January 12, 2010

Why Not Stay Awhile?

This post will take care of several things I've been wanting to mention, but never took the time to do. Plus, of course, a real post with actual thoughts in it.

First, happy new year to you all. I would say "may it be everything 2009 wasn't", but that would be a huge list of things, so let's say just say "Hope it will be a goodyear" (I never get tyred of that one).

Second, let's all make a round of applause for Lews here (wave to them, don't be shy, they don't bite) who's joining us and will be writing articles alongside yours truly. Lews has his own blog, in french, "Le Nid du Dragon", which I've joined to write articles there too. let's hope the collaboration will be fruitful

Third, because it is relevant to this blog, I did quit my job last month, because it was far from satisying and stifled my need to create things. For the next two years, my goal is now to become a freelance board game designer. So you might will see articles on that kind of things here. It has already started some months ago, if you have been paying attention.
Suffice to say, the next two years should be very interesting... It will not be easy, but it should be fun.

That's it for our announcements. On to our subject, and that subject will be customer retention. And Marketing.
I've recently purchased back issues from a board game magazine (Plato magazine, which you may or may not know) as I've only recently discovered them and like their writing style. No, that's wrong. The incentive for getting the back issues was because they offered not 1, but 3 board games with it. From a rather huge list, I might add. Happy with my purchase, I talked about it with one of the person that made me discover said magazine, and saw him make a face.
"I've been a subscriber to their magazine almost since day one. Loyal. What do I get for it? Jack. You come along innocently, have now almost all the issues I have, and 3 games to boot..."
"Oh, I can see how you might have issues with that..."

Pun nonwithstanding, it got me thinking. Subscription-based magazines tend to try to attract new people by offering incentives, but completely forget about their current subscribers, as though persuaded that they would be loyal for life. Now, how do companies entice people to come, stay, or come back? Time for some research! Some necroblogging later, I have a number of rewards and incentives types.

1) Veteran Rewards

The term I'm using comes from Tabula Rasa (again), who had something called the veteran rewards, fluff things that you got after you had been a subscriber for some time: you can see the rewards for three months, six months (looking like Richard Garriot... Now that will boost troops' morale!) and nine months of fighting the Thrax.
City of Heroes has such a program too. hey, look, so does Aion.

Must be an NCSoft thing. At least they seem to understand the value of long-time subscribers. It sadly didn't save TR, though.

DDO has another take on this: for each month you are subscribing, and your reward is Turbine Points, which you can use to unlock parts of the game once you decide to cancel your subscription. Be a subscriber long enough, and you might as well have purchased a lifetime subscription.

So, the longer you subscribe, the more things you have that differentiate you from a new player, even if he can play 40 hours a day and you can't.

2) Anniversary Rewards

Not yours, but the game's anniversary. I found these two articles from the Ancient Gaming Noob about WoW and Everquest 2. And this for LOTRO second anniversary.
These rewards are only for people who are current subscribers at the time of the event, whether they've been subscribing for 1 hour or for 5 years.

3) Referee Rewards

If you can get more people to play the game you're playing, the company might offer you some rewards for the task.
Sometimes, the more people you get, the more rewards befall you. Sometimes, the rewards are split.

4) Homecoming Rewards

The reward for coming back to the game. Most of the time, it's a free coupon to play the game a few days. It's a bit like when Steam makes a full game available for an entire Week-end.
The goal here is to make lost subscribers see that the game has changed, in the hope that their tastebuds will make them want more.
If anyone knows of a game that offer "substantial" rewards for coming back, I'm interested, because now that I think about it, the coupon is free of charge. Or, you might see it as a reward for having subscribed in the past (good times, good times).

5) Preorder Reward

You are rewarded for getting the game before it has had a chance to be reviewed, and you have only seen some beta screenshots (or been in the beta). A reward based on faith, so to say. Congratulations, a (would be) early adopter is you ! I won't even bother researching the subject, just pick an MMORPG at random from the last 3 years, and you'll see plenty of them. Depending on the platform, your reward will be different, so you'll have to make your research here.

Yeah, so?
Many kind huh? And I'm not even talking of what you can get for F2P games where you send money, à la Kingdom of Loathing... So, online games do cater more to their customers than magazines.

But... Only one catering is for current, long standing customers. It's (mostly; see below) comprised of fluff, which is fine, because you shouldn't get a gaming advantage for time spent paying and not time spent playing, IMO. Now that is another can of worms I am not opening. For now...
All the others are oriented towards getting new customers. Or getting back lost ones. Which maybe they wouldn't have lost if the game had been finished before getting rushed - oooo, can of worms, again ! They're just everywhere.

So what? Why am I bothered by these rarities ? Well, a well known motto is that "getting new customers is [insert favorite number] more expensive than keeping existing ones". It should be a given to care for them, then, no?
But a motto is easy to say, and I can't really give expenses numbers to back it up.

Consider EVE online. There is a reward for staying subscribed, and that is skill points. You constantly gain them overtime. So, someone who has been p(l)aying for years will have more than someone who has been playing 24/24 last month. This gives them an edge on the field, although it's more of a multifaced edge than a Two-Handed Sword of Extreme Slashiness, as each skill has a maximum level reachable. It's not gamebreaking, as someone who has paid less, but played more will have earned more money (I hope).
The result is that people have a reason to continue paying even if their interest in the game has temporarily waned. Yes, there are people who leave the game, but EVE has been growing organically since its opening, garnering more than 300k paying customers to this day.

Now consider WoW. Or Everquest. When someone's interest in the game has waned, he has no real interest in continuing to pay (laziness excluded): if he does not play for 6 months, in one case, he will have lost 6*month cost of the game for no benefits, in the other, he won't have lost the money, and still no benefits.
In EVE, 6 months of skill growth is still something to keep in mind.

True, it won't save a game that lacks basic fun, like Tabula Rasa, which found its fun months after its grand debuts. Months too late. But it will make people think twice before unsubscribing. And think twice in a good way. Not think twice in a "oh-god-they-want-me-to-write-a-6500-words-essay-about-why-I'm-leaving-and-make-3-phone-calls,one-of-them-in-India,let's-just-stay-subscribed" way.
See the difference? One will make people talk about they like the game, just not now, to their friend, the other will make them bitch to their friends. Guess which one...


  1. Puzzle Pirates has a juicy loyalty reward. If you have had an account with them for 2 years, you can subscribe for half price. You *do* have to buy in a year-long chunk, but still, half off simply for being an old timer is a good deal.

    The twist is that you can be a completely free player on a sub or microtransaction server, and still get the old timer sub discount. It's purely based on the age of the account. So, you can play the game and get hooked for free, and once you're in for the long haul, it's suddenly pretty cheap to switch over to a subscription ($50/year). If you've been playing as a free player on a sub server, it's even better, since you don't have to start over.

  2. I did not know that. It's pretty impressive how many different types of rewards there can be...

    But once again, being a loyal paying subscriber is not the only way to get the loyalty subscription slash. "Just" freeloading for 2 years is enough.

    I have an account on Puzzle Pirates, which must be 2 years old. I haven't connected in these 2 years. Didn't get hooked up, but did not seriously play either. I hope it's been erased, because otherwise, I am entitled to this loyalty reward. The idea is good, the implementation... I'm not so sure.

  3. The difference is that they don't see free players as freeloaders. They consider them part of the game population, and let them have enough privileges to act that way. Free players can fill most stations on ships, buy almost anything, trade and make friends. The toolset that free players have is huge compared to that of, say, a WoW trial player. PP still values "free" customers.

    It's also worth noting that they do delete accounts that have never paid anything after 30 days. So, someone who is still free after two years has likely been playing at least a bit, here and there, so they have still been part of the game.

  4. If they do delete accoutns that haven't paid anything every 30 days, then yes, ok, it's a loyalty reward. I take back what I said.

    The idea of non-paying people doesn't bother me. That's what got me into DDO, for example. I was interested in the game, but not enough (and I knew I would not play enough) to pay so much every month.
    What bothers me is the fact that people who have been paying for a long time have rarely even a single privilege for havng done so. Especially when, for some games, the first months (year?) has been an extended beta test...