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Meeting the challenge: building a community of players

By on February 15, 2012
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In a recent Twitter debate, David Barnes and Wojtek Kawczynski argued that Gamesbrief has already won the argument about the power of free-to-play. Price points are no longer a pressing issue; the real challenge, they said, is tribe-building – creating communities that fuel acquisition and retention (See the ARM series). They were right to want to clue up on this problem. In the introduction to How to Publish a Game, Nicholas points out that:

Developers who have been making games for thirty years will have to learn new skills. Designers will have to learn not just game design and art, coding and sound, but how to build a brand, a community, a sales channel. It’s a challenging task.

How will you face the challenge? We don’t have a magic formula for growing large, loyal communities of fans (yet – do subscribe to the newsletter just in case we happen upon it some day) but we do have some valuable advice to set you on your way.

Community building isn’t simply a necessary chore to make free sustainable: going free is one of your first steps toward community building. Free inspires a spirit of generosity and a sense of gratitude, which fuel virality and feed your conversion rate.

Community building

Community-building doesn’t initially sound like a numbers game. It sounds touchy-feely and personal; to some extent, it should do, because the main advantage an indie has when marketing a game is that you can make it personal. Your brand already has a face and a personality; your face, your personality, your voice, as Andrew Smith of Spilt Milk Studios pointed out in his Gamasutra post Be honest, be nice (also, go check out his series of developer diaries).

Marketing Strategies

Still, it’s no secret that games now feed back data that puts concrete figures on the relationship between your game and your players. Community-building is as much about taking advantage of your indie status – which lends itself to permission marketing – as it is about metrics-led marketing. These are discussed as opposed to the AAA strategy of launch marketing in the post Three ways to market your indie game.

Tribal game design

Building a relationship with your fans also opens the door for some great qualitative data; without slavishly obeying every demand of every player, it gives you better knowledge of what your players want so that you can find games for your players, as advised in Tadhg Kelly’s guest post. This really is essential reading. Tribe-building indies must follow these to-dos from the post:

  1. Be or become an insider in a niche
  2. Find out what its chief cause is
  3. Build a platform (as in a website or blog) to talk to that niche.
  4. Talk to them a lot. Push for the cause. Expect resistance.
  5. Build a community. This aids formation of a tribe.
  6. Build a game that speaks to the tribe
  7. Give the tribe the means to evangelise about the game

About Zoya Street

I’m responsible for all written content on the site. As a freelance journalist and historian, I write widely on how game design and development have changed in the past, how they will change in the future, and how that relates to society and culture as a whole. I’m working on a crowdfunded book about the Dreamcast, in which I treat three of the game-worlds it hosted as historical places. I also write at Pocketgamer.biz and The Borderhouse.