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5. Listening to consumers.
One of the best things about the App Store is that publishers get immediate feedback from their user base, in the form of user reviews. Sega takes that information very seriously when working on updates and sequels.
Much of Super Monkey Ball 2's feature set was formed in response to the feedback we got on the first game, and as we move forward, we're closely eyeing the comments people are dropping about their experience playing Super Monkey Ball 2.
When users take the time to write down their feedback, they should know that people at Sega are reading the feedback and taking notes.
Customers who reviewed the first game gave us insight into the existence of a real split between the needs and patience levels of core and casual players.
Core users will take the time to master challenging mechanics, and will even come back to rewrite review posts once they have a better handle on the experience. Casual players are less interested in an intense challenge; they want consistent rewards, and they need them to pop up frequently.
If you're working on a legacy product, be prepared for lots of requests from fans for you to adhere more closely to the qualities of the original game -- there was a clear demand for mini-games, given the SMB1 user feedback.
We also learned that people tend to love or hate a game -- most users will give you either 5 stars (highest score) or 1 star (lowest score). And users will make it very clear when they don't understand a specific mechanic. All this information helped us better tailor the SMB2 experience to the broadest possible audience.
When it comes to SMB2's Customer Feedback, we learned even more.
In the first few weeks, we faced some of the most critical feedback, because users had to either go out of their way to post their notes (since they aren't asked for their feedback during play sessions) or respond to a prompt that pops up when they removed the app from their device. Most of the consumers that are happy with your game won't say anything about it until much later, when they're finally removing the game months later to clear up handset space.
Overall, the early SMB2 feedback indicated that people thought the game was much better looking and easier to play; that perhaps it was a little too easy and short (though I like to think 115 boards isn't too short for most players); that rapid price drops are now an expectation; and that people are generally okay with having core content promised in updates, provided they won't be asked to pay for it when it appears.
We ran into an interesting situation on user reviews with SMB2 at launch: we learned from reviews that the game would not work on jailbroken handsets. We only test our games on Apple-approved firmware, so we were taken off guard when we received a high volume of complaints about this. Players with jailbroken handsets are in the minority, but in the first week, nearly 50 percent of our reviews were from consumers frustrated that the game would not run properly on their jailbroken devices.
It should be noted that these complaints were coming from jailbreakers that had purchased the game -- you can't post feedback if you haven't paid for a game. This is an example of a vocal minority that can appear much larger when your App first hits the scene, and highlights a real challenge -- what do you do when users become upset over an issue that is out of a publisher's range to address?
Of course, we listen to everyone, and do what we can to keep everybody happy, but it can take some time to sort out the big issues that most players want addressed. If the number of patches you can post are limited by the constraints of the project (a common issue when you're working with external development resources), you want to make sure that you laser-focus on the issues that are most important to the largest audience.
Another great place to get user feedback is in the Touch Arcade player forum. This has become the most popular place for dedicated iPhone gamers to share their thoughts about new releases, and you get a great sense of how your game compares to everything else on the market.
One advantage of watching forum posts is that you get consumer feedback from people who are considering a purchase, but are on the fence. What needs to be there to convince them to jump in? And how do those playing the game respond when asked the most common Touch Arcade forum question: is the game worth buying at its current price?
1. Overestimating the demand for local multiplayer gaming on iPhone.
One of our primary focuses on Super Monkey Ball 2 was to offer a local wi-fi gaming experience that we felt would be comparable to the competitive mode on Mario Kart DS. As stated earlier, on SMB2, up to four people can simultaneously race through any of the 115 boards in the game, provided they are near a wi-fi hotspot.
It's a very fun, balanced play experience that very few consumers seem to be bothering to use. Virtually all of our feedback from consumers has focused on the single-player experience, and if we had known that interest in the multiplayer would be so limited, we may have dropped it in favor of adding more content to the solo experience (or adding more mini-games).