• Natalie Markovits

How much can players influence games?

Hello and welcome to Affogata’s podcast: Let’s talk customer feedback. We had the pleasure of hosting Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode.

We usually have the pleasure of hosting game developers, designers, or product and marketing managers at gaming companies who talk about how they leverage player feedback in their day-to-day job and the importance of listening to player feedback.


But this episode is really interesting because Philip, apart from now being the Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode, he was a huge Esports player and influencer, which is the other side of the feedback, the one who gives it mainly, and not the one receiving it.

How do core players feel about having their voices heard? Do players really feel they can influence games? Where can companies find the most valuable feedback from their players?

Here's what Philip had to say!

Audio


Transcript

Host from Affogata:


As a 10-year Esports veteran, core gamer, and influencer, can you tell us more about your past work, what have you done in the gaming industry, and your current role at Challengermode?


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


Yeah, absolutely. So, as you correctly said, I've been in Esports full time for a little bit over ten years now. Overall, I've spent more than well, effectively, I've spent almost my entire life in the gaming industry as a fan, as a player, and esports itself as a player. I was active about 17 years ago for the first time. So I've been in and around Esports and gaming for a long time. I used to run a journalistic outfit or help run called the SFI World, where we were just reporting on esports events, esports happenings, and I was running the section about Mobile League of Legends, Dota and Heroes of Earth and things like that. Before that, I played professionally in quotation marks. I played with some competitive top teams in Dota, which is Dota One, which was the mod within Warcraft Three.


And then after that I joined ESL when I was 18 years old to be a Junior Product manager on the Intel Extreme Master series. So I traveled the world with the Intel Extreme Masters, put on esports events all around the world. Then later on I went to Twitch, where I helped with international marketing and especially international marketing strategy. So I effectively helped all of the local marketing teams run content marketing and email marketing and so on in their local businesses. So, you know, speaking about Latin America, speaking about Europe, Japan, Korea, Thailand and so on. And then after that, I had a very brief stint as an influencer manager as a consultant, helping folks understand Twitch, helping folks understand live streaming, and helping folks understand the esports industry as a whole and helping a couple of businesses grow there. And then I joined Challengermode about five years ago almost.


Host from Affogata:


Well, that’s an amazing career path. I can't believe that you were a product manager at 18 years old. That's insane. Can you tell us a bit of what do you do now at Challengermode?


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


Yeah so as you said I'm the Chief Business Development Officer, which is a very long fancy title for saying I run all of our business development and operations associated with that. So I have a team of about 21 people that I manage today. Obviously I don't manage them alone to handle everything from customer support and our partner support to partner success which means helping organizers on challenge about be successful to effectively all partnership acquisitions, new business and new business development. So any deals coming in so that's effectively what I lead the strategy for and what I lead the team into doing.


Host from Affogata:


That's amazing and a great introduction to the rest of our questions. We know you were a huge Esports player. How do you think Esports players influence games? How much do companies listen to Esports players?


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


So I think it's actually a pretty colorful mix. Obviously most players that are competitive, there are top level players will always say that the companies aren't listening enough to them. I think in the end it depends a lot on the company. Some companies don't really take that into account very much at all. I would say at least it feels that way. I think others maybe take it into account a little too much. And what I mean by that is, in a lot of games and this depends a little bit on the nature of the game, but in a lot of games players that play the game at a professional level play a completely different game.


It doesn't even have anything to do effectively with what everybody else is playing. It sometimes feels like. So I guess what that means is sometimes pro player feedback, esports competitive player feedback is only applicable to the top 1% of the player base and it might actually be negative for the rest of the player base. So I think again it's a colorful mix of some companies doing it too much, some companies doing it too little and I think it's important to find a good mix.


Host from Affogata:


Well that's actually super interesting that you just mentioned that because I agree, I mean as a gaming company it must be super hard to find that balance. But it can be hard to not hear to these core players because you feel like they're the ones that can play your game the most are super engaged, super loyal and why wouldn't you listen to them? But then what if it means that you are decreasing the player experience for almost all the rest of the players? So that is a very interesting and very complex situation for companies, I can imagine.


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


Yeah, I think so. I think it's all about and this is where I get a little bit more techy, I think. I don't know how many game companies actually think about their customer journeys, but if you look at a player as somewhere in the customer journey, then clearly a casual player is at the beginning of their customer journey, whereas a core player, a competitive player, is effectively at the end of that journey. Right? And so I think you have to take into account with that feedback and with changes that you make. How do I prevent new players from churning immediately, right? How do I prevent new players from stopping to play my game after their first match because they're not having a good time? And then how do I get as many of them as possible to actually becoming core players and then keeping them there? Right. So I think I guess when you're listening to feedback from your core player base, what you're trying to do effectively is making sure that they're happy and staying and still playing your game without making it so that new players are kept out of that. Does that make sense?


Host from Affogata:


Right, it makes total sense. And do you feel gaming companies are getting better at understanding the power of player feedback and implementing it correctly to optimize their games?


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


I think obviously it's a big question. I don't know all gaming companies, but I think a lot of companies are very good at it and a lot of companies are probably very bad at it. I think effectively there's a lot of companies that have very strong community teams that listen to their Reddit communities, their Twitter communities, and so on. There are others that believe much more in pure data that they have in-house. Right. There's a lot of very data-driven companies who just look at, okay, we made this change, that affected this by that much, let's change the metrics. Exactly. Without actually listening to what the players think. So I think the latter is probably not the right way to go. Right. I think there's always a big human element to everything. So I think it depends on the companies. But generally I would say that people are becoming more aware and I guess it is becoming easier to actually listen to and aggregate data from your community, from community feedback.


Host from Affogata:


I agree. I like what you just mentioned because at Affogata that we believe that obviously all the quantitative data is extremely important because it gives you a lot of understanding of the numbers of your game. But qualitative data, the voice of the players, is giving you an understanding and the reason of why that's happening, because the numbers are giving you the what, but you're kind of missing the why. So, there are so many places and channels where players are. Where do you think players leave the most valuable feedback on the open web? Where should companies be looking to truly understand what their users feel about their games? Or where do you actually speak with others and leave your feedback?


Pplayershilip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


So I think that obviously it depends a little bit on your game and on your audience. I think there's a lot of especially if you're looking at a lot of Live service games, they tend to have very active reddits, which I think tends to be a very good place for feedback. Obviously, Twitter is another such location, although I imagine obviously you never know what you don't know. I imagine though, that if you're a Chinese based company building a Chinese game for the Chinese audience, that you're going to have to look into different places. Right. You're going to have to look at Weibo and QQ and all of these places. So I think the first step is probably knowing where your audience is so that you know where to listen to them too.


Host from Affogata:


Definitely. And Discord is very strong also, right?


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


Yeah, for sure. To be honest, I think where you're going to find your most passionate community will be either your own forum, if you have one, your game reddit and your game's Discord. I think those tend to be the ones where the more engaged, the more passionate fans are going to be active.


Host from Affogata:


Right. And that's where companies should actually be analyzing the data so they can really understand what they're saying. And, as a big Esports player and influencer yourself, do you have any story where you have influenced a game directly? Or do you have any examples that you’ve seen that companies have made changes to their game due to player feedback and it has improved the game or made it more successful?


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


I think it's very hard to say. In my personal case, I don't know if that's the case. I think if anything, myself and players that I've played with would have maybe found something that's bad about the game or that's abusable about the game and used it, which then resulted in that thing being removed or being solved. Right. So more of a in that case, I guess it's less the player feedback and more, hey, this is this hero in the game with this item at this time. It wins 90% of the time. Right. There's something clearly wrong here.


Outside of that, I think there's definitely been a lot of if you're looking at games like Dota, if you're looking at games like League Legends, there's definitely been a lot of banding together of entire groups of players, especially groups of core players, where the result was that things were changed and maybe for the better for them, but definitely for the better for the core audience. I think, to be honest, if I was a company, I would have a hard time ever finding a reason to listen to an individual, right. An individual single player, because it's hard to believe that they know better than anybody else. Right? I think it's always important to look at aggregates, it's always important to look at what do players like this person think? And if all of them think like that, then yes, clearly that might be a change that we should make.


Host from Affogata:


I agree. And just going a bit back to your example of, for instance, the character with these items can be stronger than others. And these kind of examples are great because we've seen that sometimes, even though you say that it's not feedback, it is, because sometimes people can use this as like cheating or things like this, and then others will feel that it's unfair and their experience is less better than before. So just like mentioning this or using it more, it is still feedback for the game to improve the experience for all the gamers. And it can even happen that we've seen that gamers post a lot or talk a lot about something that's happening on the game and it's a bug that the game didn't even know. So they can optimize the game that way as well. So I think these communities are extremely important for companies and they can discover a lot more than what they think they can.


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


You know, I want to make one quick point there, which is I think it's also actually important to look at, given that it's a very new form of content to look at Tik Tok and other viral clips from games. Because obviously that's going to anything that's weird, that's strange, that stands out in a game or about a game is probably something that's broken and might need looking at.


Host from Affogata:


That's true. That's very true. Yeah, we didn't speak about TikTok, but I agree that right now this platform is just creating a big shift, I think, in how people consume and share content. Lastly, in your position at Challengermode, how do you research for new market trends to innovate your product? Do you use customer/player feedback in your position?


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


So obviously, unfortunately, myself, I don't really get to have a lot of conversations with our direct user base. But Challengermode is a company that kind of sits in the middle between, I guess, three client groups. One of them is the users, the players, one of them are tournament organizers and communities around games. And the last one are the game developers and publishers themselves. And so, while I myself hardly ever get a chance to actually work with the user, the player group, I do obviously get directly involved in a lot of conversations with the organizers, especially the game developers, publishers. And so that's obviously where we get a lot of feedback on things that are missing on things that they would like to do. But I know that we at Challengermode, within our product team, we have researchers who go out and they conduct interviews with users, with organizers, they're probing on specific questions, especially testing some theories that we have, right. Of is this something that's bad about the product? Is this something that's bad about the product? And then we use that data and effectively try and come up with the right solutions to solve the problems that are common across many of our users.


Host from Affogata:


Philip, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to participate in today’s podcast. It was super interesting to hear your insights from the other side of the table, on how gaming companies can learn a lot from players and how you see the power of player feedback.


Philip Hubner, Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode


Thanks again so much for having me, it was a lot of fun.


Thanks for all of you listening and don’t forget to visit us at www.Affogata.com.



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