Thumbs Up: Steering, Interpreting, and Getting the Most Out of Player Reviews
In a nutshell:
Understand why people review games
Learn how to appropriately encourage App Store, Google Play, and Steam reviews
Take the right steps to respond to and drive player reviews
Long gone are the days when magazine critics had their say in which games were worth your time and money to play. Before making a purchase or download, players conveniently scroll through the thoughts and feelings of those who have gone before them.
This obviously makes reviews an incredibly important aspect of the download and purchasing process, especially for premium titles.
Would you feel good about spending $20 on a game most players called underwhelming? Of course not. But for a game everyone says is the best they’ve ever played, it’s a price you’ll gladly pay.
In fact, review platforms are becoming increasingly resemblant of social media. More than leave simple ratings or reviews, people are using these platforms as avenues for self-expression and social connection.
For community managers, this means understanding, responding to, and steering reviews should be a key objective.
How important are reviews?
A recent look at the App Store revealed that neither the top 10 downloaded nor top 10 grossing games had received a review with less than 4 stars.
Why is it so important to have a high ranking in app stores? Besides the obvious reasons, higher ranking games get more exposure. Google, for example, has confirmed that games with a better rating have a higher likelihood of being featured.
However, the importance of reviews goes far beyond being featured. Most notably, in non-mobile games.
On Steam, reviews may not have the same tangible benefits as they do on mobile but they are still important to you as a developer and community manager. Though the platform doesn't feature games based on their reviews, this player feedback can still help other users decide whether or not to download the game.
Reviews allow you to collect information on how your core user base thinks and feels about the game. This can help drive the changes and updates you as a developer need to make in order to meet your customers' and keep them satisfied.
Why do people review games?
In Darcy Smith’s podcast episode, the community manager for League of Geeks talks about why players come to the store to write reviews.
There must be a few good souls out there who simply pop in and write a review to say, “Hi there, your game is really great!” But as Darcy puts it, reviews are generally given in response to dramatic events—specifically, ones that have a personal significance.
A dramatic event certainly doesn’t have to be a bad one. Maybe a player just got through an exceptionally challenging level and felt so good about it that they had to share their excitement. Or perhaps the game broke halfway through.
Maybe, after three hours of immersing themselves in the world your game created, a player found themselves so in love with the graphics and narrative and wanted to share that.
It could even be as simple as an outrageously fun multiplayer match that validated a player’s money as well spent.
Fun fact: This Empirical Study of Game Reviews on the Steam Platform, published by researchers from Queen’s University in Canada and summarized in this Kotaku article shows that reviews written for paid games are longer than those for Free to Play (F2P) games.
Understanding and Encouraging Reviews
Google Play and App Store Reviews
Both Google Play and the App Store allow developers to ask for reviews directly within their game. This is a function many use to get more game reviews and there is nothing inherently wrong with it.
However, it is important to prompt reviews at the right time—for example, when a player has been using the game for some time or has just completed a level.
If a player declines the prompt to give you a review, don't keep hitting them with it. Wait at least a few days. Make sure you're not spamming your players.
Additionally, you'll want to avoid asking for reviews after negative events such as the game crashing. As much as possible, program prompts to appear after good things happen.
Finally, make the process as seamless as possible. On iOS, use the review prompt API that allows players to submit their review without leaving the game at all. By capitalizing on this, you can encourage players to populate your app store page with more stars and feedback.
For more on why reviews matter, check out this article from App Radar.
Reviews on Steam
While mobile games can push review prompts at any time in a player’s gaming experience, this is strictly prohibited on Steam. Thus, it’s important to find a fair way to ask non-mobile players for reviews.
Here are some interesting stats from the Queen's University study: Steam gamers play for a median of 13.5 hours before posting a review on the platform. Surprisingly, negative reviews are generally submitted after significantly less playing time than positive reviews.
To encourage Steam reviews, you can ask players to write a review at the end of a fun Twitch stream, informative blog post, or general announcement.
Build on the principle that when you offer players something of value, they’ll be more willing to give back.
Speaking of giving back, never offer players a reward in exchange for reviewing your game.
Incentives can and should play a big role in successful community management—as we heard on podcast episode nine with Ella. However, most platforms have policies against the incentivizing reviews.
Steps to Take as a Community Manager
1. Find the Valuable Reviews
Reviews that say no more than “good game”, “bad game”, or simply veer off topic don’t offer anything of value.
According to this previously cited study of Steam reviews, “only 42% provide information deemed valuable to developers looking for feedback on how to improve the game.”
Though that may not seem like a large percentage, it is certainly significant. For a game with only a hundred or so reviews, that’s still dozens providing useful information. And remember, negative reviews can be helpful—and thus valuable—to you too.
From these reviews, it's important to find trends in player feedback that your development team can act on.
2. Respond to Reviews
All platforms allow developers to reply directly to reviews—and that’s exactly what you should be doing.
How you react to reviews should be determined on a case-by-case basis but here are a few examples:
If people are dropping out at a certain level because they say it’s too frustrating, that level may need to be rewarded.
If players are complaining that character stats and abilities are out of whack, look into how you can effectively even the odds while keeping the competition fresh.
If people love a certain character or level and want more that are similar to it, perhaps you can give them what they are asking for.
At the end of the day, what matters is that you make players feel heard. Besides letting them know that the developer cares enough to respond to the thoughts they graciously took the time to share, it also shows that you’re being proactive.
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3. Fix What Needs Fixing
Let players know that the issues they’ve brought to light are being worked on, and make sure this is actually happening.
Players can easily report errors on iOS and Google—and commonly do. By responding to these reports and ensuring that action is being taken, you can keep your fans in good spirits even when bugs attack.
Interestingly enough, players on Steam tend to care more about game design than software quality. At least, that’s what numbers from the Queen’s University study of Steam reviews reveal. According to the data, 34% of Steam reviews talk about the negative aspects of the game’s design, while only 8% mention bugs or technical woes.
4. Be Proactive with Your Messaging
Yes, we say it a lot. But it’s just that important. When you provide new content, you encourage more reviews.
When updates are coming along, get your message out on Facebook, forums, and Twitch streams. That way, players will know what to expect and have the right perspective when they pop in to write reviews.
Plus, players will appreciate knowing that you’re constantly working to improve the game they feel so passionately about.
Empathize. Understand the events and sentiments that drive player reviews.
Encourage. Look for fair and just ways to prompt or incentivize reviews.
Prioritize. Focus on reviews that offer valuable feedback, whether positive or negative.
Respond. Show players that you’re listening and you care.
Act. Fix what needs fixing.
Anticipate. Communicate proactively so players are aware of potential issues before writing their reviews.