Top Eleven game designer Mladen Markovic discusses the most effective ways to get your audience engaging with that social functionality you've spent so long designing
What’s the biggest challenge in retaining, and more importantly, engaging players in a social game like Top Eleven?
As a designer, one of the most important things is to know your audience and their needs because they are the people you need to engage. That’s the biggest challenge, and it’s not an easy job if you want to dig deep and find out the core needs of your players.
Only when you have that information can you start with designing. By knowing all the problems that you need to solve, designing features that retain and engage your players becomes that bit easier. Still, you need to be creative, find ways to solve all the problems and end up with a fun game that your audience will enjoy playing.
How do you balance constantly driving engagement between players and leaving them to their own devices?
That’s a hard thing to do, but again we’re getting back to the most important thing and that’s to know your audience really well. If you do, you’re going to design their experience exactly how they would play the game organically.
On the other hand, never push them to take certain actions within the game. In Top Eleven, we always want to make sure that the control is always on our players’ side.
What features have proven to be most effective in getting players to engage with each other?
Clan mechanics are definitely the top feature for getting players to engage with each other. Group dynamics is what drives engagement dramatically; everyone wants to be the best in their group and everyone wants to help their teammate win their next challenge. That’s way more efficient for driving engagement than a simple gifting mechanic.
Why? Let’s compare it with the real world: gifting is just like saying hello to a friend while passing by them on the street and giving them candy – it sounds nice and puts a smile on their face. On the other hand, clan mechanics is more like getting into the car and going on an adventure together. You’re basically saying that you’ll go through good and bad times together and that that will connect you more than ever. So clan mechanics evoke much stronger feelings – relying on friends is super powerful for driving engagement.
How do you ensure that your game is still engaging for solo players? How do you make sure they don’t feel left out?
There will always be players in your game that simply don’t want to interact with other players. They just want to play the game by themselves and that’s completely fine. You can’t change people but you can adapt the game by not forcing social features onto them.
That’s why you should give benefits to players who are using social features but players should be able to progress through the game without them, too. For example, we introduced Football Associations as a clan mechanic in Top Eleven but players don’t need to be part of a Football Association — they can join if they want, it’s up to them.
Be sure that you know everything about the people that actually play your game. Make sure that you are designing features for them, not for yourself.
What kind of feedback do you gather from the Top Eleven community? How do you know what to listen to and what to act on?
There are three things that you need to do as a designer:
- Know your audience
- Hear what they want
- Give them more than they need
So in order to know your audience really well, you should gather as much feedback as you can from your players’ community. Channels that are really good for getting valuable feedback are Facebook Pages, player forums, app store reviews, tickets that players send to the Support team, and questionnaires that you can do in-game.
But the most important thing that you should definitely do as a designer is to meet your players in person: talk with them, do usability tests and see how they really play your game. Ask yourself how does their typical session actually look like?
Talk with as many players as you can and knowing what should you listen to and act upon will be simple. There will be things that bother all of them, that frustrate them the most and those are the problems you need to solve. As a designer, act on those.
Why have social features become so important to mobile titles like Top Eleven?
There are a lot of people who are team players and who play games to have fun, to meet other people and to hang out with them online or even meet them in person. Those players are also part of the Top Eleven audience and they love social features. Basically, social features are important to our players and that’s the reason why they are so important to us as designers.
I see eSports as clan mechanics on steroids.
How do you see this social functionality evolving in future titles?
eSports has become a really big thing and I expect it to continue growing. In the future, it would be interesting to see eSports integrated even more into the games themselves. There’s big potential there — I see that as clan mechanics on steroids.
Also I expect that VR will elevate social functionalities to another level. People won’t only be psychologically immersed in social features anymore but will be physically immersed, too.
Any advice for developers on how to gather, retain and enable their community?
The best way to do this is to ensure that your communication channels fulfil the needs of your community. Ensure that you are present on all the social media platforms that are relevant to your users and provide them with content that improves their experience of your game. For example, Top Eleven has channels on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, and we also have a forum and a blog.
To sum it up, if you want to have a successful game, be sure that you know everything about the people that actually play your game. Make sure that you are designing features for them, not for yourself. And of course, if your audience are people that love to interact with other players, make sure you provide them with the social features that will satisfy their needs and make the game as fun as it can be.