As I have mentioned elsewhere, some companies just don’t get the fine art of community relations. If your company is the kind of studio that limits direct player contact to forums or social media, they dont “get it” either. Message boards and social media are inherently “reactive” in nature. Community Managers make announcements that only a small percentage of the audience actually reads and spend the rest of their time reacting to thread after thread of “nerd rage” posts.
So how can your favorite game studio get ahead of the madness? How can they flip the switch from “reactive” to “proactive”?
Might I suggest actually meeting them?
I would start with “get in front of your fans and meet them face to face.”
Fan conventions work. Blizzcon works. EVE Fanfest works. Sony Online’s Fan Faire works. While it might be tempting to dismiss my point of view because I am a director for one of those fan conventions, I have observed, first hand, critics of a studio becoming ardent fans of those same studios after getting to spend some quality time with community reps or developers.
SOE – You’re doin’ it right
Sony Online, in particular, has really spent the time and effort to stay in touch with their fans, and it has paid off. Everquest is still going strong over a decade and 16 expansions later. Part of that success is due to the fact that SOE has cultivated a strong sense of community among their players. Why would they go to another game and leave their friends behind? (They don’t.) CCP (EVE Online) is another company that gets it. The player community is extraordinarily tight-knit and even though it is a relatively small community compared to WoW, for example, it’s not going anywhere.
Communities keep games alive. In a universe where players have almost unlimited choices on where to spend their online time, they’re going to stay in games where they feel a sense of connection. Whether that connection is with the folks in their guild or with the people they see once or twice per year at fan conventions, players are going to play in places where they feel at home.
Why do so many players go back to World of Warcraft after they get bored with the latest “flavor of the month”? Because they know people back in WoW. They have 8 years of relationships formed in that game, and you can’t replace that overnight.
Guilds = Glue
One of the unsung strokes of genius that Blizzard had back in 2004 was recruiting entire guilds of players from Everquest. Sure, Rob Pardo was in Legacy of Steel and Alex Afrasiabi was the guild leader of Fires of Heaven, both of whom were “world first” type of raiding guilds in EQ, and yes, they both took substantial parts of their guilds with them, but they weren’t the only guilds that Blizzard went after. My own guild was offered beta access for each member as well as others on my server. Having an entire group of people join you in a new world allowed Blizzard to take large chunks of players from EQ as well as provide an existing “social network” for new players. However, that’s only the first half of the equation.
Players tend to hit a wall early in the life of a new game. A time when, perhaps, they have reached end-game, or just grown tired of the new game and start looking for something else to do. Sometimes, players get a bit of nostalgia for the game they left behind and decide to go back. Sometimes, something new is on the horizon and they want to play something new. Regardless, the strength of the community is what determines if they will stay or go. Smart studios will keep chruning out new and interesting content to keep people busy, but they will also make time and effort to get out and meet fans. If a studio can add personal bonds with their players to the bonds that players have with each other, it makes player retention that much more likely.
Next time, I’ll go more in-depth about how other companies could have been more successful with just a little bit of community outreach. (SWTOR, are you listening?)