The rise of F2P gaming has introduced a non-native apex predator into the gaming world: Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Widely adopted in app marketing in the form of automated emails and push notifications, game marketers have embraced it. But when it comes to improving player retention and engagement, it might not work as well as you think.
The new way to view F2P games
Firmly established in B2B and retail loyalty marketing for decades, CRM started out as the practice of collecting contact details and logging sales engagements. In the past, game marketers themselves didn’t engage in CRM; the stores that sold games would mail offers and use rewards cards to develop customer loyalty. But with F2P, everything has changed.
At the heart of every F2P game is a store and much of the gameplay itself can be seen as marketing to drive customers to that store. This is clearly a cynical view; F2P games provide enjoyable, free, experiences to millions of players every day. However, it is also true that for profitable F2P games, many game design decisions are driven by the end goal of convincing players to spend real money. In this way, F2P games should be viewed like any marketplace, and hence the traditional CRM techniques of relationship building with carefully targeted offers and brand engagements, are all applicable.
Illogical use of CRM in games
The reality of this can be seen in the types of messaging in modern F2P games. Almost all F2P games have starter and bundle offers that are displayed to the player at game launch or at another key moment in gameplay. Most have VIP loyalty schemes that offer unique content and rewards to spending players to try to keep them spending regularly. These are traditional CRM techniques that have been adapted for use in the gaming world.
Many other CRM techniques borrowed from the commercial world are used throughout F2P game marketing, but their effectiveness is hampered by the fact that most CRM is reactive, i.e. it waits for the customer to do something and then it kicks in with messaging.
This makes sense for a typical e-commerce retail customer; someone puts something into their online shopping basket but doesn’t purchase, so then you send them a discount voucher. However, this logic doesn’t work for games, as waiting for something bad to happen is typically too late to interact with the player.
A good example of this is player churn. Many games will send push notifications (or emails) if a player has been inactive for some period (e.g. a week). They may make an amazing offer to the player of free, or heavily discounted, content or virtual currency. However, this doesn’t address the underlying reason the player has churned in the first place; they got bored or frustrated with the game. This is why CRM in games needs to be proactive; i.e. they should step-in before the negative outcome occurs and steer the player towards a positive one. Instead, you should think of it as Player Relationship Management (PRM).
What works: Practical steps to improve KPIs
To improve KPIs, a much deeper understanding of players is required than simple CRM can achieve. Identifying lapsed players requires only login data. Identifying bored or frustrated players needs data that reveals playing style and how it has changed over time.
Retaining players through PRM requires careful game design, as well as messaging. A player could become bored and leave if they have completed all the core content in the game. One way to retain them with messaging would be to highlight and reward challenging tasks (e.g. finish mission 2 in under 2 minutes and get 10 gold). Another would be to more carefully spread out game content so players cannot complete it so quickly.
Churn is not the only example where proactive PRM is needed. Player conversion and repeat spending can also be radically improved. Again, this is because the underlying reasons why most players don’t spend is not that it is too expensive, but that IAP content is not appealing.
PRM addresses this by funneling players to outcomes where they will naturally want to spend. This requires a combination of game design and personalized messaging. A simple example of this currently used in games, is locked loot drops, where keys need to be purchased with premium currency. Another example is combining gifting and monetization, e.g. gacha style daily rewards where the chance of a rare item can be boosted with premium currency. In both of these examples, players are effectively acquainted with the types of items that are available to them and the benefits of rare ones that are eventually only accessible via spending.
PRM vs CRM?
While PRM in F2P game marketing borrows a lot from traditional CRM, it requires a lot more creativity and an understanding of your players that only deep data can offer. Bulk emailing all your players a discount code on Friday may still generate a boost in revenue, but it is much more likely to lead to player churn. A highly targeted intervention based on gameplay style or activity will undoubtedly be far more effective.
The gains that can be made by properly integrating PRM and game design are massive, so perhaps it’s time to adopt a more proactive approach towards your player relationships.
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