Posted August 17, 2016
Just days after Americans celebrated the 240th birthday of their country, a new kind of excitement took the nation — and the world — by storm when game-maker Niantic released Pokémon Go. Before the week had ended, it had become one of the biggest mobile games in history.
Niantic’s servers crashed several times as more and more people attempted to become Pokémon trainers. Quickly, and seamlessly, though, Niantic put the world at ease by posting known issues on its social media channels as well as its official websites. It kept Pokémon Go’s devout fans abreast of its progress in fixing bugs such as distorted audio, GPS issues and server connectivity problems, setting an example for customer support in gaming.
The rise of mobile gaming
The level of support demonstrated by Niantic will only help the gaming industry continue its meteoric rise in profits, particularly in mobile gaming.
According to Newzoo’s latest quarterly update of its Global Games Market Report, gamers worldwide will generate a total of $99.6 billion in revenue in 2016, up 8.5 percent compared to 2015. More strikingly, mobile gaming is projected to take a larger share of the market — $36.9 billion, up 21.3 percent — than PC/desktop gaming, for the first time ever.
Having a potential console in everyone’s hand has been a game changer. “The gaming industry has always been popular since the early days of Atari, but mobile gaming has changed the scope of it,” says H. Alexander Buffalo, department chair of Media Arts and Animation, Game Art and Design at the Art Institute of Tampa.
Proliferation of mobile games has also led to increasing customization by device, as well as by demographics. “Traditionally, the gaming industry was merely focused on PC and console, but over the past few years as smartphone technology has changed, the entire market has changed, especially because the female population plays certain games just as much as the male population plays on the other spectrum,” says Buffalo.
For perspective, research done by MagMic, a publisher and developer of mobile social games, shows that a little over 78 percent of Bejeweled Blitz players are female, while 77 percent of Clash of Clans gamers are male. For a game like Candy Crush Saga, it skews towards the middle with females comprising 60 percent of its core audience.
Gaining knowledge from the gaming community
As the Pokémon Go example illustrates, the immense popularity of gaming leads to an increasing number of customer service and support challenges for many gaming brands. “Gaming is somewhat of a unique industry in this day and age because a majority of players interacting with their particular game are constantly connected to the mothership,” says Buffalo, meaning they maintain a strong and ongoing connection to the developer during both good and challenging times.
With that in mind, players have a community on the internet on places like Reddit where they voice their opinions or displeasure (screenshot below). Gaming companies monitor these types of sites to gain knowledge about what is and isn’t working. “In addition, that connectivity allows immediate feedback so a company knows fairly quickly if a game will carry its weight. In the past, it was essentially a wait-and-see approach. Now, it’s a rapid response due to the instant noise that’s created across various media,” says Buffalo.
The speed at which information is exchanged worldwide continues to evolve at a mind-boggling rate, with gaming companies using this type of connectivity to their advantage to update games and fix glitches.
“Now that you can get online and can play in a multiplayer or massive multiplayer community, gamers are constantly connected,” says Buffalo. What keeps them connected is the community, and the constant updates from the company itself. “You’re always receiving messages like “‘New message with new content. New update. Bugs are being fixed.’ They’re constantly keeping you in the loop. This type of relationship with the consumer and the effort to keep the gamer happy is how the industry will maintain its level of success,” says Buffalo.
Companies, though, still face an ongoing battle to keep customers satisfied, especially within the modern form of instantaneous response via social media and the internet.
Fan loyalty rewarded with better games
A poignant way in which companies respond to customer complaints is in how it produces games in the future. In CNET editor Ian Sherr’s article “How Electronic Arts (EA) stopped being the worst company in America,” he writes that “gamers are not like most normal people; they’re committed, passionate, enthusiastic consumers who go all in when a new game they want is released.”
Matt Parke is one of those people. By day, he’s a 37-year-old husband, father and digital media producer for CBS television affiliate WTSP. At night, however, he’s a gaming aficionado, playing upwards of four hours a day of mobile and console games. He’s got seven different consoles at home, including everything from the original Nintendo to an Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
He’s loyal to specific developers because they show consistency in how they produce games based upon customer suggestions and concerns. He cites the award-winning Red Dead Redemption, developed by Rockstar San Diego and released by Rockstar Games in 2010, as one of the best games he’s ever played.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the game had one of the best debuts ever for an American-made game in Japan. “It does a masterful job of reinvigorating the Western genre that has become outdated in movies,” Parke says. “It’s easy to see how much the company cares about their loyal customers because gamers like me appreciate nuances like the ones I mentioned.”
If Rockstar’s game is an example of what to do right, EA’s 2012 release of Mass Effect 3 is just the opposite. Sherr writes on CNET.com that fans were so incensed by the game that 250,000 people flocked to a prominent consumer advocacy site, voting EA the worst company in the U.S.
The company received countless complaints about how it had become a business that lost its connection with gamers. Andrew Wilson took over as CEO in September 2013, bringing with him a commitment to the kind of creativity in design and storytelling that fans craved and called for. EA is now one of the stronger companies in the business.
EA’s story may be a cautionary tale about what happens when gaming companies lose touch with their fans, but it’s also a lesson in how to address customer service in gaming. No matter how many designers, developers and testers are hired to work on a game, there are no greater experts in this industry than the people who play the games obsessively. Gaming companies’ support departments need to keep as many lines of communication with their fans open when things go wrong — and when things go right — or the companies risk losing the very people they’re built to serve.