that we translate community’s news with a link to the community’s page right into the game.
Even if this is a server maintenance message or an error alert we show a button, which leads to the community hub. So in a game upgrading\prophylactic moments, instead of angry users we get new community members.
The primary goal of all that - to gather players together, let them know each other and stimulate to communicate.
When your community got some members, it is a great time to run special community events, aimed to activation of communication and audience expansion.
The good one is a lottery-based contest Like&Share when you ask players to share this post, randomly pick several winners and reward them with ingame goods (Hard Currency, for example).
Posts, where you ask the players to express their opinion, are very profitable: what is your favorite movie? Favorite weapon or character in your game? Suggest what will be in the next update? The last one is a good idea because you can get you players expectations about the game’s evolution.
Now let’s take a closer look at the community’s structure.
The first category that worth to get familiar with is Ultras, in soccer terms or Opinion Leaders in our case. These are the most active players, most of them are playing from the very beginning and will be with you for months and years.
These players have a tremendous impact on the game socium, they are authorities among other players, so it is crucial to be cool with them. Your relationships defines will you get the most loyal advocates or furious haters. It is worth it to determine them and start to communicate with them, know what they like and hate about your game and keep in touch with them.
The next category is - angry users.
It is common that player come into the community for their very first time when they encountered a problem, so they can be really mad and negative at this moment.
They can abuse your game, insult you or other players, blame you that you stole their gold, or you cheat on them in matchmaking, or formulas are broken and unfair and so on.
All that negative is just an emotional screen, behind which is the real cause of the player’s dissatisfaction, and you have to get it. It is worth it to show empathy, get player feel that you totally understand their feelings, agree that the problem exists and assure a player that you will help. Positive problem solution case, especially in public will give you credit in a community, build your excellent reputation and will convert the upset customer to a loyal fan.
But sometimes players’ aggression is irrational, and their only goal is to harm you and your community. These are so-called Toxic Users. The first rule of communication with such players - do not call their provocation and do not let them drag you into their game.
As soon as you down to their level and start to offend them, or make fun of them - you will waste all your reputation and respect in the community and set up players against you. Optimal move in such situations - maximum polite communication, apologies for the negative emotions that were caused by your game. Accept their position to elevate the conversation to the constructive level.
Unfortunately, in some communities dictatorship of the overbearing administration still exists. There is a tabu on any negative feedback or discussions about administration actions, and community managers are no more than guardsmen and wardens.
I think this is entirely unacceptable and inefficient. Community managers should not be wardens but rather partners and friends to the community. You should not forbid or delete negative feedback and just ban naughty players. The only exception is players who insult or threaten other players. You should immediately crop this issue with a public comment about an inadmissibility of such conduct. But “political” censorship is totally wrong and should be eliminated in your community.
Players should know that they are allowed to express their opinion freely, whether it is a positive feedback or criticism.
I should say, that it is critical to the project leader(Producer, Lead Designer, etc.) to read personally and answer to all the comments. Participate in a community’s life, especially at its very beginning.
First of all, it helps you get an idea what kind of people playing your game, found your ultras and develop connections with them, and also get access to the first-hand feedback.
Secondly, if you are not involved in a community’s life and have no connection with it, you won’t be able to delegate that responsibility to the community manager.
And if your community will grow, sooner or later you will have to hire a community manager because social work is extremely demanding on emotional resources and time.
How to find a community manager?
It should be an extremely stress-resistant and friendly person, preferably with a psychological or pedagogical background. It would be good if they will have an experience in communications with children. Any aggression, including passive aggression, insularity or power issues is an absolute deal breaker.
It would be great if you create a policy for your community manager. Define rules of communication with players, how they should treat players, how to resolve conflicts, how to act in typical situations.
There is always a question - should you speak from yourself or from a “corporate” account.
I vote for “corporate” account instead of personal communications between cm and players.
We had a situation when we had to part with our community manager, but players were so bonded with her, so it became really painful for both sides. If we made her use “corporate” account - change of the community manager would be passed seamlessly.
Besides that, using one shared avatar allows you to consolidate your vision, to present it as a team opinion, which is also positive for players.
Technical support is an another story. In tech cases, it is acceptable to support managers to use their real names. It makes a sense of a personal manager who solves player’s problems.
But I strongly recommend suppressing any communications via personal channels. All communications should be under your control and in your info-field. Usage of personal e-mail, skype, facebook and so on in discussions with players should be prohibited.
Let’s take a look at ingame communities - clans and guilds.
As you saw on a previous slide - clans are important in players activity stimulation.
So how to design a clan system?
First of all you need to determine the clans size. We found optimal capacity for clans in our games - it is ten people. This format allows people to know each other and socialize and at the same time do not let all active players to unite in a few top clans and forces them to split into many competing units.
Secondly, it is a clan joining mechanic. Originally we had only a system of applications, which had to be approved by the clan leader. It needed a lot of time, and often applications remained unanswered. Later on we presented a different clan type - open clans, where the player can join a clan immediately after the application. It increased the percent of socialized players.
Third, it is a barrage fee on a clan foundation. If you give players an option to create their own clan at the same time with an ability to join clans, then some part will decide to found their own instead of unite with others.
On the one hand, this leads to more clans but on the other hand it leads to the situation where the majority of clans are not filled while we need 10-ppl units.
That’s why we use a barrage fee, which is significant at the level where a player got an option to find a clan but became affordable a bit later when the player gains more experience and resources. In this case, players founded their own clans being experienced and socialized - these clans are filled very quickly
And in conclusion, some general advice.
You can find useful to use tools for user feedback aggregation. We use Zendesk, which allows us to collect all the feedback - support tickets, personal messages, comments, and quickly process it.
Please note, that players prefer personal communications. They probably will write you in private messages on Facebook rather than use support e-mail, because they think that it will be way faster and efficient, despite that processing will take the same time.
But never share your personal e-mail with players and try to not been involved in issue resolution. Because as soon as you will help someone bypassing the support processing rules you will create a shortcut and will be flooded by players problems - that will break the whole support system.
So please have fun, and take good care of your most valuable resource - your people.