February 16, 2009

Players don't just give you money

In the past week I've made a couple of posts that talk that talk about player numbers and retention. These topics bring to mind direct revenue from subscriptions or microtransactions, but good developers keep their playerbase happy and growing whether that comes with extra fees or not.

This can take the form of free content, frequent improvements, or even just maintaining an open dialog with your players.

Though it's in the context of microtransactions and DRM, I really like this quote from Daniel James:

Money can't buy you love, but love can bring you money. In software the only sustainable way to earn money is by first creating love, and then hoping that some folks want to demonstrate that love with their dollars.

The cheddary 'Free to Play' is not just a cheesy marketing slogan, but a shift in assumptions; it costs approaching nothing to give away some bits, or let people play Puzzle Pirates for free. Every player, free or paid, adds value to the community and excitement for other players. Free players are the content, context and society that encourages a small fraction of the audience to willingly pay more than enough to subsidize the rest.

Players want to help make the game fun

I think the number one reason to provide support and content to your players is the fact that they spend so much time generating (or serving as) free content for you.

Players provide the kind of hilarious and challenging and devious behavior you'd never think to design into your game, or get away with if you tried.

Even in games that don't have significant online multiplayer, your playerbase can serve to supplement and provide context to each other's experiences.

If you give your players enough flexibility, they may use your game for things you never intended. They're not playing it wrong. Give these players tools and co-opt them into your community.

Treating players well is the best marketing

As much as companies would like to think that large marketing campaigns are all you need to sell a game, they're basically only useful until the day your game ships. After that, word of mouth is much more powerful.

Your players know who exactly among their friends are people who will like your game, which makes a happy player the best way to get more happy players. On the other hand, one gamer with a lot of friends and a sour experience will make sure nobody they know buys your game.

Valve sees a bump in sales every time they give away free content, which is partially due to the large amount of positive press this generates.

Players teach you to be a better designer

You can ship a game, immediately forget about it, and start making a sequel with all the same problems, or you can learn some painful lessons then proactively fix those problems in your next game.


Tesh said...

Huh. Somehow I missed commenting on this one, despite linking to it on my blog. I've been a huge proponent of Puzzle Pirates, and that interview with Daniel James shows me that he *gets it*. That mentality is the new wave of MMO design, and I wish more devs would pay attention.

Muckbeast said...

Tesh posted a link to your post here from a discussion on my blog:


I think the fact that players are content in games is grossly underrated. This is one of the big reasons I am so against subscription systems. Running off players just removes content from your game. That can only lead to more people quitting, which leads to more, etc.

Players provide some of, if not THE, most interesting content in any MMO. The social relationships are what make MMOs sticky - not great raids or cool quests.

I have bookmarked your blog and intend to check back regularly. I read 3 posts on this visit and loved them. :)

Muckbeast - Game Design and Online Worlds

Chameleon@CoffeeBreak said...

Thanks to Tesh for linking and bringing me over here to read - great stuff! I haven't actively worked in game design in some time - well, not anywhere that most of today's players would recognize as relevant - but I can tell you that the more things change, the more they stay the same. On MMO's especially, where it's impossible for a small gm/staff to pay attention to every player, your players are the biggest reason that players keep coming back. They build relationships with each other and will do anything to keep from losing those relationships - not only with the players, but with the characters created by those players. Like Mike, I'll be back to read again!

Mike Darga said...

Thanks again guys, glad you liked it.

@Chameleon: It's that "the more they stay the same" part I'd like to take a crack at.