More indie discussion: new player retention

Once again I think it would be a neat idea to give some of my wonderful amazing advice, for the low cost of free, to any potential indie developers. Of course I am joking… just take whatever I say as what it is, and digest it if you want. Feel free to comment if you have some advice of your own, either as a player or a developer.

Also bear in mind that this mostly comes from a writer who covers MMOs… indie MMOs are even more rare and possibly wonderful than indie standalone games. Indie websites almost always ignore indie MMOs, I’m not sure why. That makes indie MMOs, like HARDCORE indie, as in SUPER HIP indie. Etc etc.

Anyway, here’s a few more ideas about new players and how to hold on to them. I compile this list from my experience in playing a shit-ton of indie MMOs and other games.

1) Watch your social media: a new player wants an answer, and wants it now. If you cannot afford to hire someone who will just answer petitions or bug reports, keep an eye on your social media. Facebook or especially Twitter are both free options for, at least, talking directly to players about his or her issues. Also, learn to use something like Hootsuite. You want to be alerted when someone is simply talking about your game. Remember how it might feel if you are on social media and have an issue and the company comes directly to you and answers your question. That’s wonderful, and is cheap and easy to do. Learn how. New players are not always on social media, but more and more of them are.

2) Learn to read your numbers: if you are wondering what area of your game is scaring players away, keep an eye on your numbers. Do they make it through your tutorial area? Do they actually purchase from the cash-shop immediately? Do they utilize the forums right away? Figuring out this information can easily let you see where they drop off. When you see the drop off, go and figure out how to fix it where it happens. Want an even simpler way to see what the issue is? Ask a player or three (family works because they are not afraid to tell you the truth) to sit down and play your game. Just silently watch them and see where they are confused. Make notes.

3) Offer help even if they do not need it: if you are going to skimp on the customer service, at the very LEAST try and contact new players to let them know where they can go for help. If it’s just the forums then give them a link in a mail and make sure that the sign up process works smoothly. Heck, possibly give them access to a newbie channel or help channel. Make this OBVIOUS. Sending an in-game mail is smart because a player can hold on to that mail (and probably will, a new player will probably save much of their mail at first) and refer to it when they need help. If you have a player community that is helpful, get a few volunteers to act as guides. Again the point is to at LEAST point them in the right direction when they need help. Don’t spam the player, but we will NOT remember something that was typed to us once, so repeat it at some point.

4) Play through your new area: if you have an area or quest or something similar that new players will go through, PLAY IT YOURSELF. As I pointed out above, ask other people to play through it… BRAND NEW PLAYERS.

5) Do not confuse “sandbox” or “hardcore” with “poorly designed” or “confusing”: there seems to be this idea floating out there that, if you make a hardcore or sandbox type game, that you also need to confuse the shit out of people, as though that confusion or the hiding of basic information means that your game is “deep” or “complex.” That’s not a good way to think. I’ll sum it up like this: chess is a deep game, and leads to intense gaming experiences. But it’s not complex. I can teach a child to play chess. Do not think that giving out information to new players or helping new players is somehow “soft” or means that your game is a themepark. How am I supposed to play your game if I don’t the rules or mechanics? I’m not saying you should handhold new players the entire time, but giving them access to information – even if it is basic — is how you invite them in and challenge them.

Look, new players are more important to your game than old players. I know, I know, vets are the ones sticking around… but if you have a wonderful new player experience and can invite new players in and make them have a great time, you will always have old players being created.

I might be a unique case simply because I have to move on from game to game, but I will easily skip a game if those first few hours are not very fun or easy to understand. I can handle all the complexity in the world, but if your first hours of your game are nothing but confusing, then I will move on (unless I am obligated, like during a review.)

In an example, I have been playing Mortal Online all week for a column. Not to pick on the dev team, but there is a lot to learn in their example.

I signed up and wanted to tell the community that I was livestreaming the game. With indie games it’s often easier to just show myself and get the community to help me. A larger game will often have better tutorial, a dedicated help staff, etc, so I don’t have to worry about it.

I couldn’t even get on the forums because of a bug. I asked the official twitter account… nothing. I asked on the official Facebook page… nothing. I finally had to ask in game, in the help channel (which wasn’t answered for a long, long time) and just today I have chatted with the developer; on the last day of my play.

Now, I am not blaming them or making fun of them. I truly believe they are hard at work fixing the 1,000 bugs that exist in that game. And I’m not asking for special treatment. As press, I say only this: if you want to give me a press account or let me see higher level stuff or certain parts of your game, understand 1) how I do my reviews (meaning go read a few) and 2) how long I am playing your game for. If you DON’T want me to see all of the parts of your game, or to experience some of the higher “level” content (if your game uses levels.. if not, you know what I mean) then by all means ignore me. I will not be mad or post a negative review because I didn’t get free shit. I will never do that.

It’s simple problem though: if you want press to understand your game, talk to them. If you want new players to stick around, by golly try and understand WHAT a new player goes through and give them places to communicate with YOU or with someone who represents YOU. Ignoring a new player is not a good way to keep them.

I have contacted indies and not received emails for literally weeks or months. Let that sink in: EMAIL. It takes a few minutes a DAY to respond to emails. If you are too busy with the emails like bug reports, etc, figure out a way to get some help through volunteers or by paying someone.

New players need one of two things: a game that is understandable (don’t worry, this does not mean you show them everything!) or new player guides or help files or communications that answer questions.


Anyway, that’s more of my 2 cents.





Author: Beau Hindman

I write for a living, which means that I sit around in my PJs all day. I love it.