What AAAs moving into GaaS should know and do
It seems that, with every passing day, more and more triple-A (AAA) publishers are looking at Freemium and games-as-a-service (GaaS) models with a lustful eye. As the profits continue to skyrocket on the category’s biggest success stories, big-name publishers are looking to throw more of their roster into the business model.
Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive, said recently during the company’s Q4 earnings call:
“Providing new and innovative ways for audiences to stay engaged with our titles after their initial launch is a key strategic priority of our organisation and represents an important long-term growth and margin opportunity.”
Karl Slatoff, President of Take-Two, followed up with similar sentiments about doubling-down on maintaining audiences:
“We continue to have a significant, long-term opportunity to increase engagement and recurrent consumer spending. Our focus on enhancing our data analytics is enabling us to deepen our understanding of our player base and how they prefer to interact with our games.”
In the same earnings call, it was revealed that “recurrent consumer spending” made up 59% of the company’s business, showing the huge opportunity GaaS can bring.
While there are plenty of success stories, bringing a big name into the game comes with a different level of expectation from fans. Unlike the underdog tales the likes of Among Us and Fall Guys have enjoyed, AAA is understandably met with more skepticism.
Fans have plenty of mud to sling at AAA franchises and their publishers. Claims of predatory microtransactions in the likes of FIFA Ultimate Team have been validated by governments around the world looking to ban the microtransactions. While there’s also been arguments of excessive paywalling in franchises like Assassin’s Creed.
So, how does a company authentically move a AAA IP into the GaaS space while both keeping current fans and obtaining new players? We have some ideas...
What you should know
1. Expectations will be through the roof
Everybody and their nan knows your IP, so you’re not going to be able to deliver a “soft-launch to big success” business model that new IPs and smaller studios can.
You need to treat this as big as any other launch from your major franchises, with all the marketing to support it along the way to reach as broad an audience as possible. The best example of this in recent memory is Call of Duty: Warzone.
Warzone has comfortably become Call of Duty’s most successful pillar, with over 100 million players precisely because it was treated as a huge launch.
Fans will expect the AAA experience in the GaaS space, rather than a scaled-down version of your behemoth.
2. Expect a huge spike then a steep cliff
Precisely because of the popularity of your game, many people will cram through the door on day one. However, you can also expect a sharp decline in DAUs to follow.
Smaller titles see the opposite trend, with slow-but-steady growth over a period of weeks and months, as word of mouth spreads, streamers jump on and social traction gains momentum. If you’re bringing a household name into the mix, everybody is going to immediately jump on, the goal here is to retain as many fans as possible and see where the total “bottoms out”.
Consistent in-game activity, social activations and partnerships with brands and streamers is a way to maintain that sense of your game ever-evolving and always offering something fresh and exciting for players. With F2P/GaaS titles presenting a stable environment, the risk is always stagnation and boredom, leading players to look elsewhere.
Evolution is the key to retention in this space.
3. Your name only goes so far
Brand recognition is what gets people in the door, but it’s what you do in the long-term that will keep players around and make them genuine fans of the new experience on offer.
4. Fans will assume P2W is in play
As mentioned earlier, fans are hugely skeptical of AAA titles entering the GaaS space, especially when it comes to microtransactions (MTX). The assumption, built from the likes of FIFA Ultimate Team, is that any MTX supports either pay-to-win – the notion that players can pay real-world money to get an in-game advantage – or the MTX items have been stripped from the base game, lessening its value.
The most important part of building trust is to convey the value of your MTX content stream.
What you should do
1. Deliver something new
Delivering something fresh and exciting helps your two key audiences. On the one hand you don’t want to upset your established fanbase who feel change could ‘taint’ their beloved series, therefore can allay those fears by ensuring an awareness that this is a brand-new offering (a la Warzone).Then, for players who haven’t invested in your brand up to this point, they now have a reason to reconsider.
As always, messaging is just as important as content. Shouting from the rooftops about your new title requires clear messaging for both of your audiences, and often a strong paid advertising campaign for targeted ads.
2. Consistent content updates
The reason the GaaS business model proves more successful in audience retention is the consistent stream of new “stuff” for players to work towards.
Prior “season pass” models saw downloadable content arrive every few months, leaving huge gaps for players to lose interest. Having new content to unlock in a tier system every month or two gives players a reason to check in every day and work to unlock a cool new cosmetic item, character or whatever a dev decides.
This is also a key tactic to bring back lapsed players. Making them aware of all the cool new stuff in your game through marketing will encourage them to come back. Creating “beauty” content showing off your cool new skins/characters/maps etc. to generate FOMO is needed to make fans aware of what you have to offer.
3. Partnerships for the broader audience
Look at every successful GaaS/F2P title on the market and each of them has a cool brand partnership or two. Fall Guys has launched a Tron tie-in, Fortnite has basically partnered with everyone and everything under the sun from Alien to Neymar, while Call of Duty has just welcomed a plethora of 80s action heroes.
If you’re a AAA looking to move into this space, it’s going to take similar deals to get attention. It’s a significant investment, and will require a huge marketing push to support such a move, but the returns can be enormous, as the titles above show.
4. Allay MTX concerns with value propositions
Fans need to feel like they’re getting more out of a season pass than the initial cost of entry. If a one-month season pass costs $10, then you need to a) ensure that the raw value of the individual items included is greater than that, should players complete the pass and b) communicate this incredibly clearly in your marketing.
Both Fortnite and Call of Duty often note the monetary value of all the items in a season pass in marketing materials, and note that players can earn in-game currency to the value of a season pass within the pass itself.
Additionally, everything within the pass is both clear (avoiding the “loot box” pitfall that many consider to be gambling) and is also additive to the experience. Making unlocks aesthetic skins means that your fans don’t become segregated into the “haves” and “have nots” in a way that affects the gameplay experience.
5. Engage, don’t sell
A common problem with many AAA titles is they spend their entire marketing campaigns selling the product to the audience, and it looks the exact same across all social platforms. With GaaS, you (should) have a huge community that remains invested in your title for the long-term, and they will grow tired of your sales pitch if you consistently overlook them for more players.
It’s equally important to show how valued your current players are to the brand as it is going out and grabbing new ones. Player celebration campaigns, fan spotlights, surprise announcements and other methods of communication that look to engage fans is what will keep them around.