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byScott Willoughby 2015-07-13

How to Communicate So Your Players Will Listen

It’s easy to look at the failure rate of free-to-play games and panic. You know that having a live operations strategy will help your game avoid that fate, but where do you start?

Fortunately, live game operations is not actually rocket surgery, and tools like PlayFab’s give everyone from small indies to huge publishers a level field on which to successfully manage their titles. In the first in a series of blog posts, I’m going to explain how to set up an operations strategy, beginning with the core area of player communication.

First, a word about the fundamental structure of live game operations, which as a discipline has a lot in common with digital marketing. There are four primary areas you need to focus on in order to succeed:

Acquisition: Gaining users for your game or business through a combination of owned, earned, and paid channels.

Engagement: Generating enough quality, valuable content (posts, tools, levels, info, etc.) to drive a customer’s interest and trust in your products.

Conversion: Getting a customer to complete one or more desired conversion actions such as account registration, inviting a friend, or making a purchase.

Retention: Providing enough ongoing value and communication to keep a user around for additional conversions.

That’s it! Get ‘em, hook ‘em, close ‘em, keep ‘em! Simple, right? But not easy. That’s because getting it right isn’t just a matter of applying the right set of business intelligence stats or even adopting the standard best practices. The best game operators and product managers I’ve known combine a rigorous understanding of data with a marketer’s sense of consumer psychology, creativity, and engaging communication.

You’re Not a Bank, Don’t Talk Like One

Let’s start with communication. Every element of operations listed above depends upon communicating with your player.  From your acquisition advertisements, to your tutorial, to your in-app messaging, push notifications, email, community, shopping cart, and promotions, you are carrying your players along a journey (or what a marketer would call a funnel.)

What’s more likely to deepen a player’s connection with your game and the story in which you want to immerse them: a bland, run-of-the-mill system dialog (the in-game equivalent of junk mail you won’t even read), or an immersive message that makes something as basic as a rating request seem like a fun part of the game?

Follow my F.I.V.E. principle for engaging customer communication. FIVE is an acronym describing the four key elements of game-related communication. Your marketing and ops communication will be most effective when you seek to meet these four criteria:

  1. Fun:  Invoke your game’s creative voice. Even for communications that aren’t “in-world,” make an effort to extend the core fun of your game and its setting to your messaging. Marvel’s rating prompt above is an excellent example.

  2. Informative:  Make your messaging efficient, and don’t overuse it so much that players become desensitized and blind to your content. Make sure they know that when they get a message from your game, it’s worth paying attention to.

  3. Valuable:  If you want to make sure your messages are never ignored, always add something of value. Whether that is a freebie or bonus, a gift link, a limited-time offer, or just personalized stats and info that are valuable to each unique player. Make users look forward to interacting with your game by adding value to every message you can.

  4. Engaging:  Rule number one in digital marketing and successful live operations communication: Always include a call to action (CTA). Every single piece of communication you have with your user needs to clearly communicate the desired engagement. Calls to action might include, “buy now,” “learn more,” “rate us,” “login,” etc.  Whatever your CTA may be, don’t be coy — explicitly tell the user what you want them to do.

In addition, just as you would for any part of your game, you’ll need to test your communication as much as possible. Don’t just guess at its efficacy, verify it objectively through data and change what doesn’t work.

No matter which part of the customer life cycle you’re trying to optimize, quality, engaging communication will pay dividends for your game. Follow these rules and you will extend the reach and mind-share of your game beyond the play session and create a deeper relationship with your customers, enhancing the value of every install and significantly improving your game’s chances for success.