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Building Game Communities

by SenorRoboto
Features, Games and Gaming, Retrospectives

It seems like game developers and publishers tend to take a few different strategies with how they release and support their games. This can be for any number of reasons, like meeting a release date, reaching specific sales numbers, and experimenting with sales models. Let’s take a look at what works and what doesn’t.

Some rush a game out the door to meet a release date, then take their leisure when releasing patches to fix zero-day bugs. You’ve already bought their game and they have your money, there’s no rush to get things done. Maybe you’ll get a patch when the DLC comes out in 3 months. Then the team has moved on to their next project, hoping you haven’t learned your lesson.

Then you have the developers who take a little more pride in their work. Even if they’re locked into a release date, there’s a patch the same day to fix bugs. They want you to recommend the game to your friends so that they buy it too, so they’re eager to fix the glaring issues as soon as possible. Still, a year passes, and apart from a few patches released alongside DLC, the game starts to grow stale. Old bugs remain unfixed. There’s nothing keeping you from moving on to bigger and better things.

Finally, there are some developers who spoil you. They release constant patches for bugs you didn’t even realize existed. They add new weapons, new maps, and tools for you to play around with. You tell your friends to play with you. And you keep coming back for more. While the developers have spent a lot of time and money on this game, they can manage to build a community that more than pays for itself.

Team Fortress 2 is a great example of how to build a game community. One month after the game released, modding tools were made available to anyone who owned the game. Immediately people started making great custom maps. Several months later, Valve began releasing new weapons for each of the game’s nine classes (a process that took over two years!).  Almost 4 years and 180 patches later, there are now countless more official maps and weapons, many of them made by community members. While not as popular as in its first 2 years, the online community is still strong, and the game is featured in several competitive leagues. As I type this at 1:40am on a Friday night, there are over 3000 servers online, and roughly 1/3 of them have players. Even this week, Valve ran a video contest to highlight the new video recording options within the game. They show no signs of letting up on the game yet. Their transition to a quasi-free-to-play model based on their periodic 50-75% off sales and their store to buy different weapons and cosmetic accessories shows their commitment to push the envelope and innovate.

Minecraft has built up its community in a different way – by making the gameplay so favorable towards collaboration that communities spring up on their own. The game features dedicated servers, which have become highly customizable based on community-made modifications. Around these dedicated servers have sprung up a variety of different gameplay experiences. Some feature griefers, constantly-changing landscapes, and constant fear of attack by monsters. Others have a less hostile approach and feature massive creations built by several unique users. People are able to seek out a haven for the kinds of play they want to experience. Mojang, the developers of the game, have continued to keep interest in the game by being consistent with updates, introducing new features like weather effects, ingame circuits and minecart tracks. They’ve also encouraged community innovation by making ingame support for different texture packs and making it easier to mod for the game despite its constant updates.

The game continues to sell well and spread through word of mouth, from friends telling friends to the large amount of press the game’s community has generated through its creations.

A different sort of community has been enjoyed by the venerable RTS series, Starcraft. While it does feature some pretty impressive modding tools and Blizzard has been consistent about releasing patches, these pale in comparison to the main attraction: The thrill of Starcraft’s competitive scene. While the growth of e-sports in the original game was somewhat of a shock, Starcraft 2 was built from the ground up to appeal to competitive play. The infinite minutiae of each unit and map was carefully balanced in beta before the game even released, and is ongoing to this day. As an E-sport, it garners millions of YouTube hits on online replays of high-level matchups in Korea, Europe, and the United States. Even if you aren’t good at Starcraft, you can enjoy watching a well-played game.

It’s obvious companies have different goals in mind when they make and support games. If we want quality and lasting gaming experiences, it’s important to support the developers who treat game purchases as more than a series of one-way transactions.

Featured image courtesy of Elliot Trinidad.

SenorRoboto

Ben H has written 18 FGEC articles.

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2 thoughts on “Building Game Communities

  1. Team Fortress 2 really is a good example of how to build a big community. I first started playing it a little over 3 years after it launched, in part because they released a new patch that added an Offline Practice mode. The fact that they are able to still get people to buy the game that long after its release really does speak to how much support they’ve given the game.

    You’re right that Valve spoils us, but that’s also why I’m more willing to shell out $50 for one of their games. I know that I’ll be getting my money’s worth.

  2. It would be interesting to see how the costs of their continued work on TF2 compare to the ongoing sales they make. The game doesn’t advertise anymore except via its blog, Steam, and word of mouth.

    For a while there I feel like they could have used their games as loss leaders to draw people to Steam in the first place. As long as people are given good service via Valve’s games they’re likely to stick around and buy other stuff too.

    But now that TF2 has an item store, I wouldn’t be surprised if their profits are sitting high again. They’ve managed to find the sweet spot of effort where both the customer is happy and the money keeps coming in.

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