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Harnessing the power of player feedback

King's Sabrina Carmona gives advice on balancing player desires with a game's creative vision

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Game developers invest countless hours perfecting a game. From crafting immersive worlds, to creating engaging mechanics and plotting captivating narratives, they put their all into it to make it the best game it can be. However, the true test of a game's success often lies in the hands of its players.

Player feedback is the backbone of a developer's journey, providing crucial insights that can help shape and elevate a gaming experience. It serves as a window into the minds of players, allowing developers to gauge the effectiveness of their design choices, uncover potential flaws and identify opportunities for improvement.

However, this process may look different depending on the specific format of the game. For developers working on console games, they will be looking to maximise the longer development cycle, gathering in-depth feedback during beta testing, and making significant adjustments before the official release.

Player feedback is the backbone of a developer's journey, providing crucial insights that can help shape and elevate a gaming experience

In contrast, player feedback on live mobile games is more immediate and frequent. Developers have greater flexibility to adapt to real-time feedback and test and learn new features before they become a staple part of the game. To maintain the popularity and longevity of a live game, developers will be looking to regularly iterate the game to keep players engaged and attract new players, and will be keen to anticipate and adapt to any changing player preferences.

Learning from and embracing feedback is crucial to success. But this doesn't mean that it's always an easy process. Developers often face the challenge of balancing meaningful player insights, while also striving to protect and maintain the creative vision for a game.

Here are four things to consider when utilising player feedback.

Harness player data and insight

Player data is invaluable for understanding what works and what doesn't in a game. It provides insights into player behaviour, preferences, and engagement patterns that developers can use to inform their design decisions.

From my experience leading Farm Heroes Saga, every decision that we make as a team is both player centric and data driven. We look to have an understanding of what makes our players tick and strategically refine and evolve gameplay accordingly.

Developers, including myself, often love crunching the numbers. Player analytics and A/B testing are a great way to identify popular features, discover pain points and test alternate versions of gameplay. But don't underestimate the power of qualitative feedback testing. This is crucial for determining the 'why' behind player behaviour and can also help to identify emerging trends.

Some of our strongest learnings have come through qualitative player feedback. It can be particularly effective when testing art styles, character art, and UI. Listening to players in the early stages of production and continuing to seek their opinions throughout can also help to test concepts to make sure you're heading in the right direction.

By using a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, developers will get a much richer understanding of their players and their motivations, which, in turn, can help build a loyal legion of fans over the longer term.

Be open to innovation

Gaming is such a rapidly evolving industry which has already grown exponentially over the last few decades. Gaming preferences and trends continue to evolve and shift. By keeping across these insights and remaining open to innovation, developers will be better positioned to respond to the changing games landscape and unlock growth.

Innovation doesn't have to translate into making drastic changes to a game's foundations

Innovation doesn't have to translate into making drastic changes to a game's foundations.

Take Farm Heroes Saga as an example. It was launched almost a decade ago and, to the casual observer, the core gameplay looks like it has remained largely the same. To some extent that's true, however there have been thousands of small incremental changes to constantly improve the player experience. We keep players engaged by taking an iterative approach and think about how we can make the game better. That might mean adapting some of the levels, creating seasonal events, or introducing new characters.

Developers shouldn't be afraid to draw on player insights to help evolve their business model or gameplay mechanics to better serve their players.

Leverage your brand

When working on an established game, developers can seek to harness the game's heritage and existing player base to drive meaningful improvements and strengthen player engagement.

Get a clear understanding of what makes the game special to existing players. Often, they will have a strong connection to certain iconic elements or core mechanics. These typically define a game's identity and should be preserved. On Farm Heroes Saga, for example, we know players value its retro aesthetic and nurturing nature of the gameplay, so we ensure this stays at the heart of everything we do.

When exploring new features or improvements, ensure all of the teams working on the game, from those in design and production to data and marketing, are brought into the same values and vision for the game. This will help to ensure a cohesive player experience.

Developers should also consider releasing updates and expansions that build upon the existing game world. These updates might seek to address player feedback while adding new content and storylines that align with the brand's foundations to help further grow the game and diversify the player base.

The more a developer can learn about its players and what makes them tick, the better equipped they will be to adapt

Adapt and learn

Game development is hugely creative and rewarding. Our ultimate aim as developers is to create games that are enjoyed by millions of players around the world. It's a process that combines gut feel, creative flair and a huge amount of skill and expertise. But underpinning all of this, is player feedback and insights.

The more a developer can learn about its players and what makes them tick, the better equipped they will be to adapt, ultimately delivering a more effective and engaging gaming experience.

In summary, developers who recognise the significance of player feedback, remain open to innovation and who aren't afraid to adapt and learn will continue to captivate audiences, create rich gaming experiences, and build games that stand the test of time.

Sabrina Carmona is the head of Farm Heroes Saga at King. Prior to joining King in 2016, Sabrina worked at Square Enix, as well as at her very own studio in São Paulo, MangoLab Studio.

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