'New features are wasted if you don't know what players want'

'New features are wasted if you don't know what players want'
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

April 4th 2016 at 3:35PM

Halfbrick Studios and OtherLevels discuss the importance of player data and how using it will help retain your audience

Retention is one of the biggest challenges mobile developers face in this day and age. Countless analytics firms will tell studios they need to be monitoring player behaviour and spending habits, but the more important message is that they need to act on this.

Crucially, this doesn't just mean 'send more communications', according to Fruit Ninja dev Halfbrick Studios and digital marketing firm OtherLevels. HalfBrick has been working with OtherLevels for years to improve its retention and is currently participating in the firm's 12-week FastTrack consultancy to better explore how they can serve – and more importantly keep – their audience.

We caught up with the two firms to discuss what other developers might do to improve their retention.

Why is it important for developers to acquire better data on their players? What does it enable them to do? 
Chris Charalambous, senior sales engineer, OtherLevels (pictured, above left): Product development requires customer insights, but those insights are only as good as the data behind them. Developers build with intent – rarely do they add superfluous features – but the hours or weeks they spend debating and creating new functionalities are wasted if they don’t build what their customers really want. The true test of success is in the hands of the players. With great data, a developer is able to actively iterate their game so it resonates with their playerbase with dramatically higher confidence than blind, non-quantified changes.

Troy Morris, senior marketing strategist, OtherLevels (pictured, above right): Once an app is live, data powers retention. By gathering intelligence on players’ interactions with communications, a developer can drive stronger retention through targeted marketing tactics backed by customer profiling. Since acquiring a new user is, on average, four to six times more expensive than retaining an existing user, using data to get the right message to the right user at the right time can mean the difference between profitability and loss.

What advice do Halfbrick and OtherLevels have for developers who want to engage with their players more? 
Nicholas Cornelius, CMO, Halfbrick: As with product development, effective player engagement is a dialogue – you can’t just send more communications; you need to actively listen to what players are saying through reviews, social media, and customer inquiries, as well as monitor in-game telemetry data in order to be able to respond to their wants, needs, and preferences. From there, it’s about keeping the conversation going long-term to drive stronger activity and loyalty through marketing.

Charalambous: When it comes to marketing, developers need to consider not just how they engage players, but why. That requires a holistic strategy, tied to larger business goals and focused on achieving tangible outcomes.

Churn rate is a good example. In the mobile games industry churn rate can be very high; delivering a better user onboarding ‘journey’ through marketing can reduce churn by as much as 20 per cent, but only if you understand what works for your players and what doesn’t. A marketing platform that enables developers to conduct tests and gather learnings around segmentation, A/B copy splits, cadence, timing, and other particulars is instrumental to delivering that improved new-user experience. 

Effective player engagement is a dialogue. You can’t just send more communications – you need to actively listen to what players are saying.

Why did Halfbrick feel the need to address player engagement? What prompted this decision?
Cornelius: Player engagement has always been a high priority for Halfbrick, but the primary goals of our FastStart participation are to increase customer LTV (lifetime value) and lower our player acquisition costs. We’ve earned great results from working with OtherLevels, but we wanted to expand on them and broaden the depth, quality, and variety of our communications with our 3 million daily active players. The aim is to make our overall engagement efforts more dynamic, more targeted, and ultimately more meaningful and actionable for individual users.

What does Halfbrick hope to accomplish from the 12-week FastStart consultancy? What do you hope to learn?
Cornelius: We want to learn the best ways to communicate with our players without doing things that feel “pushy”. We want to get the best message to the appropriate player at the correct time – every time – to make a meaningful impact on our margins.

Being able to communicate with our players one-to-one is a privilege we take seriously; we want to ensure that every time we communicate, we are doing it with respect to what the user wants. The FastStart consultancy is already showing us what types of messaging, language, and tone resonates with our audience, which will shape our future player conversations.

What will the studio be doing as part of FastStart that will be different to how you’ve engaged with players beforehand?
Cornelius: We’re still learning, but so far the biggest difference for us is in recognising the power of relatively small changes (especially in things like tonality and timing). We’re also seeing already how tailoring our communications efforts with respect to cadence, frequency, and message type are driving changes – and we look forward to continuing to reap strong results.