Who’s Wagging Who?

Posted: March 8, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

A few days ago, Kathy Sierra made a great post on the Creating Passionate Users blog called “What tail is wagging the ‘user happiness’ dog?”.  I was reading this article for my primary profession, and started realizing the same basic ideas could apply fairly easily to game designs (or really, any project that involves customers/end users).

Every decision needs to have a customer-centric approach.  From possible decisions regarding a new zone or mechanic change, to determining whether or not a product is ready for release to how customer service petitions are handled.

Make the game’s concepts fun and you’ll build attention.  Make learning the game fun and you’ll build a playerbase.  Make the actual process of sitting down and playing the game fun and enjoyable and you’ll create impassioned fanatics. 

It’s not enough to just build it and hope they come.  You’ve got to sink your teeth into making it easier for them to come in the first place.  After all, as the old axiom states: “People are like electricity, they tend to follow the path of least resistance.”  Make that least resistant path the one that leads users to playing your game, or else the path may very lead to a competitor’s virtual playground.

It’s not enough to stop with solid maps, dungeons, and play mechanics with great graphics.  Every studio is out there trying to build a game around these ideas…and most studios are doing just fine at it.

How many games have a killer default UI, though?  How many games have an immersive tutorial that’s not intrusive or boring for replay?  How many games have extensive in-game knowledge bases that aren’t dry or difficult to trudge through.  How many games ship with a full color, easy-to-read user manual? 

When there is a problem in your game, is it easy to file a petition/help request?  Is the help quick and responsive?  Why are so many games built with the idea of being able to get right into the action and accomplish goals within 15-30 minutes…but customer service response times of hours or days are considered acceptable?  Building a great game only motivates players to stay so long as the game itself remains fun.  Building a great customer service system motivates players to stay with your brand

Make the game – every aspect of it, from design to business – customer oriented.  Don’t just put the words in an empty mission statement, but truly lead off every meeting by asking what can be done to make the customer’s experience better. 

Thinking of the customer as an afterthought, or as an expense is just wrong.  Looking at short term balance sheets and trying to solve playerbase churn only through design decisions and quirky new web features is only a misguided part of the solution.  Create the decisions based around making the entire customer experience enjoyable,  even when problems come up – especially when problems come up – and you’ll own the market. 

It sounds counterintuitive, but I truly believe that the company that figures out first and foremost how to absolutely nail customer service and social networking systems will build a fanatical playerbase of passionate, loyal customers.

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