Converting Players with Content is a Waste

The other day Eric posted about why There Shouldn’t Be A Signup Form. His post smacked me over the head with something I should have thought about a long time ago: the futility of converting through content.

At some point or other, most live MMO teams with declining player bases (which is almost everyone) are handed a mandate to increase conversion of new players.

Usually this involves someone higher up in the company looking at the number of free client downloads and comparing it to the number of new subscriptions each month.

(You do have a free client download, right?)

Once the mandate comes down, the live team kicks into gear. Since they are usually limited to working with in-game content, the live team concentrates on character creation, starter areas, the in-game newbie experience, low level quests, level 1-10 socialization, etc.

What the live team almost never does though, because often it isn’t in their purview at all, is fix the gawd-awful process that a new player goes through between the download and character creation.

Like navigating the cluttered sales-speak website to find the technical support link when the install doesn’t

  • … and then getting a 404.

Like filling out a massive web form to sign up an account

  • … half of which it turns out is market research anyway
  • … and doing it three times because each account name you choose is already in use and the form doesn’t save your entries
  • … and then doing it twice more because you also need a separate forum name
  • … only to have the verification e-mail go missing three times in a row.

(And do you know how many older games still require credit card information for their free trial? Egad!)

The best the live team may be able to do is bug the installer team for a fresh client download, bug the customer service team for some knowledge base updates, and bug the web team for some link fixes.

Of course, all that assumes that the installer team still knows how to build a fresh client, that the CS team still knows how to use the old knowledge base software package that the rest of the company switched away from three years ago, and that the web team isn’t tied up for the next three months building a site for the game in development - all of which, I shudder to say, is not always the case.

(And I’m not even going to mention the games that hide the link to the client download off some back page – or worse, a post in the forums! That’s outside the scope of this post. But suffice it to say that if you have to Google for the client download, you have failed.)

That’s not to say that improving your low level content is a waste – far from it! But if your goal is conversion, even character creation may well be too late.

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13 Responses to Converting Players with Content is a Waste

  1. Zubon says:

    The number of times I have had to search like Hell for a client download or a link to something other than marketing speak on an official page… Yes, the opening video is lovely, now can we have some useful links up front rather than making me Google for the right link? Ditto the forums, ISO the latest client, patch notes, known issues, or something that tracks developer posts.

    The City of Heroes site tends to do well on all points.

  2. Mike Grem says:

    @Zubon: Yeah, but the City of Heroes site wasn’t always as good as it is.

    I played back in ’05, and Sandra’s accusation of “hiding the client” immediately made me remember searching through the old CoH forums for the zip file with CoHUpdater.exe in it. Even worse, the file itself was on the site’s FTP; not even on a webpage proper! I almost would’ve preferred finding my CD at that point.

    But it’s way better now, as you mentioned. I think there’s still a few sites that are difficult to properly roam (Champions’ comes to mind, but they too may have fixed it).

  3. matt says:

    Most e-commerce companies obsess about these sorts of thing– purchasing funnel, site conversion rate, and the like. Unfortunately, as you observe, this process frequently falls apart when it comes to games.

  4. Scott Hartsman commented on a podcast that they’ve actually done some funnel analysis of the Rift signup, and that they instituted the use of players’ email addresses as their account names specifically because no one else will have taken that login. Good to see that some people have been around long enough to think about this kind of stuff.

  5. Sandra says:

    Scott is an wonderful producer with a very ‘live’ frame of mind. That’s one of the reasons I agreed to work under him for a year on EQ2. :)

    Speaking of forums, I wonder how many people who are picking up an older game are comfortable searching the forums for information. I know it wasn’t the first place I thought to go when I started. Then again, the game I was picking up at the time wasn’t ‘older’ – not then, anyway. And given the changing face of the internet, are forums more likely to be hit for info, or less?

  6. Mike Grem says:

    One of the first things I do is hit up an MMO’s forums to check it out for info. But that’s because I’ve been conditioned to.

    My girlfriend on the other hand has no clue how to even begin navigating forums. Her first avenue for info on any game is her friends. After that, it’s usually a Google search, which may bring up info on a forum. The same can be said of most of my friends; when they pick up an MMO, unless they’re a veteran to the genre they ask friends, then do a Google search and give up if both of those avenues provide nothing.

    But this is all personal experience. I’d love to see an actual study on the matter.

  7. Sandra says:

    Mike: So nobody starts out with the game website, eh? That’s fascinating to me. I mean I’m conditioned, as you say, to believe that the website (outside the forums) won’t have anything I need but I had assumed that new people would start there.

    Then again, I am constantly surprised at how many people search my other websites rather than use the big red link I put at the top that says “This is the info you need!” *grin*

  8. Ross Bearman says:

    I hadn’t heard of Rift until reading Green Armadillo’s post, checking out the official site reminded me of something that quickly puts me off looking further into the game. Currently on there site there is no clear way of finding out what the game is, or how it plays, or where it’s set, without trawling through a number of pages.

    To a new user, the index page is merely a fancy navigation bar. I’m not interested in news, or who likes it on Facebook, or much of the information on there, at this point I’m only interested in what it is.

    The navigation bar presents me with the following choices: The Game, Classes, The World, Media, News and Community.

    Well, media, news and community are unlikely to quickly answers my questions at this point. Upon checking The Game dropdown, I’m presented with five more options, namely: Rifts of Telara, Dynamic World, Races, Factions, FAQ.

    The first choice would appear to be lore (and upon further inspection, is as it appears), the second is quite a narrow game mechanic, the third and forth merely cover two aspects of gameplay.

    So here’s hoping the FAQ gives me an inkling of what this game is.

    It does not. It tells me that it’s an MMO (I’m aware) in a fantasty setting (I’m aware) and that PvP will be part of the final game. It also kindly links me to the Races and Classes sections, where I can find out more about the finer details of a game I’m still unsure about.

    Sigh.

  9. Ross Bearman says:

    Sandra, I missed your comment which seemed to tie in nicely with mine. I almost always check Wikipedia first rather than a game’s own website. Unfortunately the Rift entry was as uninformative as it’s website.

    It seems almost like they feel saying “fantasy MMO” will be enough for people to guess how the game will be played, which seems a rather negative assumption of your game’s own unique points.

  10. Mike Grem says:

    Sandra: I have to admit that I forgot about the main website; that comes before a Google search, if they know the website. This is conjecture, but they might just use the links in the launcher most of the time (I know I do). But friends are still the number one resource turned to in my group for help or info on an MMO.

    That said, most of my friends are gamers, so maybe someone new to the whole genre might want to visit the website and ask about it later. I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say that’s probably not the case, though =P

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