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  • How To Build A Super Community

    [12.14.21]
    - Michael Silverwood
  • When you're building a multiplayer game, you're actually building two big things of equal importance: a game that's fun to play, and a community that's fun to play it with. When you're a tiny indie developer, the former is daunting enough, and it could be tempting to leave the latter to work itself out. But, after spending nearly four years building Super Animal Royale and its community, I'm confident that wouldn't have worked for us. The success of Super Animal Royale is the success of our community.

    While the gameplay has to be strong enough to attract them in the first place, we routinely hear from players that it's the playful, supportive, non-toxic community that keeps them coming back to the island. Every game and community is unique, so while the specific challenges you face might end up being slightly different, it's my hope that sharing our thought process and story will reinforce the importance of community building alongside game development, and help you think through your own approach and how to integrate the two.

    Engineered Pawsitivity

    Competitive games can be frustrating, and a critical mass of highly frustrated players is almost guaranteed to become the kind of aggressive, expletive-laden gaming environment we've become all too familiar with. That's why we've tried to build respect for player health and emotions into Super Animal Royale's DNA.

    Every design decision contributes to whether a player becomes more or less frustrated, and while some negative feelings are inevitable in a genre in which you're guaranteed to lose more than you win, we try to soften the edges of those bad feelings wherever we can. So, while a death animation in which your character explodes into a pile of spaghetti, followed by a message informing you that "You have been diskoalafied..." might seem like the devs just getting the sillies out (and, to be clear, it's that too), the deeper intent is to subtly remind you that this is just a game. Every design decision in Super Animal Royale, from the short match length, to the cuddly character designs, goofy cosmetics and weapons and absurdist lore, is intended to blunt the agony of defeat, and to remind you that, while it offers genuinely intense action, you probably don't want to take a fight that involves banana peels and armed monkeys too seriously.

    Not every game can combat gamer rage with kittens and puns, of course, but every game can pay close attention to the key moments when players are going to be feeling frustration to soften the blow and also consider the player's emotional health more broadly in their design. Every game can also seek to be respectful of a player's time and attention, and to discourage unhealthy play habits. We've enlisted the advice of Ramin Shokrizade who has written extensively on the topic as it pertains to metagame design, and we try to assess every design decision through this lens.

    Our new Animal Pass Archive system, for instance, is designed to reduce the unhealthy play times associated with many battle passes. Rather than expiring at the end of a season, players can continue working on their Animal Passes after each season is officially over, and can even purchase and complete prior Animal Passes at their own pace. While the FOMO-inspiring limited time battle passes do drive engagement, they also drive unhealthy habits, like marathon grinds to complete a pass before it expires. We don't want players to skip out on studying for that final because they're grinding to finish a pass, nor feel like they missed out because their pass expired while they were studying for that final. Games are ultimately just one of many ways to spend your leisure time, and while we're thrilled if you want to spend time playing our game, we're strong believers in shorter play sessions spread out over a longer period of time. We want you to go study for that final, go outside, take breaks, live a balanced life.

    While it can be hard to quantify the overall impact of these design choices, we know qualitatively they are noticed and embraced by the community. How do we know what the community thinks? Because we're part of it.

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