Level-Up Your Customer Experience: Lessons From The Gaming Industry

Mark de Bruijn

From the first teaser trailer to the final level, the gaming industry demonstrates that it knows exactly how to engage and cultivate the interest (and loyalty) of its customers. And, it’s a goldmine: there are an estimated 1.5 billion gamers, and this year revenue from the global games industry will be around $100 billion.

So, what can other industries learn from this example? Developers and game designers are under huge pressure to create a new experience each time, one that gamers are willing to pay for. Competition in the ceaselessly growing industry is enormous. For every hit, there are countless games no one plays. This constant “survival of the fittest” has a major advantage – many games offer a customer experience that has been perfected down to the finest detail.

Here are five ways gaming takes customer engagement to the next level.

1. Promotion

Popular franchises like Pokémon, Grand Theft Auto, and Battlefield are constantly preoccupied with building a relationship with their customers. Real fans know well in advance that they want to buy a game. They are teased with new features, sneak peeks, trailers, artwork, events, and promotional campaigns. Early birds get discounts and unique content, like new levels and rare weapons.

Games companies understand that customer retention is an ongoing process. And they know that it’s easier and cheaper to sell something to an existing customer than to a new one. Franchises are strong brands with recognizable characters that appeal to the gamer. It’s only a matter of galvanizing the fans into action at the right moment – for example, for the holiday season.

Foster your existing customers, whet their appetites with news of your new products or services, and reward the early birds. And just keep on building a strong brand!

2. First impressions

New mobile games appear daily and can often be downloaded for free. However, research has shown that around a quarter of the apps are opened only once. For that reason, making a good impression is very important for game developers. After all, you don’t get a second chance. That’s why a game is tested exhaustively before it’s launched.

A messy or un-intuitive interface, the lack of a tutorial, long loading times, poor performance, irritating advertising, and intrusive in-app selling can motivate people to delete a game instantly. But factors outside the game also play a role, like the description of its features, general evaluations, and the amount of space needed for installation.

Developing games is a question of testing, optimizing, and testing again. And that’s how companies should also approach their customer experience: only perfect is good enough.

3. Immersion

What actually makes a game good? Tastes differ, just as with films or music. But whether it’s a futuristic shooter, a strategic RPG, on an online word game with friends, a game has to be compelling or “immersive.” There’s no magic wand for creating an immersive experience. But there are certainly elements which contribute to it:

  • Gameplay
    • Good gameplay is crucial. Some games feature deep gameplay mechanics or have a high difficulty level, others opt for addictive elements like puzzles, and still others put the emphasis on the competitive factor (who’s the best?). Whatever they do, the game’s mechanisms must entertain the player.
    • Gameplay elements enrich the customer experience. There are countless examples of gamification. For example, at Starbucks you can earn stars with purchases. The Spanish bank BBVA lets customers perform tasks to promote the use of Internet banking. And the running app Nike+ Run Club challenges sports enthusiasts to measure themselves against others.
  • Graphics and sound
    • A brilliant-looking game that’s enhanced with varied musical and sound effects creates a credible world that gamers want to plunge into. If you constantly encounter visual errors and strange animations, or you’re irritated by poor voice actors and repetitive music, it detracts from the immersion.
    • High visual production values are also a unique selling point for companies, and not only in terms of their products and services. So, for instance, a slow or ugly (mobile) website can upset the customer journey and can motivate potential customers to head to a competitor.
  • Story
    • A huge attraction in many games is the story. Interesting characters, exciting developments, and humorous dialogues ensure that the gamer feels emotionally involved and is curious to discover what will happen. The choices you make, along with the way of playing, leads to a personal experience.
    • Marketing is increasingly concerned with emotion. You persuade the modern consumer not with superlatives, but with storytelling: a good story, which he or she would like to be part of. The interaction between customer and brand is one and the same. Buying stems from that.

Immersion is also very important for the customer experience. The process from orientation to buying and use doesn’t only have to be smooth. It must also be absorbing, personal, and even fun.

4. Customer behavior

Game developers are extremely proficient at analyzing customer behavior. The free-to-play model with in-app purchases has accorded this a completely new dimension. How long does the average gamer play? What type of content and what offers open wallets? What notifications are effective to get you to play again?

Research has shown that just 0.19 percent of mobile gamers account for half of all revenues. They are referred to jokingly as “whales.” Games companies pull out all the stops to land these meaty fish. Sometimes digital items are even developed specially for one whale. You might wonder whether this is ethical, but that gamer is certainly given the royal treatment.

Analyzing customer behavior offers valuable insights with which you can improve the customer experience. And it helps each company determine which customers are really worthwhile.

5. Feedback

Certainly with mobile games, it’s entirely normal to ask the gamer for feedback. This has all sorts of benefits. A positive review can be just enough to persuade people to try an app. But bad reviews with complaints and criticism can also be very valuable. A developer can then see immediately what he has to change.

Even better is if the feedback arrives during the development. That’s why players of previous games are often invited to beta-test a new title – an excellent way to bind gamers at an early stage and get focused feedback from the target group. It’s also an economical way to spot bugs.

Every company benefits from feedback. Take every sign from customers seriously, both positive and negative. And let them test new products, for instance in exchange for a discount.

Business can learn lots from the games industry, but the customer experience is not a game. The biggest difference? Unfortunately your company doesn’t have an endless number of lives. Once your customers walk away, it really is game over.

Here’s another industry to model: Improving The Customer Experience: It’s Time To Look To Fintech.


Mark de Bruijn

About Mark de Bruijn

Mark is an energetic and positive marketer with a focus on creativity, teamwork, digital, data and technology. Responsible for SAP Hybris in the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa). He is passionate about SAP Hybris solutions for marketing, sales, service, commerce and billing.