Sunsetting a Video Game | with Alysia Sanders from Kongregate
Discover what leads to sunsetting of a game with Alysia Sanders from Kongregate in our newest episode of Let’s Talk Player Feedback (Season 4, Episode 37), as she shares advice on managing community emotions, loyalty programs, and unexpected positive outcomes in the sunsetting process.
What will you listen to in this episode?
- What is sunsetting in video games, and why is it necessary? How does sunsetting impact the player community and the gaming industry as a whole?
- What is the player’s viewpoint on sunsetting? How do players react to beloved in-game content being retired or altered?
- When sunsetting a game, there are many dilemmas faced by game developers. What criteria do developers use to make these decisions, and how do they communicate them to the community?
Caro Solari: Well hello everyone and welcome to episode 37, season 4 of Let’s Talk Player Feedback. Here we are again with wonderful, fantastic, smiley Alicia Sanders. Hello Alicia!
Alysia: Hi, Caro. How are you?
Caro Solari: Doing great, thank you, except for the fact that I have a spider eating an insect right on my side. It’s quite scary, but I’m gonna handle it. Your cat may show up, I’m gonna ask for some help. It’s going to be okay. So, how are you doing today? How was your morning?
Alysia: Oh my goodness, I have been jazzed up for this since last night. I barely got any sleep because I was like, I’m gonna see Caro tomorrow. And then…
Caro Solari: Yes!
Alysia: I love talking about video games, and I love talking about the experiences that I’ve had and hopefully getting out some suggestions and comments and stuff that people might need to hear or want to hear. No promises on what came to hear though.
Caro Solari: Just because we might have first-time listeners. Alicia, can you briefly introduce yourself?
Alysia: So I’m Alicia, I have been working for Congregate for around eight years. I have been in a variety of positions. I’ve done community management, I’ve done player experience, I’ve done live ops. I have learned many things, and with this newest endeavor of sunsetting games, I’ve even learned a lot more. So I’m a jack of all trades, but currently, I consider myself the Player Experience Wizard.
Caro Solari: That’s the best title.
Alysia: I’ve been looking for a bunch of stuff product-wise and making sure that old games are taken care of and new games have a guideline to set up how we want support to be run, how business is done.
Caro Solari: Makes total sense. And Alicia, today we’re here to talk about Sunsetting Games. And I’ve heard you have some stories.
Alysia: Carol, you can’t be in this industry for eight years and not have some stories, but specifically relating to sunsetting games, it is almost always one of those heartbreaking discussions to have. And it’s never based on player experience. We don’t get to make that call. We have to wait for the executives. And so sometimes we’ll see a game, and it’s going to be in limbo. And we’re like, well, are we keeping it? Are we letting it go? Please, you know. Give us an answer so that we can tell the players. And that’s probably the hardest, like jumping right into the meat and potatoes, that’s probably the hardest part is waiting. Waiting for answers.
Caro Solari: Yeah, knowing that it might happen and you still don’t know, and you’re managing the community as if everything’s all right, but in the back of your head, you know something’s coming up.
Alysia: Exactly, exactly. You have to be like, oh you know, you know in three months we might have that out. Knowing that in three months the game might cease to exist. So it’s definitely, it weighs on your heart. Because you know that these players enjoy their games.
Caro Solari: I am sure. So can you, just to get started, can you briefly explain us what are the circumstances that usually lead to the decision, to the executive decision, like you said, to sunset games that you’ve worked on?
Alysia: This is all perceived, of course, I’ve never been in those closed-door meetings. I usually, we notice a downtick in tickets. We notice, you know, a downturn in community engagement. And, you know, I’m not going to lie, it’s always revenue-based whenever it comes to these decisions. So if we notice that the revenue isn’t staying up as high or it started to decline, and, you know, none of our tricks are working, then we start to talk about sunsetting or… What’s the operational cost of running this game versus, can we put it in a state of maintenance? A maintenance mode game, it’s pretty good, but even still, you’re probably buying yourself a year max if you’re not updating, innovating, engaging the players in something that they’re wanting to engage in. Just, that one’s a slow death.
Caro Solari: Yeah, it sounds like it. I just want to say that the name sunsetting in a game, it makes it sound so much better than what it is. Whoever came up with this term was a genius.
Alysia: It does sound like a nice little term.
Caro Solari: I love it.
Alysia: Like, oh, we’re going to have a good day at the beach, we’re gonna sunset today.
Caro Solari: Absolutely.
Alysia: It’s like no.
Caro Solari: Absolutely.
Alysia: The reason why they’ve chosen that is a nice one.
Caro Solari: Absolutely.
Alysia: It’s a nice way of looking at it, because, you know, when you have to have those meetings with your executives, and you’re like, okay, we’ve made this much money on this game, but we’re making this much money on this game and it’s costing us this much to run this game, it’s all numbers-based.
Caro Solari: So it’s a mix of community engagement, revenue, and operational costs that determine whether a game is going to be sunset. And you mentioned something about maintenance mode, and that might buy the game about a year. Could you explain what maintenance mode is?
Alysia: Maintenance mode, it’s what you’d expect. It’s a game that is not receiving any more updates. If you submit a ticket to support, I’m sorry, but the best that you might get is maybe a response, but it’s probably going to be a guided response. It’s not receiving new content, it’s not receiving bug fixes. All the things that were broken at the time of sunsetting will remain broken.
Caro Solari: So it’s kind of like putting the game on life support in a way.
Alysia: Very much so. And, you know, the servers don’t die right away, but we do try to give everybody a heads-up to know, okay, it’s only going to last for this amount of time. The biggest issue with maintenance mode, especially on the game side, is that if there are any legal requirements with the maintenance mode or keeping a game up and going, we’re going to have to try to follow those as best we can.
Caro Solari: So I assume that if the game is no longer making a significant amount of revenue, the executive decision is made to sunset it, right?
Alysia: Yes, and, you know, it’s going to be whatever the numbers look like, and then they go, okay, now we have to have that meeting of, what are we doing? Are we giving our players a heads-up? And then if we’re giving them a heads-up, we’re just letting them know, or are we going to help them transition into another game?
Caro Solari: Right. So the player communication and support during the sunset process is a crucial aspect of this whole process, right?
Alysia: It is, and the whole sunsetting experience, the player is going to have their own unique experience in it, and no player is going to feel the same. So we do a variety of things. One, if they’ve purchased anything within a certain window, they get an automatic refund. We don’t want to just have you spend your money if we’re not offering anything on the game. So we’re gonna refund them. We’ll do a couple of blog posts to let them know what’s happening and why. And then, if we have a similar game, we will try to push them towards that. We have forums and other players to be able to engage with to say, “Okay, the game is going away, we’re sunsetting it, come over here to this forum and engage with other players that play this game,” to give the best transition possible.
Caro Solari: And how do players usually react to the news of a game they love or are passionate about being sunsetting? How does the community respond?
Alysia: You know, there’s always some players that are disappointed, and then there are other players that get it. They understand why we’ve done it. You’re going to have the whole spectrum. And, you know, I don’t get offended. I know that the players are invested, especially when you’re sunsetting a game. So you do have to be a little empathetic and sympathetic to what they’re going through, and, you know, your game, you know, they’re losing a place where they go to, they hang out, they talk with their friends, they enjoy their gameplay. So we try to be as empathetic and sympathetic as possible.
Caro Solari: It sounds like a challenging situation because you’re dealing with a wide range of emotions, from disappointment to understanding, and players who are just deeply invested in these games.
Alysia: Absolutely. But we try to give them the best possible path, either you can come over and try out this game, or if you know of a game similar that you’d rather play that we don’t offer, you can go on our forums and recommend to other players that they go to this game, give some suggestions, let them know, help them out in that area as well.
Caro Solari: So it’s a combination of providing alternatives and also, in a way, letting the community help each other transition into different games or activities.
Alysia: Yes, that’s the plan. That’s how we like to look at it. You know, you guys are a family. It’s more of, okay, the game is going away, but the community is not. The community is staying.
Caro Solari: That’s a great way to think about it. And you mentioned that sometimes players get refunds if they’ve made recent purchases in the game. How does that work exactly?
Alysia: Yes, it’s, I think it’s a thirty-day window. But if you’ve made purchases within that time, you’re going to get a refund. We have a lot of our players who will make large purchases. You know, if they’re used to playing the game all the time, they want to have the best equipment or, you know, the best characters. We’re going to make sure that you get a refund if you’re doing that within that window.
Caro Solari: That’s great, so at least players can get their money back for recent investments in the game. How do you handle players who might have spent a lot of time in the game but maybe didn’t make a lot of purchases? Because some players might not spend much but still be very passionate about the game.
Alysia: Yeah, and you know, those players, I understand them, they’re the ones who have spent a lot of time with us. And in a game, you know, that’s probably not making any more updates. You know, sometimes they’ve enjoyed just talking with their friends and not necessarily purchasing. So for them, we recommend, if you have friends, if you’ve met friends here, maybe exchange your information. You can talk with your friends outside of the game. And you can even do your own outside gatherings. The way we try to set it up is that we’re trying to be able to give the community their own space where they can continue on in another fashion.
Caro Solari: So it’s not just about the game, but it’s also the relationships and the social aspect that comes with it.
Caro Solari: And when you mentioned earlier about trying to guide players towards other games if there’s something similar within your offerings, how do you make those recommendations, and what’s the process behind that?
Alysia: We have a team that sits down and looks at games that are similar to what they’ve been playing. And then we put those recommendations in blog posts. You know, you don’t want to lose your community, you don’t want to lose your family. So we’ll be able to say, “Okay, we have these three games that you can try, and you can come into this forum, you can engage with other players. And if you guys want to make your own forum on that game, you’re more than welcome to do that.” We’re going to do our best to help guide you to the next game.
Caro Solari: That’s a really considerate approach, especially because if players are used to one game and a certain kind of community and then they transition to a new game, it might not be exactly the same. So offering that support is great.
Alysia: Yes, and that’s the plan. We want to make sure they have the best transition possible.
Caro Solari: In addition to the players, how does sunsetting a game affect the developers and other staff who’ve been working on that game?
Alysia: It’s challenging. It’s challenging for the developers, and they’re working hard to make sure that they’re doing the best for the community and the players that are playing the game. But once we’re at that point where we’re deciding on sunsetting, there’s not much else that can be done, and then it gets a little challenging for the developers to have to make that recommendation. We always try to have them engage with the players, get their feedback, and get the players’ feelings on what’s going on. We try to be transparent with the players and let them know what’s happening. And with the developers, you know, we try to be as empathetic and sympathetic as possible and try to do the best for the players and the developers.
Caro Solari: It must be a difficult decision for the developers too, especially if they’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating the game.
Alysia: Absolutely. It’s not easy for anyone. It’s not easy for the players, it’s not easy for the developers. Nobody wants to see their game go away.
Caro Solari: So you mentioned transparency, and that’s really important during the sunset process. How do you ensure that transparency, and what kind of information do you typically share with the players?
Alysia: We have blog posts, and we try to be as clear as we can in the blog posts. We try to explain what’s happening and why it’s happening. I understand that when you get the news, you don’t want to see it go away, and it’s just like, “Oh, it’s not the same!” It’s really hard. We get it, but we’re going to do the best to explain what’s happening and why we’ve made that decision.
Caro Solari: So it’s about being as open as possible, providing as much context as you can so players understand why this decision had to be made.
Caro Solari: Do you have any examples of games that have gone through this sunset process successfully where the community transitioned well and players moved on to other games?
Alysia: Yes. So there was a game that I worked on, and it was one of the most difficult sunsets because it had been around for a long time. The community was big and strong, and we had to help that community transition. But what was really great is that we were able to provide them with some really great recommendations to some similar games that they were able to go to. They were able to start engaging with those games, and the community is still strong. You know, it’s not exactly the same, but we were able to help that community have a good transition.
Caro Solari: That’s a success story. It sounds like if it’s handled well, the community can stick together and continue enjoying their gaming experiences, even if it’s in a different game.
Alysia: Yes, and it doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes a little bit of time. So it does take some patience, but you’ll be able to find a good community that you’ll be able to engage with.
Caro Solari: It sounds like the patience, the empathy, and the support for the community are key elements during this process.
Alysia: Yes, that’s the plan. And that’s how we try to move forward.
Caro Solari: Is there anything else that’s important to know about game sunsetting or any other insights you’d like to share on this topic?
Alysia: I think the biggest thing is just to be patient and to know that we’re trying to do our best to help the community. We do care about the players, and we understand that they are invested. It’s difficult to say goodbye, but we are doing our best to make sure that they have the best transition.
Caro Solari: Thank you, Alysia. It’s been really insightful talking to you about this process, and it’s great to hear that there’s so much care and effort put into ensuring that players have a good experience during the sunset process.
Alysia: You’re welcome. It was great talking with you.
Caro Solari: And that’s it for this episode of Inside Game Development. Thank you for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.