One of the biggest problems game developers or game studios face is playerbase retention. The revenue the game can generate depends directly on the playerbase of a game. The more a game can maintain its playerbase, the more revenue it can generate. It is getting increasingly harder for developers to maintain their popularity in games with increasing competition in the game industry. Game developers or studios can not survive if they fail to retain their playerbase even more so for free-to-play games. Here are various factors a game studio should take into account to maintain playerbase retention:
As with most things, the first impression of a game can make or break the desire of a beginner to continue or stop playing a certain game. One big example is No Man’s Sky. There was a hype around No Man’s Sky being an open-world exploration and survival game where players can travel to near-infinite planets. And the game delivered on its promises. However, there were very few engaging tasks in the game. The game became a boring empty space where you press the forward button to visit new planets.
Fortunately, No Man’s Sky has redeemed itself and made a miraculous recovery. It is probably one of the biggest comebacks a game has made within the past decade. Not all studios or games can recover like ‘No Man’s Sky’ and most of them end up dying. This shows the importance of a first impression in the game industry to captivate new players.
Reward and progression
Players enjoy playing games because of the rewards and progression they make in the game. Rewards or achievements in a game helps to increase the dopamine levels of the player. Dopamine hormones give people a sense of happiness and accomplishment. A well-satisfied player means an increased likelihood of them continuing to play the game. If a game forces players to play for hours to get a reward, then the players may drop the game. Because the players feel the amount of hours they invest is not worth the reward they get.
Another aspect to consider is the progression contrast between free-to-play players and pay-to-win players. This is generally irrelevant in Player vs. Environment (PvE) games where the progression of one player cannot affect other players. But developers need to balance these aspects in Player vs. Player (PvP) games as Pay-to-win (P2W) playerbase will constantly dominate the Free-to-play (F2P) playerbase.
While it is obvious that P2W players will have a bigger edge on F2P players, some games are unfairly inclined towards their P2W playerbase. They end up making the game almost unplayable to the F2P playerbase. This kind of predatory monetization system is prevalent especially in mobile games where the game manipulates the player to spend lots of money. Raid: Shadow Legends is one infamous example that aggressively advertises its game with ads. Also, the advertised game differs from the actual gameplay. Another infamous example is EA, which has a bad reputation for exploiting people with gambling addiction. EA uses loot box systems where players spend money to open virtual boxes and receive rewards.
The best way to lengthen the longevity of a game is through updates. Whether it be patch fixes to balance the game, bug fixes or content updates, players will see that they still care for the game. If a game has too many bugs, the developers must be quick to fix it unless they want to share a similar fate to Fallout 76. Fallout 76 was an extremely anticipated game in the gaming community. Its predecessors were widely acclaimed, but it was full of game-breaking bugs that rendered it unplayable upon release. Bethesda Studios and their developers were slow to respond to the problem and even after the updates, the bugs persisted. While Bethesda’s games have an interesting relationship with bugs and glitches where they were considered tolerable or even funny by players, Fallout 76’s bugs were atrocious even by Bethesda-standards.
At this point, it is safe to say Fallout 76 has not only been a monumental failure of a game but it has also stained the reputation of Bethesda Studios. Another important aspect is content updates. These updates add more content in a game whether by separate Downloadable content (DLC) purchases or free content updates. While the gaming community largely dislikes paid DLC upgrades, there are still numerous free content updates.
It is crucial for newly released games to publish a roadmap. A roadmap about a game is an infographic that informs players what to expect in upcoming updates in the future. Roadmaps can include new features, characters, equipment, systems, quality of life improvements, etc. They can maintain enthusiasm in the playerbase for the things to come and spark frequent discussions within the community. They can give off the notion to the playerbase that the game isn’t going to be abandoned by the studio—for instance, Genshin Impact. Genshin Impact was a highly anticipated game as it seemed to be a revolutionary game, especially when considering it was an open-world game also available on mobile devices.
Upon release, Genshin Impact not only met those expectations but has now also set the bar really high for mobile gamers. However, the main problem was the game lacked content and players cleared most of the tasks within 2-3 weeks. Upon receiving the feedback, Genshin announced a small roadmap that told players to expect major content updates every 2 weeks. This has eradicated the question of when players can expect updates and enhanced a sense of transparency between the developers and players. This way players who wanted to quit can safely drop the game and hop back whenever new content updates arrive. It also gives players a sense of freedom as they don’t have to go through the “fear of missing out”.
In summary, game studios need to consider how they want to monetize their game as it can repel free-to-play players. First impressions should also be taken into account for creating sufficient content and being beginner-friendly. However, this does not mean making tutorials excruciatingly long. Updates and roadmaps are equally important to open communication with the player base and maintain transparency.