Note: Though directed at gaming companies, the seven email-related guidelines outlined in this article apply just as well to just about any company's email marketing efforts.
Whether you consider the first true "video game" to be the computer-based chess simulators of the late 1940s, Pong in 1972, or any of those in between, gaming is not a new idea. And when you consider the recent explosion of console games, social games, mobile games, and hardcore games, you'll realize that gaming is not going away any time soon.
Society's fascination with gaming has led to the investment of billions of dollars into the industry, despite one major limitation: The opportunity to directly interact with the player is limited to the time they are playing the game.
Social games have an advantage in that regard; they have been able to overcome that limitation by making the games just that—social. They rely on social platforms such as Facebook and Google+ to communicate with players even when they are not actively playing.
But even social games are now turning to email as a highly effective channel to communicate with players, and developers of all game types should take notice.
With the prevalence of the smartphone, email has become a virtually "always on" channel. A well thought out integration of email into gaming can not only build a new channel for the gaming companies but also lift player retention, increase brand favorability, and create more payers out of players.
So how do you add this new element without annoying your players? After all, the average person wants more email about as much as they want unsolicited advice on life from Facebook friends.
The keys are disclosure and value. Tell your players why you want their email address and, more important, what is in it for them if they give it to you.
Here are some good guidelines to start with.
1. Start early in the game process
If you have a tutorial as part of your player onboarding, ask for an email address as a part of it. Tell the players that you will be sending tips and tricks, updates on their play, free virtual currency, and game-play related messages as they advance through the game.
2. Send a real-time welcome message
Once you tell them why you want their address, tell them that you are sending them something that will have value to them right now—maybe virtual currency, information on how to get a head start on the game, or anything else that will be valued by those new to your game. Your primary objective is to get them to go check their email immediately and help them associate your email with the game—to develop a positive mindset toward your email.
3. Be consistent with branding
Make sure that it is evidently obvious that the email is coming from a specific game. If you have more than one game, don't be tempted to send the email from your parent brand instead of the actual game brand. For example, if YourGameCo has RoboBoxing and MarcoPolo as two of its games, the email should come from @email.roboboxing.com or @roboboxing.yourgameco.com but not @email.yourgameco.com. You should also make sure the "Friendly From" name (the "John Doe" portion of "John Doe <email@example.com>") is related to the game.
4. Send with purpose
Remember the part about people not particularly enjoying heaps of email? Don't send just to be sending. Don't send a daily update if a weekly update is good enough. Err on the side of messages that are triggered from game activity versus blasts to all your players. Most important, send information and updates that players will want. Although repeatedly asking them to "Play Now" might sound valuable to you, it doesn't really provide any value to them.
5. Use your data
Use game activity data to tell how often to send to a player and what to send. If someone is playing every day, you can send email to that person daily, but if someone is playing your game only once a week, he probably doesn't need daily messages from you. If someone was playing regularly and then goes dark, email is probably your only avenue for reaching them, so send a reactivation message to try to lure the player back to the game.
6. We are all different, so don't treat us all the same
Your players will fall into one or more categories: Payer, Non-Payer, Active, Inactive, Email Opener, Non-Opener, Whale (AKA, big spender), or Potential Whale. Email to each of those player types should be handled differently. Of course, to do so, you'll need to use your data. For example, look for behaviors that eventual payers exhibited before they started paying, and then go find nonpayers exhibiting those same behaviors; that would be a segment you'd want to spend more time nurturing with email.
7. Give them options, but ultimately let them go free
Let your players tell you how they want you to use email. Give them a preference center that allows them to opt in or opt out of newsletters, game updates, and partner offers. And, by all means, if they want to opt out of everything and unsubscribe, then stop sending to them. The worst thing you can do is to send to people who have explicitly told you that they do not want to receive email.
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If you follow these guidelines, you will be well on your way to making email an integral part of your game's experience. Over time, you will find that the "offline" communication channel that you have created with email will become invaluable to your efforts to nurture, retain, and monetize your players.