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A few years ago, I downloaded my first freemium game. I played it for a while and then had an issue. I submitted a ticket on the company's support website. Forty-eight hours later I got a response. By then I had already deleted the game and moved on to another one. So I deleted the email and forgot about the game. After unconsciously repeating this process seven or eight times, I began to wonder, why could I not stick to one game and why would I not spend time to get deeper into these games?
Through the lens of my support leader eyes, it became clear. These gaming companies were not engaging me, they were not focused on my behaviors, and therefore I was not invested in their product. They lost my eyeballs, interest, and my attention.
It then occurred to me that this lack of engagement, care, and sense of urgency is costing these companies tons of potential players and money. And they probably do not even realize it. To prove out my theory, learn more, and lend my experience, I decided to join one, Kabam.
What Is Freemium and Why Does it Matter to Gaming?
For folks new to this business concept, here are some additional details. Wikipedia describes the Freemium concept in this way: “Freemium is a pricing strategy by which a product or service (typically a digital offering or application such as software, media, games, or web services) is provided free of charge, but money (premium) is charged for proprietary features, functionality, or virtual goods”.
According to a variety of sources, this term or larger business approach started circa 2006. Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, was quoted in a Fast Company article that explains clearly the value of the freemium model. He states, "The easiest way to get 1 million people paying is to get 1 billion people playing."
In the mobile gaming context, consider the revenue forecast from the Global Games Market Report for 2016-2020. Over the next four years, the market share of mobile gaming will jump from 29% to 40% of all gaming revenue, or $26.3B. This means the more eyeballs you have, the more downloads you get, leads to more opportunities to influence players to play and spend in a freemium game.
What I Learned at Kabam
Upon joining Kabam, I completed a comprehensive player listening tour across all disciplines. It was very informative and helpful to understand how our talented designers, developers, operations, support, and producers think and operate on a daily basis. I was amazed at the passion and focus each role had for our players and that everyone in the company plays our games every day. As I dug deeper into my support and community discipline, I found some compelling challenges that were different than other industries I had worked in.
The first challenge is the word “free” means something different to each player who downloads our game. Often, our players and we as creators have a different understanding of what the value of free is. This complexity requires different ways of thinking and engaging our players, as well as how we operate our business. A mapping of how players value themselves and how we value them has been a key differentiator to Kabam’s success.
The second challenge is how gaming board rooms around the world invest in their support and community teams. The trend is to follow the same strategy they used with their console games. This antiquated thinking leads to a broad brush business approach to all of their players, even if many are more invested (time+money) in your game than others. Kabam thinks about this differently. We have the ability to clearly identify who our players are and invest in them in kind.
The third challenge is the world is changing and faster.
The world has changed, everything moves faster, people want things now and on their terms, and a gaming company's challenge to engage and retain a player’s attention has never been harder.
At Kabam, it is not just about answering questions or how fast we respond. It’s about listening, enabling, empowering, and engaging our players. It is about building an ecosystem of players who are ambassadors for us, even when we are not in every conversation on every platform.
What I Learned from Benchmarking the Industry
Upon reviewing these challenges, my team, stakeholders, and partners across the company and I found that certain ways of thinking throughout the industry were legacy and detrimental to long-term success.
In general, we agreed that we must avoid industry approaches of thinking and talking to players in antiquated ways. Here are some examples of the old-school thinking we needed to break away from:
Support is a necessary cost. Let’s try to minimize it. After all, we don’t need complainers in our game.
Let’s deflect all of our players to the knowledge base and hope they get their answers.
We had a longer response time on console, so it will work for mobile. All players are the same.
I don’t need gamers to answer support questions. Anyone can do it with training.
I don’t need to invest in tech for support and community. The service experience is not a priority.
I don’t need to understand my players. All players are the same.
People love our game. It doesn’t matter if we engage them. It is so amazing that they will keep coming.
We strongly felt that disruption was the key: Disruption of how we think about, engage with, and treat the players of our games. Disruption of how we invest. Disruption of how we prioritize our boardroom conversations. And disruption of how we allow our support and community teams to operate. We decided we must disrupt, think blue sky, and retire legacy thought processes.
How Kabam Is Different
To help us drive this disruption, we aligned how to engage our players across the leadership team and all disciplines. We did not merely want to support players; we were going to retain them. And not just for a day or month, but for the life of the game. We re-wrote and embraced new guiding principles that engage and listen to our players:
The core game mission, once players get into the game, should be to keep them playing, every day.
Leveraging technology and people in new and innovative ways will be the difference in winning the eyeball game.
Every player has value. Understanding it, categorizing it, and maximizing it through engagement will be the key.
Deeply embedding and measuring this approach in our Support and Community teams, as well as reinforcing it in the company culture, will be essential to long-term success.
Support and Community is a means to an end. Investing in the means will derive multiplicative results on the end.
The end result is how often our players play our games, how much they play our games, and then in turn how they share their enjoyment by spending and investing in our games.
Our ability to disrupt the vision, strategy, purpose, and deployment of the resources and technology that engages our players every day has had a profound impact on our player base and our bottom line.
Stepping back into my player mindset: Like many of you, I love mobile video games. I like free things. I will continue to try and test them out. Just as I do in other walks of my life, I will choose to care about and invest in the ones that reciprocate and engage me in kind. It will be an unconscious behavior. I know each of you are the same way.
Where many freemium companies still operate in legacy and failing ways, Kabam tries to win players’ affections and loyalty every day. By finding new and innovative ways to engage our players, we enrich their gaming entertainment experience.
Our willingness to disrupt, re-imagine, and adapt how we think and operate has put us in a great position to grab part of the amazing $26.3B opportunity that sits in front of us.
Jerry Leisure is a CX thought leader who believes the heart of every company is its customer and that a CS marketplace will become the lifeblood of best-in-class CX teams. He can be reached via LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org.