Recently, I attended GameAnglia, the East of England’s biggest game development conference. I was delighted that I got to experience the gaming scene closer to home, with several industry legends like Bill Roper and Rami Ismail joining to present talks.
The theme was ‘community’ – having had a career focused on fostering communities online for the past seven years – and being an avid gaming enthusiast both personally and professionally – this was the perfect topic of discussion for me. It was genuinely interesting and mind-broadening to have so many folks from all walks of the gaming industry life explaining why nurturing a positive community is fundamental to the success of this growing industry.
And I don’t just mean ‘be nice to people online’ because hopefully, that one is obvious 😉
A ‘gaming community’ can mean many things. If you’re a content creator, it could be your following on YouTube or your Twitch fans. If you’re a gaming writer like me, it might be fellow word nerds or industry folks you work with. As a game developer, it can mean your Discord server members or social media followers.
However the word ‘community’ applies to you – it could be one or many of these forms – it’s your responsibility to make sure these environments remain positive and inclusive, whether you’re running the show or you’re just a fan.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR GAME DEVELOPERS SPECIFICALLY?
Fostering a positive community around your studio and games is way more useful than you may realise!
BE ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA, AT LEAST
For one thing, if you’re at least active on social media, it shows your fans, content creators, and journalists that you are there if they need to contact you, which means they’re more likely to want to cover your game and spread the word about it.
Make sure that your channels are specifically created for the purpose of sharing updates, news, and screenshots about your game and nothing else, because if it’s part business, part personal opinions, the lines might get a little blurry. Self expression’s fine, but coming across as unprofessional probably isn’t the way to go.
JUDGE DEMAND FOR YOUR IDEA
As Bill Roper says, you should always be creating prototypes (even if they never see the light of day). Whilst strengthening your skills and building upon ideas is good for you, it can be soul crushing to invest blood, sweat, and tears into a game idea if, by completion, nobody is interested in playing it.
Creating an online community and being present allows you to put early ideas in front of your potential fanbase, and gauge their reactions.
GET FEEDBACK ABOUT YOUR GAMES
If there’s one great thing about the anonymity of the Internet, it’s that people are more inclined to be honest about things when you ask them.
But you have to ask them.
As a game developer, you may find it difficult to accept feedback in the beginning. No one wants to be told what they’ve created is shit. But there is such a thing as constructive criticism, and what better way to find out what your fans are loving and hating than by asking for their feedback?
Just remember that whilst feedback is a fundamental part of building your own game, it is still your game. Don’t make changes that you feel are unreasonable.
LET FANS SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT YOUR GAME
Listen: you don’t have to be active on every single social media channel, stream on Twitch, create regular YouTube videos, and operate a thriving Discord server.
But having your community spread out across the platforms and still being able to connect them all together is a powerful tool in getting people talking about what you’re doing.
Creating a space to provide updates, giving them freedom to share their opinions, and even encouraging fan artwork or content, is a great start.
Consistently communicating with them to inform about changes, updates, news, events you’ll be appearing at, awards nominations, and everything in between – and answering their questions – elevates your community to a whole new level.
Fans will be excited about the development process of your game, journalists will be banging down your door to cover your game, and content creators will be more inclined to share gameplay and reviews, too.
HOW TO GET STARTED
With a ton of things on your plate as a developer, it can feel totally overwhelming to even get started creating and maintaining your community (even when you know you have to).
Start as small as can be: simply asking your colleagues, friends, or family to try out your game and ask for their feedback can get you used to receiving positive and negative criticism, and it’ll teach you how to deal with it in the right way.
Then move onto social media: no, you don’t need an account on every platform going – just start with one or two (Twitter’s a good option).
Only share news or updates that you feel comfortable sharing – sometimes sharing too much, too soon can lead to players getting frustrated that things aren’t working the way they expect, or the game is missing features.
Make sure to reply to everyone who comments or asks questions! Fans fall in love with developers they can actually talk to.
And finally, as you grow and become larger and busier, you may want to hire someone to take care of your community for you.