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Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Power Of Your Existing Players

The importance of existing players in the effort to acquire new players dawned on me when I was operating an online bingo and casual subscription game site in the UK. We had launched our site without a player referral program and decided to initiate a program three months after the launch. I expected the referral program to generate a certain amount of new players. The program was not meeting my expectations so I asked our customer service organization to conduct a random survey of our existing player base to understand why they were not referring more players.

I was surprised by the results. With few exceptions the survey revealed that our existing players had been referring other players well before we began our official pay for referrals program. The players that liked our site and content voluntarily invited their friends and family to join our site without any thought of monetary consideration.

I dug deeper and had our customer service organization ask more questions about why they decided to voluntarily refer other players.

1.) We like your game content.
2.) We like the diversity of games.
3.) We like the responsiveness of your customer support organization.
4.) We like your quick payment of prizes.

The conclusion from this early experiment resulted in the development of a philosophy that "The Best Customers Are The Ones You Already Have". This appears to be an obvious concept but it never ceases to amaze me how it is completely ignored or rendered subservient in most online game marketing efforts. Marketing organizations typically focus on acquiring new customers through all kinds of clever advertising, referral networks, SEO web site modifications, banner ads, business partnerships, etc. The budgets for these efforts in some cases are extraordinary.

The success of Friendster and eventually Facebook, Bebo, Hi5 in growing large communities based on the common practice of exploiting existing users of a system and applications further reinforces the importance 0f existing customers or players as marketers. The phenomena of online properties of all kinds growing large user bases with nothing more then the ability to invite other people to the site or with unique content is a great lesson for new and existing game sites.

Games are entertaining and are inherently viral if the right game content and community features are available. Leverage those attributes. If you are not growing your player base naturally through a voluntary invite and referral network then something is wrong with your property. Do not just throw more money at the marketing budget!!

Ask Yourself These Questions:

1.) Is your content interesting and fun?
2.) Do you have enough game content?
3.) How do your players communicate and collaborate?
4.) What are players saying about you?
5.) Are your competitors growing their player base organically?
6.) Are you refreshing content on a regular basis?
7.) What is the reputation of your customer service organization?

In my own experience with the Bingo site I was happy to know that I was getting organic growth from voluntary referrals. However, I was still not happy with total growth. I had my customer service organization asked more questions of my players.

1.) Your games are great but we want more games. We want lots of different games.
2.) We have no way to connect with other players or invite them to your site.
3.) FREE PLAY matters! My friends are nervous about having to pay right away for your service can you have a free play option.
4.) I do not know how I am doing relative to other players.
5.) I want to challenge others in game play.

If you look at this list it has nothing to do with a lack of visibility on the web. It has everything to do with the product and the interest of players to be entertained and to engage in a community that shares their common interest in gaming.

In conclusion, gaming oriented sites face challenges and have unique advantages that other online properties do not. Existing players are you best source of information about your property and if properly managed will help to grow your player base without the need for overly aggressive marketing.


fredrikkjell said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences Kevin. I definitely agree that customer oriented corporations often ignore existing customers which is especially true for the egaming/igaming industry.

Looking at the major companies reveals a surprising naivistic approach to simple customer relationship management. Taking it one step further, few companies do in my opinion try hard enough to adapt according to customers' desires to customize, adapt and modify the product.

We all know that a happy customer will both consume the product longer, return more often as well as recommend it to others. If we can provide the customer with a product that exceeds the expected value we've come a long way.

I think the egaming/igaming industry needs to realize the uniqueness of each individual customer and create a more personalized experience through out the whole customer lifecycle.

Kevin Flood said...

The egaming area in particular has largely ignored the importance of community. They still struggle with the notion power of social networking as a means of building a gaming proposition. This vacuum is creating a great opportunity for new entrants into the market.