Back in the day, when I first embarked on my career in video games, the relationship with gamers felt so very different.
This was before the predominance of the net and social media with its multitude of games-related websites, forums and feeds. It was a time when print magazines ruled. Critical success was measured by just a small handful of review scores and commercial success was underpinned by this, a cover-mounted demo and word of mouth. Customer services and the occasional hand-written fan letter pretty much summed up the extent of two-way conversation between devs and gamers.
Today, the gamers’ voice is more prevalent than ever and I’d argue as important to your games success as a smart marketing campaign. With a crowded marketplace and so many potential distractions, buying decisions are won or lost not just by final review scores, but long before.
Features and previews are picked over, analysed and critiqued by the vocal core gaming community – not just what has been shown but also speculation as to what has not. That’s a pretty scary prospect if you’re a developer, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be.
Our industry is littered with examples of games design colliding with community; Mass Effect 3’s ending, changes and removed features from Eve Online and – from my own experience – the removal of the cockpit camera from Grid 2. The viral nature of social media makes for a near impossible position to defend, and as a wise man once said to me: “Don’t fight the internet. You’ll never win”.
What all these examples have in common is a resultant doubling down of efforts to engage with their relative communities. The problem being that each was looking to cure the problem after the damage has been done.
Your community is an incredibly powerful, complimentary and often viral messaging force.
Clive Moody, Codemasters
Being burned once is one too many times, so the Codemasters Racing Studios approach over the last 12 months on Grid Autosport has been one of collaboration and two-way conversation at every stage of development.
Our vision, concept, features, content and key aspects, such as car handling, have all been validated by the community. In many cases this meant sharing information behind closed doors before implementation on a particular aspect had even commenced.
This is something many of you have probably been doing for years. Similarly there will be readers who have never taken this approach. I urge you to embrace it. It’s a surprising, enlightening and liberating experience.
It’s surprising in that the community really doesn’t want to design your game for you, but does want feel part of the development process and understand why and how decisions get made. Their opinions and ideas can guide and inspire, but managed properly your game won’t become a homogenised ‘design by committee’ experience.
It’s enlightening just how much you can learn about their playing habits. Knowing when players turned to our games rather than our competitors was bordering on revelatory and confirmed that our approach was not only correct, but had its own place in the market.
And it’s liberating because rather than worrying about your audience loving the final product, you already have confidence in your vision. Sure, you might obsess over decisions that affect gameplay, but you have a wealth of feedback and data to help you make an informed decision.
As gamers’ voices can be heard more than ever before, your collaborators also become a mouthpiece to the world. The very best will evangelise and support you. Set against the pervasiveness of naysayers and negativity on the internet, your community is an incredibly powerful, complimentary and viral messaging force. If they feel connected to and love what you are building, your fans will be your ambassadors. Who wouldn’t want that?
Just one more benefit to call out. Developers love working in open-minded, forward-thinking and, of course, successful teams. A big part of the thrill of making games is getting them into players’ hands and seeing their reaction.
positive feedback loop early and often lifts then team and gives them belief they will be making people happy, plus with the constantly competitive employment market helps attract fresh talent to your team.
In essence, don’t collide, collaborate.