As a part of our series on helping developers turn great games into great businesses, we’ve been talking about the importance of evolving your players into a fan base. This week we’ve invited Daniel Shir to share his advice as the co-founder and CTO of Nextpeer, a platform that has helped over 7,000 game developers with discovery and retention through social features.
According to the recent data shared by Vision Mobile, roughly 50% of mobile developers are below the so called “app poverty line”, which has them making less than $500 a month. The number of apps out there is staggering, and game developers have an even harder time, with around 65% of the one million apps out there being games. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the competitive gaming landscape that’s out there for mobile game developers.
If you’re a game developer then you base your business up on three major pillars - product, monetization and customer acquisition. To sum it all up in a brief sentence you need to make sure that you have a compelling game, a way to monetize it and a way to obtain players to play it. Let’s assume that you have an awesome game idea and that you’ve even thought of ways to monetize it, say with in-app purchases or ads. How would you go about acquiring players for your game early on and making sure that those players attract even more players? One of the best ways of going about that is to build a fan base and a community around your game.
It’s All about the Fans
Companies that do this well hit that sweet spot where the fan base acts as a sort of a perpetual motion machine, driving and pushing the game forward all by itself. We’ve all heard of the Minecraft fan base and how it propelled that game to success. The tipping point came early on for Minecraft, while the game was still in alpha. Devout fans went ahead and talked to anyone they could about how cool this game was. The end result? The game passed 1M purchases only a month into the beta phase with advertising done strictly via word of mouth.
Image by evoo73 flickr.com (under CC BY 2.0 license)
Kotaku names word of mouth as being the most persuasive factor to convince players to check out new games. Also mentioned are so called “Influence Multipliers” which are essentially gamers that are hyper connected to other gamers. According to a Waggener Edstrom Worldwide study, “Influence Multipliers” make up about 20% of the gaming audience. Think of those gamers as a central node in a huge interconnected network of gamers, it is those gamers you want to reach and persuade to become advocates for your game. It is those influencers that should become the base for your game’s community.
Getting the Ball Rolling
At Nextpeer, we’ve taken a look at a lot of successful games and analyzed what makes them tick. Sometimes simply enabling the players to communicate and share content with one another is a sure way to allow advocates to have their voice heard. Pixowl’s game, The Sandbox, does precisely that. The game itself allows the player to play a sort of mini god and create a small mini world. While the game is a lot of fun, the real ingenious propulsion engine for it comes after the player is done playing. The Sandbox enables players to share their mini created worlds and also view worlds created by others. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for advocates, for instance in educating other players and so online tutorials are created on how to create super complex worlds.
A mini world as shared by The Sandbox player Marian205 (rights owned by PIXOWL, used with permission)
Another channel that have risen in popularity lately is fan created content. Companies encourage their fans to create additional content based on the games they love. League of Legends is famous for their fan art competitions where the winners are usually rewarded with in-game items. Players feel important when they’re included in the creation process. It’s not rare to see game companies sharing live discussions with their fans whilst obtaining live feedback from them.
Yet another ingenious tactic employed by Riot Games is to reward players that invite their friends to the game with special in-game rewards and items. Some game items are impossible to come by unless you invite others to play the game. This switch in thinking turns inviting outsiders into the game to something of a badge of honor. We’ve all read about virality and how important it is, yet so many games make the mistake of not giving players a simple way to invite others. Even if an influencer loves your game and wants to share it, no one is going to do that if there’s no simple way to do it.
Communication Is Key
So what’s the best way to kickstarting your fanbase? Well the most important aspect of any fanbase if the player-to-player connection which happens around the game. The key to change a player into a fan is to give the player a way to act as a fan. Multiplayer games have this almost from the get go, since players are connected through the game itself either competitively or cooperatively. If your game is strictly designed for a single player, think about how to connect your players in other ways. If your players create or achieve something, let them share that moment in the game. Is your game a puzzle game that gets gradually harder? Let experienced players create tutorials and share tips with novices. Sometimes even having simple like a forum (with easy access from the game) is a way to get things rolling.
Creating a game all in itself is a challenging task, but building a fan base and reaching out to players makes that even more complicated. It used to be that game design, programming and graphics were all that were required to create a successful game. Nowadays, in order to succeed developers find themselves needing to understand social networking, sharing dynamics, analytics, and community management. This precisely the reason we created Nextpeer, a social service for mobile games, to take care of all those things so that game developers can focus on their game.
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- Paul (Twitter:@PaulCutsinger | Twitch:PaulCutsinger)