Friday, April 18, 2008

Community participation is key to game loyalty and success

For Myla P. Rumbaoa, Rising Force Online (RF) community manager, a passionate and loyal gaming community is consist of players who stay and care for the game. "They help the community and the game master (GM) team - to improve and make the game a better place for the players. What makes a game successful is through its community."

RF Online is considered one of the biggest online gaming communities with 1 million registered accounts. Myla takes care of the game’s community through events in real life and in game. She explained, "Community managers (CM) put “soul” to the game to make the players happy, stay in the game and keep them on playing."

"Also, they serve as a window between the community and the team. They keep close communication to hear out their concerns and problems. In relation to this, CMs must have immeasurable amount of patience and understanding. Taking a lot of complaints and bad mouthing from players is no joke."

To keep players passionate, according to Myla, RF Online has the following programs to keep the community engaged:
  • The Vanguards Program – it’s a player volunteer program of which they serve as GM assistants. They serve as another alley to channel player’s concern to the GM team. Since the players know they the Vanguards are also players, the Vanguards know how to communicate to them. This program proves that there are a player who wants to help the RF community without asking anything in return.

  • The Novus Tour – an in-game tour initiated by vanguards. Characters from level 5 to 15 will be given a free tour to their respective race. They will be oriented on the game mechanics like player versus player (PVP) where an actual PVP is acted. At the end of the tour, the participants will be given items that will help their character.

  • Skirmish – a real-life event that supports café mainly to promote their café and at the same time serves a mini eyeball to RF players. The main attraction of this event is the 5 on 5 tournament. Aside from that there’s the noob race and raffle.

  • Novus Elite Squad Tournament (NEST) – yearly tournament done during LU! Live. It’s a championship match between Novus Chip Assault Squad (NCAS) and City Under Siege (CUS) Champions. Cash and in-game prizes awaits for the NEST Champion.

  • Novus Underground League – Still under testing, it's a small skirmish done in-game but this time it’s a player initiated match. A player will open a challenge for an opponent. And once a challenger accepts, they will be summoned to a private place and there a GM will referee the match. A video will be taken to be posted.
For CMs like Myla, a lot of work has to be done to contribute in building up that passion. "Think like a player" is important she said. "But then “thinking” like a player will barely suffice to know what is needed to build up that passion. Although it should be given that a CM must be a player, but with all the workload you need to do, sometimes you forget that you were a player. So I’ll say, take time to play your game and be a player! Mingle with your conmmunity enough to know what they need and what they think and only then you will know."

With Myla's passion, the RF Online community has its own distinction from other games today. "One proof is the Vanguards program. Another involves the game’s system – archon system and the 3RvR (3 race vs race). With the archon system, players vote for their racial leader. At this point, it’s not the GM who solely controls the community but the players themselves. The 3 race vs race brings out the camaraderie and cooperation of the race especially during chip wars. The “no man is an island” best applies to this game. You cannot make your character strong or kill another race alone. Everybody needs each other because in the end, they need to face the battle field and dominate Novus."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Frequency of access and hours doesn't really measure gamers loyalty

As Internet online gaming continues to grow in the Philippines, the battle is on among gaming companies to attract more members, play often, and build a loyal base of users. For Jessa Jamilla, assistant product manager and community manager of RAN Online, frequency of access and hours doesn't really measure loyalty. "We have gamers who play 24 hours a day and also gamers who turned out to be forum moderators but seldom play their characters. I think, loyal is being attached to the community no matter how often or seldom you play the game."

RAN Online is a campus-based massively multi-player online role playing game (MMORPG). "It has a contemporary style but was enveloped with mystery. If not all, most of us were once students. So, everyone can relate with the game. With RAN Online, you get to start your character as a student and as you level up more skills and more maps will unfold. The game is very easy to play but is challenging enough because of the other game features. I guess, these points make the gamers more attached to the game," Jessa explained.

The game currently has 300 active guilds. Each consists of 50 members, and may have a maximum of 3 more guild expansions. 80% are considered loyal. Jessa adds, "We consider our community as a new breed of gamers where most are really first timers. RAN Online is also built as a party-dependent game. The characters level up faster when they party-up with other characters. This feature made the gamers stick together, form real-life ‘barkadas’, and also bond families together."

Community managers like Jessa performs an important in leading the activities - interacting with the gamers, getting feedback and game-related concerns, conceptualizing events, and other ideas to bond the players together. "We ensure that our valued players are having the best gaming experience. We continuously come up with online and offline events for the players to meet the gaming experience they can't find in other games."

"Of all the gaming companies, we are proud to say that e-Games/RAN has very active game masters both in-game and through forums. The management's main objective is to make the players happy that's why our game master's are always there to assist and resolve problems as soon as possible."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

1.4 Million Users Flock ItzaMatch

Despite the popularity of Friendster in the Philippines, local site Itzamatch has attracted nearly 2 million users to date where 1.4 million are active. "72% of our members are from the Philippines, 10% US, 2.6% Hong Kong, 1.8% Canada, 1.6% Singapore, 1.4% Saudi Arabia and 10.6% everywhere else, " said Faith Sabanpan Ponte, marketing and web services head of Itzamatch.

This is a huge growth to think that back in February 2006, the site has 140,000 members.

What makes the site resilient is the online services it provided coupled with offline activities. The company has to continuously evolve and the best way to do it was to start putting real faces to usernames, according to Faith. "Last year, we decided to go out of the virtual world and meet up with our subscribers. We launched our very first eyeball party mid of last year. It was pretty exciting for all of us since we have only interacted with one another online and haven't met any of the members personally. It was successful that we now have regular eyeball parties and Saturday coffee meetings since. The great thing is, our members have gotten to know each other even more and have really bonded as a community that they themselves organize mini-eyeball parties, coffee sessions or little gatherings."

Faith shared that the site has its successful stories about friendships and love that has blossomed after they coupled the online service with offline activities. "We're really happy that we've become an avenue for starting and building relationships."

Itzamatch is not just about friendship, dating or love. Last Christmas, the site's forum subscribers visited and shared what they have with the Don Bosco 's Pugad - Home for Street Children and Migrant Youth orphanage.

First reality show in Cebu
Last November 2007, Itzamatch had a band tour in the different universities in Cebu to search for the school couple representative who will compete in the Search for the Perfect Campus Couple - Ultimate Challenge. This is 6 part TV reality show and first in Cebu.

The story unfolds with brilliant, talented, and good-looking college students, who will work as couples in challenging each other for the title. The goal is for the couple to achieve a common goal together, embodying a perfect equation and perfect chemistry.

The program is now on air and can be watched online. Votes via Globe SMS and online voting have started to come in too.

Faith shared that going to the schools and doing this search has increased their subscriber base with complete and fresh data. "We have been successful in getting the market that we want, which is the 18 - 22 age bracket. Our Google Analytics data shows that we are getting an increasing traffic from the city where Itzamatch is based. We also saw potential revenue from advertisers that partnered with us. This contest has actually paved for more opportunities as we recently had inquiry from a popular FMCG company about doing the same activity in Manila."

"Lastly, the greatest achievement to date is we are getting the attention that we wanted from potential subscribers and businesses that complement this social networking business of Bigfoot."

Faith mentioned that the site is currently having a makeover to further improve its service. "Soon, users will be able to experience the features of the site simultaneously. The user will be able to drag the chat window in another area of the desktop and at the same time drag the forum in another, and some other features allowing the user to see and interact with what is going on at the same time."

"We're also working on a faster and more specific Itzamatch search for geographical targeting results within the Philippines. We are currently making our system more robust to accommodate our growing subscriber base and balancing the look and online features with speed."

About Faith Sabanpan Ponte
Faith worked with Bigfoot for a couple of years and left. When she returned to the company, Itzamatch was assigned to her. Married and with kids, I asked what attracted her to take on the assignment. "Liking, living, walking, talking and breathing itzamatch everyday proved to be a challenge I could not resist. Why I agreed to do Lets just say -- I was intellectually and socially challenged," Faith replied.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Local payment gateway providers still strong despite Paypal availability in the Philippines

With the availability of Paypal in the Philippines, that allows receiving money or "cash-out" to a member's bank account, there were speculations that local payment gateway providers will close shop. However, YesPayments claim not to be affected. This according to company CEO Simon Paice. "Paypal has a slightly different focus. It is a great place to start for a small online business. But it is a big market. We have more than enough to keep us very busy. We always focus on providing a quality service but we are not suited to every merchant needs. The level of service we offer comes at a price. Our discount rates are still very competitive and keeping fraud down to a minimum is a great way for a merchant to cut costs instead of looking for the cheapest solution."

2007 was the best year yet for YesPayments. Simon shared that their monthly processing has more than doubled since Jan 2007 repeating the success of the previous year. "2008 looks set to see similar growth and the current interest in YesPayments and online processing generally gives me great optimism that we will see even better results."

A growing number of social networks have partnered with online payment providers to do e-commerce to its customer base. YesPayments had the opportunity to deal with one of them but things do not always work out like you expect as Simon has learned. "Trying to cross market or tap an existing client base is incredibly efficient but you also have to be able to support the product that you market."

"To successfully launch any kind of service online is not just a case of opening and marketing a website. You need the commercial experience and organization behind you to actually operate the business and provide a quality service or product. There are popular and successful social networks but they are not an online retailer."

"Many people think it's easy but e-commerce is anything but easy. We see many applications from entrepreneurs with little or no experience trying to go 'online' and unfortunately we have to disappoint them and advise them to get their business built first before looking to sell on the Internet. An applicant asked me recently how much money he needed to start an online business like Amazon. I wished him every success and spent some time explaining that the 'physical aspects' of any business needs to come first - not necessarily a traditional shop or office but things like the necessary planning and investment, product development, staff, supply and delivery chain. We do not try to discourage start-up business, quite the opposite in fact and I am happy to say that many learn from us and then come back when the time is right."

Simon joined the company late last year, succeeding after Paul Hubbard. He sees tremendous interest and growth in acceptance of e-commerce this year that will make them extremely busy. "We are in talks with some interesting outfits and who knows we may see the government coming to the arena finally."
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