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  • Quick Dev Insights: Building A Community

    [06.14.22]
    - James Rowbotham

  • Which methods have you found work best in terms of interactions with your community?

    A weekly announcement on Steam is the backbone of our communication strategy. This is the official word of the developers, it appears on the store page, and it is regular to encourage habitual engagement. The other one is the issue tracker, where players can go to easily communicate directly with the developers. Customer support is important, and players must have a voice and be able to make their point, otherwise you risk pushing an otherwise well-wishing player away and forcing them to use their review to have their voice heard.

    Now for the controversial part - you will hear from any marketer how important Discord, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is to your "strategy", but the reality is, if you actually measure the impact, you are going to find that a lot of it is a waste of your time. Is Discord worth the effort? We have the in-game link so players can chat with others with a single click, but it is a lot of work. It is a good service for players, but I would rather focus more on actual development.

    We occasionally do Q&A videos every few months, and this is good to cover a bit more detail than you can in a short weekly announcement. It makes it clear that you want to engage with players, and giving the company a human voice does make players consider you more as a real person and less of a faceless punching bag. I enjoy them, it isn't too much work, and some sub-group of players really appreciate them.

    Some key players run their own competitions, other community events, and one even runs an annual awards ceremony. This stuff can be great for the community, but it is these community members who are best at making this kind of stuff happen. Personally, I don't think the developer is the best person to do these activities, and it's a big distraction from where the focus should be - product development.

    The Steam Workshop seems to be an active part of Stormworks. Do you think it has helped in building a community?

    Steam Workshop and UGC is all there is. It is the social engine that powers the game and has allowed the game to consistently and sustainably keep selling for years. It is the social aspect of sharing your creations and looking at other players creations that feeds back into the gameplay loop and gives the game the feeling of real meaning. This can't be emphasized enough. The players author part of the game, and it becomes their game.

    Many players have 10's of thousands of subscriptions of their creations. There is an ecosystem within Stormworks where you can grow your own following and audience. The fact that these incredible creations are created by players is that bit more magical, compared to a developer or artist creating it.

    It's hard to please everyone and it's likely that someone will always be unhappy with a game development change. How do you approach handling disagreements?

    There is a lot to cover here.

    Stormworks has a review score of 92% so the vast majority of players feel positive about the game and we have no problem being held to account when we get it wrong (which is often). However, some players are easier to please than others and I would recommend against trying to please 100%. Some players have impossible expectations, while others will move the goal posts when you get close. Instead, we focus on helping where we practically can.

    Any time we make a development change that replaces or adjusts an existing feature, there is a backlash, even if the change is an improvement in every objective viewpoint. Players do not want to re-learn a mechanic, they don't want a learn a new location for some UI, but they do want the game to be better. This puts the developer between a rock and a hard place, and each time we change an existing mechanic, the backlash is so exhausting that we regret the effort we put into improving the game. This means that if we implement something, then later decide we could have done it in a better way, it is too late. This is one of the biggest flaws in "games as a service".

    In terms of disagreements, we only really have two official communication streams - the weekly announcement, and the issue tracker. Players can and will get a response straight from the developers, and while it isn't always the ideal response in the affirmative, we at least try to explain our reasoning, as well as explaining that we are only game developers and not everything is within our control. The majority of players accept our response, but with almost half a million players, sometimes there are aggressive, argumentative, or confrontational reactions. In these cases, I think we have given a response in the best way we can, but there is no need to engage in discussion or argument. Follow the rules of "treat everyone equally, help where you can, but you are only a game developer".

    One last thing to point out is that these two communication streams are both on our terms. Most of the content on forums, Discord, reviews, comments, etc. are players discussing between themselves. As your game grows, reading all of this would become a full time job, and at some point we stopped reading it to focus on responding only to stuff addressed directly to us on the issue tracker. This may read like we ignore some feedback, and are detached from our players - but it is a question of scale and productivity. Our viewpoint is that we read everything addressed and sent directly to us, and the issue tracker encourages constructive and detailed dialogue, and gives us more than enough to work on.

    Where to find more about you / things you're working on?

    Our website is https://geometa.co.uk and you can also follow the Stormworks and Carrier Command Steam store pages.

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