After reading an article on Gamasutra about players quitting, I started thinking about the reasons why people are quitting social games so early. I have identified many common reasons between the games I’ve worked on and those developed by people in my network, so I have put my findings together and gathered ten main reasons why I think players quit games.
1. A Bug That Wipes Critical Progress
When you have a game live and you are regularly doing updates, there is always the danger of creating a bug that actually wipes away player progression. This can happen at any time when you make updates, but there are several ways to prevent this from happening.
One major step to improving the stability of your game is creating a proper quality assurance process inside your development process. You can specify a person to take care of bug hunting when you are doing updates, or you and your teammates could all play the development version of the game for a week or so and try to catch all the possible places where bugs can happen.
2. Too Much Complexity
Some developers just don’t want to apply the advice of keeping things simple, and so their game might throw too many things at the player right from the tutorial. If this happens, then the player can’t comprehend all of the lessons and they forget what the point of the game was. If they do get the idea of the game, problems might arise once they start to see that the game has lots of things to keep up with, like too many resources to manage.
Try to keep things simple, and introduce more features to the players once they have progressed a bit more into the game. If you are seeing about 5 sessions per day in your game, try to pace progress in a way that it will be at least 5 sessions before you introduce something new to the player.
If you provide your game for free, but you force players to pay early on in order to access more content, you are likely going to lose half of your audience. People nowadays are getting used to being able to play a game for free forever, and if a sudden paywall comes in front of them, they may feel like quitting right there.
You can do subtle paywalls, but you need keep the players in your game for a long enough time that they have invested so much time into their beloved game that they will convert to paying players, even if it seems that they are forced to do so.
4. Friends Have Stopped Playing
If the game has been out for a long time, which in the free to play market would be over a year, perhaps the game will start to lose some of its long time players. At that point, the players who have made friends in the game will start noticing that their friends aren’t updating their farm/restaurant/city anymore with the newest and coolest content.
One friend still has the Christmas decorations in their virtual home even though it’s already June. People notice this and they start to contemplate if they are still willing to return to the game. Perhaps they ask the friends who have quit playing what they are playing nowadays and follow them there.
You can prevent this by giving value to the player on their friends, even if they have quit the game. You might even want players to “cash out” on players who have quit and exchange the friend with someone who is active and playing the game. Create social ties between players who are interested in the game, as the real world ties don’t always reflect our interest in the games we want to play.
5. A New And More Interesting Game Has Come Out
There will always be new games coming out and driving your audience away, and if a massive game studio puts out a new game on your platform that is in the same genre, you will likely suffer from this as players go ahead and switch their playing time to the new game.
It’s difficult to avoid the players moving to try out the new game, but you can work hard and succeed in re-engaging those quitters once the initial hype of the competitor’s game has gone away. Add cool new features to the game, features that enhance the end-game experience. Giving players too many goodies and freebies if they want to come back can seem like you are desperate, so concentrate instead on showing them that you have a great game that is evolving to the better.
6. All Content Has Been Consumed
Your players have reached the end game and there’s nothing new to unlock, or there are no new upgrades for player buildings or other virtual goods. They start feeling that the game has now been played and they start coming back less and less, until they quit. Even people who have been spending money in your game will see that there is nothing else to do there, so they will think to themselves that even though they paid a lot to play, it is time to move on and start playing something new.
We don’t want that to happen. The players who have reached the end game, the top level, and have unlocked everything, can still be hungry for more. Try out different kinds of additions to the end game, because the content you are putting out should be different for the end game players. They’ve already seen your tricks, so surprise them. Provide them with more harder challenges and give them new ways to make interesting decisions.
Look at how big studios like Zynga are dealing with their end game, by either playing their games to the end or by reading their player forums to figure out what happens in the end game. Do te same, then apply the findings to your game.
7. Burnout Of Repetitive Tasks
If you require a player to do the same activity that they started playing the game with over and over again for each play session, they will eventually get bored of it. As an example from social simulation games, you execute a task which has an appointment to be completed in two minutes.
In my previous games, for example Disco Empire, the game had you produce beer – a task that can be completed in 2 minutes. However, later in the game, you’d still need to do the same beer producing which still took the same amount of time. People just get bored of the same reparative task which isn’t getting any funnier or interesting.
The player is progressing in the game and having fun. You should look into possibilities of removing repetitive tasks. Sure, you can have the player do the same tasks for the first week or two and also provide more things to do. But try to fade out the chores at some point, and at least introduce some new elements to the tasks or give a possibility for the player to automate the task. A robot that helps the player out, perhaps.
8. Right Game, Wrong Platform
I play games primarily on the mobile phone and a tablet. Several of my friends play games on Facebook and on consoles and computers. All these are really different kinds of platforms, with the biggest difference being the way we pick up and play games.
Let’s take a few examples on what can be an interesting game, but totally on the wrong platform, mainly because of the way that games are played on that platform.
You are playing a multiplayer memory card game on your mobile phone. You have ten games going on at the same time and you need to memorise each card that gets flipped but wasn’t a match. You suddenly realise that this is impossible and the enjoyment has gone, and you quit.
Another example is doing a synchronous gameplay on a primarily asynchronous platform. You do a team based shooter game for Facebook where you do missions with other players in realtime. As Facebook is primarily an asynchronous platform, you have a hard time getting people to stay and play for long periods of time.
When designing your game, think about how the game is played and decide on an optimal length for your game sessions on your target platform and for your target player. This will save you from lots of trouble later on.
9. Same Game, Different Skin
This is an easy trap to fall into if you had great success with your first game and you are planning on making a new game. It is tempting to just copy the core gameplay, controls and monetisation mechanics to the new game. I don’t blame you, it’s hard to re-invent the wheel and make even more than your previous hit.
The player will always notice the ‘same game, different skin’ strategy, so it’s impossible to trick them. You risk getting hated by your core audience, who see that you aren’t actually a source of great new content. This will also hurt your earlier games which won’t sell as well as they used to do.
I you want to do a similar game, try to follow these tips so you won’t look like a copycat:
- Change the game so that it requires the player to learn something new
- Change the monetization mechanics, by giving the player more or less free stuff
- Switch from the regular 2D game to an amazing 3D game
10. Loading Is Too Slow
You can have a great game and all, but if your loading times are too long, you’ll lose part of your audience. This is a major problem in mobile games when the player is playing over a bad connection, as the loading might stall or just take forever to complete.
You might think that players are willing to wait, and some probably will, but at this stage, their investment into the game isn’t that high for them to stay. They’ve installed the game and are willing to give it a try, but that’s all they’ve invested and it isn’t a lot.
To improve this, you could move some of the in-game loading to a later stage, by splitting the loading into several steps, and putting some actual game content in between the steps. Your developers might not realize the loading issues before the end of development, so it’s important to design the game in advance with split-loading in mind.