So many games, so little time to play them all! As a game designer, it is imperative for you to appreciate just how much competition you are going up against. There are hundreds of games of potential interest to any given player, all competing for their attention, time and money. Why they choose your game versus any other should be of great interest to you and something you need to regularly reinforce with them. This concerns your registered users, mailing list, product cycles and your player’s habits.
For starters, whether mobile or pc, people who play games are not always playing the same game all of the time. Certainly there are exceptions, but in all probability they will tend to cycle through several games over time. From personal experience and observation of other players over many years, we keep to a fairly regular rotation which depends to varying degrees upon price, new content, in-game progress, a threshold for monotony and whim.
Normally, I prefer to play strategy games, but will occasionally shift over to MMO’s, RTS or FPS type games. In most cases, these are all games in which my progress is saved, where I can pick up where I left off regardless how much time I spent away from the game. I may go a year or two, or maybe even five, before opting to return to check out an old game’s new features.
Of special interest then, is what prompts me to return to any given game? The same principles apply to all other gamers:
The core issue for developers is to notify their players of these incentives, on a regular basis. In addition to the above points, developers can also offer content that provides in-depth exploration of game mechanics, builds, game lore, recaps or promoting fan sites and blogs covering your game. Promoting your fan sites is always good for your PR and marketing – and theirs! It is worth going the extra mile to offer your fan sites in-game items to give away for contests of any sort – from best game picture, caption, riddle, drawing, special achievements, or whatever your imagination can call up.
To go with this, it is worthwhile to spend time examining and developing your product cycle – offering a mix of small and large updates or expansions. Three factors are involved here. First, your marketing activities need to be synchronized with your product development to constantly update your players as to what is new and what is coming. Second, it is worth defining how much time the content in your update or expansion will provide players and in relation to their play habits and time per session. Last but not least is the price tag for any new content.
Here, I would note that it is useful to include free content that leads up to any premium content. This may include a free trial period for something like a “universal bank” where players can freely transfer items from one character to another. It could include providing one or two free adventures developing the story for an epic, premium expansion. Give players a taste of what they could have to incentivize their commitment whether in time or money toward getting it.
The games I keep coming back to allow me to pick up where I left off – some, but not all of the games are subject to some kind of (temporary) end game. Once players reach the end game, continued play runs up against the law of diminishing returns. This is especially the case with MMO’s wherein the rewards that come with any new expansion are almost always better than the best of the previous cap.
It should be no surprise that developers who make an active effort to entice former players to return perform better than those who don’t. Many developers don’t try to maintain regular contact with their registered users. As shows in virtually every marketing study, those players who spend once are more likely to spend again. Those who played your game 7 times or more over the course of 4-6 weeks are also more likely to return to explore your new features and content.
For additional reading on these subjects, I would recommend: