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The returning god: don’t make me tidy my room when I come back

By on March 4, 2014

This is an extract from the F2P Toolbox, Gamesbrief’s essential techniques for fun, profitable games.

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The key goal of retention is to get me to come back to your game every single day. Many games achieve this goal by luring me back with rewards and bonuses, while more dubious methods threaten me with a stick by taking away bonuses or applying “decay” to my progress while I’m away. In all of this, it’s easy to overlook the most important thing of all – how do I feel when I come back to your game?

returning god

Regardless of what platform it’s on, clicking on a game icon should make me feel good. Games are about fun and escapism. When I come back to your game, my first feeling should be “ah, I’m glad I opened this game!” Yet all too often, games welcome their players back by throwing menial tasks at them – a list of everything that’s gone wrong since you were away and a host of dull actions to take in order to fix it all. Take Playfish’s now defunct Restaurant City, for example – each time you logged in to the game, your restaurant was full of litter and rubbish which you had to pick up and throw out. Your first feeling wasn’t “I’m a world-famous restaurant tycoon!”, it was “ugh, I’m a binman”. If this is any reflection of real life, it’s no wonder Gordon Ramsay swears so much.

When I come back to your game, I want to feel like a god – like a returning emperor being welcomed back to a world where he rules supreme. Those first few seconds back in the game are your opportunity to thank me for returning and to remind me why I spend time with your game. The first thing you see when you log in to Tiny Tower each day is a shower of bonuses – a screen telling you how much money you’ve made since you last logged in, giving you bonus cash in the form of rent every 24 hours and occasionally even giving you premium currency to celebrate a tower resident’s birthday. Square Enix’ iOS version of The World Ends With You is another great example – your powers level up even while you’re offline, so the first screen you see when you come back is a host of new XP and powers racking up.

None of this is to say that your game can’t have chores or repeating daily tasks of some description. Rather, it’s a question of how and when you present those tasks. The first seconds after I log in aren’t the right time – I want you to make me feel good about my decision to play your game again. I don’t want to be told to tidy my room.

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Gamesbrief is a blog about the business of games. We look behind the headlines to tell you not just what is happening to games, but why it matters to your business.