With the growing trend of gaming communities becoming increasingly involved in the development process, it is important for teams to evaluate the best tools for reaching out and communicating with their audience. Personally, I like using Discord.
For those out of the loop, Discord is a multi platform free voice and chat app which has become increasingly popular over the recent years, bragging a highly impressive user base of 130 million registered users with 19 million of those being DAU (daily active users) (May 2018). Communicating using a free, user friendly and highly interactive live platform such as Discord makes it much easier for developers to engage, support and become apart of their games community in an approachable and humanising manner.
Within this post I will discuss what I've found to be the best way we can use Discord to gather community feedback before translating that feedback into workable game designs, in addition to the positives and negatives of doing so. Of course, player feedback isn't the be all and end all of a community led development and each idea should be analysed and assessed before invested in as although intentions may be good, sometimes ideas do not work for the betterment of your game.
So why should we, as developers, listen to the community? Isn't a development team's vision of a game enough? Well, pull up your chair, get comfy and grab a cup of tea, let's have a chat about how using social game design can have a great impact on your game!
At my current studio, Gumbug, competition and community are two of the core design pillars at the forefront of our development process; we consider the two with every design decision we make. It is important for me as the lead social designer and the communities POC (point of contact) with the development team, to encourage our community to feel comfortable socialising, strategizing and sharing with one another.
There are three core principles which I believe to be the most effective when encouraging the community to express themselves on Discord:
There are several other methods to efficiently promote community encouragement including the introduction of an emoji voting system which encourages community members to add emoji reactions on ideas they'd like to be added to boost its visibility (which is great for less vocal members!), though I found the former three principles to be the most effective.
When a community is left unnurtured and uninspired, especially on a live chat platform such as Discord, players often use the platform as a way of expression - pushing the boundaries to test the consequences. This becomes especially true in larger communities when the Hawthorne effect (also commonly referred to as the observer effect) comes into play. Nurturing and encouraging a positive community of players will yield you and your team the best results when it comes to feedback; take the time to listen and acknowledge what your community is telling you as their suggestions may solve major issues within your game.
Listening and acknowledging everyone's feedback doesn't mean that every feature idea and re-balance should or has to be implemented - though every idea should be considered. Acknowledgement is the stepping stone to one of the key principles of building a positive community - respect.
Respect is one of the most important fundamentals of any community, respect between the player and developers, and respect between players. In order for a community to thrive in positivity, mutual respect is required to create a safe, friendly and approachable environment for everyone.
Creating a channel solely for game feedback and desired features is a great way for new and existing users to know the best location to share their views with the team. Feedback left in general chat or similar are often lost in the masses resulting in players feeling neglected and ignored; a specified channel allows for players to chat away in the other channels whilst still retaining a single space where they know their views will be heard. Additionally, it limits the channels the development team need to filter through for feedback, which is always an added bonus!
Aggregation and Consolidation
Once a community is comfortable giving regular feedback, it then becomes time to filter through and aggregate the most relevant and usable designs into actionable game design documentation for the game. The role of your companies designer (or you, if that's your role!) is to speculate which suggestions are beneficial to not only the players but the game too.
Are all examples of questions you should be constantly asking yourself during this process.
Listening to users can be an extremely valuable resource, but developers must also sort through the noise and have the guts to stick to their own vision and not try to satisfy everyone. The vocal community are often the minority; judge patiently and explore the possibilities of the ideas that come from the people who love the game as much as you do.
Begin injecting your communities ideas into the sprint and spread them evenly like tasty salted butter on your morning toast, there will be times during development where usable community ideas will be few and far between but that doesn't mean that your community need to go without. People will often appreciate a steady flow of fun and enticing content rather than a big mashup of their ideas.
One solution to this would be to create a backlog of fleshed out and documented community ideas for the development team to compile and discuss. Designing with the community in mind should not be a chore or a jar in the development process, it should instead be positioned seamlessly yet consciously into a workflow.
It is important to note that these ideals and development concepts come from the mindset of working in a small, independent game studio and may not be relevant to that of a larger studio with a bigger and more persistent community. I imagine that in this instance, designers would work in conjunction with not only the producers, but social and community management as well, to help balance the workload and understand the communities persona clearly.
Sometimes what a community proposes might not be the best solution, but in the end if a player has taken the time to discuss an issue or an idea, solutions should be investigated and designs considered. Development teams can often get wrapped up during a long development process and forget to consolidate with their passive team. Stick true to the teams vision but consider the bigger picture and the key to your success - your games community.