In the restaurant business, chefs and managers always make a point of swinging through the dining room and schmoozing with their patrons (usually after the customers have had a few glasses of wine.) This is an excellent way to build rapport but also so the restauranteur can better understand the tastes of their customers. We should be doing something similar with the people who play our games.

It is February – the month of love and relationships. So all the posts this month are about the people you should be having real-life relationships with in your game dev business. Last week I talked about how you should go out and meet streamers in real life. You can read it here.

This week I want to talk to you about the most important person to talk to: your fans (or soon-to-be-fans).

How to schmooze like a restauranteur

I make a point to talk 1 on 1 to at least one of my players once a week. I don’t mean reply to their Steam forum post or reply back to their tweet with a thumbs up emoji. I mean I call them up and we have a 15-30 minute chat, with our voices.

It sounds time-consuming until you realize if you don’t do it you are going to be wasting even more time building the wrong game for the wrong person. And compared to going to shows like PAX or E3, this technique is VASTLY cheaper and faster. You also get better results.

It isn’t as scary as you think. Here is how to do it.

The first step is to find fans to talk to

I start with people on my Discord who have been around for a while. They maybe comment regularly or interact in other ways such as leaving emojis on my announcements and comments.

I also go to my newsletter and find people who consistently open my emails or have replied to one in the past. Also because I have tied my email marketing system into my games I can also filter down to people who have bought one or both of my games.

Then I DM or email them and say:

“Hi this is Chris I made 1 Screen Platformer. I want to say thank you for playing my games and being a member of my community. I want your advice. I am trying to understand how I can make my games and my community better. Would you have time to chat for about 15 minutes?” 

I give them the option of a voice call through Discord/Skype/Google Hangouts or as a text chat through Steam or Discord. I prefer voice because you can pick up on so many subtle clues. I also find text chat so slow because people are always re-editing what they say. But I totally understand how awkward it can be and that people can be shy. So I am flexible.

In my 1×1 interview I try and get a few key things answered.

  • How did they find my game and me? I ask this because I am curious as to what in my marketing is working or if there is some other place I should be concentrating.
  • How they bought it? What sale? Was it a bundle? Did a friend give it to them?I ask this because it also helps me figure out the proper marketing channels. 
  • What their history of gaming is and what their favorite genres? What is currently your favorite game? In all my Steam research I have found that people stick closely to a handful of genres. This question helps me understand what other games I should be looking out for as comparison and what potential new genres I should explore.
  • What is the next improvement I should make to 1 Screen Platformer? I ask this question instead of asking “how do you like my game?” Because everyone is going to say “it’s fine.” But phrasing it this way ensures that they give me an honest and useful answer.
  • What social media site is their favorite to use? – Again this helps me identify what social media channels to target. I say favorite because a lot of people sign up for all of them but only use 1 or 2. 
  • What developers do you follow or discords are you part of? – This helps me know if there are any other devs to reach out to so we can potentially enter into a cross-promotion or co-marketing effort.
  • Where do you learn about new games? Streamers? News sites?More information about marketing channels. Potential streamer partnerships.

I know, it sounds like this is going to be super awkward. A cold call to a stranger. But, most fans have spent hours and hours playing YOUR game! They have spent tons of time with your art so for them, they are actually kinda familiar with how your brain works and who you are. Also, we are in the video game business. Everyone likes to talk about video games. It’s not like we are selling life insurance to them. 

However, try your best not to keep them too long! This should be a brief call but don’t cut them off if they really start talking. Some folks REALLY like to talk about games.

Write down everything. You will want to compare notes with all the other calls to identify common themes and trends. Your findings should also be turned into a survey for your wider audience. Maybe in your interviews you heard the same really strange ways 2 fans found new games to play. Is that a thing you should worry about? Who knows? Work that feedback into a survey question and send it to your whole list so you can determine if it is a wider trend.

At the end of the call thank them and tell them again why you do this. Send them a virtual cup of coffee if it isn’t too expensive for you. I like to use the Starbucks mobile app because you can enter their email address and it will send them a $5.00 gift card. 

But what if I am still working on my first game and don’t have a community?

That is no excuse! If you describe your game as “X crossed with Y” (for example: The Darksouls of bowling games), start with fans of game “X.”

Go to the Steam page for game “X” and scroll down to the reviews section and find anyone who left a good, nice, and well considered review for the game. Contact them. Note that Steam requires that you friend them first before you can chat with them. It helps if you contact them with a steam profile that is at least Level 10. Most scammers and spammers create throwaway accounts so don’t have much of an actual profile. 

I find that about 50% of people I friend on Steam will at least take a chance and accept my invite and then message me with “uh, why did you add me?” I respond with a compliment and a proposition: “Hey I really great review of game “X.” You seem to really understand the genre. I am making a game similar to “X” and was wondering if I could get your thoughts on what you like about those types of games.”

I know this sounds awkward, but think about how few other game designers and marketers actually do this. You are going to understand your audience so much better than 99% of other game developers. And if anyone asks who your target audience is you will not have that dumb answer of “uuuuh, all gamers.”

So who are my customers?

If you are wondering what I know about my customers from doing these interviews, here is my high-level summary:

Fans of Return to Adventure Mountain grew up playing NES or SNES games. They never quite made the transition to 3D because they entered college when the N64 or Playstation came out. They got into PC and Steam games fairly recently because a friend told them they could get cheap games.

Now that they have kids they don’t have the time that they used to. So they typically play with a kid is sitting in their lap or wrapped around their shoulders pawing at the controller. They don’t like violent games anymore and would prefer to be able to have something their kids would like to play too. They have a completionist streak and if the game tickles them in the right way they will try to 100% it (even though their skills aren’t quite what they used to be.)

They don’t really like social media (other than Reddit – if that counts as social media) but they do use Discord to coordinate game nights with a couple of friends that they met online. Their favorite genres are Metroidvania, emulated SNES and NES games, and old-school JRPGs. If they do play a new game it is the 3D Fallout games, Borderlands, and The Witcher.

Good luck, don’t feel awkward

Talk to you next week.

Photo by Lan Pham on Unsplash

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