Communities, the life blood of each and every game. They're a measure of whether what you've created is actually any good. Right?
A big community that talks and shares information about your games far and wide across the internet and among their friends and beyond are what can make or break your game. So why do so many developers wait until after launch before starting to grow theirs?
The following guide came out of a number of conversations I had with other developers that had either failed to build a community for their games pre-launch.
They wanted tips on how to go about doing so and is based on our own experiences of growing a community.
We are developing a competitive online cyberpunk real time strategy game, Failure: NeuroSlicers and we started building our community pre-release and before we had anything playable.
We were / are an unknown studio, developing our first game, as a studio, though we've all worked on a mixture of AAA and Indie projects outside of this studio.
Gathering feedback from other developers as well as normal players is super important and should be done as early as possible. The moment you have a playable build you should be seeking to get feedback from people.
Organic marketing should be happening as early as possible too, especially if this is your first title from your studios. I'm talking at minimum a year or more before launch you should be building your communities through all forms of social media and especially Discord, twitch, YouTube and elsewhere.
Get talking with influencers that play your type of game (they don't need to be massive ones, sometimes it's better to partner with smaller / medium sized ones who can grow their audience at the same time as you and they're more likely to give special treatment to your title.
The anticipation of playing the game!
By sharing exclusive looks at in development elements of your game, bugs, concept art and more you can help build that anticipation.
Its also important to get the community involved in the decision making; this helps build consumer trust and get's them to "buy in" to the concept even before they've had a chance to play the game. though, you'll likely see your biggest surges of new community members come from when you take your game to events and get people to sign up to your discord or newsletter on the spot after getting hands on with something playable.
But the main point is that its about building a community around the journey to final release and getting this community involved isn as many ways as possible - you want to be creating "Ambassadors" for your brand that will help spread information about your games.
Its a slow process that takes a lot of time and effort to do but has been proven to be worthwhile and, dare I say it, essential to the success of indie games in the current climate. It needs to be started early and you need to commit a considerable amount of time to it.
Here are a few things to get started, in no particular order:
Discord has quickly become the go-to platform for community building over the past 12 months or so and if your not using it for your community building efforts you should be!
Replacing the traditional forum as a place to discuss and engage with your audience in a more direct way, Discord is an amazing platform that seems to be going from strength to strength.
So how do you get started using Discord as your community hub?
Your Welcome page is the starting point of any good community. It should contain everything a new member should know about your community to get settled in. It should be broken down into the following sections which I'll go into more detail after:
This should be the first thing that your users see and its a good idea to get this to appear via Mee6 when they join your Discord server. Keep it short and sweet while directing your users to the channels where discussion topics are happening. Here's ours as an example:
Welcome to the official Failure: NeuroSlicers Discord Server!
Here you'll be getting an exclusive look at early development progress and be able to discuss things directly with the team as we build the game.
It's super important for us to get all of you involved in the development process and create a killer cyberpunk strategy gaming experience that you want to play and talk about.
Have your say, question our decisions and help shape Failure: NeuroSlicers into something special that you want to play.
Check out #announcements for all the latest announcements and #feature-discussion and #occasional-updates for the latest content we've been sharing as well as discussion topics where we're looking for your input.
Its important that with any new community you start on the right foot and have some robust rules in place for new users. Make sure you direct new users to where your rules are, such as a welcome page. Here are some rules to get you started:
The following rules were discussed and agreed upon by the early community. Please be sure to follow them so that we can continue to have a positive space.
- No personal attacks, harassment or defamatory remarks.
- Don't make racist/gendered/sexist/homophobic jokes/comments; these will not be tolerated.
- No spamming/trolling in the voice or text channels.
- No posting explicit material in any of the channels. If you can't show it to your parents openly, don't show us. This is also a zero-tolerance rule which will result in a ban.
- Please keep topics in their appropriate places. See the text channel guide below.
- Respect your other community members
- Respect the Authority of the Dev’s [DH] and Sentry’s [Mods], if you are in disagreement about a topic unrelated to the game, PM the person in question. Don't act in a way that will make the community a worse place to be, at the mods' discretion.
- Have active discussions about the game and feel free to disagree with things that we share, but please try to keep the conversation constructive rather than attacking.
- Messages will be deleted if they do not follow the above and you can / will receive a ban from the community.
- If you feel you are being targeted by another member of the community then feel free to PM one of the dev team or Sentries and we will attempt to resolve the issue.
- We may retroactively modify the rules if an issue comes up that isn't covered in the above. If we do so we will not ban the user, however, they will receive a warning and any future violations will result in a ban.
As mentioned above, it's a good idea to gain "buy in" from your early community members in regards to your rules - discuss this topic with them and go through each rule in detail explaining why you feel this will help create a more positive community space.
Its important that your community knows who your team members are and what their role on the project is. This will help to connect your community with your team and allow the community to ask specific questions to the right people.
In addition to this, having some mods (in our case our selected community member testers) that can help out with your community is a good idea. I talk more about this in the last section of the guide. Finally, make sure that your team and mods have a strict naming convention in terms of their username on Discord and be sure to assign the correct roles and colors so that your community can easily identify your team and mods.
@[DH] Justin - Founder / CEO
@[DH] Sven - CTO / Lead Programmer
@[DH] Milcho - Lead Designer / Gameplay Programmer
@[DH] Liok - Art Director
@[DH] Brandon (WaywardStrategist) - Designer
@[DH] Dan - Composer
The following community members are here to help you settle in with the community. They are all actively playing the game and helping us at Dream Harvest with testing. If you have a question about the game feel free to ask them. You might even see some of them at Events we attend.
It's important that you setup a good selection of clearly defined channels for your Discord Server so that your community knows where to post. Be sure to make use of the channel tools in order to make certain channels read only and even private to select Ranks / Roles. Here's a breakdown of what we feel should be the bare minimum.
This is where you should jack-in when you first join the community....be sure to have a good read of everything here.
Anything important we'll put here such as announcing when our latest newsletter is out, or when we'll be streaming over on Twitch next. This is a read only Channel.
Got an idea for a new bot, channel or anything else server related. Post your ideas here
General discussions about the game. Feel free to ask questions about the stuff we share and talk about how your going to become the best Slicer in the network!
Here we'll be doing deep dives into core features, systems and other elements of the game and we'll be looking for your feedback, thoughts and questions in order to create the best experience possible.
We'll be having discussions during our livestreams here. Also, once the game goes live during our pre-alpha we'll also be inviting all you lovely people to stream and share your videos of your experiences here. We'll even host your Twitch channels on our own channel!
This channel is reserved for @Alpha_Slicer and above Ranks / Levels. It will be used to give constant feedback on your experiences playing Failure: NeuroSlicers.
This channel is reserved for @Alpha_Slicer and above Ranks / Levels. It will be used to track bugs and other issues in game.
Here's the place to talk about anything else your hearts desire. Its open season in this channel.
Here's where we ask for your help to share things and you'll get rewarded with XP for doing it! Just be sure to mention if you've shared something in this channel.
Got a cool painting, picture, line drawing, 3d model, music or anything else Failure: NeuroSlicers related that you've created and want to share? Post it hear for the whole community to see and earn XP!
You can Also Categorize channels into groups which we highly recommend as it will keep things organized. This is especially true when you move onto your next project and want to keep your community in a central space but have separate discussion areas for each game.
This is the place where you'll declare each Rank / Role that's attainable on your server. If you do happen to "gamify" your server using a bot such as Mee6 you can show what a certain rank will give a community member. As we included Role information for the team and mods in the team section, we've left that out in this section. Here's ours as an example:
By interacting with the community and development team you'll earn XP. The more XP you earn the higher you'll rank. Get chatting / asking questions and engaging with your fellow community members and you'll unlock access to our closed testing sessions and more.
Level 1 - @User
Level 5 - @New Recruit
Level 10 - @Trainee
Level 12 - @Neuro Junkie (Consideration for Pre-Alpha Demo)
Level 14 - @Script Kid
Level 16 - @Freelancer
Level 18 - @Operator
Level 20 - @Handler
Level 21 - @Slicer (Guaranteed Access to Pre-Alpha Demo)
Level 22 - @Elite Slicer
Level 23 - @Alpha_Slicer
Level 24 - @Shadow Operative (Guaranteed Invite to All Tests)
Level 25 - @DarkNet Commander
Level 26 - @Rogue Slicer
Level 27 - @Singualrity Slicer
Level 99 - @AI (Access to Developer Builds)
So you've started to get people to sign up to your discord but your struggling to think of how to engage with them in an effective way. Here are a number of things you can start doing:
The following was a question posed to me by another developer. Once again, my answer is based on our own experiences and plans and might differ to other developers out there creating games in a different genre.
Hey everyone! I just wanted to ask what do you think about releasing an alpha version of your games? More specifically... When do you think is a good time to release it? Should it be paid/free? If it is free at the beginning, when to switch it to paid? Etc.
What would be the purpose of this Alpha version? To build interest? To generate revenue? To test with a wider audience and gather specific types of feedback?
I think you need to have a clear goal around doing these types of builds and tie them to your communication / marketing plan in an effective way - Its important that you see a return of some type; whether that's monetarily, enhanced engagement from your community, data for the improvement of your game, press interest, etc. Something measurable and substantial. But timing is everything and trying to accomplish all of the above at the same time, too early, will have a detrimental effect of your success.
We want to build a community for the game in order for it to have a solid fanbase when version 1.0 is released. At the same time, if we can get significant revenues during the process, it would be awesome.
Many of my questions are somehow related to the article you shared, where it is suggested to have a playable build for the audience to have something to talk about, which makes complete sense. In this context, it is good to build a community early, so the game should be released early. The question is How to do it properly?
From the return types you mention, we basically want all of them. More users, more revenue, enhanced engagement, fine-tuning the game, press interest, etc.
My concerns are the following:
- If the product is released too early, it may not fulfill the buyers expectations and the buzz would lose momentum.
- If it is too late, the community won't be strong enough to drive the desired revenues, if there is a community whatsoever.
- If the product is released early with a full price, it may not be well perceived by players as they may feel overcharged for an incomplete product.
- If the product is released early but free (or low price) it might lose its "psychological value" and players may get used to a "free/cheap" product and when the price is full there won't be interest for them to convert... Or we may get many free users that otherwise would have paid for the game.
I recommend starting with community first and foremost if this isn't something you've started building yet - Revenue, press interest, data for the improvement of your product, etc can naturally come from a good, solid community.
I also think that trying to generate revenue too early will be detrimental to the long term success of your product. The way the steam store works now, its imperative that you have high day 1 sales in order to stay in the popular new releases table and carousel.
This means that pre-orders or early sales of your game are out and wish lists are in.
If your going to do an Alpha / Beta phase, do it on a temporary basis with keys that expire. First and foremost should be your community building efforts.
Once you've started to build a community you'll already have people eager to get their hands on the game.
It's at this point that you can start to get creative and build the excitement level further.
The first test builds you should be getting into the hands of players is when you have something playable. However, you do want to make sure that you can action feedback in an effective way and you also want to make sure that the people that are going to be playing this test build are part of your key demographic. For this reason, it's important to start with a small number of testers; 3 or 4 of your most vocal community members. You can expand on this down the line, but working with a small number at first means that you'll have an easier job dealing with all of their feedback.
And this is the general spiel along with the benefits we use to get people to signup:
Want to apply to help test Failure: NeuroSlicers and gain instant access to our current build, way before it's available to our wider community for the Closed Pre-Alpha?
As a Sentry, you will:
1. Immediately get access to the current version of the Game.
2. Do regular playtesting sessions where we try out new features and balance changes.
3. Give direct feedback on any aspect of the game, which we'll be looking at closely.
4. Wait a ton of time until the next build, because we have 1 Gameplay Programmer.
5. Receive a free digital copy of the game once it launches.
6. Receive an exclusive "Sentry" Badge/Banner/Portrait once the game launches.
7. Be in the Game's Credits.
8. Get free entry (Where possible) to certain global gaming events that we are attending and where you can help us out with demoing the game....we'll even buy you pizza + drinks
Once your ready with a Closed Pre-Alpha / Alpha build you can start to invite more of your community to get involved with testing. But once again, you want to reward your most vocal community members with access before others. Here you can once again use the leveling system from Mee6 - invite top level players first in small batches.
You also want to determine how long this Closed Pre-Alpha / Alpha period will last - you dont want it to go on forever as these players will likely begin to loose interest and might not purchase your game when it's ready for release.
For games with an online component, this could mean that your servers are online only at specific times each weekend over a 1 or 2 month period so that you can guarantee a surge of players over those periods and you'll hopefully be gaining a good amount of feedback during those periods.
It's likely that you'll start to see a surge in community members joining your Discord over these periods, especially if your allowing players to livestream and record let's plays. On that note, something you should consider doing is reaching out to those influencers we talked about earlier and getting them involved with each round of testing.
Anyway, that's about it. Hopefully with some of the info above you'll become Community Ninja's or at least start to find your own path to building up you're games community. I'm sure that I'll be making edits to this guide over the coming months as we launch our own Pre-Alpha build to the wider world and I'm sure many of you who have gone through all of this have plenty of comments and suggestions to improve this guide. On that note; let the discussions begin!
Founder / CEO
Want to join our Discord Community for Failure: NeuroSlicers, head over to http://discord.failure.game and come and chat with us :)