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Retention, Part Six: Multiple Feedback Streams

By Sanya Weathers

Taking user feedback and integrating it into your product, either by introducing new content, making balance decisions, or setting priorities, is a great way to increase your retention. It’s all part of creating a product where the customer feels a sense of ownership. But managing feedback properly isn’t just a matter of reading the forums. In fact, forums are the worst possible way to manage the feedback loop, because you’re vastly outnumbered. Unless you personally respond to every thread, some portion of your customer base will be sure you didn’t see their opinion. Furthermore, your message board community represents a tiny vocal minority of your users. You don’t want to ignore them (they’re your evangelists, your word of mouth specialists, and your most informed customers), but you don’t want to make decisions on a game (aimed at millions) from the feedback of hundreds.

So here are a few tips you can use to make sure you’re getting a good picture you can trust.

–    Create feedback channels with no audience. Email, webform, whatever. Forum posters aren’t just telling you what you need to know. They’re also performing for an audience and getting feedback of their own. You don’t have time to filter out the nugget of truth in both the rant and the feedback letter. Pick one – and believe me, you can read a lot more feedback when it’s short and to the point.

–    Cross reference with in-game user data. For example, if all your users are complaining about a particular zone, check to see where everyone is playing before you make changes to that zone. It could be that’s the zone where everyone hangs out, and you need to identify what’s drawing them to that zone before you chuck out the baby with the bathwater.

–    Surveys are another point of reference. Identify users who self-identify as active forum members, and separate their responses to determine which topics are simply current forum memes, and which topic represent real problems.

–    Alpha/beta users should not be exclusively chosen from forum dwellers. Their advice will not be suitable for making decisions about mainstream customers. Consider a guild beta instead, which creates a better cross section of users but still provides highly motivated and well coordinated players.

–    But don’t ignore the forums. They are your coal mine canaries, for one thing. They’ll be the first to know if something is wrong, and that helps you to catch the problems before the bulk of your users notice anything at all. And see above – these are your evangelists and your most knowledgeable customers. They deserve respect, if not the right to steer your product.

–    Reflect the feedback back to the users with reports and annotated patch notes.
You can be the best listener in the world, and your company can be totally committed to the importance of feedback. But it doesn’t count if nobody knows.

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