You know how powerful player messaging can be. It can improve a game’s experience and enrich competition. It can engage new gamers and win back churned players.
Although the potential benefits are compelling, there are also examples of messaging channels detracting from the game experience. As a result, many savvy game developers overlook opportunities to enhance their game experience with messaging because they’re afraid of what might go wrong.
Getting mobile messaging right takes some skill and thoughtfulness. We pooled our collective knowledge, along with input from leading mobile development studios, to create a list of seven common messaging mistakes in the gaming industry and how you can avoid them.
Sin #1: Leading With an Opt-in Request
Imagine you’re a bored commuter. You head to the App Store, scroll through the top free games, and download one that catches your eye. You tap the game’s icon, excited to get started. But then something happens that sours the whole experience.
The first thing you see — before the main menu, or tutorial — is a context-free request to opt-in to push notifications.
As our CEO George Deglin explains, some apps like chat apps can get away with this order of operations, but mobile games can’t.
“Users understand why a chat app wants to send them notifications,” he explains. “But if they’re playing a mobile game, they’ll want to know why it needs to send them notifications. It’s a weird and confusing experience.”
Games should take advantage of something called the reciprocity principle. The gist is that you should offer value before you ask for something in return. In other words, allow your players to play your game and experience the gameplay before asking to send them notifications.
Morgan Andre, a marketing leader at Flaregames, experimented with this a couple of years ago. By moving opt-in requests to later in the game (specifically, when players unlocked their first chest), he doubled their opt-in rate from 25 percent to 50 percent.
Sin #2: Distracting Gamers From Achieving Flow
The Holy Grail of game development is flow state. It’s that feeling of being “in the zone,” where a player is focused solely on the game. If your game is achieving that, the last thing you want to do is shatter a player’s concentration with a promotional message.
Solving this problem involves changing how you think about messaging. Rather than thinking of messaging channels as purely promotional in nature, consider how your communication strategy could enhance the player experience. For example, puzzle games often use in-app messages to provide hints to players when they get stuck. Rather than interrupting their flow, these highly-personal, well-timed messages keep players engaged and motivated.
There are other ways to avoid interrupting players and still build a strong messaging strategy. For example, you can automatically dismiss messages after a stipulated time frame so that a player can read your message without stopping gameplay to remove them.
Sin #3: Offering All-or-Nothing Communication Options
When churned users give their reasons for uninstalling a game, message relevancy and message volume regularly rank among their top concerns. That’s understandable — no one wants to be bombarded by unwanted messages throughout the day.
Here’s the thing: messaging preferences are highly personal. One player may view certain types of messages as a hindrance, but another player might view the same messages as beneficial. The same concept is true for messaging channels — some people prefer push notifications, others prefer text messages. Yet most games don’t offer players the choice to dial back notifications and customize their messaging preferences. Usually, they provide an all-or-nothing option: either you turn off notifications entirely or you receive every type of notification.
Allow your players to edit their notification settings within the game, rather than forcing them to exit the game and update their phone’s system preferences. If you send different types of notifications, offer more granular options, too. Empower players to choose the type of message they want to receive. Do they want to hear about game updates? Do they want to know when friends sign up? Do they want core game notifications? Allowing players to dictate their messaging preferences will improve the game experience and ensure that your messaging strategy is perceived positively.
Sin #4: Underestimating Gamers' Communication Preferences
Contrary to cultural stereotypes, the gaming vertical has a higher threshold for communication than many other sectors. When you think about it, it makes sense. Games with daily interactions (such as wheel spins, item cooldowns, level unlocks, and so on) need to build a strong messaging strategy in order to deliver a seamless experience.
While an online shopper might get annoyed at an e-commerce brand messaging them every day, mobile gamers often depend on consistent communication from games to know when they should take action and keep them informed about key developments.
Good messaging is timely, personal, and actionable. So long as you’re adding value, you should feel comfortable experimenting with different types of communication and message frequency. If average engagement dips, you can always make changes and find a happy medium.
Sin #5: Sending Messages on Generic Schedules
Mobile games are designed to fill time in our schedules. When you’re waiting for a taxi, you might squeeze in a quick round of Candy Crush or Among Us. If you’re not feeling sleepy at night, you might chase a third star on a tough Angry Birds level.
Mobile games are “snackable.” While that’s great for consumption, it creates fresh challenges for messaging. If each individual player is active for short bursts at unique times, when should you schedule messages to send? At eight in the morning when people are commuting? At lunchtime? Later in the evening when they’re preparing for bed? When you consider the fact that users live in different time zones, seemingly broad targets like “morning” and “lunchtime” can become difficult to define.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to message scheduling. According to Tapjoy, people most often open a mobile game when they’re watching TV (70 percent), relaxing at home (67 percent), or heading to bed (59 percent). Finding the optimal sending time means personalizing your sending schedule to each person. Really, there’s no way to do that manually. Instead, search for a messaging platform with a built-in intelligent delivery feature.
Sin #6: Diluting Your Creativity and Personality
Game developers are some of the most creative people on the planet. Who else would have predicted that slicing fruit would be so fun? But so many developers and studios keep their creativity locked within their games. When it comes to player communication, developers often opt for generic messaging in an attempt to play it safe.
This mistake is twofold. Firstly, boring messages aren’t effective. People receive hundreds of messages each day and boring messages won’t help your game stand out from the competition. Secondly, boring messages can create a disconnect between your game and the messaging experience. Imagine you’re playing a wacky time management kitchen game where you’re cooking rainbow burgers for unicorns. A message saying, “Hey Jane, do you want to play today?” doesn’t match the look and feel of the game and can be jarring as a result.
Don’t be afraid to show your personality in your messaging strategy. Just because a message sits in the system tray doesn’t mean it should sound like a system update.
If your game is funny, be funny. If your game is sarcastic, be sarcastic. Use emojis, images, videos, and GIFs. Treat your messages as an extension of your game and an opportunity to delight your users.
Sin #7: Building a Messaging System From Scratch
User communication is an important part of modern mobile games. But building communication infrastructure from scratch takes substantial time and resources. When you’re pouring your heart and soul into a game, the last thing you want to do is spend time working on a supporting infrastructure that will require long-term maintenance. But doing the research required to answer the question of “build vs. buy” can be a hurdle in and of itself.
Unless you have unlimited resources at your disposal, choosing a messaging provider is one of the best ways to save time, development resources, and hassle. In a hyper-competitive industry like mobile gaming, it’s hard to overlook the benefits of a system that is versatile, reliable, easy to implement, and doesn’t require any upkeep. On top of those benefits, messaging platforms like OneSignal offer a robust free plan and offer powerful gaming industry integrations, so you can get started without incurring any risk.
Learn More About Gaming Messaging Strategy
Download our comprehensive e-book, Mastering User Communication in Mobile Games, to learn how top gaming studios use different messaging channels and uncover key use cases and best practices to retain players in a competitive gaming market.
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