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Secrets of Quick Iteration in the Core Social Space
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Secrets of Quick Iteration in the Core Social Space


May 13, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Listening to Your Audience

At Plarium, the launch of a game is just the beginning. Only then do we start building the true value of the game, by beginning to engage with our players, learning who they are and what they are looking for. We want our players to feel that we are loyal to them and build a long-term relationship with them by providing them with relevant content and ongoing feature updates.

We receive customer feedback about every aspect of the game, and we tend to think of our players as the underlying foundation of this bottom-up approach. Before we look up the chain for guidance, we run our ideas by them. They tell us what works, what doesn't, and what they would like to see (or what we're not seeing).

All this enables us to create more features and continuously make updates to the game, which drives better engagement. You can see the result of this approach in our games. Our players submit and design their own custom content and artwork, vote and debate on new unit concepts, help us tweak interfaces to better suit players' needs, adjust the game pace and production speeds as the game has matured, tweak unit statistics, and help us come up with entirely new features.

For example, with one of our most popular games, Total Domination, our Emitter-based clan warfare system and map scale was our response to player-submitted ideas for bringing more competition into the game, and offering a better visual representation of their political influence. These are now core features of the team gameplay and rankings within Total Domination.

Having this bottom-up approach as opposed to a top-down structure gives us a huge advantage in putting out products people want to play, and lets us respond to our users more fluidly than other studios. It allows us to quickly try out new ideas, analyze them, and discard the ones that don't work without waiting for things to filter up and down the management chain.

The Process

To give you a better idea of the inner workings at Plarium, here is a rough picture of the development cycle for a major game feature on one of our existing titles: "Emitters." Emitters are part of our defense clan warfare model for our game, Total Domination. They are giant fortresses/terra-forming machines scattered across the game map that serve a "king of the hill" game objective. Your goal is to capture, defend, and upgrade as many as possible simultaneously.

We first started by reviewing our user comments and feedback from our different networks, our community management team, and from a core group of senior players to identify gaps in our existing gameplay. When we do this, we try and quantify the feedback across a range of different players (paying, non-paying, clan-oriented, single-player oriented, etc.) to get an accurate feel for what our users want to see, or for what we could do better. Then we prioritize their concerns based on demand, company goals, development time, and resources. There's also a large "Oh, cool! Let's try that!" factor involved in this process. 

 

In this review, we got the distinct impression that there was a lot more we could be doing with our clan warfare system. When we first introduced clan functionality into the game, we had the clan rankings determined by a simple aggregate point calculation -- we simply added up the individual scores of the members of a clan and made it their overall global rank. After talking to our user community, we found that while users liked being able to team up, it wasn't exactly earth shattering from a strategic gameplay perspective. Most players ended up focusing on offensive gameplay, leaving defensive players out in the cold.

The clans also began to self-stratify, with senior users automatically banding together to increase their aggregate ranking and powering out the lower-level clans. Players also reported not feeling as if the clan gameplay connected them to any deeper storyline, and that they didn't see any visual representation of the effort they were investing. Our technical director circulated some of these concerns, and we started looking at different ways to address them while adding more depth to the clan gameplay experience. 


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