Loyalty (in MMO gaming terms) comes in several forms from consumer to the game. Here are three gamer type examples – there is a lot of in between, and parts of each, but for the most part most gaming is done in and around the three below examples. I am giving them names so we can continue to talk about them throughout the article.
Greg: This is my game, and I am playing it no matter what
Amanda: This is the game me and my friends play, and we are playing it together
Pat: This is my friends’ game and I’m playing it to be with them.
They are ranked in general importance. You could argue Amanda is more valuable than Greg (because of the group of friends involved) but brand evangelists are the most important customer to have. Amanda will leave before Greg does, and Pat already has one foot out the door but is there to spend time with friends.
How does the gaming company treat each of these people? Let’s have a look:
While loyalty (in MMO gaming terms) comes in several forms from consumer to the game itself, why isn’t their loyalty and appreciation flowing from game to consumer? “Treat” is a pretty big generality. In game, there may tons of different “features” that attract each player and lots of things in game from raiding, to housing, to quests, PVP, role playing (etc.). These are things for gamers.
Why are they treated the same as customers? They aren’t the same. They aren’t motivated by the same things. They may share some motivations (enjoy gaming, MMOs, etc.) but let’s take a closer look.
Greg, it turns out, is a University student and has a lot of free time. He plays 25+ hours a week, is on a hardcore raid team, and is a very active member of the community in forums and blogs and even has a podcast about the game! He has played for 39 months – since launch! He goes to MMOcon every year.
Amanda is an officer in a serious but fun based guild. She knows a lot about the game and helps recruit and get new people into the guild. She has been with the same guild a long time, and plays with the same people all the time. Gaming is all about the people for Amanda! She plays 15 hours a week.
Pat doesn’t love the game but doesn’t hate it either. Pat does have lots of gaming friends who all enjoy it, so Pat plays a few hours each week (around 5) to do the aspects Pat loves in the game but mostly to say hi to Pat’s friends there.
They are all different. They all have different motivations, use the developer and game resources differently. They all have invested differently into the game and differently into the developer.
Yet, they are treated all the same.
Starbucks, who has some of the best customer service in the world, treats their heavy users differently. They also have one of the top loyalty programs in the world. If you go to Starbucks once a week you get a coffee and a great service experience. Soon as you hit Gold Level status with Starbucks, you start getting free coffees after X number of visits, and instead of add on charges for syrups and what not, you get those for free too. You always get a free drink on your birthday and because they use purchase data and history they know your favorite drink and send you coupons and offers surrounding the type of experience you have shown to enjoy in the past. They also entice you with new and exciting things to try for a change! All of this is because Starbucks recognizes your contribution to their success as an organization and rewards you for your loyalty to their brand.
Why? Because there are how many coffee places in the world? Brands should be very thankful for consumers making the choice to visit them. It’s not the same old marketplace it used to be. It is now about the customer, not the business itself. The business needs the customers more than the customers need the business – because there are so many options in every business.
I had a lot of fun in many subscription games and leaving was typically because hey – something new to try and I’m not getting the same feeling or joy from this game, for this price point. I know for sure I would have stayed longer in games at lower price points and found better justifications for paying and supporting the companies. WoW got 5+ years, two subs out of me – almost $2000 – and none of which funded additional development (had to buy my expansion packs…) and only a fraction of which paid for my bandwidth and resources (never needed CSM help, how much is 10 hours a week of bandwidth cost these days?) – in short, I was a very profitable player for them. I also built and maintained a guild – some of which, you could argue, wouldn’t have played or enjoyed the game as much without my personal effort (and that of my guild team!) – point is, when you do the spinoff affect, I helped contribute thousands of dollars to that game. It was fun, and some of the best gaming I had done (so I don’t regret the “cost”) but they could have had me longer and made more money off of me if they for once, appreciated the positive contributions I put into their game – both monetary and subsidiary.
Unfortunately MMOs don’t look at their customers as individuals, per se. And this is a shame, because they have some of the best data in the world on their customers. Hell, they have the type of data every major company would pay huge dollars for – and they get it for free!
Starbucks, back to that example, would pay a lot of money to know exactly what their customers did in their stores. What seats were always picked first? (And why?) How long did people sit in them? What ELSE were they doing while sitting in their seats? Were they talking to friends? Working on a laptop? Texting? What behaviors did they do, and most importantly, why? The reason why Starbucks would love this information in the first place, would be to make the experience better. If no one sits in 4 chairs, they would either make the chairs more comfortable, or but something else there to make everyone’s experience better. It would give Starbucks the opportunity to improve for not only the bigger picture, but for the exact customer that comes in 4x a week. (there are many examples of this. Imagine if that customer went in 4 days a week, and always sat in the same chair? What if a team member recognized that, and one day when that customer went in, there was a sign on the chair saying “reserved for Kathy”. Kathy would feel pretty good about that.)
MMOs are fortunate enough to know exactly what every player is doing at every moment in their game and they should leverage that to provide a more personal and engaging experience for their customers. There are many options in the MMO sphere like in life and what markets are realizing now is that personalization and customization are driving the best brands and most successful consumer markets. MMOs have all the information they need to provide next gen experiences and lead marketplaces in this regard. They just have to sort out how to make that work and how to engage and delight their customers. Not just with in game items and behaviors (although a good start) but also with how customers pay, access, and support (and get support from) the game outside of the game.
And here is a big hint – its not to treat everyone exactly the same.
I know it is challenging because of the scope and nature of number of players versus number of developers, but from my personal experiences in MMO gaming I am not a valued customer – I am just a number on a spreadsheet.
(End note: some community members in WoW have been memorialized for their contributions after death, etc. so kudos for that where it is due. I am talking a more frequent, common level however, to general customers – not just the extraordinary exceptional ones.)