How do you create a community around your game? Well, it’s hard.
But – to be clear – it’s not something that we, as PR Agency, feel we are best placed to do for you (as you will discover as you read on). But, we can offer some experienced advice on how to best approach this difficult task.
Building any community involves dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. You have to plan an experience that you hope is going to be enjoyed by as many people as possible – appealing to both the most dedicated of fans while also not pushing away newcomers.
Even if your game stands head and shoulders above its competitors, it does not guarantee success. You need to create a game community that will help boost your game’s visibility; otherwise, you will always be a struggle to gain and retain players.
Creating a game community can even be harder than developing a game – depending on who you ask! Especially if you ask a Game Community Manager from a game that is experiencing prolonged technical issues.
It’s going to take more time and more patience than you may anticipate, plus initially, it can feel pointless. So, why spend time and money doing something that’s going to take months, if not years to pay off? The answer: it’s easy to leave a game, but it is hard to leave a community.
So, let’s apply a step-by-step method to start growing your game’s community without having to splash the cash.
Let’s start with something straightforward…
Step 1 – Plan and research
Sorry, I know we said we were starting. But jumping straight in to tweet a whole bunch of cool stuff with no plan is ultimately self-sabotaging. Sure, some people may say, “This game looks awesome, I’m definitely going to invest time and money in this!”. However, you need a long-term strategy to build a lasting community, because even the most committed may lose interest if you are silent too for too long.
Sit down. Think. Plan. What you’re going to be posting, giving away and revealing? And, more importantly, why?
There is no single way to do this. You’re not Blizzard, s.o a self-sustaining community won’t sprout out of nothing.
Players want to feel valued for their loyalty. You are going to have to find a way to give this to them without that brand power behind you. And finding the right mix for your community may require a little trial and error, with you having to paying very close attention to audiences’ reactions.
There is good news though: It’s more straightforward than you think!
IndieBoost has some sound advice on planning which of the major social channels you should be using, and what you should be sharing on those channels, such as news, game updates, company updates. It isn’t completely prescriptive though, so feel free to post the odd cat meme.
If you’re feeling confident that you have basics, the team over at Black Shell Media have taken it a step further to include branding strategies, goal-setting and company positioning. These will all ultimately affect how your community perceives you, your brand and your game.
And when you feel like you are ready to leap into the hard stuff, then there is this article over on Game Analytics. Here you can read case studies of how other studios have used game-centric social media channels, such as Discord and Twitch. But do think long and hard before activating these more time-consuming avenues for engagement and feedback.
You may also be surprised to hear that Reddit has a dedicated GameDev subreddit. It gives experienced (and aspiring) developers the opportunity to share their knowledge across various facets of the gaming ecosystem, including creating a community.
Nevertheless, you don’t need to obsess over planning, simply consider what you’re going to do before you do it.
On the other hand…
If, after six months, you find that you have only shared cat memes and trending hashtags to build your emotional, narrative-heavy game’s community, well then you may want to go back to the drawing board.
Step 2 – Set up social media.
This one is a biggie, so let’s break it up into three chunks: set-up, identification and execution.
Step 2a – Set up social media. All of them
Yep, all of them.
We don’t mean handpick your favourites – we mean grab all social media channels your fans could use (if only to ensure you own the user name)!
Now go and activate all the channels you have identified as being key to your users. For many, Twitter is a given. There are plenty of blogs out there that talk about how to create a game community using Twitter. We enjoyed Dark Square Games look at the platform – it isn’t massively in-depth, but it works as a concise checklist of good practices.
But we’re beyond Twitter now. And there is an ever-changing ecosystem of places to be social. Remember when Snapchat was the future of brands? Or when Peach came out of nowhere? And then went back to nowhere? It can be easy to get lost in this ever-changing swamp quagmire of social media.
Avoid being pulled around by the latest fad, unless you see something in it that you know will be of advantage to you.
Step 2b – Where is your audience?
Don’t panic. There are some safe bets that have established themselves at the top. Focus your attention on these. Best of all, they are no secret; these sites are the names that spring to mind when someone says ‘social media’.
Facebook is continuing to dominate, while Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, Snapchat and Discord, have all pretty much cornered their respective markets and offer you different channels through which to talk to a range of audience demographics.
Use your research to identify where your game’s demographics are on social media. You don’t need to be active on every platform. If you’ve got a casual “dress‘em-up” game, your demographic is likely to only be an #Instajunkie or a Snapchat-er, so Discord is presumably going to be unnecessary.
Remember: You’re doing this during the game development process and beyond. It has to be sustainable for the life of your game.
People want to know your story from start to finish. Even if they’re late to the party, they’re going to want to know everything about your game and its origins. Social media is how you’re going to tell your story.
Step 2c – You know where they are, how can you talk to them?
The real question here is resources. How big is your team? Can you assign someone to be a dedicated Game Community Manager? And will it be possible for them to balance the work that entails with their other tasks each day? Calculate the time you have available, then consider where to focus your efforts for the best results.
We won’t delve into tremendous detail here. But, the one thing to remember is, the more time a channel takes to maintain the higher the engagement.
Each social media platform has its relative merits, audiences and skills required to utilize them fully. And that is even before you consider the hours needed to keep them active.
The long list we previously mentioned is in no way exhaustive, and it is continually evolving. More names are added. And if that wasn’t tough enough, existing functionality evolves, and new features can arrive at a pace that can make it hard to keep up. Keep on top of these changes, however, and they are often useful and time-saving.
The trick is always to keep your goal in mind: reach and engage your audience in the best way possible with the time you have available.
Yes, time is the key. If you cannot maintain a platform, do not commit to it. Keep that at the front of your mind when deciding where you want to be active, where you want to just share and where you want to leave alone.
There is a spectrum here too. On Facebook, people are happy to see your post and have you around for a moment, or two after and then follow up later in the day or even the next. The reverse of this is Discord, which can demand constant attention if your community grows larger than you (and any appointed admins) can handle!
Between these two extremes are the other channels. Similar to Discord, Reddit can be demanding of your time – but is a little more forgiving and provides huge engagement. This while Instagram, YouTube and Twitch all demand talents and assets that you may not always have available.
Step 3 – Go to events
In 2016 we played a fantastic game at EGX Rezzed called The Last Word. Chatting with Mark, the developer, he discussed the game’s story, his inspiration, and several of the game’s features – including the unique mechanic of combining words to create platforms. Mark saw our interest in the game, so asked if we wanted to sign up to the newsletter, which we were more than happy to do.
Not long after Rezzed, we received our first newsletter. It told us that the game had picked up a Game Connection Award. The developers also attended the Norwich Games Festival 2016.
If nothing else, the newsletter reminded us the game still existed and that we should follow it on Twitter and Facebook to keep an even closer eye on its development.
Do you see what happened there?
We moved from a casual demo-player with no emotional connection to the game, to curious fans that have subscribed to the newsletter, to avid fans who have followed the game on social media.
You’ll want to strive for a similar funnel to create a game community of your own.
Some of the most popular UK events include EGX Rezzed, its big brother EGX and Develop: Brighton. Outside the UK, Gamescom provides several low-cost alternatives for indie developers who want to showcase their games.
Be sure you have those social media accounts set up before the event! That way you can get people to join you there and then.
Step 4 – Run your own events
Exhibiting at events is fun. You get to meet a whole bunch of gamers and see some incredible games. You’ll also get a chance to mingle with other developers on the show floor – if you’ve got the time.
But exhibiting comes with huge downsides. It’s a lot of effort to set-up the stand, staffing and materials. Plus there is the cost and time of all of that plus getting a solid game build available in time.
Some teams find it better to run their own gaming meet-ups or events instead.
Keep in mind these aren’t “come to our event and play our game” sort of things, don’t plan for it all to be about you.
To run one of these meets you will want to nab yourself a pub, bar or other low-cost space for the night. There, set-up your game as well as a whole load of other cool games and arrange giveaways. The promise of a few free drinks to get the party started doesn’t hurt either.
You’re going to find people naturally begin to take an interest in you and future events. They will also generate buzz on social platforms with post, images and hashtags from the event.
Your only problem from here onwards is topping your previous event!
Step 5 – Blog, Blog, Blog and Blog
Whether you’re a biggie or an indie, chances are your game development story is unique.
If you want to create a game community, this story is what’s going to drive interest during the development period.
Blogs are the easiest and cheapest way to do this.
Let us show you exactly how to start this:
When you feel like you’ve achieved something you want to share, make a quick note of it and what it entailed. Before you know it, you’ll have racked up a number of achievements and reached several milestones.
Enough to form a weekly dev blog/diary I should think.
There are a few ways to go about this:
Some do their developer diaries in the traditional format seen above, noting down all weekly achievements in the form of a blog post shared through social media. It’s super easy, quick and doesn’t cost a dime.
Game Academy’s guide on starting your own development diary tells you all you need to know. It lays out how to tell a great story that’s both entertaining yet informative.
YOUR MISTAKES ARE INTERESTING! A story isn’t good without its protagonist overcoming obstacles.
If writing isn’t necessarily for you, or you have the resources to create something more visual, video diaries might be a better option.
They allow you to tell your story with the team that created the game. This also puts a face on your company and will enable you to show emotion and passion for your project.
We helped coordinate this video diary for the story-driven game Scéal. This gives a good example of exactly what the format can offer.
Using PeoplePerHour, we were able to source a local camera operator. By producing a low-cost, standing banner, we instantly had a background for team members to talk in front of. Then all each member of the team had to do was spend a few minutes in front of the camera discussing their areas of knowledge.
If you loathe talking in front of a camera and feel you don’t have the written ability or discipline required to produce a weekly diary, produce a commentary video instead. Commentary videos are simply you talking over a gameplay video. You can do it for free, it requires little effort, and it can be pretty interesting – especially if you have a visually striking game. You can find an excellent example of one here.
So, how will this help create a game community exactly?
Think about it like this:
- You’ll attract people who want to hear your story. Nothing forced!
- They will share your stories, helping widen reach.
- Reach will lead to new communities. Potentially journalists too.
See what’s happening? Your one piece of content has reached new and different communities.
Step 6 – Run and take part in Game Jams
Hundreds of Game Jams take place every year, bringing in dozens of game devs each time. But what makes them so special, and how can they help create a game community for your game?
For starters, let’s break down what a Game Jam is:
A Game Jam is a gathering of game developers to create games within a 24, 48 or 72-hour window.
Game Jams are ridiculously popular with independent game developers because it gives them a chance to work alongside fellow creative devs with a range of disciplines – such as art and design.
If you’re a developer that sources creative assets online, meeting artists or designers face-to-face is often a rarity!
Not only that, but this is another chance to actively engage your fans. Many Game Jams now have people actively watching and commenting on everything going on via Twitch, as we saw at this Global Game Jam.
There are some incredibly popular Game Jam events hosted around the world, with many organised by the aforementioned, Global Game Jam. These include events like Indie Game Jam. You can check out pretty much every Game Jam being held around the world by visiting a number of online calendars, such as Itch.io’s calendar.
If you’re on the hunt for region-specific calendars check out Game Jam Central (for U.S jams) and Jam Today (European jams).
Now we know the popular Jam sites, and when Jams are running, the question is: How the heck do we go about running our own Game Jam?
- Check out what popular games conferences/events are local to you using calendars such as this or this.
- Spread the word via social and by submitting your event on any of the calendars we’ve already mentioned.
- Check game events aren’t running their own Jams. For example, Creative Assembly frequently run Game Jams at Rezzed, so your attendance figures are going to be extremely low if you’re going head-to-head with them.
- Set your parameters: How long are you going to run it for? How many games are going to be created? itch.io has a superb guide on getting started, with Emily Thomforde of RCPL. This article includes an incredibly detailed breakdown of on-the-day structure.
All of this is well and good, but how is this going to help you create a game community?
Think of it like this:
- You’ll get Twitch gaming folk checking out your event.
- You’ll get the dev community looking at you out.
- There will be a social push from the Game Jam calendar guys.
- Jams will give you more fuel for EVEN MORE CONTENT MARKETING. You’ll be sharing your story on the blog pages of Gamasutra and submitting guest posts on sites such as Pocket Gamer.
It looks like we’re starting to paint a familiar picture here. We’re seeing how a single action can help build a wealth of new and unique communities based on reach, with the help of others.
Step 7 – Speak to devs
Bottom line is: other developer’s experience is important.
Speaking to them about how they have created their communities will help you boost your game’s success. They’ll know things you don’t know, and more importantly, they’ll tell you what worked – and didn’t – for them in the past.
But how do you go about this you ask? Well, the best way is to use dedicated game developer forums.
Popular forums include GameDev.net, IndyGamer.com, FreeGameDev and IndieDB. If it’s a mobile game you’re creating, head over to the TouchArcade forums.
If you want to hone in on your game dev audience even further, HTML 5, Amazon, Unity and Unreal each have their own forums. This ensures your questions are hyper-relevant to your platform, engine and player demographics.
The chances are that this is a lot to digest.
But, as with game development, speaking to other people from other cultures, backgrounds and specialities not only expands your horizons but also allows you to understand new markets; particularly useful if this is your first game on a platform you’ve never developed on before.
Step 8 – Pretend you know what you’re talking about
Listen, we know you may feel outside your comfort zone when not talking about game development. Half of the stuff in this blog post may even have gone over your head. But, you can probably put together a piece of content on… something.
You might not know what that something is just yet. But, as we’ve seen, it’s pretty easy to talk about your game.
All you have to do is:
- Gather what you’ve got.
- Put together some business results and lesson learned.
- Reflect on everything that’s happened.
In all of this, you’re going to uncover trends, facts and interesting statistics the world wants to hear!
Share it on LinkedIn or your own blog. You can also try Gamasutra or Reddit’s r/devblogs.
We know that’ll help create a game community via reach, but now you’ll also get the added degree of professionalism that’s associated with having a strong presence on these business channels.
Look what we’re doing; we’re widening that net again.
It’s also going to help improve your writing ability and help you, your game and your company rank better on Google. We’re not going to go into SEO and keyword research here, but if you’d like to start dabbling in the SEO waters, you can check out this beginners guide.
Step 9 – Tell the world you’ve levelled up
Congratulations, you’ve won!
You’ve planned a communication strategy, posted on the right social media, gone to (and run) events, blogged about the game development process and shared with the world everything you’ve learned from creating your game.
Now tell the world about this, your latest adventure: creating a community from nothing. You see, by learning this new skill, you’ve got yet another weapon to add to your inventory. Best of all, there are going to be a lot of new things to discover that are unique to you.
How you ask?
You might find that going to events did absolutely nothing for you, your game or your brand. BUT your blog post on Gamasutra about creating meaningful video game protagonists was something smaller sites picked up as a good, consumer-facing story.
It’s a given that not every step is necessarily relevant for your game. For instance, taking your casual city-builder to Gamescom won’t help you create a game community in any way, shape or form. But, posting a whole bunch of beautiful artwork on social media will build that targeted community.
Here’s the deal: you have this new skill, however you obtained it, and the world wants to know.
Again, blogging on Gamasutra about these lessons is a great starting point, but you can take it to the next level by doing things such as speaking at events to add another feather in your cap.
Start small and local. If you’re in the UK, apply to speak at events such as Pocket Gamer Connects London. Even if you’ve never spoken publically before, don’t worry! Being on the indie track means your audience is likely to be 50 people max and you’ll get a free ticket to the event.
If you want to take it to more formal levels, hosting a webinar is very effective. There is a ton out there, but here are a few we know of:
As can be seen, some are platform specific, and some don’t openly let you host your own webinar (unless you ask politely). So, you’re going to have to do a little bit of digging to get what you’re after. But these webinar opportunities are out there to help you create a game community, and if they’re free, you should be using them!
Step 10 – Create a game community by copying the best
If you’ve done ALL of the above, and you’re REALLY stuck for ideas on how to create a game community, you can do the one thing that the industry has been doing for years: copy the best.
We DON’T mean steal. We’re not taking anything from anyone. We’re merely replicating what others have done well, learning from it and, where possible, taking it one step further.
So, let’s copy the best, starting with the team behind the exceptional game Rocket League.
Rocket League quickly amassed a vast following in a short space of time. It’s constantly being patched to provide the best user experience possible and has now ventured into the realms of eSports.
It works because the Rocket League community is very, very strong and very, very loyal.
How did they create a game community in the first place, and what can we learn from them?
A few things worked in their favour helped get the ball rolling (awful pun, I apologise):
They released the game in July 2015 – with very few other releases that month. Plus, it was included as a free game as part of the PS Plus scheme, which led to 6 million downloads and a lot of buzz.
If you’re not lucky enough to have Sony behind you, or the ability to give your game away for free, Justin French of indie game studio Dream Harvest put out this piece on how to create a game community for a video game, talking about the studio’s game Failure. His main points were:
- You don’t have to go it alone – use tools such as CoPromote, Promoter and Presskit() can help get the word out.
- You need a site for your game as well as a website for your studio. Why? Well, because it allows for your fans to be invested in your brand, and provides the hooks for any subsequent products. A static landing page on a corporate site doesn’t say “emotionally invest” now does it?
- Create profiles on IndieDB and Playfield. This snippet from the Dream Harvest team tells us how you can use these sites to help create a game community:
“To get into the top posts [on these sites] you need to use particular trending hashtags, and then people must comment or vote on the images or otherwise engage with them. We drove quite a bit of traffic to the site in the run-up to Gamescom as Playfield was running a competition to win booth space and have your trailer shown off at their booth as part of a showreel. We ended up coming 6th and got to be part of the showreel by placing in the top 10.”
So, let’s summarise…
We’ve covered a lot. If you’re still head-scratching, worry not. We’ve repeated the point that creating a community to boost your game’s success takes time and a whole load of effort. And that is the big takeaway.
We’ve also seen that it’s going to take a bit of luck. You have to try to ensure that each piece of the puzzle fits together to produce magical results. In reality, this is all theory – but you can use this knowledge as the foundation to create your game community.
Vitally important is our last and final point: you’re going to have to make sure you’ve got a standout game in the first place. If you’ve got that, you’ve got a fighting chance of creating a strong community for it.
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