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This week, we discuss the challenges game developers face in balancing the need to generate revenue with the goal of creating captivating game experiences that cater to players of all types
While some may see game developers as solely driven by profit, this could not be further from the truth. In reality, most developers truly want to understand their players better to create captivating experiences that keep them entertained and invested in the games they love. Of course, there may be some bad actors in the mix, but ultimately, game development is a creative business - and those who are solely motivated by financial gain are better suited for the world of finance.
A balancing act
Although making money is not the primary goal for (all) game developers, it is important to remember that generating revenue is crucial for sustaining ongoing operations, including live ops and the development of new content. By extension, this need to generate income creates a responsibility for developers to ensure their games are enjoyable and appealing to players. F2P arguably has some manipulative aspect to it, though the spending in the game is completely optional. In this sense, game developers need to design game aspects that players are willing to spend on. Unfortunately, that can also mean types of players who do not actively spend might see their favorite portions of games they love dwindle in support over time. So, while developers aim to keep all players happy, balancing the needs of paying and non-paying players can be challenging.
World of whales
One particular type of player which is the most desirable for game developers to understand are whales. Catering to whales, or high-spending players, is a practice that may seem malicious but is often misunderstood. Similar to high rollers in the casino world, whales enjoy the special treatment they receive and are willing to spend significant amounts of money to maintain it. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship between the whales and developers, allowing for revenue generation while keeping these players engaged. However, it is important to strike a balance between catering to the high spenders while also ensuring that the game is enjoyable for all types of players, including low or no spenders. Gabe Leydon has talked publicly about his understanding of whales from his time at Machine Zone as understanding that these players want to be respected leaders and a sense of power and influence, rather than simply wanting to destroy other players.
Monetizing on fun
While it is important for game developers to generate revenue, they need to be careful not to manipulate players too aggressively. Books like "Addicted by Design" have revealed the potential negative consequences of such practices. Striking a balance between engagement and ethical boundaries is crucial. However, it can be challenging to maintain this balance when analytics focus too heavily on spending habits. This is where a balance between spending habits and actual in-game activity is important. In reality it can be hard to get players to even spend money on things they love without some degree of goading. To encourage players to spend money on things they love, developers must identify the type of content that different players prefer and build on that. It is also easier to ask for more money while players are having fun, as the premium market has shown.
Shift towards retention
To keep players engaged for extended periods, game developers strive to strike a balance between fun and addictive elements in their games. By understanding their players better, developers can fine-tune gameplay mechanics to ensure long-term enjoyment and success. Retention has become a crucial metric for developers due to the rising costs of acquiring new users. As a result, the focus has shifted from acquiring new players to keeping existing ones around for as long as possible. This involves understanding how players engage with the game initially, through polished tutorials, exciting hooks, and compelling gameplay. In web3 games, allowing players to sell off their digital assets and exit the game can align with this focus, as it reduces the “sunk cost reason” for players to stick with a game.
Public sentiment vs. data insights
In the gaming community, a vocal minority of players can sometimes overshadow the opinions of the silent majority. Game developers must be careful not to cater solely to this vocal minority and instead prioritize understanding the preferences of the wider player base. This can be difficult, as online platforms like Reddit often amplify the voices of the vocal minority. Interestingly, even these outspoken players often contradict themselves in their in-game behavior versus their online speech. It is crucial for developers to balance public sentiment with data-driven insights. The rise of web3 games has helped in this regard by making community involvement a priority from the outset. By linking player data to social media accounts, developers can gain deeper insights into player behavior and preferences.
Transparency does not cure all
For a game to thrive, it needs a happy and satisfied player base. Game developers must listen to and understand the needs of their players to ensure the longevity and success of their games. However, players' preferences and opinions can often be biased and difficult to communicate effectively. To gain deeper insight into player behavior, developers rely on analytics tools to make data-driven decisions about improving gameplay. Even with transparent data and explanations, players may still have strong opinions about game balance, as seen in the example of Rainbow 6: Siege, where Ubisoft releases "designer's notes" with data to explain their updates, yet even then receives pushback from players.
Understanding evolving preferences
To create a successful game, developers must understand and support the different interests within their player community. By focusing on the most engaged players, developers can create a more tailored and satisfying experience. However, this can be challenging in web3 with varying player archetypes and a broad selection of game genres. For instance, Bartle types, a popular player categorization method, are not fixed, and players often evolve and shift between types. Recognizing this, game developers can better understand the dynamic nature of their player base and adjust their games to cater to evolving preferences. It is crucial for developers to actively seek a balance between talking to players and analyzing data to provide context for player feedback - understanding why players say what they say is just as important as analyzing the data they provide.
Creating a win-win
Most game developers genuinely care about understanding their players to create enjoyable, engaging experiences. Balancing financial needs with ethical considerations, developers need to cater to different player types and evolve alongside their audience. By utilizing analytics tools and considering the full spectrum of player preferences, developers can ensure the longevity and success of their games, ultimately benefiting both the developers and the players themselves.
Thank you for reading this piece of our weekly series “Nami’s Nexus”, where we look to decode web3 gaming and dive into the various intricacies of the industry and beyond. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter to receive more web3 gaming content.