Outsourcing Player Support
How to find the right partner to meet today’s challenges
We all know that customer service is an important part of having a successful game. Great support leads to happy players who play longer, make more in-game purchases, buy the latest expansions and titles, and stay loyal to the brand. Poor support—and a poor experience—can have the opposite effect.
We get asked all the time “What’s the ROI for player support?” One glib, half-serious answer would be “Well, stop doing it for six months and you’ll find out.”— Rich Weil, SVP Global Operations, ModSquad
But providing great customer support for your game and your players is challenging. For starters, gaming happens around the clock all over the globe -- there’s no downtime. Supporting your players means keeping up with a sprawling set of communication channels and platforms. Then there’s the fact that many players have little patience for non-gamer support staff when it comes to getting answers to game-related questions or concerns.
And you need to keep up with growth. Gaming keeps increasing in popularity. You’ve got to be ready to scale if you launch a hit, ship a critical bug, or now, face a pandemic. And you need to do it all on budget.
You’ve got questions. What are the exact challenges of player support? Should I outsource customer support for my game? How would I go about choosing a partner? How do I know I’m getting the best value? Do I need to sacrifice quality for cost?
Let’s get some answers.
Keeping up with the gaming industry’s global growth is a big challenge
Growth in the gaming industry continues to increase year over year
Growth in the gaming industry continues to increase year over year
For almost 30 years, the gaming industry has seen unobstructed growth. 2020 is no exception. As a whole, the market is expected to grow by 9.3%. As gaming grows in revenue and popularity, we’re seeing new trends emerge.
Gamers are playing around the clock. Gaming is no longer reserved for evenings and weekends. 34% of gamers admit to playing games during work and all types of gamers (novices to pros) report gaming as the main culprit for missing daily activities.
Gaming is global. Currently, the majority of global gaming revenue—$127 billion—is spread across 10 countries. Multiple time zones increase coverage challenges. And players prefer to get help in their own language.
Mobile gaming is exploding. Mobile games are growing faster (13.3%) than console (6.8%) and PC gaming (4.8%). Mobile now represents nearly half of the market. Convenience and a lower entry barrier have resulted in this growing demographic of casual gamers.
Each trend presents a new challenge for supporting your game. These days, player support requires quick response times 24/7/365. It requires supporting players in their native language. And it requires staffing multiple support channels to meet the needs of today’s players.
COVID-19 is driving the demand for player support even higher
It’s no surprise that gaming is flourishing during the pandemic. Game companies are seeing a 16% increase in ticket volumes compared to pre-pandemic levels. While this increase in support demand is likely due to new gamers who rely on customer support more than more experienced players, it is still a demand gaming companies must meet.
This underscores the fact that you need to be prepared to scale when the unexpected happens. And while many things might require you to scale quickly, we always hope that it’s because your game is a runaway hit, not because of a global catastrophe.
Additional challenges of providing customer support in games
Before turning over your players to a traditional customer support outsourcer, it’s worth thinking about your players and what they want.
Gamers are self-sufficient when it comes to support … to a point
Hardcore gamers are an interesting bunch. In general, they tend to support themselves in community hubs rather than seek help in traditional channels (like email support) or on social media. These hubs (forums, sub-reddits, etc.) are where they report issues, seek answers, and share their experiences and insights.
Of course, we know that these channels aren’t really self-sufficient. They require community management and moderation. The problem is, the skills required to manage communities and content are not ones your run-of-the-mill customer support can provide. You’ll need to find a provider with experience delivering a much wider range of customer experience services and the experience to concentrate resources to ensure the best possible result.
Gamers also want direct support in-game and in standard support channels
Casual gamers, by nature, aren’t interested in investing time and energy to figure out support issues on their own. And dedicated gamers often don’t have the time to wait for feedback or browse online for a quick fix. Whether it's a few friends playing Metal Gear Solid or a dedicated Mortal Kombat event, competitive players have limited time before the heat of battle begins.
These days, all gamers expect more than self-support options. They expect support in game and via typical support channels such as web, phone, and text. And it’s now common for players to seek support on social media. That’s a lot of ground to cover.
In short, you need to meet players where they need help.
Most Gamers don’t have patience for non-gamers
One of the reasons hardcore gamers prefer hubs such as forums and discussion groups is because they can get information from fellow players. For a typical gamer, there’s nothing worse than dealing with a support agent in a cube reading a script. And given that many gamers turn to live support for a quicker fix, they don’t have time for agents who don’t get it.
Gamers speak a language filled with slang, nuance, and technical terms. It’s hard to fake. If your agents don’t grok ‘farming’, ‘smurfing’, ‘pwned’, ‘nerfing’, ‘ping’, ‘lag’, or abbreviations like ‘IGM’, ‘QTE’, ‘QQ’, they won’t be able to properly help your players.
Your complete list of player support challenges
- Keep up with year over year growth
- Maintain quick response times 24/7/365
- Support multiple languages if you’re enjoying or targeting international growth
- Be ready to scale up on-demand in the face of success or a crisis
- Provide support across a multitude of support channels while still moderating forums and message boards
- Hire support agents who are fellow gamers (or who at least aren’t total noobs)
If you scan that requirements list and think “this could get expensive,” we’re with you.
The ROI of customer support as a service
Gaming Customer Support Costs: In house vs outsourcing
Is outsourcing the answer to meeting all your customer support challenges cost-effectively? Let’s look at support costs in detail starting with in-house.
Of course gaming companies can and do provide player support with a blend of in-house and outsourced agents. The cost effectiveness of any particular blended solution depends on how the teams are comprised and how the work is portioned out. Details will vary. But understanding the cost involved is still a good place to start.
The hidden costs of starting with in-house player support
Staffing customer support in-house is expensive—there are many hidden costs. Startup costs include the time and expense spent hiring, onboarding, and training new employees. Then there’s the fact that no one works 100% of the time: there are breaks, meals, meetings, and, of course, the occasional office celebration.
In-house staffing with full-time employees is inefficient in other key ways. You can’t always have people to work when you need them too. Suppose you need help both early in the morning and late at night, but you can’t split a shift. Suppose you need help all seven days a week, but your in-house agent needs a day off. Suppose you need 40 hours all at once. An in-house agent or agents simply aren’t as flexible as an on-demand team. You’ll end up either sacrificing response time or overstaffing to cover the busy times. Playing Tetris with 8-hour shifts will never get you the results you want.
Don’t forget the associated equipment and IT costs: desks, chairs, computers, software, internet connectivity, and the time and people who manage all of that. It adds up.
The opportunity cost of in-house support
In addition to the fiscal costs of running customer support in-house, there’s an opportunity cost. Time and energy spent managing an in-house team could often be better spent on what gaming companies do best: building great games.
For example, consider a gaming company that licenses a physics engine instead of building their own. This allows developers and producers to focus on the unique aspects of their game rather than reinventing the wheel. Companies who find expert, outsourced support enjoy the same benefit.
Outsourcing promises reduced costs
Outsourcing is a common strategy for reducing customer support costs. With the right vendor, you can enjoy considerable savings. Not all outsourcing is equal, however. Pick the wrong vendor and what initially looked like a good deal can turn sour.
The best outsourcers focus on efficiency
We’ve discussed the inefficiency of using full-time employees to cover customer support—it’s one of the inefficiencies of in-house support. But many customer support outsourcers suffer from the same problem: they sell time-based on single-agent shifts. And while you might reduce some internal costs and get a lower hourly rate, you still won’t be able to efficiently staff player support. The result is either inconsistent response times or overstaffing to meet peaks.
Instead, look for a vendor that offers an hourly model that allows flexible assignment of coverage either spread across the day or all at the same time.
Time and efficiency are the biggest variables in support costs
You can’t judge a player support outsourcer by hourly rate alone. Your cost is determined by the amount of time spent on the job. With that in mind, there are a couple of things to look for when evaluating a proposal.
Are you paying for downtime or are you just paying for hours actually spent on the job? Are you getting 100% utilization?
Next, look for outsourcers that will work with your team to constantly optimize and improve efficiency. Vendors who look to improve workflows, optimize help desk configurations, and bolster documentation can save you money by reducing handle time. (Not to mention that reduced handle time will likely raise your CSAT scores, thus increasing the value of the support.)
In short, your most cost-effective solution might not be obvious at first glance. You can’t judge true cost solely on hourly rate. Outsourcers that offer hourly deployment and pricing, 100% utilization, and continuing optimization are often a better value than slow, inflexible outsourcers with deceptively attractive low hourly rates.
Don’t cut quality when you cut costs
Most outsourced support has a (deserved) reputation for poor quality. That’s true across industries, with gaming as no exception. We’ve all experienced customer support agents who just don’t get it, and don’t care. Nothing is more frustrating than someone reading from a script. And, as we know, gamers can be even less patient when seeking help.
That’s most outsourcing. Not all.
Fortunately for your players, there are great outsourcers out there who do get it and do care. You can and reduce costs and maintain a quality experience.
The challenge is finding those vendors, but it’s worth the effort.
With the right partner, it’s important to note that in-house vs outsourcing is not an “either/or” proposition. Flexible providers know how to blend both types of player support to maximize the advantages of each.
Outsourcing is a viable option with the right partner
In short, outsourcing is a common way to reduce costs. But the trick is to maximize savings and maintain quality support. With that combination, you’ll not just save money and make your customers happy, you’ll find the time and energy to focus on the thing you do best—make amazing games.
Guidelines for outsourcing the player support experience
So how do you find an outsourcer that meets the challenges of outsourcing player support, delivers quality, and keeps costs down? Here’s your shopping list.
Look for an outsourcer that can handle your coverage requirements today, and tomorrow
24/7/365 support is table stakes. You need a provider that can cover the hours and days your players are active regardless of when that is—whether they’re playing on the job or relaxing at night, whether they’re in Jakarta or the Netherlands.
Find a provider that offers omnichannel support. As we’ve seen, great customer service needs to happen everywhere: in-game, on forums and message boards, across social networks, and on typical channels such as phone, email, and text. Make sure potential vendors understand the difference between support, moderation, and community management.
And if you’re targeting or experiencing international growth, find a provider with quality multilingual support. Players appreciate someone who speaks their language.
Find an outsourcer that can scale with you—up and down—on demand
Perhaps the biggest reason to outsource is to be able to scale on demand. Make sure your potential partner can do just that. What happens if you have a hit game or face something completely unpredictable like a pandemic? Can they scale on demand?
And beware of rigid contracts and inflexible terms. When things calm down, you’ll want to adjust coverage and avoid the expense of overstaffing. Look for a vendor that allows you to scale down as easily as you scale up.
Don’t pay for more that you need
Avoid being charged for more hours of service than you need. Don’t pay for a full-time schedule when you only need specific hours covered. Look for outsourcers that offer an hourly model of coverage rather than outsourcers that think in terms of FTEs or 8-hour shifts. Look for outsourcing that offers 100% utilization so you’re not paying for any downtime. And, finally, find a partner that believes in improving your support process and making it more efficient.
Find an outsourcer that does not compromise on quality
Don’t settle for less than fully trained player support professionals. Outsourcing shouldn’t mean hiring cheap amateurs, but hiring cost-effective experts. There’s no need to compromise on quality. In some cases, outsourcing can be an opportunity to level up.
Look for outsourcers that employ fellow gamers. In the best case, they’re folks who already play your game, but at the very least they should speak “gaming”. Beyond just making the players feel like the support agent gets it, it’s also critical if solving a support ticket requires dipping into the game to interact with the player. Just imagine your typical call center agents doing that.
Find an outsourcer that values teamwork and transparency
Reducing cost and increasing player satisfaction is great, but you also need a vendor that’s easy to work with. Find a team that integrates seamlessly with your existing team, tools, and systems. Avoid vendors with inflexible processes and workflows or redundant operations. A great outsourcing partner should complement and enhance your company.
Communication is the key to working well together. Prioritize transparency. Avoid “black box” vendors who don’t reveal support data. Look for vendors that offer robust reporting and clear points of contact. In other words, look for outsourcers that act like an internal team.
Which outsourced customer support vendors fit the bill?
We know what you’re thinking: most outsourcing you’ve used or seen falls short of these requirements in many ways. But there are a few quality outsourcers out there.
Take ModSquad for example.
We offer coverage 24/7/365 in all support channels (including forums, message boards, and social networks). We support over 50 languages with agents from over 70 countries. We scale up and down to meet demand and you only pay for the support you need.
We maintain quality by assembling a team of fellow gamers and customer service experts who understand your players and seamlessly integrate with your team and tools. And because we value transparency, you’re never in the dark about what’s going on in your game, or what our services will cost.
If you want to learn more about how ModSquad has worked with gaming companies to provide great outsourced player support, here are a few case studies worth reading. Mobile gaming company Wooga was able to increase its global coverage while saving €20,000 a year. We helped Roll20 battle a 500% increase in support tickets when RPG gamers flocked to their platform in the wake of Covid-19 and social distancing.
Parting Thoughts on Player Support
We’ve come a long way since “player support” meant refunding a lost token at the local arcade and “scaling” meant adding another part-timer on Saturday night. These days it means keeping up with players all over the globe communicating in many different languages on many different platforms. And the crowds can grow exponentially overnight. Bottom line: you want a partner that knows the industry and has the flexibility to deliver great player support no matter what.
If you need someone to work the counter at your digital arcade, get the help that will show up exactly when you need them, scale-up instantly, speak your player’s language (literally and figuratively), without breaking the bank, they’re out there if you look hard enough.
Or make it easy on yourself, and get a 30-minute consultation on how to grow your game with outsourced player support.
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