Jagex and Community decisions

This article is a summary of a talk I attended at Amsterdam White Nights 2020 conference.

White Nights is a 2 days b2b event for game development related business to meet and do business. For more details on the White Nights conference and what it is (and not), I wrote this blog post.

The announcement

Most developers and publishers claim to be “player-driven” and that “community is at their core” but few truly manage it. Jagex, the makers of the evergreen RuneScape franchise, have taken building and engaging with players to the next level, most recently bringing their PC MMOs to mobile. A 13 years veteran at Jagex, Neil will talk about how the studio has over time truly become player obsessed – the good, bad and ugly of doing so, and how you can successfully apply key learnings to your games.

The audience

I have moved to the green hall. In this room the atmosphere is bright with vivid green colors projected on the walls.

The talk

Neil is from Jagex, mainly known from Runescape. They are mainly based in Cambridge (UK) and have 400 people on their company. Player obsessed or community communication is a buzzword and a hype nowadays, but at Jagex practice these things for a long time already. They have a big community, 1 bln revenue, 240mln active users, 7 years average consumer lifetime, and 1.5mln people on social platforms.

At Jagex they identify a trend that is going on right now: publishers are de-risking. Games are seeing extended life-cycles. Players are putting down roots. Long time dedication is being rewarded. Gamers are playing fewer games, it its harder to get hold of players.
The main problem nowadays is product adoption. (He shows a nice picture of the Technology adoption life cycle.) Games have this this problem too. The part before the chasm is ‘relatively’ easy: just buy yourself into this part of the market with bribing of friends and relatives. But then comes the chasm to mass market. You need serious money to scale this large. But the risks are much bigger on that side of the chasm. this part of the market is a numbers game. You need to maximize ease of use and do large amounts of testing.
This picture identifiers a lot of the risk aversion we are seeing lately.

At Jagex they think you can overcome the chasm by being player obsessed. Player obsessed @ Jagex: amazing experiences by combining empathy with insights. Key ingredients: interpret needs, get rounded feedback from multiple resources, accept that there are a variety of play stiles within your game, address specific needs of your players (instead of generic) and verify these with testing.

Empowering players is hard to do right, but at Jagex they take this seriously. Players want to have visible impact on shaping the game. Runescape has seen 17 years of evolving. Back then the average players was another player than he/she is now. The average player now is a 22 year old US male. Things change over time of the game. But the world and the lives of the players themselves change too over the lifetime within that game. The key is to give players a voice: be able to listen and engage at scale. (Deep dives, dev stories, feature feedback, etc).

About that visible impact: Jagex implements player decision gates to allow players have real impact. The players can vote on content, where 75% of the votes need to be ‘yes’ before a decision is made. (FYI: The example showed 3 options per question: ‘Yes, no, skip’). The decision range from minor things like ‘what should a boss drop’ (reward) to big things like level scaling.
They have implemented over 2000 in-game updates this way over the past 7 years.

Celebrate your champions. In games that live as long as Runescape the games has been part of many lives for a long time. Award the developers and the community that have dedicated a portion of their life to your game. Give fan made stuff official support. (He shows an example of fan made Runescape-themed jewelry that is on sale now in the official store)

The benefits of player obsession. What does this focus bring you? Loyalty, lapse and return, advocacy, resilience. Resilience is needed for when markets shifts, at Jagex they have good results with their user-base being resilient.
An example is that they talk to players that left, and they think it is OK for players to leave. They accept that players come and go, but the thing is that a lot of these players get back after 8 months.

At Jagex they have a few activities you could too organize or support. Conventions, cosplay, game competition events (just for the sake of having content and a conversation with your community), player generated content all over the internet, merchandise, promote memes and other online visual/viral stuff.

The presentation has nearly come to an end. In conclusion. Offer amazing experiences by combining empathy with insight. Cross the chasm. Interpreted needs. Real empowerment. Lifestyle.

Questions of the audience

Q. Doesn’t this make you vulnerable to trolls?
A. Trolls are just very engaged and passionate. You can flip a saboteur to a champion more easily than someone in the middle.
A. How does this talk apply to an Indie?
Q. You have to scale down and just start interaction. You have to carry your product over the chasm.

This article was also posted on Tweakers as a reaction on them being sold.

Published by Erik_de_Roos

Erik de Roos is a Freelance software developer.

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