The player community is the heart and soul of any game regardless of the platform, genre or complexity. Without the player community, a game’s content will be directionless and will only lead to an inevitable doom in terms of the game’s life cycle. A community can be so much more because of the potential it has to give you ideas for new content, fixing existing problems and also keeping in touch with the needs and wants of your players.
Why should we leverage player community?
Other than the obvious answer of “They are our source of revenue and revenue is king!” There are deeper and more meaningful applications for a loyal player base. Your most loyal players are the ones who are equally, if not more attached to your game. They are constantly “living” the game, which means they are very aware of the state of balance, its strengths, weaknesses and also act as a sign of the overall “health” of the game in terms of life.
Identifying and working with these loyal players can be a huge asset to the team and the game because LiveOps gets a direction in terms of content and designers know exactly what the community needs and what needs to be fixed in terms of economy.
How do we leverage the player community?
While some games do an exceptional job of engaging and leveraging player community, some use them merely to identify bugs (Yay, free QA!) Some of the most common ways in which we can involve and interact with a player community are
Social Networks and Game Forums
Social networks like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and even Instagram are good for when you want to reach out to a large chunk of active players, which also co-incidentally happens to be great place for them to meet and interact with other players. A lot of hidden gems can be found in Facebook groups, Reddit posts or from a player discussion post in the forum.
Advantages of Social Networking Sites – As a medium, social networking sites allows us to gather information from players about their reaction to new content releases, share their problems with the game, tease future content and also engage them with forum contests and feedback polls.
A Skype group is meant for a much smaller group of players, ideally the most active and interested players that the designers themselves can keep in touch with to get direct feedback on how content is perceived by the players, it’s shortcomings and potential fixes.
Advantages of Skype/Discord Groups -This is especially effective in social games because the active players are very much in touch with each other and can give a crazy accurate prediction to how the player base could react to new content.
In-Game Communication Channels
Though this may not apply to all games, some games have in-game communication channels like a global/server/clan chat where players discuss their thoughts about anything and everything under the sun. Being present in these channels as a designer can give you great insight.
Some Personal Examples
Example 1: For a Hidden Object base building game where monetisation is driven by weekly release of HO scenes and new buildings, we conducted a contest for a player designed building, which we made and released in the game to all players for free. This was a huge success because the players loved that we took in their ideas and brought them to life, and more so because we made them accessible to all of them for free. Our subsequent weekly releases did marginally better in terms of revenue as a result.
Example 2: For a Base building battle game, we wanted to release a new PvE tiered boss battle feature which allowed players to farm certain exclusive items from the event. As a way to tease the feature and test the stats, we released the feature first to our community mods on the test server (So that they do not get any unfair advantage in-game) to get feedback on the stats and loot.
What we learnt from them was that the the entry cost for the feature was too high for lower-medium level players, where as the high level players found the feature to be great. So as a fix, we made changes to the entry costs and minor loot table updates for better access.
Example 3: In a Time Management cooking game with little to no social features, the elder players wanted a way to bring some spice in their everyday sessions.
And so keeping that in mind, we released a daily leaderboard tournament where player actions like serving dishes, using power ups would be used as the parameter for participation and gave hard currency and special power-ups as reward. This was received well by the players and also helped with monetisation in a minor way.
In conclusion, when the community is provided avenues to express themselves, they usually want to help you because they care for the general wellness of the game and want to make it better for themselves and the rest of the community. It is up to the team to identify and support this activity from those players and work with them in a joint effort, which is basically a win-win situation for everyone involved!