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Retention design in different cultures: know your players

By on April 14, 2014

Deputy Editor Zoya Street recently caught up with Ray Livingston, head of product marketing at Bigpoint, to talk about how their approach to free to play game design has moved forward with the development for Dark Orbit Reloaded. He learned about how internet cafes in Turkey have affected the way Bigpoint designs their end game.

Before moving to Bigpoint in 2008, Ray Livingston worked as brand manager at Eidos and SCi. He told me that “the focus shifts” when you move from retail games to online games. Marketing online games “is a constant challenge, constant hard work. But I prefer working in this environment because you can track more easily the impact of all your decisions. You can understand where things went right, where things went wrong, and how to improve. In retail you don’t get that chance.”

This year, Bigpoint’s main focus is on “fun, fairness and accessibility.” This encompasses a lot of different approaches – technical features that enhance gameplay, UX optimisation, and refining free to play design patterns to eliminate any sense that competitive games become pay to win. I was particularly interested in this last aspect. In particular, I wanted to know how you design an internationally popular game for ‘fairness’ when each culture has a different idea of what that means (for a good example, see my interview with Perfect World).

“We optimise for each territory as far as possible,” explained Livingston. “In Turkey we found that it was more difficult for consumers to buy materials that they want to buy,” because of differences in how payments are made in that country. “So we implemented a local solution.”

How does game design need to be adapted to suit different cultures? “We look at how players play our games in each territory. In Germany, people play at home, where they have a really fast internet connection. In Turkey they play in internet cafes, and that changes the dynamic of how they play.”

Designing for internet cafes

Bigpoint has introduced a different style of events that are particularly suited to internet cafes. “Periodically we have a series of events, and those should be optimised for the territory. Clan-based events mean that we can even set rival internet cafes against each other. In Germany, whenever Germany plays an international football match we have an event around that, and that resonates well.”

Events are an important part of retention design, and involving clans in the mix also plays a major role in keeping the game rewarding for end game players. By optimising these aspects of the game’s design for different sites of play, the internet cafe becomes part of the game’s retention design. If a whole internet cafe is banding together to defeat a rival, regular users of the cafe will feel compelled to get involved, keeping them playing for longer.

The importance of community management

Livingston told me that one of the major ways that Bigpoint gains an edge is that they listen to their community. “The development team works with community management,” he explained. “Communication works both ways through the community manager, which allows us to respond much more quickly.” Bigpoint even pays an interest in users who churned out of their games, following up with surveys and focus groups to understand how they could have kept them interested for longer.

Bigpoint benefits from a large development team that is able to respond to user needs and create game designs that are meaningful to people over a long period of time. Livingston’s main tool as a product marketer seems to be the enormous amount of information he has about user bases across different cultures. Just like how playtesting is important when designing a core loop, knowing your users is essential to building a successful retention game.

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.