Building a great player experience: 5 key learnings from Gram Games

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Olga Padulosi
Building a great player experience: 5 key learnings from Gram Games

Table of Content:

  1. Key learning #1: Break down silos between Product and Support teams
  2. Key learning #2: Develop a laser focus on KPIs - and keep track of them across the player lifecycle
  3. Key leaning #3: Establish common KPIs across teams
  4. Key learning #4: Boost your App Store Rating through simple management hacks
  5. Key learning #5: Iterate quickly, but keep track of user sentiment with each new release
  6. Determining your own magic numbers

What goes into making a great player experience? It’s a question that leading mobile gaming studio Gram Games has practically turned into an art form. Based out of Istanbul, the studio is behind smash hit games including Merge Magic!, Merge Dragons! and 1010!. Their talent for cooking up chart-topping games has drawn the attention of both players and businesses around the world: on top of regularly featuring on the app stores charts, Gram Games was acquired by gaming giant Zynga in 2018. 

Keen to hear more about the science that goes into creating instant hits, we spoke to Gram Games’ Product Manager Elvan Güleç, and Customer Support Manager, Sibel Piroğlu in our latest webinar - “The Magic Numbers Behind Great Player Experiences”. Hosted in partnership with leading customer service platform Helpshift (and moderated by their Chief Market and Product Officer, Janice Le), we dove straight in to learn more about Gram Games’ data-driven approach, and the key KPIs they track to ensure success.

We also heard about how collaboration between Product Management and Customer Support drives excellent player experience, and the role that app store reviews - and their partnership with AppFollow - play in helping them stay at the top of their game.

Dive into our top five learnings from the webinar below to see how you can apply Gram Games’ expertise to your own mobile games!

Key learning #1: Break down silos between Product and Support teams

A huge part of Gram Games’ success comes down to how closely their Support and Product teams work together. By avoiding silos between these departments, they’ve been able to build a virtuous feedback loop that means user feedback is constantly used to drive product decisions. Sibel’s team, who work on the “front line” with customers, have the unique experience of being able to see almost real-time qualitative user sentiment and feedback about the game. The Product team, on the other hand, have a wealth of quantitative data at their fingertips. 

Combining the teams’ complementary points of views help them better crowd-source ideas and solutions for future versions of their games. In fact, Elvan says that brainstorming new features is a real team effort, and anyone is welcome to submit new feature ideas via a pitch template - as long as they’re backed up by hard data. To test out their ideas, the team then comes up with prototypes that are rolled out across various markets. From there, they’ll look into their target KPIs - and quickly make a decision whether to further integrate the features into new versions.

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Key learning #2: Develop a laser focus on KPIs - and keep track of them across the player lifecycle

Gram Games’ data-driven approach is another important reason for its success. This laser focus on KPIs - or their “magic numbers” - informs their entire strategy, and means they can easily benchmark and iterate on performance across the user lifecycle

For the Product team, ARPDAU (Average Revenue Per Daily Active User) is their most important metric, and is key to understanding how well their monetization strategy is really performing. Elvan says that if you can reliably observe the fundamentals behind your money flow, you’re in a good place - and this metric goes on to affect every other facet of game development.

But Elvan also stresses the importance of looking beyond straight revenue metrics to include duration of play, engagement, retention - from D1 to D7 and right up to D90. These metrics are especially useful to keep an eye on after a certain feature release, helping the team gauge how well the new feature or addition is doing. At the day 7 mark, they also closely check conversion rates to see how many users have gone on to make an in-app purchase. At the moment, Gram Games’ development resources are primarily directed towards in-app purchases, and Merge Magic! and Merge Dragons! are two of the most promising titles so far.

For Support, SLA, CSAT and app store ratings are the team’s holy trinity. Checking CSAT numbers on a weekly and monthly basis helps them keep track of user sentiment, and means they can quickly identify an issue if they see a slight dip in their scores. Gram Games’ CSAT score hovers at an impressive 4.5 - although Sibel says she’s determined to inch that up closer to a 5. 

App rating of Merge Magic! and Merge Dragons! apps. Source: appfollow.io

When it comes to app store ratings, Sibel’s team prioritise replying to ratings between 1-3 stars. These reviews are the most important to catch and reply to early on, as they affect their overall rating and can discourage new potential users from downloading the app. Here, Sibel credits AppFollow’s platform for helping them easily keep track of review management, and being able to easily filter reviews based on ratings, languages and countries.

Key leaning #3: Establish common KPIs across teams

While your team’s KPIs should be the priority, don’t forget to establish common KPIs between your Product or Support team. This common goal - in Gram Games’ case, to drive the best possible experience for their users - will help glue departments together and quantify your work. 

For Gram Games, their common KPI is the app store rating - and it’s clear that both teams are equally as customer-obsessed. Both Sibel and Elvan explain how they use reviews to create a “feedback loop” with the product team for bug fixes, overall user experience, and to iterate on new versions of the game. Sibel especially likes how easy it is to pull AppFollow’s analytics into a report format that can then be shared and discussed with the Product team, helping to pinpoint any issues or areas of improvement. 

AppFollow also allows the Support team to easily search and compare reviews between countries, languages, and most importantly - app versions. Sibel is keen to make more use of AppFollow’s semantic analysis, which helps them answer questions including “what are players writing?” and “what are the major trends?”. 

Considering the number of reviews and tickets the team receives, it’s tough to do that manually - but AppFollow offers an added layer of quantitative analysis to the metrics tracked by the Product team. 


Sibel also details how the Support team uses Helpshift to break down and track particular issues, which is key to helping the Product team prioritise. For example, Sibel will open a specific subcategory to filter all reviews related to a particular issue. If the ticket number relating to this issue rapidly increases, it will automatically jump from a “little bug” to a “big bug”. This helps teams stay in control, and better determine if an issue needs a hot fix or can be added to their backlog and worked on at a later date. 

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Elvan also mentions shared Slack channels, regular meetings and check-ins, and direct open lines of communication as simple ways to keep both teams on track.

Key learning #4: Boost your App Store Rating through simple management hacks

Another important takeaway from the webinar is how important it is to reply to all app reviews promptly - particularly to those with lower ratings. Elvan mentions that users who originally post a low 1- or 2-star review will very often increase their ratings to 4 or 4 once their issue has been handled by the Support team.

Speed is of the essence here: Sibel says they have a 95% SLA of replying to players within 24 hours, and are aiming to increase it even further. 

To help them reply to users as quickly as possible, Gram Games makes use of AppFollow’s reply templates. Sibel’s team can bucket each type of review, whether it’s related to specific bugs, feature requests, or positive reviews from users enjoying the app. From there, they can create rules to match these buckets of reviews with templated responses, and respond to users “with a single click”.

A reply within 24 hours can increase a review's rating from 1* to 5*. Source: appfollow.io

This allows the system to randomly respond with different templates, avoiding repetition and allowing them to sound more personal with their users. The AppFollow platform also allows them to specify the language, so they can easily provide multilingual support with localised templates.

Key learning #5: Iterate quickly, but keep track of user sentiment with each new release

Gram Games move fast: on average, they release a new app version every month. And it’s for good reason, as Elvan says that the number of reviews “skyrocket” each time new levels or features are released. Some users even notice simple improvements or bug fixes, which are then reflected in their reviews.

The Product team is used to iterating quickly, and rely heavily on the Support team to understand how users are reacting to new game versions or features. To do this, Support pays close attention to ticket volume, and tickets are usually broken down into specific subcategories through Helpshift - on top of being divided by platform. If the team spots an abnormal increase in tickets, Sibel says, “we know there’s a bug - and we immediately report it to the Product team”. It’s also essential the Support team is kept up-to-date with the latest developments in the game, so that they’re always ready to answer any incoming question or address potential issues as best they can.

Sibel also refers back to AppFollow’s sentiment analysis tracking, which she can use to compare certain issues across app versions. Being able to quickly identify and sort out an issue with a specific version of the app helps to curb a pesky bug before it can affect a larger population of the game.

Sentiment analysis of one of the games. Source: appfollow.io

Determining your own magic numbers

Defining the right KPIs is key to identifying the overall health of your game and player experience - and app store reviews are without a doubt one of the most important pieces of qualitative information. Not only do they help you accurately analyse user sentiment, but determine how you place in the app stores - making a world of difference to your organic acquisition. 

We’d like to say a big thank you to Helpshift for co-hosting, and to Gram Games for sharing their insights on how their review management process improves their overall user experience. We hope that you found some takeaways you can apply within your own mobile games! For more insights, catch the webinar on demand here, and keep an eye on the AppFollow blog for more webinars coming soon with leaders in the mobile space. And if you’d like to hear more about how AppFollow can help increase your review management process, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a demo.

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