Making Your Mobile Game a Success. Part Four: Building Community
Meeting with a success on mobile is ultimately about your players, which means serving a community is of prime importance. Here three studios that use Unity share insights into building community, customer service and building a reputation for quality.
In our previous pieces looking at making your Unity mobile game a success, we’ve considered the basics of designing a quality free-to-play game, the increasing potential of premium, and getting your creations discovered by users.
In this installment, however, it’s time to look at a rather more human element of making your Unity project a success on mobile; namely your player community.
Whether harnessing the power of your player base to engender discoverability and virality, or embracing the longstanding art of customer service, the way you deal with your players will define the success of your game, perhaps as much as the most advanced user acquisition platform. And often, it’s something you can do with a minimal budget and nominal headcount.
For many, especially as a new game by a small team first emerges in the public spotlight, managing community is essential in gaining the critical mass needed to secure a hit.
That was the case for Blendoku, a Unity-built puzzle game from two-man Los Angeles-based team that has to date enjoyed over 4.3 million downloads. By the studio’s own confession, the pair initially presumed the game wasn’t going to make an impact on launch, almost leaving it unattended. But after seeing some positive user reviews, the developer duo began to do all they could to build a community of players.
“Once things took off, we put out a plan to release updates every couple of months or so, we also came up with some seasonal content – [such as a] winter pack,” explains Lonely Few Developer and Co-founder Rod Green, on the subject of building momentum around the game.
“We also took a very personal approach to our customer support,” he continues. “We answer every single support email personally. We don’t have canned responses; if you email us for support you’ll get an email back from either Yeong-Hao [Han] or myself within a few hours.”
That is no small task for a team of two with over 300,000 active users, but the time invested – without the need for expensive technology platforms – means positive word of mouth and a player community happy to share their experience of the game, which has lead to download spikes of 900,000 users in a single week.
“We often help people with issues that aren’t related to the game, but maybe issues with their device,” continues Green. “Our mindset is if someone goes to the effort to contact us then we’ll make the effort to make sure we resolve their issue. All this combined meant that people who play the game feel like the game is getting better, we’re listening and trying to make it the best experience we can.”
And when time is the commodity that lets Lonely Few support its community, there needs to be efficiency in the studio. In that regard Unity has proved a powerful asset for Green and his sole colleague.
“The strength and customizability of the editor as an art and design tool meant we were able produce the content for our games without the usual bottlenecks in tool development,” explains Green. “Again, being a two-man team, if one of us is waiting on the other we’re running at 50 per cent efficiency. The Unity Editor has been built with the mindset of extensibility and for that I’m very thankful.”
Half-way around the world another team finding success on mobile is Israeli studio Jelly Button, which is currently experiencing snowballing growth with its simple, socially driven free-to-play title Pirate Kings.
When a game is social, and its mechanics encourage and reward sharing, community support is more paramount to success than ever. It’s a fact the Jelly Button team well knows, and one it has put to incredible effect with a game downloaded by some 14 million people. Pirate Kings encourages users to attack the custom islands of their friends, and is conceived to create viral loops that have seen 90 million invites sent a day on social media. The numbers are staggering – especially when you consider the game is developed and maintained by a team of around 20 staff – and the phenomenon owes much to Jelly Button’s focus on community.
“I think it’s all about connections between people,” offers Ron Rejwan, Jelly Button Co-founder and CTO, pondering why Pirate Kings has succeeded on mobile. “The game itself might seem very simple, but I believe the real fun of the game comes from an invisible social layer outside the game. People actually get really emotional about their friends attacking and stealing from them, and it’s quite amazing how great of an effect this can have on people.”
“Community is really important to us, and it helps make our game succeed,” adds MOR Shani, Jelly Button Co-founder and Co-CEO. “Even with a small team we think it is worth having staff in a customer support role, and we have a community manager coming onto the team. For us as a company, almost nothing is more important than community. It’s so important to our game, and the future of our game. We are only 20 people, and we have managed to build our community.
“You just have to do everything you can,” Shani advises. “We reach out to every user we can, we run giveaways, we welcome people to come and join our user groups. We are around 20 people, but we manage to do a lot to connect with our community, and that helps the community grow.”
Jelly Button has worked hard for its success, but the community-focused methods that form the spearhead of its drive for growth are simple models applicable to all studios.
There is also an alternative perspective on serving the community to succeed in the mobile space; one of delivering a quality product that recognizes the distinct needs of a particular audience. It’s a strategy that has seen Swedish team Toca Boca meet with lasting success in a space where many get it wrong; namely kids’ and family apps. Toca Boca has built a commercially successful, well-respected studio that makes creatively exciting, positive children’s games that wow the critics as much as the parents of their players; most recently with Toca Nature, which uses Unity to dazzling effect.
Put simply, Toca Boca cares about the players it serves, and has thus built a reputation among parents, educators and press as a leading brand for children’s games, which in turn has made a success of the studio and its releases.
“We want to create a trustworthy and durable family brand and as such we put a lot of passion into making our products both fun and safe,” states Mårten Brüggemann, Play Designer at Toca Boca. “Part of that is making every kid feel at home with our product. Our motto is that ‘no kid – or parent – should feel that a Toca Boca app is not for them because of gendered signals in marketing, packaging or the overall feeling of the app’.”
Toca Boca, then, is an ethics-lead studio, which has helped it form a reputation with parents that in turn has seen the studio prosper.
“One important part of our promise to families is that we don’t expose kids to in-app purchases or external advertising,” says Lucas Kampmann Duroj, Lead Programmer at Toca Boca. “We could earn a lot of money by having a freemium model with loads of in-app purchases, but we know from experience we are as successful with our current model because it gives us a durable relationship with parents and their kids.”
And for Toca Boca, Unity is core to giving that audience the quality they demand.
“Unity is a perfect match for Toca Boca games,” says Duroj. “It lets us both do 2D and 3D projects and anything in between. It supports all of our target platforms and more. Unity provides the tools for most of the technology we need yet still is easy enough to expand upon when we need to. Unity also provides a common development platform for all of our app teams, making it easier for us to share knowledge both in house and outside the studio.”
Toca Boca’s broad approach to its games brings us back to that core tenant that defines mobile success across the Unity-using teams, whether targeting freemium or premium, and whether serving a community or attracting users; make a good game that suits your audience. It might be naïve to think that’s all there is to it, but with Unity as a foundation, you’re on the right track to finding your own mobile success story.