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  • Quick Dev Insights: Building A Community

    [06.14.22]
    - James Rowbotham
  • Welcome to Quick Dev Insights. A series of bite-sized interviews with people who work in and around the games industry, from indie to AAA. A full list of these interviews can be found here and you can follow my Twitter to find out when new ones are released!

    Building A Community with Dan Walters


    Screenshot from Carrier Command 2

    Introduce yourself

    I'm Dan, I'm the owner of Geometa, and lead developer on Stormworks and Carrier Command 2. I have a background in design, but spend most of my time programming. Over the past 6 years we have built Stormworks from a Steam Early Access launch to one of the biggest vehicle building games on Steam.

    What do you think the major differences are between initially acquiring and then nurturing a community in regards to how you interact with them?

    Firstly, I will point that that there are a thousand paths to success, and discovering a new path is often the best way. We have been very lucky in that the product has struck a chord, and one element can carry the rest. There is an old business adage that says that 90% of your productivity comes from 10% of your effort. My preference is to focus as much as possible on the most productive aspect (developing the core game) and there is a lot we don't do.

    It is all integrated, so the actual game and the players have a big role in what the community is about. For Stormworks, it is often a social thing, sharing what they have built in the game and getting reactions from other players. As a game developer, I see our role as a service provider, adding the social and communication tools and framework for players to easily express themselves and discuss with others. In practical terms, this is a Discord server, issue tracker, blog, etc.

    Communication is important, and we post an announcement at the same time every week. This is the developers voice in the community, but it isn't the only voice, and it's important to accept that the players shape the community to the greatest extent. Little is within control of the developer and it's important to embrace this.

    As the community for Stormworks has matured, there haven't been major changes to how we have managed the community from our side, other than trying to smooth out some friction points. We are lucky because certain players have seen and understood what players need better than ourselves, and provide their own service. This can be helping players with the in-game programming, or making tutorial videos or videos that explain the new updates. They are not doing this to help the developers, but to help the players, because they care about their community. I can't speak highly enough of these people who see value in helping others.

    In your experience what do you think is a good frequency for contact and does it always require a dedicated community person?

    The only downside in speaking to your players is potential fatigue - where a player could feel they are being spammed, and disengage. Otherwise, if the info in your communications is valuable and informative to players, then keeping it regular and frequent solves a lot of problems. Players want to know what is going on, be reminded that they are not forgotten about, and be entertained. We find that once a week works well for Stormworks because we have loads to talk about, and the engagement has continued to grow.

    Interestingly, we recently had an issue on Carrier Command 2, where we had been releasing updates every 2 weeks, but posting the update info as "patch notes" on Steam. A technical detail here is that Steam doesn't post "patch notes" type announcements on the store page, just on the news page for the game, and in some other places deeper in the UI. The result of this is that some players started to claim we had stopped updating the game for months. A simple communication change to start posting the update info to the store page to make it difficult for players to miss. It can be hard to remember that not everyone is full time involved in the game, and you need to make the info easy to digest and hard to miss for casual players.

    In terms of a 'community person', this is not a straightforward topic. The reality is, that there are no simple questions, and only a person who is actively and absolutely engaged with all aspects can give accurate information. Someone who doesn't work in the office with the developers just can't have the insight, no matter how well they know the game. Quality of content is really important to keeping your communications high value, so the person writing the content must understand the design goals, the technical limitations, the history, the development capabilities, etc. Otherwise it is just marketing fluff, and players can tell the difference.

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