MMO Development Lesson #27

Make it easy to come back. If someone has quit your game (See: Lesson #26), make it so easy to come back they can’t believe they quit in the first place. I’ll apologize right now for not making this lesson short and sweet like I usually do, but this one’s worth elaborating on. I’ll start with what you shouldn’t do, then I’ll give a few ideas for what you could do to make coming back easier than ever.

First off, playground peer pressure doesn’t work, and it’s just a bad idea in the first place. Your former players don’t like being talked down to when they’ve already quit your game any more than you liked being talked down to by an AOL customer service rep circa 1992. That talking down to is a (fortunately) unique case, but it’s worth noting so nobody else pulls such a foolish stunt.

Second, don’t sound too desperate. Nobody likes it when someone sounds desperate, and it’s really not a very good motivator. Don’t try to butter players up and make them feel like they owe you a second chance, because they don’t. You owe them.

Next up, don’t get rid of incentives that you used to bring players in. For example, if you rewarded pre-order customers with a reduced subscription rate of $10/month, but increase that to $15 if they quit and resubscribe, that’s not a good idea. I’m calling you out here, LotRO (actually, Genda is). Reward them for pre-ordering your game forever, not for a brief period of time. Doing that left a bad taste in the mouth of a number of people I know (including myself) who will not resubscribe to the game because of it. And, if you have any other incentives given to a player for any other reason, don’t strip them from players for quitting.

Now, here’s the most important rule. Clear your mind and be ready to absorb this. Never. Ever. EVER. NEVER delete someone’s character. There is no excuse for deleting a character someone has spent time developing and becoming attached to. If you ever delete my character, I will never ever resubscribe to your game. I’m looking at you FFXI. Yeah, I’m calling you out. If you ever delete a character, it better be one that they haven’t spent much time on (less than a few hours).

Honestly, that’s the main don’t. That’s the dumbest thing you can do when it comes to player reacquisition. On to a few recommendations…

Don’t make a person use a credit card to resubscribe. Give them some free time to try the game out again after they’ve been unsubscribed for a month or so. No credit card needed, just the game and their username/password.

I’d also suggest that you send them an email 60-90 days after they quit. But again, don’t tell them they are losers and don’t sound desperate. Make it short and sweet.

“Hello, [character with most playtime's name]! [iconic character name] hasn’t seen you around for [number of days]. He offers you 7 free days of play time if you reactivate your account within the next 30 days. If you don’t have the install discs anymore, you can download the game here. And hey, if you want to bring some friends along, here are 5 buddy keys so your friends can try [insert game name here] out with you!”

Then list all of the pertinent game updates since they left. All the headlines from your update notes since the day they quit. Finish it off with something like, “We look forward to seeing you in [insert world name] again soon!”

The important information to absorb: Make it free. Make it easy to download. Don’t make them put their credit card number in. Give them buddy keys so their friends can play with them. Tell them what’s gone on since they left.

You can feel free to pull a few more tricks from up your sleeve too. You already know what character they played more than any other. Do you have a screenshot or portrait of that character? If you have a service like EQ2Players or portraits like WoW, you probably do. Put it in the letter. They’ll see that and remember some of the good times they had. And you should give them a link they can click on to give you feedback (and let them send feedback throughout the entire free resub period).

So, there you go. That’s a lot more than most companies do to make it super easy for a player to come back to your game. And, if you made cancellation easy, they won’t have as bad of a taste in their mouth about your game as they otherwise would, and may even consider trying it again to see how much more fun it is than when they left.

Oh, and did I mention that you should never delete their characters? Yeah, don’t.

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11 Responses to "MMO Development Lesson #27"

  1. While we are at it, don’t “delete” my character’s name either (City of Heroes). To me that is almost as bad as deleting my character.

  2. While we are calling people out, let me call out Turbine for one of their policies for LOTRO. I was a founder (pre-ordered) and so I got the $9.99 for life deal for my subscription. I got to a point where I wasn’t going to be able to play for a while, and so i canceled. When I went back, they wouldn’t let me have the $9.99 rate any longer. I’m sure they looked at it like it was incentive for me to not cancel, but I looked at it as punishment for canceling. Needless to say, when it came to that point, I decided not to resub. So instead of getting $9.99 a month from me they got $0.00.

  3. Great point, Genda. I had forgotten about that policy even though I noticed it when I decided I wanted to try the game out again. I did actually resub because I wanted to see how they did their player housing, but I immediately canceled after I got a grasp of how it worked. Had I not been resubscribing for the sake of design, the increased cost would have driven me away. I’m adding a comment about that in the main post. Thanks!

  4. Skrymir

    I had the same experience with LotRO as Genda. I like doing back to games every now and then to see the changes they’ve made, I rather not be punished for that. LotRO does have a $9.99/mo running now, if you’re interested. But I think you have to sign up for 3 months at a time.

    Now if you remember the US release of FFXI, there are some great lessons to be learned there. At release you couldn’t pick which server to create your character on. Their balancing system would choose your server for you. I was blown away that a MMO wouldn’t let me play with my friends. I remember recreating my character over and over hoping to get on the same server as my normal play group.

    FFXI is the only MMO that I can think of that deleted you characters? Were there any others?

    -Skry

  5. [...] the positive helps me believe they are on the right track. On top of that, Shwayder’s “MMO Development Lesson” series really resonates with me and the mentality of many of the games I know. To me, that [...]

  6. Hmmmm.. I was thinking.. Dare I bring up player housing and their contents? EQ2 is a great example of the “DO” in that regard. I came back after being gone over a year, and all I had to do was pay some back rent. No hassle, no running around. All of my silly stuff was still in there. That’s how it should work.

  7. In defense of City of Heroes, they only delete character names below level 6 and after 90 days, and then only if someone else seeks the same name. Level 6 is a few hours of play, so I don’t know how committed anyone is to such a character. But yes, I’ll agree that losing a name sucks.

    City of Heroes does have the wise bit of bribing you to invite your friends back. Now they need to let you invite more than four people at a time.

    I concur on The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™. I probably will never subscribe because I did not get the $200 lifetime offer for pre-orders. We have this great deal if you will buy the game on faith. If you want us to prove that the game is worth paying for, it will cost you extra.

  8. Tagrun

    Such a great point. If I am going to be offered a life time of something…I really do want a life time of that something. *goes off mumbling something else…*

  9. sumdumguy

    Jumping on the bandwagon here – I’m glad I didn’t buy the lifetime subscription for LotRO. 3 months was all I needed to decide that it didn’t have the staying power to keep me playing.

  10. Yeebo

    I just went lifer in LoTRO after playing since open beta. Was skeptical that it would have any real staying power when it launched. But they have been adding new content at just about the right pace for me. Still logging every weekend and having fun. And hey, I still saved 30 dollars over a non pre-order lifer. And I get to keep the mediocre free horse at 25 for all of my alts . . . .yeah, OK I’m insane.

    More on topic, that post was spot on. Especially with respect to deleting toons. FFXI is one of the most horrific grinds you can find among mainstream MMOs. Having them set your characters on fire if you are gone for too long has probably kept a lot of players that would have bopped back on to check things out every year or so away.

  11. On the flip side, an example of how to do it right (and it only smarts more because of who it is…):

    When I shut my WoW account for the first time (my friends had stopped playing, and as a solo experience, it stinks), I changed my password and turned off my subscription. After about a year I hooked up with some friends of mine from university, who were playing. So I said, “hey I didn’t stop playing because I didn’t like the game, I stopped playing because I didn’t like playing by myself”. So I went to turn back on my account, after one of my friends sent me a “resurrection scroll” – which would theoretically allow me ten days free with my old toons.

    Except I forgot the password. Clever me.

    And the I realized that I had never bothered to keep my contact email address up to date. Meaning I couldn’t just send myself an automated password recovery. So I called customer support.

    I waited longer in the queue than it took the CSR to fix my account so I could play. And the queue was remarkably short for a game with millions of subscribers. I think that might be what you want.

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