Last month, I went to E3 for the first time. It wasn’t what I was expecting.
I’m new to the gaming world, but it didn’t take me long to recognize why the industry is unique. E3 is more than just an opportunity for companies to show off their new products; instead, the event is centered around its most important attendee: the gamer.
I quickly realized that as a developer, being obsessed with your player community is the greatest title possible.
One remarkable aspect of the gaming industry is that gamers ultimately determine its direction. Apple may not be as concerned when someone who can’t afford AirPods is inconvenienced by an absent headphone jack, and HBO may not redo Season 8 of Game of Thrones just because a petition with over 1,688,000 signatures demands it.
But in gaming, behind every product announcement, there are creators who have meticulously taken into account the needs and wants of players. Publishers and developers look to trends on gaming message boards, chat rooms, and social media to guide their next move.
On these public spaces, gamers hold companies to a high standard, and so the dynamic between publishers, developers, and their consumers is a uniquely reciprocal one.
The loyalty of gamers lies with products that consistently strive for a high-level of quality.
“Even if a game is great at launch, if you don’t keep listening to the community, the game will die out.”Todd Howard, Director and Executive Producer at Bethesda, at E3.
The gaming community’s voice is loud; in fact, the player experience has become more heavily reliant on a gamer’s CX, or customer experience.
More increasingly, customer support for gaming involves nuanced, gaming-specific issues like player toxicity and microtransactions. Publishers and developers are still figuring out how to best approach these challenges, which have a direct impact on how consumers view a game or console, as well as the brand behind it.
With a variety of on-demand streaming services soon to enter the market, differentiation is key. These services will all have similar offerings: AAA games for a relatively low monthly subscription rate, no downloading, and high-resolution gameplay.
Yet, as with every other product in gaming - the community, and a company’s ability to listen to the community, will determine the success of the service.
Unsurprisingly, the quality of gameplay is extremely important to gamers. For example, the fear of an interrupted gaming experience seems to be preventing a lot of potential gamers from buying into streaming’s promise of a cheaper, exceptional gaming experience. Google Stadia suggests users should have internet speeds between 10 and 35 mbps. Supposedly, at 35 mbps, Google Stadia can run 4K video at 60 frames per second. Qualify each quote with a statement about its sentiment. “This 1080p video buffered 3 times on a 50MB connection ... just saying,” read one popular comment under Google Stadia’s E3 announcement video on Youtube. The comment brings up a good point: WiFi, even at high speeds, is fickle. “I love gaming too much for it to be 100 [percent] dependent on my internet. Thanks anyways tho,” said another commenter. Internet has been a problem for on-demand streaming services before––Sony’s Playstation Now requires excellent internet without bandwidth caps, as a result, its user base is quite small.
We know gamers expect great gameplay. The question for subscription-based streaming services, then, is how they should go about earning the trust of gamers so that they subscribe––and maybe even forget about their consoles.
In addition to the question of internet capabilities, the gaming industry in general faces several unique and complicated challenges that will affect customer experience for streaming services. Microtransactions are transactions within a video game that involve - directly or indirectly - real currency. These transactions are increasingly becoming a point of contention between concerned parents and the gaming industry because in-game items like loot boxes may encourage gambling tendencies in children. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a bill in May that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in the ambiguous category of “games played by children.” Swift responsiveness to service requests involving microtransactions gone wrong may soon become a legal necessity. Pay-to-win models have also compelled more gamers to trade their AAA titles for indie ones (like Undertale, Hollow Knight, and Celeste, which have become extremely popular) in order to avoid excessive microtransactions. A strong customer support system that resolves any microtransaction issues is the least games can provide if they seek to keep their players.
Like excessive microtransactions, player toxicity can affect player experience, brand perception, and revenue. On-demand streaming services will serve as a conduit for an increase in massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). The games on cloud-based streaming services already rely on the internet, so it’s likely that more of these games would be MMOs. An increase in MMOs demands a confrontation with the already existing issue of player toxicity, which is behavior that ruins the gaming experience for other participants or risks emotionally harming them.
Banning players is hardly a solution, because toxicity is typically spread across a wide range of players who only demonstrate toxic behavior on rare occasions, like on a bad day. Effective responses to toxicity involve methods that are both proactive and targeted. Riot Games identified League of Legends players who showed toxic tendencies and sent them a series of messages that encourage positive behavior. Ubisoft implemented a suspension system for Rainbow Siege Six players who used offensive language in chat; a third suspension would lead to an official investigation that could result in a permanent ban.
Kat Lo, a researcher who studies online content moderation, told the Guardian, “Decisive and contextually sensitive moderation alongside the proactive development of community norms is increasingly how we’re seeing effective, sustainable ways to fight toxicity in gaming.” On-demand streaming services will need to take a personal, human-led approach toward promoting community norms in order to make a positive impact on player experience.
Yet, the approach to customer experience in gaming generally seems to be more reactive than proactive. Reflecting on the significant shortcomings of the highly anticipated Fallout 76, Pete Hines, SVP of Global Marketing at Bethesda, said a constant question for both the publishing and developing ends is, “How do we get us to be more transparent and connect better with our players?
What will cause some gaming services to succeed and others to fail? The answer is contained in another question: who puts the player first?
What does customer support in a game or on-demand streaming service even look like? Well, that’s a question publishers and developers are continuing to answer and re-answer. Sometimes, the best support approach depends on the platform on which the game is played; not all gamers look for the same kind of customer care. PC gamers tend to be more inclined to download their own patches to fix issues. Console gamers are more convenience-driven and prefer easily accessible support. Free-to-play players know to look to support forums and developers’ websites for help. There is no one way to provide great support, as long as it’s always available.
24/7 user support through email, voice, chat and social networks, and additional channels, is a sure-fire way to increase player engagement. One of the most valuable aspects of exceptional customer service is the real-time feedback on ways to improve games or services. There isn’t a better way to listen to the gaming community than to lend a constant ear through player support, and to eventually implement player feedback.
In terms of gameplay, each service will offer products that are pretty much identical. “When you’re talking about Stadia, or xCloud, or Amazon, it’s just not that wildly different,” said Hines. With gameplay, graphics, and internet speeds equal, the standout service for users will be the one that has a robust player support arm to help troubleshoot internet issues; reverse microtransactions made by children; and create a safe and enjoyable online gaming environment for everyone.
As corporations behind new streaming services enter the ring, they’ll need to understand what the gaming industry already knows––that the player is as important as the product itself.