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In-game messaging and the science of listening

By on November 27, 2012

This guest post from Games Analytics is an extract from the Science of Listening white paper, which is available to download for free.

The good listener

The art of successful monetisation lies in the Science of Listening. Listening to your players and using that data to create the right messaging strategy is a true science that many publishers and developers are yet to master.

For example, if a publisher asks every player for money once they have completed two levels of a game they risk the fact that many players may not have reached the threshold of engagement and decide to find another free game to play. Effective messaging is all about making appropriate and timely interventions, and definitely not about messaging all players all the time.

In fact if players are not at risk of leaving; or not likely to spend – leave them alone. This means that 30-40 percent of the playing base is being actively messaged at any one time. But remember that this group is dynamic, with players coming and going as their personal game lifecycles evolve.

Rules of effective messaging

Once analytics have determined the different player experiences in-game, it is then possible to build personalised experiences with players through targeted messaging.

For example, if a player is finding a mission too difficult and becoming frustrated, messaging can be used to offer appropriate hints and tips, or if they are bored they could be given incentives or tougher challenges so they remain engaged and don’t leave the game.

Social players should be rewarded even if they don’t pay to play, as we know their influence far surpasses their direct income generated and high value players are, of course, rewarded for their loyalty and commitment. Games that are able to respond to real-time player behaviour will become the norm in the next few years and players will come to expect a level of support and interaction with the games they play, allowing them to progress further and take greater enjoyment from the experience.

Less is more

Don’t over-message, especially while players work through tutorials in early sessions. I was offered a discount on coins in a casino game the other day even before I had reached the lobby for the first time.

In mobile games, the combination of push notifications, in-game messages, prompts to update the version, offers, daily bonuses etc. can be overwhelming. As you build generic messages into the game design, take a minute to think of
the experience from the poor player’s point of view.

Be patient

Asking for money before the player has engaged with the game creates retention issues. The first few levels should be about showcasing the game’s features and encouraging desired behaviours e.g. visiting the store or learning to customise your avatar.

Players who do actually spend in the first session tend to want ‘instant gratification’ but will not necessarily continue to spend and quickly fall out of the game. Others will fast-track to high value. Once players have passed through the first few levels and ‘earned their spurs’, they are engaged and so much more likely to monetise and turn into high value players.

Suggest, don’t instruct

Players do not like to be told; they prefer to discover things themselves. Consequently in-game messaging should hint and suggest rather than instruct and command. Appropriate message tone is vital to create an engaging environment and good copywriting skills are an under-valued asset.

Don’t let the horse bolt

Don’t wait for players to return before you award them with a bonus; if they don’t return they’ll never know! Clearly sign-post which behaviours will generate rewards. Being coy is not a good thing in marketing.

Triggers are good

Similarly, if a player’s resources are depleted, make them an offer, or if at an early stage in the gameplay, even gift them some more. If a player repeatedly fails a mission, you need to take action before it is too late. Implement triggers to enable timely communications.

Be appropriate

Ultimately the most effective messaging is when the player feels it is directly relevant to them. Segment players based on their playing styles to enable you to make relevant offers e.g. weapons and ammo to aggressive players; shields and boosters to passive players; decorative inventory to players who like to customise their character.

There are a variety of reasons why players take the plunge towards first payment. Making an offer that is appropriate is far more likely to succeed than uniform or blunt targeting.

About Zoya Street

I’m responsible for all written content on the site. As a freelance journalist and historian, I write widely on how game design and development have changed in the past, how they will change in the future, and how that relates to society and culture as a whole. I’m working on a crowdfunded book about the Dreamcast, in which I treat three of the game-worlds it hosted as historical places. I also write at and The Borderhouse.