Communicating With Your Product Team: Dos and Don'ts


At a glance:

  • Why qualitative community data matters

  • How to uncover and present significant data

  • Communicating beyond personal differences

Community management talks at GDC this year started touching on a pretty sticky subject: how to discuss community feedback with your product team.

For a myriad of reasons, this is not easy.

When you welcome feedback from your community, you get the good, the bad, and the ugly. Communities tend to get vocal about updates they don’t like or features that ruin the game for them and passing this straight on to the product team is not going to make anybody happy. Instead, it’s likely to be counterproductive when it comes to actually improving your game.

Why Qualitative Community Data Matters

Still, the qualitative data that community managers can collect from player feedback is not to be overlooked. While it may appear to stand at odds with the quantitative-data-heavy nature of the gaming industry, it has an important role to play.

Members of your community can tell stories and outline problems that are impossible to see through a quantitative lens.

The Dos and Don’ts of Community and Product Team Discussion

That brings us back to the question of how to effectively relay this valuable—yet very much subject to interpretation—data to the product team.

Ultimately, your goal and your role are to pass this information on in a format the developers can use to update the game in ways that, in turn, satisfy players. Indeed, as a mediator between the two parties, a big part of your job is keeping both sides happy.

Here’s are some tips to help you accomplish just that:

Do cut through the bullshit

When wading through reviews, you need to know which to treat seriously and which to let slide. For example, when people leave a 1-star review but say “amazing game”, should you include that in your report? Probably not.

On a similar note, players can be unfailing in their threats to quit a game they have qualms over. But how many of them actually do?

According to Nick van Vugt from Uken, most of these players end up eating their words.

In his GDC 2019 talk, Nick shares his data on whether or not users quit when they threaten to.

Table: When Users Threaten to Quit

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As Nick’s data shows, nearly two-thirds of the players who threatened to quit never did.

What does that mean for you as a community manager?

If players are threatening to quit your game, don’t go running to the product team with alarm bells ringing. Take some time to observe player behavior and see how many people are actually quitting. See what you can do on your end by communicating with dissatisfied users.

Don’t bring apparent problems to your devs until you’ve dived in and had a closer look at them yourself. They may ultimately appear to be non-issues.

Do your digging

That being said, if you have a hunch based on community feedback, chase it to the end.

In a talk called humanity beyond data, Linda Carlson says, “15 players that write emails could actually represent 15,000 people with the same problem."

Let’s look at another example Nick highlighted in his GDC 2019 talk, about a player named Martha.

Martha had completed all of the game’s tasks and realized that there was no new content. Seeing that she had already spent 3K on the game, community manager Nick stepped in. With a hunch that she might not be alone in this, he looked into data for other players at her level.

Turns out, there were no currency sinks and therefore no reason to remonetize at this point in the game. Having found the heart of the matter, the community manager took these finding to the product team and, in response, a new level and new monetization opportunities were born.

Don’t rely solely on online forums

When it comes to feedback, there’s always more data in the game itself. Uken found that only 0.06 percent of players were using their non-integrated forums, which isn’t enough to gauge your audience.

That’s why integrated forums and features such as polls, FAQs, and announcements need to be inside your game.

At the end of the day, the more feedback you can gather and the more info you can proactively provide players, the happier they will be. All of that happens best within the game itself.

By looking in the right places, you can track more data points from key audiences and go back to the product team with significant data and a much more compelling case for your feedback.

Don’t make it personal

People don’t tend to respond well to personal attacks. And to make things more complicated, we humans have the uncanny ability to take all kinds of things personally.

When relaying information to the product team, you’ll want to make an explicit effort to stay out of the personal-offense zone.

You can do this in simple ways, firstly by letting go of the “I told you so” angle. In fact, you can avoid “I’s” and “you’s” in general and focus instead on “we”.

People don’t like being told they did something wrong, so avoid preaching and instead make the experience educational. Try to help game designers and developers see beyond their KPIs and get a glimpse of the game from the players’ perspective.

Do embrace differences

Remember that the product team often has KPIs in mind that you may not have factored in yet. The KPIs they focus on are concrete and measurable, and don’t include emotional feedback.

Instead of arguing about the significance of one type of data over another, work to foster a dynamic of respect and encourage open lines of communication.

As Steve Jobs famously said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

By working with your product team to make connections between qualitative and quantitative data, you’ll be able to create something new that will benefit the players and your game.

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