If you’ve been in mobile games – even only for a little while – you’ve probably come across situations where users don’t engage with a feature the way you initially intended them to. Maybe you designed a secondary loop critical to the new metagame you wanted to introduce – but the metagame isn’t perceived as compelling enough to get users to bother with that secondary loop. Maybe you have a game mode with an entirely new gameplay – but only 10% of you DAU play that game mode.
Designing a feature is taking a leap of faith (but ideally data should help you make it a calculated bet – not a hail Mary). If it’s an entirely new feature, there are limited insights from existing user patterns. Before the feature is actually released, you only have an expected impact. But once the feature is out, you can confront your plan to the reality of user engagement. And if you observe a discrepancy between your intention and actual behavior, there is an understandable disappointment. After all, you are designing features and games to achieve something – if you don’t care, you’re probably not in the right business to begin with. But what’s most important is the step that follows the disappointment: what do you do when you observe a discrepancy between your design intentions and players’ actual behavior patterns?
A natural tendency can be to double down, and to make additional changes and tweaks to have users engage with the game/feature in the way you want to (or alternatively, create frictions and penalize users for not following the desired user path). But that’s not a response likely to yield positive results. It’s problematic for 2 reasons. First, it’s problematic because digital entertainment and game as service is not (only – or even mainly) about continuously releasing content. It’s mostly about continuously giving users what they want (which is not always the same as what users ask for). If player data clearly indicates your users don’t want to engage with your feature the way you designed it, you are making things difficult for yourself if you decide to double down. Ultimately, you will always be more successful when you are capitalizing on existing behavior and reinforcing it. Changing your users’ habits and making them play in a way they don’t want to is not a strategic move. If you are thinking in terms of what users ought to do – or what the correct way of paying is – then you are probably making things harder for yourself (and monetizing less)
Second, if your goal is to make your users play in a way they’ve demonstrated they weren’t interested in, you are not really operating in a user-facing state of mind. If players are not engaging with your features and game modes, why are you trying to make them engage with it? (or who are you doing that for?) You are not providing value to your users if your goal is to make them play a way they don’t want to play. Ultimately, your goal should not be for users to play a particular way. Your goal should rather be broadly defined in terms of engagement or monetization. Think about what matters the most: is it that users play 15 minutes a day (regardless of how they play) or that they play your game a specific way (regardless of how long)? Using an OKR framework emphasizes the why and the what of a feature. Ultimately, your game is a means to engagement and monetization effects – your game is not an end in itself. If you focus more on what the game is and the way it should be played (the how) rather than the effect it has on users, you are not providing value to your users.
The best way to create value – and design a monetization strategy – is to start from actual engagement patterns and look for ways to add value to that. When you are trying to make users play a specific way – despite all evidence pointing to a lack of interest on their part – you are placing the burden of value on your users. If you are trying to mold user behavior to fit the ways you know how to monetize, you are not trying to find ways to add value to the way users are engaging with your game. In other words, who is making the efforts to make the system work: you or the user? Don’t try to get users to play a way you know how to monetize. Work on finding ways to monetize your player’s favorite behavior.
Identifying (and creating) value opportunities
In order to identify and build value opportunities for your players, you need to start by looking at what they are actually doing and how they play. Once you’ve observed what they are doing – and clarified what their key motivators are – you can build value opportunities around that. You should aim to give users more of what they want – and not try to get users to change the way they engage with your game.
By value opportunities, I don’t (only) mean things you can sell. Value opportunities also refer to different ways to play a given game mode (for example, add a weekly leaderboard feature to your PvP game mode), or a new feature/functionality to engage with an existing feature (for example, implement a reward program for every purchase a user makes, allow users to swap in a character during a match, etc.).
The idea here is not to have one value offer that is equally appealing to everybody. The idea is to break down and segment your userbase and target more specifically what might appeal to different types of users. Ultimately this is a very manual and granular process. You need to start by considering individual and isolated actions and infer user motivations from available data. Then, you need to make assumptions on what could help users further their goals and preferences.
Some parameters will be relevant regardless of the game: is the user a customer or a nonpayer; how many IAPs has the user done; has the user played a specific game mode on a given day, has the user progressed to a specific point, has the user made an IAP on the day in question, etc. Other parameters will be game specific: did the user purchase a premium gacha, did the user upgrade a character, did the user speed up a build time, did the user beat a raid etc.
Once you’ve determined the relevant user segments, a good way to clearly visualize value opportunities is to look at what percent of your segment is doing a given action – and also how many times are they performed that action (this is similar to the approach in my post on price optimization).
In the example above, you can see that users in segment 1 and 2 don’t bother to upgrade much. The percent of users in that segment upgrading is so low that can be an indication you should simply not invest any time or effort into making those users upgrade. But you can see another interesting opportunity for users in segment 2. When users in segment 2 are doing speed ups they are doing it the most. It’s reasonable to assume users in that group find value in speeding up. You can then add value to those users by allowing them to do more speedups. From that you can find multiple opportunities to provide value: have more users in that group access speed up; or offer a way to speed up more frequently. Maybe you can allow users in that segment to speed up for free a few times a day. That could potentially increase the percent of users in that group experiencing a speed up – and increase their play time and next day return rate. Or alternatively maybe you can sell something that auto-speeds up for a short period of time. That could be a monetization opportunity that could resonate with users in that segment (those who speed up do speed up a lot).
The idea here is not to provide an exhaustive playbook of ways to provide value to users. The idea is rather to suggest you will be more successful at adding value if you start by looking at user behavior. You can find ways to add value to users by offering then more ways to play the game the way they want, or ways to further achieve their in-game goals. Instead of starting by wanting users to play a specific way, it’s all about identifying how users play, and providing them with further opportunities to engage with the game on their own terms.