Help Your Players Help Themselves
Game players come in all forms, but they are united in their passion to play games. That’s why you make your games for them to enjoy. It’s very chicken-and-the-egg if you sit and think about it too long, but I like to go more with the “If you build it, they will come” viewpoint. Especially in terms of player help and support.
Players, and people in general, typically would rather try to Google/search/dig a hole and hope the answer is at the bottom of it before they want to talk to an actual person. Yes, it’s weird, the more the internet connects us all, the more adverse personal interaction becomes for some people.
So what do you do? You give them the structure to help themselves as easily as possible before they have to finally contact you directly. The only caveat is, if you make it too easy to find a contact option, many people will often just bypass any other information you might have prepared for them and contact you anyway. Yes, it’s a weird paradox, but when someone is very frustrated, they will often choose what they perceive is the easiest path even if that means they now have to wait on an email reply rather than just reading through your documentation to see if there is a solution immediately at hand.
The basic player support structure should start with no personal interaction, providing them with all the information they need in the form of walkthroughs, wikis, FAQs, and Knowledge Bases (KB). Eventually leading to being able to contact you (or your support staff) in some manner that is fairly easy to surface.
There will be some difference between what a simple, 30 level puzzle game might need vs. what a virtual goods integrated, ever-evolving CCG might need. Fortunately, many player support options are scalable depending on your game’s needs.
Walkthroughs to Wikis
The internet has come a long way from the old ASCII-picture-filled, text-based game walkthroughs. Those purely text-based walkthroughs later morphed into sites like the sadly no-longer-updated JayisGames, where you could find a walkthrough for even the smallest of flash games. Now players can easily create their own walkthroughs and wikis with simple templates and host them on a variety of free sites like Wikia.
Walkthroughs are great for puzzle games, as it keeps people engaged and helps prevent them from rage quitting on a game during a particularly hard level. Many developers already make their own walkthroughs and post links to them in the actual games or in the instructions, so it’s easy to find. This task shouldn’t be too difficult as a developer since you already know how each level should work out in the end. Developer Pseudolonewolf, maker of the Mardek games, even uploaded a “game” that is actually a walkthrough for Mardek.
When you move on from a walkthrough to a full-on wiki, it gets a lot more complicated and involved. As a developer you could create one of these on your own; however, you are probably pretty busy and don’t have much time to create a full wiki, let alone maintain it. This is a great time to foster your budding game community and encourage them to start a wiki. If your game is popular, odds are pretty good someone has already started one without your prompting, so encourage them to continue their contributions. You may even want to provide them with official game assets/art to make things look better for both your game and the wiki.
FAQs to Knowledge Bases
Creating an FAQ is easy because you know which questions many people have asked you repeatedly in game comments, emails, etc. You can compile a list of questions with their answers and you have yourself an FAQ you can post somewhere in-game, on your website, or even link to it in replies to comments on your game.
If you want to pump up the FAQ beyond the “frequent” part and include even more knowledge available for your players, it will begin to approach the realm of the knowledge base. Here’s the great thing, though -- you can easily turn your standard FAQ into a great Knowledge Base (KB for short)!
KBs are simply the big brother of the standard FAQ. FAQs tend to be just the few questions you get asked most often and the information is carefully chosen. KBs try to include every single possible question that might come up... for everything. KBs also tend to be sectioned off so that similar questions are all together, making it easier for players to navigate the information rather than just a straight list of questions like in a FAQ. Kongregate itself, as an example, offers a KB that is split into two main sections (player and developer) and then splits off into further themed sub-sections.
Formulating a robust KB often requires some outside thinking and possibly some outside help from someone who isn’t familiar with the game you’ve made. It’s your baby, you love it, and you know everything about it, but that also can make you blind to even some of the most obvious questions because you already know the obvious answer. Every time someone asks you something new, don’t be afraid to put it in your KB. More likely than not, someone else out there has the same question.
When players have exhausted all your other help options and really do need to talk to someone about their problem, you’ll want a process that is beneficial to not only game community health, but also to you as the developer. Showing you are in-touch with your players’ concerns helps keep them coming back to your game and any future games.
There are three main ways that players can contact your support: game bug link, in-game support, and game community tools.
Game Bug Link
On Kongregate, the default contact option for players is the game bug link that appears below the right corner of the game just above the other tabs below the game.
This option is activated on the first page of the game upload pages where you can elect to provide an email address to which the game bug emails will be sent.
When players click the game bug link, they can write a message about their problem and it will get sent to the email address you provided. Then you will also be able to reply back to them directly.
Many of the big MMOs provide in-game support for players to contact the game’s actual support staff. Typically, it is a link, like the one from Wartune shown below, that is there to provide access to both a KB and a ticket system where players can submit support tickets into the game’s support queue.
Whether you use the game bug link or in-game support, answering players in 3-5 business days (1 is awesome!) is a good standard to practice.
The game community has multiple pieces to it like game comments, game chat, and game forums.
Many developers choose to respond to game comments (questions, suggestions, etc.), which provides an answer for anyone else who may be reading the comments and having the same problem. Game comments and replies remain visible to all players, which can help reduce the need for players to contact your team.
Game chat is good for answering questions on the fly for players as they play, but since it doesn’t keep a permanent record, you may find yourself answering the same thing over and over. That’s a great time to give them the link to your FAQ or KB!
For games that have forums, players will often post their questions there hoping you will answer directly. If you are a one-man team, that means you. If you are part of a development company, that may mean you have your own Community Manager to do the answering for you. Contract Wars is a great example of a game that leverages their game forums and Community Manager (who is employed by the game company, not Kongregate) to work with players on game issues. They use a combination of posting in the game’s forums with questions/concerns and private messaging with their Community Manager to help solve player problems that arise.
As an aside, forums also help players help themselves and each other, as they often can answer questions for you without you having to do it.
Have They Helped Themselves?
Overall, only time can tell if you’ve given your players sufficient means to help themselves. However, if you’ve provided them written documentation (walkthroughs, wikis, FAQs, and KBs) and you hardly get any direct emails, especially ones from frustrated players, you’ve probably done something right. ☺