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Interview with HT-Johan (part I)

Our today's guest, HT-Johan (1836), its a key figure in the history of Hattrick and one of its founders.

Due to characters limitation, the interview will be divided into two parts. This is the first one.

Good readings!

1.- Hello Johan! First, I want to say thank you for giving me the opportunity of interviewing you. It’s such a pleasure for me to be in this role. But let's go to what really matters!
This year Hattrick celebrates its 22nd anniversary. That’s way more than it could be expected from a slow paced and text-based game. On the other hand, active users keep decreasing but in your last editorial, you mentioned that things, overall, were stabilizing.
Could you please elaborate a little bit on that since our perception, as users, take us to reject that “stabilization” theory? And since we’re talking about this, what's the turning point where Hattrick becomes financially unsustainable?

Everything must be seen in context. If you as a user is fixated on the user count from week to week and try to analyze Hattrick in that way, it is very easy to come to the conclusion that we make bad decisions every week because the user count keeps ticking downwards. While individual users may react to isolated changes in the game, the real changes happen on the aggregated level, there is very little that can be understood from a week-to-week change. What percentage of new users are still in the game after 30 days, or 90 days, and what percentage of long-time users stop logging in and eventually lose their team? These numbers also change over time, and if they move in the right direction that is great news, even if the user count is still dropping.

What we were talking about in the last editorial was the fact that retention of new users has been improving and also that the loss of old users has looked steady. What has been especially positive is that we see a shift to more and more users who sign up through mobile, and that retention and Supporter rates from such users are actually pretty OK – not exactly as high as desktop users, but still very good, much better than we expected given how little attention we had given to this sub-group, which is super important for us.

We have a new editorial out next week where we also talk about how the improved retention this winter has inspired us to work more on marketing and SEO, which I can talk about more in one of your later questions. So, we see lots of positive things, on top of the fact that Hattrick is already in much, much better shape than we predicted back in 2013 when we took over from Zattikka.

We choose to be optimistic because we think we can improve things further. That doesn’t mean we expect to ever see 1 million users again. This is a supertanker that is turning, and I don’t think the niche for Hattrick will ever be the same again as it was between 2000 and 2010, since the world has changed a lot.

As for when Hattrick becomes financially unsustainable, I don’t know, but it seems a far way off today. We are hoping to be able to talk about growth rather than a decline in the coming year.

2.- Just like Hattrick users, HT-Supporters are also decreasing in number. At the same time, there's some dissatisfaction with Supporter Pack's prices and since fewer Supporters means less revenue, what will be your strategy regarding this?

This is a discussion that is tricky since a lot of users claim that we would double the income if we dropped Supporter prices by 50%, which we factually know to be false. So, any discussion about this is often very unproductive, as there is such a huge disconnect between what certain users believe is true about pricing and what we have seen and measured for ourselves. Every user wants lower Supporter prices, of course, that is something I completely understand.

At the same time, the pricing policy we have had is the reason Hattrick is still around - period. It is not only about Supporter, but we have also tried and done reasonably well with adding other sources of income, such as the HTI teams and new Gears stuff. So, revenue has fallen a lot less than the actual user numbers, which from a Hattrick future-proofing point of view is very good news. This makes us more resilient to losing users and/or Supporters, while of course, we would prefer if both groups grew. We try to balance the current prices with more frequent campaigns aimed at different user groups, so users can and should wait for a deal if they really can’t afford the prices as they are.

3.- Where do you see Hattrick 5 years from now? Can you guarantee us that Hattrick will remain a non-P2W game?

We have promised this for 20 years and always stuck to the promise, so it would be nice if at some point actually start believing us on this :)

In any case, I guess it is not possible to predict what could happen in the future, but as long as it is my call to make it will stay this way. And my belief is that pay-to-win has become a less viable strategy for gaming companies anyway if you look at some recent smash hits like Fortnite the P2W aspect is quite modest or at least integrated in such a way that it doesn’t detract very much for from the gaming experience. For a game like Hattrick, where P2W has been shunned for two decades, it would be really stupid to try it now.

4.- The apparent lack of investment made by Hattrick in marketing is something occasionally mentioned in forums. Have you considered hiring someone to make an exhaustive assessment of Hattrick’s marketing/branding strategy and potential? If not, what do you intend, specifically, to do in this field?

Well, we are doing it right now, at least some of it. Paid marketing is something we have experimented with over time, but it has never been found profitable – it is after all in many ways a Google monopoly that is rigged against the ad buyers. But since our retention has increased we wanted to try again if we could find any way to purchase traffic and find users that actually stay. It may be possible, but it will be a marginal effect I think. What is more important is that we are taking help and currently working on a big SEO project, to make sure we get bigger visibility (for free) in search engines. That is currently underway. Like with the ads, we felt this made more sense now since we have improved our ability to keep new users coming in.

5.- You also said in one of the last editorials that you wanted to enhance the way Hattrick communicates with its users. However, we haven’t seen any improvements in that area. The on-site information is scattered and Hattrick pages on Facebook (175k followers) and Twitter (11k followers) are less than active. What and when could we expect some changes on this matter?

Here I do admit things haven’t moved along as much as I would have wanted. We will revamp how we work with social media (this is part of the aforementioned SEO and visibility project) but remodeling the communication channels on the site will have to wait a bit longer.

6.- Shifting a little bit our conversation: last year 5 new countries were added to the game, namely, Comoros, Guam, Sri Lanka, São Tomé e Principe, and Curaçao. Some users complained that bigger countries – that could lead to an influx of new users - were left aside. It seemed more of a way to please HT-Supporters than something made in favor of local communities. Is that true? And what will be your policy in the future when adding new countries to the game?

It’s true in part I guess. There is not much potential in any of the remaining countries that we could have added based on population. There are a few countries left with big populations, like Ethiopia, but I have never heard of anyone in Ethiopia that have asked for a Hattrick league, so in a way, I prefer to keep those countries for when someone actually asks for them.

The countries we added now where selected more on a story-telling basis – they were all island nations with some kind of connection to big existing leagues in hattrick, which makes it easier to marshal interest for them, whether it is existing Supporters trying a team there or existing users just buzzing about them in an appropriate language. I think there is generally too much concern in the HT community about protecting the local communities in these new leagues. I mean it would be very nice if a vibrant local community emerged in let’s say Comoros, but if it doesn’t, what is the problem if other users that speak French play there and have fun? Having fun is what it is all about after all. Establish a league solely to service 5 or 10 local users in Comoros would probably not have been that fun for them either, in the long run.

What matters to me in all this is that when we add leagues, even small ones, we can increase the available pathways to having fun and winning stuff in Hattrick, whether this is league championships, Cups, World Cups or an NT coach vote. This benefits all users in Hattrick, even those in big leagues, because some second and third teams may choose to participate in the Comoros league instead of in the French league, making more space for new teams in France to progress. The way I see it everyone wins on this. It is also fun to be able to add new leagues once in a while, it is about storytelling too, that we have a Hattrick world that is realistic and growing.

7.- In last Winter’s Roadmap, you said HT’s were working on a new vision for NT’s and Hattrick’s international competitions. Is it too soon to lift the veil or can you already give us some details about it? And by the way, do you plan to add NT's functions to the mobile app? If so, when?

It is something that we are soon ready to talk more about, we mention the progress in the upcoming editorial, but as we have been keeping this discussion on a private forum of NT coaches, past and present, I want to wrap things up there before taking it to the wider community. But things are underway.

Second part: (21092)

*Special thanks to LuisMarques (9381045) for helping me with the questions.

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