Over the last 20 years, the video game industry has continued to drive technological innovation through gameplay evolution, VFX, multi-player and massively multi-player functionality, cross-platform play and VR. I’m sure I missed a few in there. Innovation in game design and immersive game experiences is happening daily.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most prolific development studios, and it hasn’t always been smooth. One studio I’ve worked with drives true epic customer experiences. This value is at the core of everything they do. But what makes the gameplay experience epic?
For some departments, like Quality Assurance (QA—one of the worst names for a department ever, but I’ll get into that in a later post), the question has remained constant: “Is this game fun?” That doesn’t change regardless of genre or platform. It is the one department that has visibility into the entire lifecycle of a feature and product. If you want to know the health of a game at any stage, ask a subject matter expert from QA … or a player.
Most studios and publishers have a robust customer care division eager to pitch in and improve the overall player experience, not just in game but with the entire organization. customer care agents and community managers are the ambassadors for the studio. If a player has an issue, they can reach out to customer care. With a larger issue, they will often reach out via forums or outlets provided by the developer.
When looking at the QA efforts and customer care/community efforts a developer puts in every day, it is undeniable that player experience matters. When these efforts are monetized or used as a marketing tool, questions about the studio’s focus arise.
So, how can a company maximize its presence and perceived commitment to epic customer experiences? The industry has been working to answer that question over a couple of decades now and has finally happened upon an ideal scenario. We just need to leverage tools that players are already using.
I’ve directed live support at studios that embrace this philosophy, and it has generated clear wins. Here is the most prominent example I can recall:
A missed opportunity -- There is a robust community for Studio A in a public communication channel (such as Discord or Twitch). Information is disseminated by community and marketing via Reddit or a similar social site. No other reporting tool exists aside from out-of-game email.
The Studio took official ownership of the public channel. Players were encouraged to share any challenges or bugs they encounter in the channel, especially after a content push. (This also works for an active PTR.) The channel was staffed by experienced subject matter experts in customer care and test. As players share issues, customer care staff resolve account issues on the spot. Customer care agents can pass along game mechanic issues to a test analyst who worked with the player. This allowed for real-time reproducibility and system snapshots.
What does this get us? Instead of raging into a black hole of communication, the player received almost instantaneous acknowledgment and resolution for an account issue rather than having to wait for days in a queue.
Furthermore, instead of having a game-breaking issue blocking progression and a friendly, yet dismissive message from community, the player was engaged and played an active role in identifying root causes for issues they encountered—player empowerment with little investment. The game benefits too, with escaped issues being resolved as quickly as 24 hours after release. Minimal downtime for folks to progress in game, especially when new content or reward systems are introduced, is invaluable.
Difficult-to-identify, high-impact issues are resolved sooner with this system. The studio no longer must search for players experiencing an issue; they come directly to the studio. So, for example, if you have an issue with a platform that has hung around for months and months impacting players’ ability to interact with the game, you can provide solutions within days.
This level of support is extraordinary and customer-centric, so don’t expect the higher-ups to see value immediately. However, they will eventually probably and keep community, customer care and Quality Assurance independent, allowing the subject matter experts to do what they do best—create epic customer experiences.
Hit me up with any questions.