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Don’t Underestimate the Value of a Strong Core

June

27, 2013

by Andrew Haak


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Computer BlueIf you’re a game developer, the one thing you probably want more than anything else is a devoted following of players who can’t get enough of your game – we’ll call them “core players.” These are the players who will sustain the success of your game by ensuring there’s always a lively server, thereby catching the eyes of both existing and prospective players. They’re also the people who are most likely to support you by buying into advanced features (e.g., Game Passes) and spreading the word.

In this article, we’ll look at several ROBLOX games, dig into fluctuations in player engagement, and try to draw some conclusions about what works among players. We’ll use a bunch of charts, which show trends in how many gamers have played a title once, twice, five, 10 and 20 times in the previous month (30 days). What’s important is the ratio of people who play multiple times to people who play once (and move on to other games). The better the ratio, the more “sticky” a game is. It keeps players coming back, and stays near the top of the Games page.

Anecdotal evidence

ROBLOX Battle

ROBLOX Battle June 2013

ROBLOX Battle is the game that inspired this story. The Content Team is currently working on updating its design – they’ve already added new play modes, new incentives, in-game currency and stores, persistent leaderboards and an interactive voting system, among other things – to try to make it so consistently fun that it stays near the top of the Games page. The updates caused a significant spike in the game’s traffic around June 11, but how sticky has it been since then? How often do players come back?

ROBLOX Battle Player Engagement

While the ratio of single play sessions to multiple play sessions remains roughly the same, the number of players who are playing twice, five, 10 and 20 times in a 30-day period has roughly doubled in June. This is a good sign for ROBLOX Battle. Rather than hovering around 80 players on a typical afternoon, it’s now more likely to have about 150.

The key will be sustaining this flurry of activity — especially among the devoted players who are visiting five times and up — and continuing to add new content that attracts players for multiple Battle sessions.

Apocalypse Rising

Apocalypse Rising v5

Apocalypse Rising is a perennial hit with one of the most solid core player bases ROBLOX has known. It’s rare that you don’t see Apocalypse Rising in the top 25 games at any given time. As the following chart shows, however, it’s not immune to hemorrhaging players.

Apocalypse Rising Player Engagement

There was a steady decline in Apocalypse Rising’s traffic across all player types through the first five months of 2013. That’s not to say the game got worse; ROBLOX builders are a prodigious, creative bunch, constantly dishing out new competition for last week’s top hits. While the number of players dropped across all types of players, the Apocalypse Rising developers are entirely capable of sparking the game’s core (which, even at its low, still consisted of more than 30,000 people playing at least five times per month). Late in May, the team behind this apocalypse-survival game released their 5.0 update, which revamped the map and added a plethora of new features.

Between people who played once, twice, five, 10 and 20 times over the course of the previous 30 days, visits to Apocalypse Rising skyrocketed. What’s especially telling is the rise in players who came back to play 20+ times. That’s a lot of game sessions. This is a testament to the importance of not just getting an initial rush of traffic, but nurturing core players with a steady flow of new and substantial content.

A Pirate’s Life

A Pirates Life Screenshot

Visits to A Pirate’s Life have followed a trajectory similar to that of Apocalypse Rising. Early this month, lando64000 added saving and loading, dynamic lighting (and a new torch tool), fixed bugs and re-enabled VIP access. Players have responded very positively, as the game spiked across all play frequencies and hasn’t slowed down.

A Pirates Life Player Engagement

A Pirate's Life StickinessIf you look at how this spike in total players and the frequency of second, fifth, tenth, etc. play sessions manifests itself, you can conclude that A Pirate’s Life got “stickier” — harder for players to quit and much more likely to have longevity. Defining “stickiness” as the percentage of players who returned for at least five play sessions in the previous 30 days, the game’s stickiness increased drastically. Click the chart at right to view at full size.

Sword Fighting Tournament

Like Apocalypse Rising, Sword Fighting Tournament is a fan favorite (and arguably the most popular sword-fighting game on ROBLOX). You just can’t argue with the excitement of tournament-style battling and the variability of the random map cycle. TheGamer101 lost traffic this winter and then stayed steady, but he recently made substantial updates – new maps (created by other builders) and a new tag-team bonus round, to name a couple – and does a good job of implementing player feedback, which has proven to keep sword fighters coming back.

Sword Fighting Tournament Player Engagement

Base Wars: The Land

The most visited game of all time is Base Wars: The Land, a competitive shooter with wide-open spaces ripe for vehicular traversal and combat. This game has a true core audience; in spite of not seeing a significant update in several months, it still ranks in the top 25. Still, the lack of new content is causing a dip in return player visits. This is a scenario where d4rk886 could launch a substantial update and/or cosmetic overhaul and more than likely bring back the core players waiting for something new, as well as an entirely new swath of people.

Base Wars: The Land Player Engagement

Here’s a comparison of several popular games’ “stickiness” — as mentioned above, this is the percentage of players who returned for at least five play sessions in the previous 30 days. Apocalypse Rising, Sword Fighting Tournament and Call of ROBLOXia 5 are almost neck and neck. With a great content addition, any one of them could take the lead.

Cross-game Stickiness Chart

Notice how Apocalypse Rising and A Pirate’s Life have sprung back into the competition.

The importance of analytics

One of the reasons we’re sharing this information with you is to illustrate the importance of core players and show examples of how various ROBLOX games are gaining/losing in this regard. One obvious takeaway is delivering substantial updates to an existing game can revitalize, if not grow your game’s base of core players. Another takeaway is even a great game, left untouched for significant time, will start to lose core players as shiny new ones with serious polish rise to the top.

Our engineers are also studying the effects of their ROBLOX Battle design changes to see how certain updates affect player engagement. In this process, they’re learning what statistics are useful — in the near future, we’d like to provide those that prove valuable to builders.

As game developers and builders, what statistics would be valuable to you?