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James Lahey
James Lahey

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In-Game Chat & Social Gaming 101

If you Google “gamer,” you’ll find images of people sitting alone, headphones on, lights dimmed, entranced by the screen in front of them. From the outside looking in, gaming can seem like an isolating activity that disconnects the player from the “real” world. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that over 227 million people in the US alone are firing up their consoles on a regular basis, with over 77% of them engaging with others while they play.

Developing a game is a herculean feat. But, depending on your product team’s size and technical background, you might have to sacrifice some “nice-to-haves” in favor of nailing down the core mechanics of your game. Prioritization is inevitable, but before finalizing your list, consider the elements of your game that will set it apart. Flawless infrastructure alone isn’t enough to drive player engagement and retention or increase critical business metrics like life-time-value (LTV). To avoid a short-sighted development process, you must take these key components of a successful game into account early and often.

In-game chat creates the perfect environment for engaged players to form connections within your video game. By making in-app chat a core tenant of your gaming user experience, you’ll not only see an improvement in the metrics that mean the most to your studio, but you’ll also see a sense of community grow within your game that will continue to attract players long after launch.

This article covers the current landscape of the gaming industry, the major challenges gaming apps face, and how in-game chat can mitigate them. It will also take a closer look at the features your in-game chat should include, how to leverage chat data, and technical best practices for multiplayer games.

Understanding the Global Market of Online Gaming

To fully comprehend why your game requires a competitive edge, we need to zoom out for a holistic look at the global gaming marketplace. Trusted sources report that by the end of 2021, the gaming industry will have generated $175.8 billion in revenue and amassed 2.9 billion players worldwide. Mobile gaming will account for over $90 billion of that number, nearly a 5% increase from the previous year, making it the single most lucrative industry segment.

Mobile games are less complex to develop, contributing to the saturation of the space. But that doesn’t stop new titles from being released daily. Why? The demand is there. Games account for 43% of all smartphone use, with roughly 23% of all apps downloaded from both iOS and Android play stores being games. And while Google’s search results for “gamer” primarily serve up images of teenage males, only 8% of mobile gamers are teens, the majority of the demographic being middle-aged women.

The mobile landscape is rapidly changing, and the importance of adjusting your development strategies to accommodate it is paramount.

The 3 Major Challenges Gaming Chat Platforms Face

Aside from the significant investment of time and money spent developing your game, there’s one more thing you can’t forget to factor into your budget. Cost-per-install (CPI) rates, or customer acquisition costs (CAC), start at a high price for new games and are one of the greatest difficulties to overcome post-launch. Other hurdles gaming apps must clear include lowering player churn rates and increasing their life-time-value (LTV).

High Cost-Per-Install

Cost-Per-Install (CPI) is a mobile-specific metric and reflects the number of advertising dollars spent on each install. New mobile games typically monitor CPI daily, but you can choose to calculate it on the cadence that makes the most sense for your business, whether that’s daily, weekly, or monthly.

Total ad spend/the number of installs = CPI.

Even in the early stages of development, you’ll need to design opportunities that encourage gamers to spend a number equivalent to your predicted CPI to break even on acquisition costs. Every player is an investment; ensure those marketing dollars don’t go to waste by having the foresight to create a platform conducive to a high ROI.

Player Retention

Even if you manage to drive down your CPI, retaining the users you acquired is a challenge in and of itself. Mobile gaming apps face more competition than their console and controller counterparts, thanks to the multiuse capabilities of our smartphones. One download does not always equal one customer. 1 in 4 people who download mobile gaming apps uninstall them after only one use.

To win your investment’s attention, you must provide an engaging experience from the get-go—no easy feat.

Achieving Profitable Life-Time-Value (LTV)

If you manage to hook new users, your odds of achieving a profitable LTV goes up. Two types of players contribute to a favorable LTV; the first make larger purchases over a short amount of time. The second is a more committed player, which creates a long-tail spending pattern by performing micro-purchases over a long time.

Developing a mobile game that players invest their time and money into is the best way to fight churn and apathy. This can be done in a number of ways, but the most direct path to achieving your desired result is to create a socially-minded game.

The Impact of Social Gaming Environments

Although the gaming space is heavily saturated, there is an upside to offering so much variety: a wider audience. Especially as mobile gaming continues to move to the forefront of the industry, players of different ages, abilities, backgrounds, and interests are looking to connect. Most of these players are looking for games that allow them to meet new people or play with friends over in-game chat.

This community-building mindset results in more engagement, less churn, profitable LTV rates, a lower CPI, and more in-app purchases.

There’s plenty of untapped potential within these burgeoning markets to offer more social, engaging gameplay experiences than ever before. And their positive impact can be felt by both platform and player.

On Gaming Chat Platforms

Social Gamers Drive Engagement

On the subject of new audiences, it’s essential to understand that not every gamer is a social gamer. Some prefer to use games as an outlet of relaxation, a virtual escape free from interactions with others. That is a perfect example of why having a target audience in mind before designing your game is essential. It will allow you to allocate your technical resources more strategically and build features that significantly impact the player and game.

Social gamers are considered the “white whale” of audiences. They use mobile games as a means of connection to their friends and family; an example of this would be a mom whose weekly game of Words with Friends is a way for her to stay in touch with her child who’s at college. These players are powerful drivers of your gaming app’s adoption, promotion, and engagement because of the sentiment behind their interactions on the platform.

There are, of course, other incentives to promote engagement, like, offering rewards for returning players. However, in-game chat is a must-have feature for social gamers. It allows them to continue connecting with their loved ones, resulting in longer gameplay sessions and engagement metric spikes.

Social Gamers Spend More

Social gamers are highly sought after because they are two to four times more likely to spend money within mobile games. If we look back at the parent/child example above, we can see why. Choosing a game that doubles as a way to stay connected with your family is a serious decision as it involves a certain level of commitment.

Committed players are more likely to look past any micro-fees during the game to keep their communication lines open. Exceptional social chat games that offer community-minded features like group chat, read receipts, and media sharing capabilities (like GIPHY) contribute to a better mobile UX. They will attract more social gamers who play more and, more importantly, pay more.

On Players

Strong Player Communities

In-game chat fosters a sense of community between players, regardless of whether they knew each other before the game or not. It creates an immersive experience that streamlines gameplay and communication, eliminating the need for a third-party messaging app like Discord or iMessage that removes players from the game. Instead, gamers can enjoy more engaging, immediate exchanges with each other and use social chat games as an extension of their real-life relationships.

Players Seek Connection

Roughly one in five players chose a game specifically to spend time with people they know. But what about the other four players? More mobile gamers without friends play mobile games, but in-game chat remains an important feature. Why? These players are seeking like-minded connections, and a gaming chat platform is a perfect place to create them. Gaming can be a more social experience than in-person events, one that can lead to meaningful relationships and even marriage!

Players utilizing the in-game chat functionality allows them to build upon other social features within your game, like live streams. Streamers can create group chats to coordinate schedules, send out invitation details, and hold each other accountable on the big day. Players like these expand the definition of the “social gamer,” as they are proven to contribute to a higher LTV than what they are assumed to be, a casual, isolated player.

Top Ways to Leverage Gaming Chat Platform Data

The value in-game chat provides studios is twofold, financial and informational. Financial value because of the community mindset that not only encourages players to spend, but to stay and spend, increasing their LTV and lowering their CPI. However, the information development studios can collect through in-game chat is considered the most valuable resource players supply.

Monitoring metrics like player retention, engagement, and conversions alone won’t paint a complete picture of your game’s performance. You need to gain context around the actions players take to influence those metrics if you want to broaden your player base, smooth out friction points within your game, and stay competitive within the gaming marketplace.

As you filter through collected data, ask yourself:

  1. Where do players spend the most time?
  2. What activities drive conversions?
  3. What kind of rewards keep players coming back?

Leveraging in-game chat for analytical insights is extremely effective and doesn’t require a massive operational lift. Your team can collect large volumes of data that benefit multiple areas of business, all while improving player experience.

Censor Abusive Chatter

The immediacy of connection in-game chat offers is a double-edged sword. Trolls are users that intentionally ruin the gaming experience for other players. They do this in many ways, but sending profane and abusive messages via in-game chat is their method of choice. Luckily, there are several easy-to-use and implement profanity filter APIs that your team can integrate with your game to protect innocent players.

Aside from moderating this chatter, you can leverage in-game chat data from censored accounts to program auto-ban rules into your game. Once you determine what is considered abusive, you can trigger these rules to deploy upon seeing abusive messages and remove the player from the game. These rules will reduce churn and promote automation while keeping your game and in-game messaging platform a safe and positive space for players to continue connecting.

Gain Context Around Game Friction Points

In any game, players are bound to run into bugs and friction points. Then they’ll take to the Internet to share their feedback. But, angry reviews only tell one side of the story. To accurately pinpoint, evaluate, and correct errors in your game, leverage user data, or telemetry, from your in-game chat to get the other side.

User telemetry is another term for player behavior data. Player interactions, purchasing patterns, and geographic location are all considered user telemetry.

You can use this data to see when and where your players encounter friction within your game. Then, you can check if they sent any in-game messages around the same time. If they did, scan them to see if they ask other players for help or simply complain in greater detail than in their review. Even venting players can turn into valuable resources that help your team improve your mobile game.

Gain a Deeper Understanding of Your Gaming Community

Whether you choose to adopt an admin role or remain a fly on the wall, your players will notice and appreciate any changes rolled out in response to their feedback. But these efforts must be informed and consistent. Say your engagement metrics experience a slump, so you launch a new feature to test the waters, and you wind up getting a hugely positive response. Is the success due to the newness of the feature or the need for the feature? Fingers crossed it’s the latter.

Launching new features for the sake of launching is hit or miss, not to mention unsustainable. But, launching a highly requested feature? That’s a strategic, scalable move.

Spending more time in your gaming community will give you the inside scoop regarding players’ opinions on the game. Serving up more of what your audience really wants will help you make big strides towards a profitable LTV and lower churn rates.

4 Must-Have Features for Your Gaming Chat Platform

The functional standards for in-game chat are comparable to traditional messaging apps. Players base their expectations for your game’s in-app messaging on their everyday interactions on iMessage, Slack, and FB Messenger. To provide a similar experience, you’ll want to include certain features that make it easy for players to bring conversations to life and create personal connections.

  1. Group Chat
    Group chat provides a different experience than the public messaging boards most games feature. To compete with offline messaging apps, offering the ability for players to create a chat that only includes a select group of others mimics the ease of use innate to other messaging apps.

  2. Reactions
    Wins and losses are emotional events, so give your players visual tools to express themselves. These can range from emoji reactions they can apply to specific messages to a searchable GIF keyboard.

  3. Typing Indicators
    Immediacy is a key component of in-game messaging. Typing indicators create a more life-like interaction for players as if they were audibly speaking to one another. They are pieces of visual feedback that help players prevent cross-talk.

  4. Read Receipts
    Read receipts appear after a player’s message is delivered. This feature prevents the sender from spamming the message recipient if they do not get a response.

Optimize Performance by Separating Online Game Servers from Chat

Multiplayer game developers must decide whether to run chat-functionality on existing mobile game servers or separate their game servers and run chat independently. Developers often overlook the importance of online game chat and underestimate how many players will use it, so they incorporate it into their existing game servers. But, there are many benefits to running game serves and social features asynchronously. By taking this extra step, you’ll increase game performance and scalability while establishing a more straightforward updates process for your in-game chat.

Make Your Game Easy to Manage with Microservers

Microservers allow developers to break down your game into small, modular services that can still talk to each other through APIs. This infrastructure makes game updates and maintenance more manageable.

If your team chose to combine both game and chat servers, you’d create interdependence within your game, which means that, if the chat feature were to go down, your entire game would go down with it. Not putting all of your eggs in one basket allows you to isolate the failure and fix it quickly.

Create a More Efficient Online Game Chat Experience

Separating your game servers from chat contributes to reduced latencies for chat delivery and live gameplay. When you use network resources effectively, you can deliver a seamless experience for all aspects of your game. Maximizing network performance is particularly crucial to games with large audiences. More players gaming online equals more messages sent. This forces servers to sacrifice gameplay speed, graphic and sound quality, or message delivery time.

Looking Forward

Prospective gamer’s attention is competed for on every social platform. With the rise of the mobile gaming industry, competition is more fierce than ever. Offering a supreme social gaming experience, complete with a robust set of social features, is what apps can do to earn the loyalty of new audiences.

Online game chat allows players to build community, stay in touch with loved ones, and interact with like-minded people. The sum of these actions results in a data-rich environment from which developers can mine inspiration for improvements. The symbiotic developer/player relationship providers a stellar end-user experience that is possible thanks to the analysis of player feedback pulled from in-game chat. A stellar end-user experience results in less customer churn, a higher LTV rate, and a lower CPI for studios.

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