Fast Company just published a list of their 50 most innovative companies for 2011 in their March issue. Their write-up for Zynga was particularly interesting; one of the things that leaped off the page for me is the suggestion that Zynga (and perhaps social game companies in general) have reached the apex of what can be achieved with quantitative metrics:
“We’ve almost gotten too good on data and analytics,” he says. “We’re at risk of losing sight of the end user and their delight.” In five years, Pincus expects there will be a global audience of almost 2 billion social gamers, and he plans to let them take a greater role in creating his games. In addition, he’s introduced a new metric for his team to study: the company’s Net Promoter Score, the percentage of customers who are active advocates or detractors of its brand. “It’s how eBay, Google, and Facebook all rate themselves,” Pincus says.
In other words, metrics are great for telling you about what players are doing right now–or over the course of short periods of time–but they don’t tell you how you’re faring in terms of long-term customer retention. Net Promoter Score is a measure of a customer’s loyalty over the long-term; it tells you whether your customers are likely to tell their friends about you.
Rather than focusing on the viral mechanics of social networking, Net Promoter Score attempts to reveal whether your company and products are something that people will actively promote on their own.
We already know that word-of-mouth is a huge driver of popular AAA games. People who are in love with a game franchise are likely to persuade their friends to buy a copy, even if there’s no direct benefit to them for doing so–they’re doing it because they’re fans and they want others to experience their joy. Thus far, I don’t think social games have created that same level of enthusiasm for the everyday player. It’s a huge opportunity for growth and innovation, and I think a shift towards long-term loyalty (via metrics like the Net Promoter Score) could be a boon for social gaming.