The Power of VIP Strategies in Gaming with Gemma Doyle

Welcome to another episode of the Player Engage Podcast, where we dive deep into the gaming industry’s most intriguing topics. Today, we’re thrilled to have Gemma Doyle, co-founder and CCO of SurgeROI, join us to share her insights on VIP programs and their impact on player loyalty and engagement.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • The art of balancing data-driven decisions with personalized player interactions.
  • Strategies for starting a VIP program, even for indie studios, and scaling it effectively.
  • The impact of VIP programs on player retention and how they can drive game revenue.

To gain a deeper understanding of VIP Strategies

  • Learn how a VIP program can transform user acquisition costs into valuable player retention.
  • Discover the metrics used to measure the success of VIP initiatives.
  • Hear about the unique rewards and events that cater to VIP players, fostering a sense of exclusivity and appreciation.

Notable Quotes:

  • “VIP is about layering data science and human interaction to develop a program that is really authentic and true to the players.” – Gemma Doyle
  • “Keeping and retaining those high-value players is really key to keeping a really healthy game.” – Gemma Doyle
  • “People are so happy to talk. I get a lot of feedback from gaming studios that our players don’t want to talk on the phone, you know, but the submission rate for phone numbers is between the 70 and 85 percentile.” – Gemma Doyle

Episode Resources:

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AI Transcript: Gemma Doyle

Greg Posner: 00:01: 00:42: Hey everybody, welcome to the Player Engage podcast. Today we are joined by Gemma Doyle. She is the co-founder and CCO of SurgeROI. She has a really cool history of working with Zynga for over 10 years, helping multiple aspects from within Zynga, but most importantly, helping build out a loyalty program and understanding what the loyalty program is to bring additional value to Zynga. And I think it’s a really fascinating topic for people that may not be aware how it works. And we’re going to learn a little more, hopefully get behind the curtain, see how gaming works from the back end. So Gemma, first of all, thank you so much for joining us. I know you’re traveling, so I appreciate you making time in your schedule. Is there anything you’d like to say about yourself?
Gemma Doyle: 00:42: 00:57: Well, thanks for having me, Greg. This is super exciting. This is my first podcast. So I’m very excited to see how this goes. And I’m really excited. VIP is my complete passion and has been for well over a decade. So I’m super excited about talking about it today.

Greg Posner: 00:58: 01:42: Yeah, and no pressure. This hopefully is an easygoing podcast. And I think loyalty VIP program is really an important topic, you know, from from keywords and help shift, we spend a lot of time in this, and we understand it a lot, right. But a lot of people we talked to don’t really quite understand the value of VIP program, or really kind of how it’s done. So maybe for people who are listening, you can start at a really high level, right? Like, What is a VIP program and why should the studios maybe take a look into this? And I think, sorry, just to cut you off. I think this goes beyond gaming, right? And I think it’s important for anyone who’s listening that may not be in gaming, right? To understand why this is important to work with your customers, because I think it’s really great. So I cut you off there, but go ahead.

Gemma Doyle: 01:42: 07:52: No problem at all. So yeah, as you said, it could be applicable across all genres. I originally started out in real money gaming well over a decade ago, maybe even two. in real money gaming in Europe, in Dublin. I’m from Ireland originally. And the behaviors and the interactions with the VIPs were really engaging with the VIP base. And what I wanted to do was when I left that real money gaming company, I wanted to go to strategically move to a company like Zynga. who had social gaming, but they didn’t, VIP just didn’t exist. It wasn’t a concept that was embraced at the time by the social gaming space. So really, you know, I spent two years going back and forth to San Francisco, flogging the deck to anybody that would listen to me about the potential upside. And when you move from a very, kind of purchase driven industry into a very data driven industry it’s two different worlds and to make them kind of collide and architect a program that let me to be make data driven decisions but also learn human interaction it was that was this tough space and as i said it took me two years at zinga until it finally stuck and we got one pilot program. The at a high level VIP is my version of VIP that I architected at Synga is about layering data science and human interaction to develop a program that is really authentic and true to the players so that your players are engaged with their account manager but they’re also engaged with the game. It helps with retention, engagement and further monetization so that’s the value add for the company. The definition of a VIP varies per genre and per company even. And so you could, you know, you could start with whatever we feel like the baseline is. So let’s say for instance, we take VIPs who had spent $500 and above and have been active in the last 180 days. So we’ve segmented them out as a base. Now we’ve got to sub-segment them out. and apply treatment to those groups to make sure that they feel engaged and they feel that retention is important to them. Not just that they’re connected to a game, but they’re also connected to their account manager. So if they have problems in the game, you don’t want them to churn, obviously. Churn avoidance is key for everybody. But it’s hard to engage a player. And I always use this analogy in that if a player has stopped purchasing in your game and is actively still playing, and they have been historically a purchaser in your game, reaching out via a phone call, and we know from experimentation, I’ll probably talk a little bit more later on about experimentation, but we did a lot of it over the years. But for this instance, Sending kind of offers, marketing offers, direct to the players, whether that’s via Nemo TD or email or SMS or any kind of channel, if they have a problem in the game, it’s really hard. And the analogy I use is a dirty restaurant syndrome. So if you walk into a dirty restaurant and you leave because you’re unhappy with how clean it is, and the maitre d’ hands you a gift voucher on the way out, you’re not coming back to that restaurant until the issue is fixed. So I give you an account manager, they speak to you directly and say, Hey, I’ve seen that, you know, you haven’t been able to, you haven’t You’ve been playing, but you haven’t purchased in a while. I was just wondering how everything is going for you. The player will then say, you know, I had this issue. Say for instance, they had an issue with a PVP feature and they weren’t being paid out when they won against their pal and it frustrated them. And they said, that’s the only thing I monetize in the game. I don’t monetize anywhere else. And it’s been broken. And so the account manager then fixes, gets it fixed if it’s an individual issue. But it could be, we’re all in gaming, we know that games don’t always work perfectly every day, every night. It could be a current issue that’s been resolved and so gets the player back into the game and getting them back into that PvP feature that they really enjoy to play. So the value comes from keeping those players engaged, you know, making sure their problems are removed so that they can thoroughly enjoy the experience and then Just the value to the company obviously is retention of highest value. When you look at the biggest problems in the industry right now, user acquisition is just so expensive. So keeping and retaining those high value players is really key to keeping a really healthy game. And so When you think about how much monetization or how much money is spent on user acquisition versus those who are in the game, we want to make sure that the VIP players feel heard, feel valued. If you think about it across any other industry, with your airlines, your credit cards, you expect a level of, I have a dedicated person who looks after me because I’ve invested so much time and money into your service or products. And so, too, they should feel that in gaming. even though it’s a leisure industry and even more so, actually, that it’s a leisure industry, nobody has to spend their money and time and commitment and loyalty to a particular game. There’s just so many out there, you know, so it’s really good to reward the VIPs and let them know, hey, we hear your voice. We want to fix your issues. We know you love your game and. We want to make sure that you have all the promotions that we have going at the moment tailored to you. We do a lot of kind of tailored promotions, so we find out what’s valuable to VIPs within each genre. So when we do do a promotion within VIP, it’s not something that doesn’t resonate with the VIPs themselves. We make sure we do a lot of that when we do our VIP profiling. So that’s the value to the player, number one, should always be value to the player, number one. Number two to the company is that retention number, test versus control, those who receive VIP treatment versus those who don’t, and then of course there’s a monetary value because you can definitively show the dollar value upside of VIP management if it is done correctly.

Greg Posner: 07:53: 09:18: You said a lot there and a lot of cool stuff here. I want to kind of dig into some different bits and pieces of it. But you know, and this is a not my favorite way of describing it, but it’s almost like a SaaS company, right? Each each customer of yours has an account manager, your account manager is responsible for reaching out, it almost sounds like we’re going in a circle, like time wise, right? Because for a while there, You don’t want to have phone support. You don’t want to, you just want them to send an email or chat or something like that, right? We don’t want to be talking on the phone. And all of a sudden we’re talking about, all right, high value customers. Let’s bring back the phone. Let’s bring back that personal touch because I think we lost that personal touch when we were, I mean, I can imagine Zynga has millions and millions and millions of freemium type of players that you can’t just support them all. But how do we find that subset of individuals that are willing to spend money? And if they’re not picking up on those trends and understanding, hey, why isn’t user X spending money anymore? Let’s talk to them and figure this out. And I love the idea of kind of testing control because you can’t just throw everything against the wall to see what kind of sticks there. So, you know, not every company is a Zynga where you have millions of users, right? So there’s a lot of indie gaming studios that are starting up and trying to understand All right, how do I build a community? How do I understand what voices are important from the community? Maybe we’re jumping ahead here, but when is the right time to even start thinking about these types of conversations? Because it is going to maybe take some time and effort to build out these research methods and figure it out, but we also want to make sure we have time to build our game.

Gemma Doyle: 09:19: 13:55: Uh, well, I’ll go back to my history and say that when, uh, when it finally, you know, sunk in that VIP, maybe something that Zynga would be interested in, it was me on a spreadsheet with 900 VIPs. So I just got on the phone and talk to them and start building relationships. So if you have, if you are a small indie company and you want to reach your player base, start talking to them, pick up the phone today. You know, it’s, it’s so important. People are so happy to talk. I get a lot of feedback from gaming studios that our players don’t want to talk on the phone, you know, but the submission rate for phone numbers is between the 70 and 85 percentile. Now, it does vary by genre, but in terms of when you give them a guarantee that they have somebody who can fix their problem in the MOTD when you’re asking for the phone number, hey, you’ve got an account manager. We’re going to look after your issues. Number two, we’ve got awesome special offers just for VIPs that we have now included you in. because they want to be involved. They don’t want to miss out on that. And number three, here’s some coins or in-game currency to thank you for submitting your phone number. So in terms of, so yeah, if you’re a small indie studio and you don’t have the resources, and bear in mind, Zynga started small with resources. It was all incremental every year. Every six months, actually, we grew and grew and grew. But we had to prove ourselves. So I think if you’re a small indie company, have somebody, if you are deciding where to put somebody in to engage with your players, and you have high value players in the game already, you should be on the phone with those. You know, there’s so many times that I’ve reached out to VIP players and they’ve been frustrated with maybe customer service or they’ve been frustrated with some element of the game. And all it takes is a phone call and they’re amazed that somebody actually cared enough to pick up the phone and call them. And as I said, we did experimentation around how effective channels were and calls are, bring back calls as you say, calls are three times more effective than any other channel because it’s a human talking to a human. about the thing that they’re most passionate about. They’re most passionate about their game. So it really is, they don’t want to talk to a chatbot. you know, companies have to use them, you know, and the more kind of personalized and effective they are, chatbots can be useful. But in the case of high value VIPs, your small indie company, get somebody on the phones, get somebody talking to your players. Not only do you resolve their issues and get them back in the game on an individual basis, but the information that comes from these VIP players, You don’t always have the demographic that’s playing your game, building your game. So it’s important that these guys are actually treated as consultants. You know, they have a lot to say about their passion and, you know, they really want to share it. The people that I’ve met over the course of time between VIPs that we’ve had, you know, graphic designers and CEOs and school superintendents and they’ve had like really, really kind of robust careers and you know they want to keep their mind active so they treat their game as if when they’re retired as if they’re treating their their career you know they take it very seriously they want the issues fixed and they want a channel to be able to air their grievances to say hey this is not something I like I don’t like this new feature and that in turn then becomes so valuable because once we have a strategic listening hub in place within a company you can feed back into the product team really valuable information to help them to build the product. And the same will happen with the indie game. They will get some really, really awesome information from VIP players. The next question that they’ll ask is, but we’re not going to channel our roadmap, our product feature roadmap based on two, three players. And that’s absolutely, they should not do that. But what they should do is take the, say, two to five players, Ask them questions about the feature roadmap that they have in the imminent future, and then see what resonates with them. And then take that and put it into a survey and go out to your wider base. But now you’ve got kind of information from your highest value, most engaged players. So you’re not getting a survey from product managers that have worked really hard on certain features and they’re making decisions. They may not necessarily be the demographic that’s playing the game. So it’s important that the indie companies as well as the large companies really kind of ingest that information from the VIP players.

Greg Posner: 13:56: 14:29: I think you kind of answered my next question, which I love is kind of how is a working relationship with the product team go from there, right? Because in my history at previous companies, right, product and either customer service or whoever don’t always become best friends. I guess my question to you is what department does a loyalty program kind of roll up to it? I’m assuming it’s part of kind of the customer experience, CX side of things, right? And how is that working relationship with product? Can you help determine the roadmap, right? Maybe it doesn’t alter the roadmap, but get things put on there.

Gemma Doyle: 14:31: 21:21: Great questions. So the first one I’ll answer is around where does VIP normally roll up? And it varies in different companies. So in the past, I’ve rolled up within studios. I’ve rolled up to the president of the company. I’ve rolled up to the CMO of the company. And then most recently, the chief data officer of the company. And so it really depends on where you are in the journey of VIP. So at the very start, it made sense that I sat with the product team and fed the information. And then towards the end, as we had really expanded, it made sense that I was closest to the chief data officer so that every decision we were making was super data-driven. And I’m really helping our players and deciding the call types and those call frequencies. All of that is important. You want to make sure that the players are comfortable with the frequency of contact and the reasons you’re contacting them. All of that went into experimentation, so it made sense that we’re closest. So that’s the roll-up question. And then the other question you asked was really about the relationship with product. So I will say I was super, super lucky to have done my time at the Big Red Dog, which is Zynga, because the product teams there are very, very customer-centric. They really adore listening to the players. So when I talk about a listening strategy, Frank Chabot, when Frank Chabot came on board with Zynga, Frank was so customer centric. And we talked about, one of the offsides, we talked about who should be at the table when you’re talking about the element of fun within a game. And of course, as I said, the demographic doesn’t always match the designers and their product managers. So what I had said was, I have hundreds even thousands of consultants that would be more than happy to come here and talk to the game teams. And Frank said to me, well, what do you need? We need funding to bring them here. So that was it. We started that off at very early stages. And essentially what we did was we did every week we had a focus call. So the account manager would organize a focus call with one of the VIPs who had given them really awesome information. The product teams don’t need to hear there’s cheaters in your game, there’s cheaters in the game, there’s cheaters in the game. If that’s the case, they know that they’re working on the issue. However, they want to hear about, there’s this awesome feature that I play in this other game. That’s just like this. And the reason I spend more time in the other game because they have this feature or they want to hear this, you know, this frustrates me in the game. You know, this shouldn’t, the grind shouldn’t be so hard on this. You know, they would give great examples. Like if I grind through this and I get the prize. The, the money I spent to grind is not, and they will work out, you know, and say that it’s not as valuable. The price is not as valuable as what it’s going to take for me to get there. And then the product teams are like, Oh, this is amazing feedback. We need to dial this back and put less grind in this. And so. So in terms of, I was very lucky that they were so open to being customer centric. So what we put in place was a listening, a listening hub and the listening hub included. the weekly focus calls. We also did a quarterly focus group where we physically brought the VIPs to the studios. And we worked with the insights team to actually do a half day. And then we would bring the VIPs off on a trip around Alcatraz or something awesome. And the product team would stay back and look at the roadmap and then the information that was given. Then they take that information and put it into a wider survey and have that surveyed. So now they’ve got this really awesome information from their VIPs They validate that with a survey, and now they’re back to building a product that the players really, really want. So in addition to that, then, we did a lot of product surveys and lapser surveys. So if you came to the listening hub and looked, you wanted to listen to, hey, why are our V8? You’re new to the company, or you’ve just moved games, or why do players churn from this game? Click, and into the survey. And we kept that information refreshed. We also keep videos there of winners that just won our sweepstakes because they love to gush about the game and why they play. And it’s a reminder of why players love to play your game. So it’s good for employees to see that as well, to see the end user really, really adoring things. And you may have worked on the feature. You may have done the art. And we’ve heard comments like, I remember one comment was, the artists on this game are godly. They are godly creatures. So the game is super complimentary, and it reminds people why they build these amazing, wonderful games. So yeah, it’s really important to get that relationship with product. And I think if it doesn’t exist in your company today, and you really want to get to a space where product and VIP are working really closely in tandem on a voice of the player type experience, I think the most important thing is to remember what the language studios speak in. So studios speak in retention numbers, engagement numbers, monetization numbers. And it’s really important when you’re feeding back information to them that you feed that in with that information because it becomes more valuable to them. For example, you have a break in the game. You have 20,000 customer service tickets in the queue because there’s a break in the game. at very low cost in comparison to some other costs in game making. But now you’ve got 50 VIPs who’ve churned from the game because of this issue. And you’re able to say, these players are our most valuable players. They play seven out of seven. They’ve been with us for five years or more. And when you add that data in, the issue becomes much more of a code red than it is. And the studio want to fix the most important things to their players. So furnishing them with that information is really what they need. So building a reputation with the product team at a point, we were at a point where if there was a, a bug in the game or there was an exploit, sorry, in the game. and data are in look and we don’t know why we’re not the revenue is down today we we don’t understand what’s happening and they would call the VIP team in particular uh the director of VIP um that worked with me and in Zynga and say hey what’s going on over there and she would just pick up the phone and chat to some of our VIPs hey what’s going on out there and they’d say there’s an exploit in round three if you go into this and you keep clicking this button you just win win win win win and they share it across all of the social sites you know so it’s It’s really important to have that close relationship with the product teams.

Greg Posner: 21:21: 22:01: The grind and someone reaching out, like, why aren’t you playing anymore? The grinding was just too much for me. There’s some games I’ve been playing where it’s just like, all right, I can’t just do this anymore. I’m getting nowhere. And I’m doing the same thing over and over again. It’s fascinating to think that there are studios. And it’s also fascinating to me that I don’t always hear from them, which I get. I’m not a VIP, which maybe I can work on that. You know, it’s interesting to think that there’s companies doing that. And it kind of goes back to, as you were just kind of mentioning a little earlier, it’s like for, for smaller studios, I want to get started with it. Like how do you justify spending money on a program when you don’t necessarily have users who are ready to go yet? Or, or like, again, it comes down to timing, right? When is the right time to look into something like that?

Gemma Doyle: 22:02: 27:27: That’s a difficult one for anybody is the business, building the business case to get you to a space where you can show the projected ROI. So there are two things in that. One, you need to know how to show the projected ROI so that you can say when you’ve got PMs and engineers working on different features that have a projected ROI on them, you need to do the same thing. You’re working for a gaming company. This is not a, let’s throw another wall and stay with sticks right so it’s important that you do that so the business case is always very important and building that is all about using that same language that I talked about earlier on looking at your data and saying here if we can get a lift of x percent and then this is how much that will equate to in terms of dollar value. So if you’re starting off and you’re in a position where you really want to go from cost to profit if you’re in support or you’re in marketing and you want to kick off, I think the most important thing to do is to work on the business case, to justify the investment. And that, that is part of, as you said, at the top of the call, um, I’m a co-founder at SurgeROI, which is a company that just built a VIP CRM system. Um, and it’s like a strategy VIP strategy in a box essentially is what it is. But we also have a partner, a partnership with Keywords Studios and Keywords Studios are, um, now doing a new VIP service line. And so essentially what we want to do is as part of that. help the person and the client side and the game side build that business case that shows the justifiable, let’s do a pilot program, you know, with a pilot for six months. And it really is an iterative process. So you start off with a pilot program, you say this is the projected upside we’re going to get. And how you find that definitive upside, it’s really difficult. for these people to try and prove what the projected upside would be without this eureka moment that we had at Zynga. So when I moved over and started working really closely with the data organization within Zynga, one of the things that we talked about was whether a game is on an upswing or whether it’s kind of tapering off, the upside of VIP management should not change. So if there’s a problem in the game, or the game is soaring popularity-wise, the percentage upside that you’re bringing from VIP management should not change. So we started to look at different metrics that would actually show that. And the metric we came up with was VIP ARPU, which is average revenue per VIP user. So we have a total 20% hold-down. And the same in the SurgeROI system, CRM system, we’ve got a 20% holdout. And what it does is it allows you to kick off a pilot and start your VIP program with the strategy in a box and essentially look for the upside after six months. It takes six months to build a relationship, which is why we do it in increments of six months. Otherwise, it’s a marketing campaign. One or two emails, maybe a phone call is a marketing campaign. So after six months, you can say the relationships are built. This is the definitive upside. And then you can look at that in terms of dollars. So if you look at, say you get a 7% upside from VIP management test versus control, when you look at the average revenue between your 80% group and your 20% group, you see 7% lift. And so then you go and do the math and say, okay, we’re only talking to 80% of the base. Um, in this case, let’s just say 80% of all game revenue comes from the VIP base, and then there’s a 7% lift. So the calculation, the math calculation is 80 by 80 by seven, which gives you a net upside of 4.48%. And then you can actually, so of all the previous annual game revenue, then you can say, we can bring you 4.48% in addition. And that might be $4 million, it may be $20 million, whatever it is, depending on the size of your game and your. your revenue, your annual revenue. And so essentially, what you want to do is every six months, you want to say, okay, we’ve achieved that. Now we’re going to add more heads, and we’re going to talk to more of the VIPs. And as such, we expect to get a linear increase of x percent. So now your percentage starts to grow up. And you’re doing it every six months because you want it to be an iterative process. You’re trying to find where that saturation point is, where you’re not getting diminishing returns for every head that you add. So it comes down to a lot of experimentation, a lot of history and experience. But essentially, that business case is all important so that you can show the definitive upside. And your pilot program then just becomes your success metric. So once you’ve done your first six months, you’re not talking about projections. You’re talking about actuals because you’ve just achieved the 7% lift or the 4.48 in terms of net. And then you continue to do that every six months. You just keep adding more heads and more heads. And you keep seeing the linear increase in your percentage upside. And then for companies that have multiple games, then the person who is championing this on this side, whether it’s marketing product or support, and the person who’s champion is looking for to expand not just into the rest of the VIP base for that game, but also into other games, because now they’ve got a six month pilot with a proven upside.

Greg Posner: 27:27: 27:48: A lot of data. I love that. Lots of cool information. I have some questions, but In the middle of the podcast, what we like to do is kind of a fireball around where I just throw some random questions that you just answer quickly. I promise they’re easy questions. Good to go. Yeah. If you’re going to go to a bar, what is your drink order?

Gemma Doyle: 27:48: 27:49: Uh, Jameson ginger ale.

Greg Posner: 27:49: 27:56: Okay. That just your home, right? In Ireland right now. If you, uh, what did you have for breakfast?

Gemma Doyle: 27:58: 28:06: A ham sandwich because in Ireland, everybody eats sausages every morning and I’m sausaged out now at this point. Definitely.

Greg Posner: 28:06: 28:08: Okay. Last book you read.

Gemma Doyle: 28:08: 28:15: I reread, uh, the voltage effect.

Greg Posner: 28:15: 28:18: Dream vacation.

Gemma Doyle: 28:18: 28:20: Mauritius.

Greg Posner: 28:20: 28:21: Where was that?

Gemma Doyle: 28:21: 28:22: Mauritius.

Greg Posner: 28:22: 28:25: Okay. Uh, last one. Last game you played.

Gemma Doyle: 28:27: 28:28: trivia crack actually.

Greg Posner: 28:28: 28:59: Nice. It’s still around. It’s awesome. Love it. Okay. Back to the regular scheduled program. Good job. You know, I love the concept of adding people to the program. You start light, you keep adding it. This is kind of a two-part question is, do the voices in the room eventually become too saturated or too many people in there, or as I like to say, too many cooks in the kitchen? And then kind of, is VIP only defined by the amount of money I’m spending in the game?

Gemma Doyle: 28:59: 29:03: Too many voices in the room. Can you define that? What do you mean in the focus groups or?

Greg Posner: 29:03: 29:11: I guess, yeah. Right. You were talking about adding more people. Well, I guess you were talking about adding more people to the program, right? Which is the focus groups, right? Then is it just too many people? Yeah.

Gemma Doyle: 29:14: 29:31: So no, we keep them separately, because it’s it’s really widely known that if there is a loud person in the group that people tend to follow their opinion. So when we keep them separately in different rooms, and we really get them to play, and we get everybody’s opinion, so that we can get good stuff to put into the surveys.

Greg Posner: 29:31: 29:35: So it’s more focus groups, you’re running, it’s not bigger focus groups, it’s just more of them.

Gemma Doyle: 29:36: 30:54: Yeah, and in terms of adding to the program, when we add more account managers to the program, so if you start tomorrow, what we suggest at surge and keyword studios is that you start with the top 25% of your VIP base and you give them one to 2000 account managers to VIPs. And the reason we do that is because there’s a lot of experimentation on the cadence of contact, you know, in terms of retention, engagement and monetization. What is the optimal number of calls? As I said, you do not want to be annoying your players too much with calls. And so essentially, we’ve worked out that this is the optimal number of contacts is twice a month, which means the bandwidth that the account manager can do, that’s 2000 to every one VIP, every one VIP account manager. Um, so, and as, as you start to expand your 25%, you’re expanding downwards and, you know, into the lower tier VIPs who are moving up by the way, because they’re spending. So, uh, so the growth. And we’re retaining more because we’re giving them VIP. So, uh, in terms of. There’s always space for, for, for, to add more VIPs. Um, there’s never a point where, well, we had never reached a point where we had a saturation point, uh, which is fantastic. So that was your first part was too many voices in the room.

Greg Posner: 30:54: 31:01: And the second part is more of a definition of what is a VIP, right? Is there any way to become a VIP without spending a lot of money in the game?

Gemma Doyle: 31:02: 33:35: So yeah, so I definitely believe there is a huge opportunity for SPPs, what I call SPPs and social power players. So essentially, if you look at a VIP who, if you have a matrix, and you’re looking at a VIP around their loyalty, their level of loyalty, their level of spend, you know, that kind of thing, the segment that they’re in, And that’s kind of like a traditional VIP. And then you look over on the other side, and you say, okay, these are VIPs who maybe have, you know, an audience on Twitch, maybe they have an audience on YouTube, and they are bringing a lot of players to the game. For example, some of the influencers that are You know, there’s the side games where you just you’re opening your gotcha and they want to see what you’ve gotten because you’re an influencer. So those people, I definitely feel like if they turn from a game, they’re taking a lot of people with them. So it’s really important that companies focus on social power players as well, which means the matrix, instead of having your loyalty level revenue, that was kind of traditional metrics. On this side, you’re going to have, you know, the number of followers they have, the number of people they’re connected to in the game. if you have the opportunity to connect with friends within the game, how many are on the network are actively playing that this guy or girl is actually playing with. So there’s lots of opportunity to do that. And now there’s a whole new genre that’s coming out, which is VIP for the social influencers. So it’s essentially making sure that your social influencer who is driving a lot of players to your game is happy. you know so not just you know that they’re very happy that in there and they continue to play your game because they’re bringing people there so and that’s that’s kind of the newest I would say in the VIP genre. Not that it’s super new, but I mean, it’s new to being getting treatment and being treated as a particular segment. Um, I’ve seen a lot of that recently with, uh, gaming companies where when I go in, they say, well, what about these guys? You know, so we’ve got one, two, three, you know, um, and they’re treated right now as if they are marketing partners with companies, but realistically they should be being treated like they’re VIPs. for the company because, you know, that’s, that’s the way they, they’re, they’re ultimately bringing a lot of players there and retaining players for you. So you’ve got a retention model. And so when they are expanding their network of followers, those people are all engaged with one another. So it’s this huge, big engagement net that they’re creating themselves and they should be kept.

Greg Posner: 33:35: 33:57: It makes sense. They kind of play both roles, right? They are a marketing tool for the company because they are talking about your game, but you need to treat them like a player as well. And a VIP player. So they get that feeling as well, right? You don’t want to help them. You don’t want to, I’m trying to think of like a shooting game, right? You don’t want to give them things that make them too good, but you want to make sure they feel special in the game or they’re going to keep talking about it, keep playing it and send it to their audience.

Gemma Doyle: 33:57: 34:58: Yeah. And part of doing that, Greg, is really having their voice heard by the product team. So it’s really hard when you have, some VIPs have spent a lot of money in these games. So when you’re doing a sweepstake for an iPad or an iPad giveaway, these people don’t need you to buy them an iPad. So it’s really important that you lean into your base and understand what’s valuable. So for example, we did one where we had 30 minutes with an artist, the artist from the game, who will actually will give you an iPad, but the cover will be designed by the original artist. will have your favorite character on it and will build you into the cover. So those are the things that you just can’t buy that are really special to VIP players. And it’s important to lean in. And those are the kind of ideas or things that will appeal to the influencers. If they’re getting a lot of money to do what they do, having something super special that’s just for them is definitely something that companies should lean into.

Greg Posner: 34:59: 35:27: That’s an awesome point you bring up, right? I think some things are not more valuable than money, right? But someone’s going to look at this and say, this is a unique thing that I have. And that brings me to kind of this next question, which I don’t know how much you’re allowed to share, but like at Zynga, and obviously you had the experience prior with the real money gaming, but like, was there a, Oh my God moment at Zynga, like we got something here. This is like a light bulb moment where everyone just went, Oh shit. Like, are there any stories you can share about that?

Gemma Doyle: 35:28: 37:51: Yeah, I definitely had the biggest eureka moment, uh, was when. I mean, we had a lot that VIP is very much valued. I think it truly is. Uh, but the biggest moment for us was when you’re going into a room and everybody’s talking about, uh, VIP spend, and you’ve got so many people who have influence over that group. So you’ve got the VIP department. Fine. Then you’ve got the product department, you’ve got live ops, you’ve got central marketing, you’ve got lifecycle marketing. You’ve got user acquisition retargeting. So everybody is trying to massage that base, you know, the full base, but in particular, the VIP base, because they’re our most loyal players. And it was really difficult to extrapolate all that noise and actually show this is the definitive dollar value. And it was that moment when we discovered, hey, there is a metric here that takes away all that noise. And I’m just like the VIP average revenue per VIP user, those who receive VIP treatment versus those who do not. We can very definitively say, and it came about, um, in that I did a, I was doing a math course, a remote math course. And I had, I asked a young, uh, product manager, uh, to. He’s he’s very senior. Uh, when, when he left thing, but, uh, at the time he was fairly new and I asked him to be my math mentor. And so we were doing this, you know, my math studies when I was in San Francisco. And then I asked him one time. He said, give me a real problem today. Give me a real problem. I said, well, you know, the big problem is that I can’t prove the definitive upside. And he said, let’s stay in this room until we find the metric that proves the definitive upside. And we were, you know, it was like, I felt like at the time, when I look back and it feels like it was one of those, um, what’s the moment when he’s on the boards in, in the goodwill hunting, that’s what it felt like, you know, and we eventually had this eureka moment. And so I had to go then with the presentation in front of all the PMs. and say, hey, this is what we’re saying is the definitive upside. And if we put this test versus control in, will I have any pushback on the fact that this is definitively coming from VIP? And the answer was, makes sense. Go ahead. That’s the beautiful metric. And it was just such a eureka moment, because I’d spent so long trying to, you know, and so big up to Ryan Glasson, if he’s listening. He was definitely very instrumental in that eureka moment.

Greg Posner: 37:52: 38:11: So I want to kind of back up here and ask about Gemma, right? When you were growing up in grade school and university, maybe you dreamed of becoming a co-founder and founder of a loyalty program for mobile games, but what were you dreaming or aspiring to be when you were growing up?

Gemma Doyle: 38:11: 41:14: So I think I fell into real money gaming for sure. Two decades ago when I started, I fell into it, but What really, really struck me was how passionate people are about their games. You wouldn’t believe the amount of letters. I have a box on my desk at home, and it’s all these letters from people saying how much they love their game. And they’re absolutely obsessed with their game. And then when we started to apply VIP management, it was like, they love their account managers as much as they love their game. I don’t want to make this sound sad or anything, but, you know, I remember when there was the 900 VIPs on the spreadsheet and just me before we grew this amazing team at Zynga. is having my alarm set on Irish time to message the VIPs Happy Christmas on Christmas day. And I remember getting messages back from a couple of them saying, you’re the only person who’s contacted me. All I have in this world is my game. And then you reach out and contact. So it really was a genuine, I just fell in love with the fact that you can layer on human interaction on top of the passion people have for games. We got a lot of, communication from VIPs who felt that there was one in particular that really resonates with me was that her son was autistic and the game, he wouldn’t engage with anything except our particular game. And essentially she wrote to us to say, listen, I think the board of education should actually implement this for all autistic kids, you know, gaming. And it was just so like, It just, it made me, it made me feel like I wanted to build something that really not only embraced people for loving their games, but also embrace people themselves for, you know, and, and, and get, show them loyalty because you don’t have to pick up your phone and play the same game all the time. You have so many games to choose from. It’s really difficult to MOTD is pop-up pop-up pop-up to try and get people to engage because of a pop-up. But then when you put, you start building a relationship between account manager and a VIP. it becomes something much more solid in its foundation and keeps, retains players. And I’ve met some amazing in-person and over the phone. We did a lot of in-person events and just wonderful, wonderful people that just love to game in every genre. And it’s just so wonderful to sit in a room and have somebody just talk about how passionate they are about their game and how like that their son is so connected with the game who’s autistic or You know, I play my game every day because I have friends in Farmville that, you know, they’re my family now. Or, you know, you saw the story recently, Words With Friends, where some really young guy met with an 80-year-old woman for Thanksgiving. It was all over all the social media through Words With Friends, because they’d been competing against one another. So it’s that, really, that made me fall in love with the idea of loyalty and VIP and rewarding people for having that level of loyalty to their game.

Greg Posner: 41:15: 42:42: That’s an awesome way to look at it. You know, we talk about community a lot in community building, because games are communities. Today, we actually launched a podcast with someone named Irina Pereira, and she’s building a studio. And it’s about multiplayer online RPGs. And she said it’s about community building. A lot of people through Warcraft or other games meet their significant others, meet their spouses. And it’s fun to think of how all this stuff really connects on the back end of a game, right? Loyalty will keep people active. They’ll keep a community going. The community will keep involved. There’s clearly a bunch of building blocks here that just have to be put together to build this thing that works. And once you have these players playing, keeping them engaged, I think it’s just such a great story to hear. And I know you’re part of Women in Games, a member, and they also do inclusion by design, right? It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are. When you’re playing a game, you’re a player of the game, right? And you might as well build that bond and relationship. And I think that’s an awesome way to look at loyalty. So I appreciate you sharing that story. One of the things I did want to ask, because everything we’re hearing, it sounds really great, but like, for the VIP player, right, they have an account manager, what separates them from this just being a sales pitch to the player itself, right? Like, hey, Gemma, we see you haven’t spent money in a while, what’s going on, right? Like, obviously, there is a little bit of a salesy side to it, but how do you separate the sales pitch from the account manager, if that question makes sense?

Gemma Doyle: 42:42: 48:25: It does make sense. It is something that is definitely a question that comes up when we’re out there talking to people about surge ROI and the CRM system, people are afraid that it’s a heavy sales tactic. And like I said to you at the start with the back to pay, the players have issues, right? And they want their issues fixed. So the reach out is really just the initial reach out is always to build a relationship and make sure the game is going well for the player. We don’t have hard sales targets to say, this is what you’ve got to hit this sales and we ring the gong when you get a sale or nothing like that. It’s really about retention and engagement. You know, the upside in terms of revenue is used to scale the program and can continue to invest in it. But essentially, it’s really around engagement and retention. And so essentially, there’s a few ways. So A, even if they’re reluctant to submit their phone numbers, so let’s take poker as an example. So the genre is not a genre that’s very much, let’s stay on the phone and talk for three hours. It’s like, give me a deal. What’s the best deal you can do for me today? And so the very first time that they have an issue with their game, even if they’ve decided not to submit their phone number, they’ll remember, oh, I keep getting those emails from that guy. Let me get back to that guy. So they go into their email, and they reach out to him. It’s a Saturday afternoon, and they get a very happy account manager to say, hey, Tony, I’ve been trying to contact you for ages. How’s the game going? Well, I have a problem. So Tony’s problem gets fixed. And then essentially, they start to build a relationship. And the rapport is really built around if you spend hours every day playing your games, which our account managers do as well, it’s really great to have somebody to converse with about that, like particular strategy games, you know, like where there’s a complex element to it. And you really want to talk to somebody about, you know, your game and how you’ve progressed and, you know, what your strategy is and that kind of thing. And so your account manager is really, really useful for that. So they definitely build a friendship and an allyship with the account manager when it comes to sharing the passion for their game. But then in addition to that, we do have events. We have live events where we invite VIPs to events. We also do the sweepstakes every single week, so they are imminent chance. We’re gamifying. So they’re purchasing anyway. We’re not pushing you to purchase. They’re purchasing organically. So we’re saying, hey, like any other loyalty program in credit cards, travel, anything like that, you are building up points so that you get something back. So in this case, the VIPs were saying, hey, you’re purchasing anyway. You’ve got X number of entries into the sweepstake to win. a trip to Napa in the case of investment express, or a trip to Vegas in the case of casino, or your garden furniture in the case of spades. It’s really important that you customize the price to what the VIPs value so that they don’t feel like it’s a sale. They understand. And when their account manager calls them, hey, how’s the game going? anything I can do for you. And then, oh, by the way, our sweepstakes on at the moment, and it’s garden furniture. And I know you love to hang out in the yard with your grandchildren. So you know, it’s, it’s, it’s just want to make sure that you know, how the mechanics work and that kind of thing. So they definitely do feel and we also do this thing So as you mentioned at the top, when I was at Zynga, I was a VP, I had support, so everything player facing, customer experience facing, player facing, sorry. And so we used to take in random comments from tickets and support and from VIP. And essentially all the VIP ones, why do you, and our mantra there was, what will our players thank us for? and so the players would constantly, VIPs constantly say the reason they stay in the game is because of their account manager because they feel valued, they feel heard, they say I’ve done focus calls, he’s put me on a focus call with the studio, I saw my feature in the game, this is unbelievable how you guys listen to your players and they truly understand that we’re trying to be or we’re trying to be, sorry Zynga is a customer-centric company and we tried to fast follow in terms of what surgery in a relationship with keyword studios is we want to make sure that that mantra is maintained and that this strategy in the box from the CRM system which is built to deliver all of those all of those call types and frequencies and all the things that benefit the player, as well as the training with the team managers and account managers that Keywords Studios are offering in their new line of business, then it matches that and it puts the player first all the time. And the listing strategy is going to be a big part of that to make sure that we’re really helping the product teams connect with their players in a very strategic way, as opposed to, there’s a lot of executives right now who are looking at app stores, you know, in the morning on the way to work, and they’re just looking at reviews in the app store, and they’re gauging sentiment of their base that way. And where it’s really important that you’re surfacing the right information and the volume comes through customer support. So customer support’s got to lead in terms of this is, you know, this is where all of the information comes from. The information supplier should always be support because they’ve got the biggest number of tickets that are coming in and they can assess the sentiment in a more qualitative way. But certainly from a VIP standpoint, having those individuals talk to the studios and it really gives a value add for not just the studio, but also for the player. They feel heard, they feel listened to.

Greg Posner: 48:25: 49:06: So, and this kind of leads into what I think is my final question, right? It almost sounds, it’s like a trickle down effect, right? people who play the game a lot, who spend a lot of money in the game, happy, understand what features they are using or not using, provide it to the product team, and that kind of trickles down to the The product team, product team can make changes and the general base of the game is happy because they’re seeing some issues or some bugs or some weird quirks, for lack of better words, that might be happening, kind of resolved. And one of the things we hear about a lot recently is like, how do I make my customer support center instead of a cost center, a profit center? Is this one of those keys to kind of converting that logic from cost to profit?

Gemma Doyle: 49:06: 53:58: VIP is kind of like the. it’s so there’s a pyramid, you know, and you can start off and you can start to generate revenue through your, through your support function without going fully into VIP. So VIP is kind of like, if you want to get the biggest jump in terms of revenue generation, VIP is the way to go because it’s a tried and tested strategy sitting in a box. So you can add the system, apply the heads and get that moving straight away. However, there are many other ways. So for example, Recently, the law changed in terms of all gaming companies being able to have their own stores. So right now, I think there’s great opportunity with Helpshift, actually, to convert non-payers to payers. So when a player goes to the store and they navigate away, I believe it’s for one of three reasons. One, I don’t feel safe. I’ve never made a purchase here before. I’m used to the app store. Two, I can get a better deal somewhere else. Or three, I actually have a problem and I can’t make this purchase. So whether it was one, any of those three things can be fixed through help shift and the support function. So essentially you have a problem. Okay. We’re putting you through to support. Uh, you want a better deal. You, um, you give the. The conversion agents, the autonomy to offer a better deal or the last one. I don’t feel safe. Well, let me take you through. This is our site. This is very safe, dah, dah, dah. And you give them the script to make people feel very comfortable with making the purchase. And I believe that anything that is converted from non-payer to payer through that function in Helpshift, which is a pop-up, it’s like an abandoned car chat. So it’s a feature that Helpshift have. You do have to have the latest version of the SDK, though, so everybody should update the latest version of the SDK. I know it’s a hassle, but everybody needs to do it, because that’s where you get the good stuff. So the productive chat pops up, and then the conversion takes place. Those conversion agents, the more so The more those guys are converting, the more then you can add the revenue that they produce for the next 14 days into your cart for going from cost to profit. So that’s just one example. But what I would say is to take a wider view. Conversion on this end, it’d be low in terms of revenue generation. It might be lower. VIP is right up this end. You’re delivering significantly to the bottom line if you apply full VIP management to your business. So that is obviously the top of the pyramid. However, in between all of that, you know your business more than anybody else. So what I would say, if you’re a support individual or you’re a marketing individual, you should come together, all of you sit in a room and end to end map your customer journey and talk about, OK, where are the opportunities along the way here for us to reach out to our players? If you are somebody who wants to go from cost to profit, there are audiences that are not being spoken to right now, because you’ve got marketing in the room, we’ve got support in the room. And you’re talking about the different ways in which they are spoken to outside of the product itself. And so you talk about where’s the opportunity here for us to, you know, dial into a particular behaviour or segment to try and convert or try and bring them back to pay or back to pay is another one for low value, non VIPs. And so That is important. So actually, I will log in that the the partnership that we’re doing with Keyword Studios right now, and with SurgeROI, we’re actually doing free workshops for keyword services clients, where we go to their location, and we actually do the end to end journey mapping and talk about where they can apply VIP management and speak to all of the groups from support, marketing, product, and really bring the whole company, as many as we can get in the room, to looking at what does VIP look like for your particular, and conversion, sorry, on VIP, what does that look like for you on your end? So these customers, they’re obviously help shift customers already, if there were keywords, and So it’s really just about leveraging what you’ve got already and then layering on top of that, should you wish to do a pilot for VIP, this is what it will look like and this is the investment and all of that stuff. So I know there’s probably going to be some non-Keyword Studio customers listening to this, but I did want to say that I believe you send this out to your Keywords clients. So that option is available. If this podcast has captured your interest and you’re executive or you’re somebody who’s over one of these functions that we just mentioned, reach out to your contacts and keywords and we can get the workshop up and running and do it all in half a day so that everybody understands what it looks like for your particular company.

Greg Posner: 53:58: 54:43: That’s awesome. I love the idea of mapping it out just end to end. I don’t think many people probably take a look at the full user journey and kind of see these kind of points, bottlenecks, whatever you want to call it, where opportunities, right. And I think that makes a lot of sense. And we will post that. I appreciate that offer. We will let our audience know that as well. With that, I think we’re getting close to the top of the hour. Gemma, I really learned a lot. I think this is such a cool idea. I think for studios that aren’t taking a look into this, like it’s an amazing way to take a look at your base and say, hey, how can we work with our base to learn more about the product, to kind of build better products, to help evolve our product and get all the benefits in return. I think it makes perfect sense. And before we go, I guess, any final words, anything I’m missing, anything you’d like to share with the audience?

Gemma Doyle: 54:44: 54:54: The only thing I would say is get on the phones, have somebody get on the phones, start talking to your VIPs. Don’t let tomorrow come on the VIPs churn. Get on the phone.

Greg Posner: 54:54: 55:12: Phones are back. You heard it straight from Gemma. Well, Gemma, again, this was awesome experience. I thank you so much for coming out, being a, being a part of the podcast. We’ll have all information of SurgeROI Gemma on our player engaged website. We’ll put it on our socials. And again, thank you so much for taking the time today. I hope you have a good rest of your travels.

Gemma Doyle: 55:13: 55:16: Thank you so much, Greg, for having me. Really appreciate it. This was so much fun.

Greg Posner

Avid gamer with a passion for storytelling. My goal is to unpack the narratives of customers, partners and others to better understand how industry-leaders tackle today's challenges.

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