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[Guide/Discussion] Advertising/running your private server

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[Guide/Discussion] Advertising/running your private server

Disclaimer: I am not trying to 'show off', I am not trying to sneakily advertise my server. I've had so many different successes and failures with advertising over the past 6-7 months that I wanted to offer some insight into those just starting out or those looking for new ways to grow their server.


Hey everyone! We all know that advertising your private server can be incredibly difficult and so I wanted to go over some of the things I've tried myself, how successful they were in my case and to get feedback from others on what's worked best for them.

Be Unique

I know this should go without saying but it's easy to fall into the trap of just 'doing what I saw on server xxx'. Unless you're taking their feature, customizing it and making it better then why should they play your server instead of the server you 'borrowed' the idea from?

There's nothing wrong with adding some generic extra content to help keep players entertained (classic quests, generic pvp events, etc) but you should always be trying to look for what makes your server different than others and focus on that when advertising.

In my case my servers are a 'proper' classic experience. I try to make it as clear as possible in my advertisements what I mean by that (re-stating that its only original classes, no battle power, no fan/tower/horses, etcetcetc) as it's one of the most common questions I get when people are joining.

In your case your server might be a newer patch and that's great! What does your server do better than everyone else? try to design new content around that aspect (fast paced pvp events, engaging quests, features other servers commonly have bugs in, etc)

Be Truthful and Fair

While you don't need to lay out a laundry list of issues your server might have, claiming you have something you clearly don't is only going to give your server a bad name and chase away a lot of players. Players are your most precious resource as they do most of the advertising for you.

You want players EXCITED and PASSIONATE about your server. They will bring in and keep players on your server.

In terms of fairness it shocks me how few servers enforce rules consistently. If you give new players starting items that's totally fair and cool but if you're giving friends bonus items/currency/levels then you know that will be found out and the rest of the players will get angry and quit.

Sell or give away anything you want but you need to be up front and consistent with it. If you catch a donator hacking? You better be willing to ban them and not get blinded by $s because that person will chase untold numbers of players away from your server.

Top Server Lists

We all know XtremeTop100 sucks.. it's not news to anyone but sadly it still is a huge source of traffic. Listing your server there is pretty important but their site is filled with vote bots, plagued by downtime and swarmed with horrible server listings... Such is life. If you have a few dollars to spare buy a premium and list your server there at the 1st of the month so you at least sorta show up. Be sure to encourage your players to vote but don't make it mandatory or they will get too frustrated with the insane issues that site has.

TopG is a great top site but gets fairly little traffic. Definitely list there if only because the website is SO much better but I wouldn't suggest getting premium on it.

Forum Advertisements

Epvp advertisement threads can attract a lot of attention but the section tends to be flooded and there's very few ways to properly search that forum. My suggestion is be sure to post large updates or content being added to your server in the thread so that it shows people your server is there to stay and at the same time keeps the thread bumped (you are NOT allowed to bump your own threads there but posting significant replies such as patch notes/features/fixes is fine)

If you are part of other communities they may have some pserver advertisement lists and they may be more suited for you (especially if your server is catering to that *ehem* type of player)


Paid Advertisements

Ok... I've tried pretty much every paid advertising method I can think of and they all suck... except facebook.

Google adsense charges way too much, didn't have high enough impressions and was a complete waste of time

TopG advertisement got me no extra views as it's very easy to be top3 on their site with legit votes and the ads dont get any extra clicks really

Facebook Page Likes: SCAM don't do it. Honestly they seem to just sell you fake likes. It's a complete waste and actually HARMS your page views. The reason being is that facebook sees that only ~10 percent of people are interacting with your page posts so it stops showing them to anyone.... This is horrible. DON'T do it.

Facebook Page Views: Actually really affordable and effective. Be sure to target countries that would actually perform well on your server (EU vs NA mostly) and the primary language used on your server. Target conquer online as interests and be sure to turn off mobile view. My reason for that is mobile views tend to cost MORE and because you aren't a mobile game they just click through, get confused and leave (they wont come back on their pc later)


Facebook Ad Tips

Place ads related around what makes your server unique or a limited time event. Screenshots of your unique content with easily visible text is very effective and will increase your 'relevance score' which decreases the cost per click.

So far my most effective ad is actually this weekend doing a bonus DB rate event for the weekend. It makes the player want to give your server a try and puts a time limit on it so they can't just say "ooh I'll do it later".

Right now I pay around 2-3 cents per website click which when run for brief time periods especially for things like holiday events is very affordable.

Be sure to check replies to your ads. I'm not sure why but players from Brazil/Mexico seem to reply to the facebook ad itself with questions and being active enough to check them can help secure a lot of new players who wouldn't join otherwise. I haven't had anyone from EU based countries respond to ads though so it seems to be a regional thing.



Newsletters

If your server has been online for a long time, you're bound to have a lot of players who eventually get bored, busy or move on to a different server. You still have all of their email addresses though! Assuming your server has added significant new content, fixes and has grown then it may be a good idea to send a newsletter to anyone who has not logged in in 30+ days to let them know about what all has changed with the server.


Be sure to include any relevant links to document how new events/features work and also be sure that you only send 1 message per email address (so people with 20 accounts on same email don't get spammed)


Effectiveness

Obviously it will vary for everyone but I wanted to give a few examples of how daily page views and daily active accounts has changed for me with various forms of advertising.

No Advertisement (just top lists, forum posts)

Unique Page Views: ~500/day
Daily Active Accounts: ~1000/day

Limited advertisement $10/day budget, no unique event or hook

Unique page Views: ~800/day
Daily Active Accounts: ~1100/day

Saw a slight increase and would build up over time (as players get established and invite friends). Main difference is there's MUCH more website traffic than normal.

Event Advertisement $20/day budget, combined with weekend drop event

Unique Page Views: ~1200/day
Daily Active Accounts: ~1300/day

Some of this is natural return due to a bonus event for the weekend. Some is continued growth from previous advertisement.

Note: Advertisement was run over the weekend when the reach would be the best (the most chance of players being on facebook, seeing the ad and having time to download/play) and had a hook to try to force them into playing

Note x2: it's worth mentioning that due to the event, more people are staying online. The daily accounts grew significantly but the online count is actually much higher. Around 350 concurrent VS ~250-275. Much of that is the event itself but the influx of new players does keep things more active and interesting for both old and new players.


Newsletter + Heavy Event Advertisement 30/day budget, newsletter sent to all addresses not active in last 30 days

Unique Page Views: ~2000/day
Daily Active Accounts: ~1350

We expanded our advertising campaign to compare costs if we advertised to a larger group of players (included other free to play games such as silkroad/eudemons/etc) and it increased our reach DRAMATICALLY but did not significantly increase the number of people joining. I feel most of this is because classic conquer is hard to understand for modern gamers and we definitely need to work on the 'new player experience' for our server. We learned a lot from that ad campaign and the types of questions we got asked by new players. By re-focusing some of our efforts on how new players see the server when we start rather than putting that time towards 'end game experience' we hope to ensure more new players stay on the server which is the hardest part.

During this we were receiving around 100 chat requests per day from people looking for information on everything from how to download/register to rates to features of the server through our live support system. The frequency of those similar questions leads us to believe that we can improve the localization experience for players (for example changing "register" to "create account" or something similar may be easier for non english speaking players to understand. Changing Mirror 1/Mirror 2 for download links to Download Link and Alternate Download Link may help in those situations.

In terms of active accounts we did go up significantly and have stayed higher in terms of online player count but mostly it was a learning experience for us to get a massive influx of opinions from people on how the server looked to them. We plan to incorporate some of that feedback and try something similar in the coming weeks.

Note: Increasing our advertising to focus other games made our reach MUCH higher (177,000 impressions) but reduced our retention rate and slightly increased the price per click (around 4 cents per click as opposed to 2-3). During the entire campaign we received 3,000 clicks from facebook from the ads so while some of those are certainly duplicate clicks it's quite clear to us that the increase in page views most certainly DID come from facebook and not some other source.



pro4never is offline  
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This is a really awesome guide man. Well thought out and worded. At least we have someone who is experienced and fluent in English that can explain this stuff. Good job man.


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I would love for this to be pinned, but I don't think maybe people would read it. :|
I suppose those who can get use from this guide will, and that's pretty good.
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I pinned the thread.


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So we've finished our weekend event, ad campaign and newsletter campaign and I've updated the results.

The most important point I wanted to add and just leave as a TLDR is that facebook ads work and are quite affordable. They drive traffic to your website but what they do from there is up to you. Having an effective live support system/chatbox/etc as well as an easy to navigate website/install experience is essential to turning those clicks into actual players.

We did not do an ideal job of that and the most valuable thing from my viewpoint is not the aditional players we gained but rather the trends in feedback to help us improve the server. Minor localization changes or tweaks to how the game itself works will make future advertisements (free or otherwise) that much more effective.

I personally would recommend that any new server be willing to put a small amount of 'seed money' into advertisement as well as reinvesting at least 10 percent of their weekly donations (past initial server costs) in well placed, targeted advertisement. To me that just seems like a no brainier after comparing all the statistics I have on my end.


PS: Thanks for the sticky. I'm not sure how many people will be interested in this as there's very few 'serious' servers out there and I don't think any of them use this forum but it's worth a shot to help out anyone looking to start up servers these days.
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The people who will read and use your experience as example for their server are the people who are actually planning to make a good server with a good base and have a real community within their servers. All the other non sense servers we've seen in the ad section with weird names are from people who only want to get money from their server. There's two points of view of a server: The server seen as an ATM & the server seen as a positive and fun/serious experience to increase their coding skills while making cash.


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