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Inside the Game: How we gave High School Story players a voice and increased engagement

Inside the Game: How we gave High School Story players a voice and increased engagement

PocketGamer.biz has partnered up with US developer Pixelberry Studios to highlight its candid stories on the trials and triumphs of a startup game studio whose debut title High School Story stayed in the top grossing top 100 chart for a year.

This series of articles will provide a mix of drama, detailed learnings, and actual numbers from their experience launching and supporting a top game.

Since the day of High School Story's launch, we had big plans for features we wanted to add to the game.

One that our team was particularly excited for was a personality quiz-style choice game called Your Voice that would allow players to express their opinions on different topics.

There were two key ideas behind this new feature that drove the development and design: social engagement, and doing social good.

Making High School Story social

First, we wanted to make High School Story's game world feel more alive and more connected.

This feature would work not just by asking players their opinions and popping up a one-time chart of replies across all players, but it would also propagate game worlds with dialogue bubbles.

Pop up dialogue bubbles feed other players' results into your game world

Any answer you select not only follows your character through your own game world, but your Game Center and Facebook friends will also see your answers popping up in their games. And you'll see theirs.

Making a difference

Secondly, with High School Story's growing reach, we felt an increasing responsibility to create a larger impact with our game. We didn't want to just entertain players - we wanted to really influence their lives in a positive way.

So while half of our poll questions are silly, personality-based inquiries that don't have any real consequence, the other half of the topics we cover range from politics to current world events to letting players express their feelings on gender norms.

Something to think about: even if you don't know about a topic, you can get some context from the question and the answers... maybe enough to spark some curiosity!

Our theory is that if players encounter a topic they've never heard of before, they might become curious enough about it to read up on it. Particularly if they see their friends expressing opinions on it.

And if players see different friends expressing opposite opinions, they might start to get a sense of the diverse viewpoints that exist in the world.

So while our Your Voice feature might at first feel like a silly way to ask players what they think of Zayn leaving One Direction, we hope that players might come out of the experience having learned about world events or feeling encouraged to keep an open mind about others' points of view.

Making a profit

In addition to making High School Story's world feel more social and spreading awareness, we also knew that this feature would need to be able to monetize in some capacity.

Supporting Your Voice with questions is a daunting task - while it might seem simple, it requires working within a number of highly-specific constraints. Because the answers display out of context, hovering above a character's head, each answer must be able to stand on its own as a complete sentence that makes sense and creates its own context.

Dialogue bubbles with answers even appear when your character is on a date, which can make for some fun date conversations

The answers must be punchy - funny, quirky, a pop-culture reference, or (in the case of more serious topics) appropriately somber. Additionally, one option usually gives the player the ability to 'reject' the question, either declining to state an opinion or expressing a lack of knowledge.

To monetize the feature, we include a static interstitial ad that pops up after every three questions.

In addition to that, players have the option of paying premium currency or watching an ad to 'rush' to the next question. Otherwise, players can answer questions at a rate of one per hour, with a maximum of three questions accumulating at any given time.

Running out of questions is so sad!

In terms of monetization, that means that these questions must also be compelling and entertaining enough that players want to answer more of them. And we've discovered that not only are players engaged with Your Voice, but they are willing to pay.

Over 300,000 players have spent premium currency to get the next question. And over one million players have watched an ad so they can skip the wait.

Over 300,000 players have spent premium currency to get the next question.

We take this as a clear sign that players are interested and that they want more.

Measuring the impact

As of the writing of this article, we've released over two thousand questions, and we release at least twenty-five more every single week.

And in terms of spreading awareness and increasing engagement? Over 50,000,000 questions have been answered. And sessions went up by 12%.

Additionally, every week we see posts on social media about Your Voice questions.

One player wrote: "The political questions are only annoying because I end up spending an hour researching them. : / "

Another player wrote: "If a questions on a poll, in an innocent game played for fun gets a few students to listen a bit harder to the tv news, or ask their history teacher a question, I say that is even a better job than the good work already being done by PB!!"

We've seen players react with humor, thoughtfulness, and most importantly, a desire to share what they're seeing and what they're thinking with others.

Kara Loo is the COO of Pixelberry Studios.

Through partnerships with non-profits, Pixelberry's hit game High School Story has taught millions of players about tough teen issues, like cyberbullying and eating disorders.

Pixelberry recently released its second game, Hollywood U

You can find out more at pixelberrystudios.com

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