In my time working with gaming communities, I’ve come to recognise the enormous power, and importance games have when it comes to customer loyalty and retention. In the world of games, communities have the power to make or break games. Brands in other industries are now waking up to is the fact that communities have the power to make or break their products.
In the games space, audiences have grown accustomed to having a huge stake in the product – 4 core demands of brands. Drive, inform, care, and engage.
Some of the biggest success stories in terms of customer loyalty and lifetime values come from the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) space. EVE Online and Old School RuneScape – all with communities formed over periods of years rather than days, weeks, or months.
These products and companies are the ones we have to hold up as shining examples of how to retain customers. Part of that is down to the genre, but these two stand out to me because they are involving their customers directly.
Their communities directly input and, in some cases, control the development roadmap or governance of the game. In Old School RuneScape, at least 75% of the community must support a change to the game before it is developed and implemented. CCP has implemented the Council of Stellar Management into EVE Online so that there are player representatives treated as stakeholders in the process.
Handing over the reins to your customers might be scary, but it works. They’ll tell you what they want and give you the mandate to work on it. No more fear of customer sentiment when you press the button to release a new update or launch a new product, you’ve already got the feedback and the “permission” of your community. They’re backing you every step of the way.
But, that may not be for everyone. Your publisher might not allow it; you might not trust your community fully; whatever the reason.
If you can’t hand over control to your customers – just be prepared to listen and learn from them. Bethesda did this with the Hearthfire downloadable content (DLC) for Skyrim. They saw the most popular mods at the time were player housing. There were so many mods, of varying quality, different styles – but yet they were consistently the most popular. So – Bethesda capitalised on that, adding-on to the game with an official DLC which brought that to the community from the developer themselves. It was a resounding success for them. They listened to their players and the players responded by handing over their money. It’s that simple.
This element is about keeping your community up to date with the latest developments, timelines, and roadmaps as part of the development of your product or service.
I always hear a lot of pushback on this one. “I don’t want other companies to know what I’m working on”, “I don’t want customers to hold me to deadlines” … I get that, but you can almost certainly do more to keep your community in the loop.
Be open with them, share as much as you possibly can. Allow them to see inside your business and your process, the more they feel involved and informed, the more likely it is they’ll keep coming back for more.
And in truth – it’s not just games companies who are doing this successfully. This applies to any company or brand with a development process, and the best of them are already doing this to the extreme.
Monzo, a challenger bank, are transparent by default. If they can tell their customers about something, they will.
They’re a brand after my own heart. They publish their entire development roadmap, they invite their community into their office for knowledge share and progress update sessions. This is cutting edge and it works.
It’s essential that you care about the people behind the screen, behind the spreadsheet. Who are they as people? Why do they love your product? Why are they part of your community?
Once you understand all of that, you can immerse your customers in your brand. You’ll be able to support and create content they want to watch, either by using creators they already know or using the same language and tone as them.
Looking at the games industry again, we’ve all seen the ads for hyper-casual games “Me vs My Mom” or “Trump vs Kim Jong Un” – you know the type. They work because they’re in the same language the end-user uses – memes. The marketers behind these ads have understood that their audience are always on their phones, social media, and watching video, and so they understand that when the customer sees something in the format of a meme, they’re primed to laugh or feel something positive. Imagine if your ads could land with your audience in a similar way.
Earlier I touched on how CCP and Jagex have given the power directly to their customers in terms of development, but I think there’s also a part to it where we as the brand need to give power to the community to self-regulate and choose the channels they want to use.
The best subreddits are community-run, the best Facebook Groups are places where the brand just appears as the guest, rather than try and moderate. They are the places where real discussion and community spirit comes alive.
Look at Starbucks – who created the Leaf Rakers Society, a group on Facebook of people who love the Pumpkin Spice Latte. They set it up and then let the community take over. Now they have a group in the tens of thousands of people across the world who are keeping each other hyped about a flavoured coffee and generally advocating for a brand they don’t really have any major connection to.
Greggs too. They made a WhatsApp group filled with people who are obsessed with their Festive Bake. They found their biggest advocates from social and put them together in a group to chat, using the group as a way to organically amplify information about when and where Gregg’s loyalists can get their hands on turkey-filled pastry.
… And that’s it.
Having a social media manager moderating a Facebook Group isn’t good enough anymore.
To win – by extending lifetime values through increased loyalty – you need to engage with your community, care about them as humans, keep them informed about your product, and drive your product development and marketing strategy around your customers and their feedback.
The games industry have been doing this for a long time, and it’s time for everyone else to wake up to the potential in their communities.