How to keep players playing - Long-term Retention
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Long-term retention is one of the most important factors of releasing to the AppStore and Google Play. With that many F2P titles a game needs to initially hook the player and make the engaged about whatever the story/theme might be. A very underestimated long-term retention strategy is to engage player by creating a vision of what the player might become if some time, and possibly some money, is put into the game. Some games tries to engage through a dramatic back story and a 'helper' that the player hopefully sympathizes with and take on the task as the new ruler in this playful environment. This is especially present in the strategy/builders targeting adults like the ones listed below.
Dragons of Atlantis
Kingdom of Camelot
The Hobbit: Kingdom of Middle-earth
The problem with this type of engagement strategy is that the player seldom interacts with the 'helper', leaving this working only as an initial hook and not long-term. At some point this helper becomes like Office Assistant Clippy from MS Word in 1997 and it actually ends up working against the intended purpose.
To heighten the likelihood of engaging a player long term, the game needs to create a vision for the player. Visualize the goal, what the player can become, and what awesome features are ahead. People are terrible at creating these visions themselves. Most people cannot see passed what it in front of them right now. It is the same reason that rearranging furniture will help you sell your house. The furniture are still not going to be there when the buyer moves in, but by rearranging your furniture you've successfully created a vision that the buyer can process. enough real estate though.
There are some great examples of games where this vision is presented effectively and feasible to the player - and then there are some examples of games absolutely failing at doing so.
Let's start with the good
Supercell's Hay Day introduces your neighbor, Greg, in the very beginning of the game, and while Greg just like in the examples above, seem like a nice and helpful fellow, he is sure to annoy the hay out of you by the time the first boat arrives. But Hay Day and at the time friendly Greg does one very clever thing before releasing the player out into the wonderful life as a farmer - show you Greg's farm. Instantly the player is introduced to what is possible within the game, what the player has in store. This is a brilliant way to engage a player long term, wanting the same as his/her dear neighbor.
Mooving on to another great example, surprisingly also from Supercell. you guessed it. Clash of Clans. Clash of Clans ultimately does the same thing, though in a different way. Here you have the same initial hook through the very nice lady telling you quickly build a cannon before it is to late. (A monetization strategy which is most likely going to have a post of its own)
But quickly you are introduced to one of the main mechanics, namely attacking other player and earning ranking points to climb the leaderboard. In the leaderboards menu, there are the 'top clans' and 'top players' tabs that the player can investigate - and this is the brilliant part. Here you are introduced to real players, not a Greg, who's village look like this:
Compared to the initial village any player starts out with, the one above looks pretty damn cool. Creating the vision!
Ok, before this turns into a post about how Supercell can't do anything wrong, let's have a look at some of the games that failed to do this, and paid for it.
Similarly to Clash of Clans, Dungeon Keeper introduces raiding in the campaign and attacking other player fairly quick, enabling the long-term engage, the carrot at the end of the dungeon, through other player's awesomeness. The Screenshot on the left is myself after ~1 hour of gameplay. The one on the right is the leading player in the world. The difference is there surely, but not creating that vision and the long term engage. Do I want to spend hours and hours to get the dungeon on the right? not likely!
Another common misconception is that the end game, the final boss, should be concealed and not spoiled to the players. This might be how the players of video games in the 80s and 90s would want it to be, but it isn't the case with the casual gamer. If a player cannot see where his/her time is going, the next free game might seem just as interesting, 'cause who knows whats around the corner. Games targeting the casual player needs to show whats around that corner. SO essential in order to create that vision.
Why do you think you are able to scroll all the way to the end of Candy Land in Candy Crush Saga?
People have no need for unlocking worlds like in the classic platformers. Show players the entire path to the end product and they are much more likely to keep on playing and maybe even throw in a dime or two to get there.
Engage your player, through gameplay, through fun mechanics and social features. But remember to keep them engaged by painting that picture for them, show them whats behind the next corner and create that vision.
What do you think? What makes you play the game over and over again? Is the 'long-term vision' important to you in a F2P game?
Hit me up @AppCrimes with your thoughts or read more AppCrimes on www.appcrimes.com (new tab)