[In this in-depth analysis, former MMO community liaison Wera (Flyff, Rappelz) analyzes the art and science of game community management, explaining that people may continue playing online games as much for the social community as the gameplay.]
Community management in video games is a new way to think about the communication between a publisher or developer and its customers. Most closely associated with MMO games, it has scattered very fast to all genres of gaming, including through modding communities and popular online multiplayer games.
In the past, publishers may have thought that the most important task was to sell boxed software. In this age of ubiquitous internet socialization, it would be unwise to release a game without allocating resources to communication with the community.
If the people who play your games feel part of something bigger -- a
network with its own rules, its own stars and its own language -- they
will be less likely to move to another game, because they will remain
loyal to where they belong. Just as it can be difficult for someone
to leave their country, it can be hard to quit a community.
It's well known in the MMO industry: people try your game because of the gameplay, the graphics, the reputation or a good marketing campaign, but they keep playing because of the people they play with. When it comes to other genres, it's all about loyalty.
People join a community
because they're interested in your game, but if the community brings
them what they need in term of entertainment, gaming experience, socialization
and accomplishment, they will be more likely to remain loyal to the
publisher or the developer who brought it to them.
In the end, a community is also a source of infinite ideas. Give your customers the right tools to express themselves, and they will talk about what's right and what's wrong in your products, allowing you to improve them or build a solid basis for the next version.
why your last big multiplayer shooter attracts only 300 players online
every evening? Why don't you ask the ones who quit playing it why?
internet gives developers the ability to directly talk to their players,
and it's now time to use it.
That's just a quick summary of what communities can do for you. But that's not the point of this article. Instead, let's talk about what publishers and developers can do for their communities.
Before we begin, keep in mind that this article was written from several years of being part of gaming communities, and then working as a community manager -- but community management is still quite new, and the first rule remains "adapt to your community". As community management is all about communication between human beings, there are no strict rules of what to do and what not to do -- just advice, and experience.