Game devs get power from the people

PAX 2011: Community managers from Ubisoft, Insomniac, Sucker Punch, and more talk about the future of forums and how to engage the fans.

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Who was there: The panel consisted of community managers J Goldberg from Volition, Evan Berman from En Masse Entertainment, Collin Moore from Sucker Punch, Gabriel Graziani from Ubisoft, and James Stevenson from Insomniac Games.

Ubisoft's Graziani said his job was to help fans engage with the Assassin's Creed universe.

What they talked about: Forums may have been the venue of choice when engaging the community more than 10 years ago, but with the rise of broadcasting channels such as YouTube, Justin.tv, Tout, and Twitch.tv, the community has grown from sharing their thoughts via text format to broadcasting their entire gaming experience to the Internet.

The panel of community managers discussed how interacting with the fans has changed and continues to evolve. The first topic was broadcasting and how with the growing popularity of competitive gaming, the community is more interested in seeing what other people are playing and doing instead of reading details about the game.

Stevenson commented that 12-year-olds are now capturing their own footage in HD and editing videos together. It's a video-driven society, he said, adding, "Who cares about screenshots anymore?" Stevenson said he believed that going forward the ability to broadcast and send video instantly, anywhere, is the next big thing--and not just in gaming.

For Gabriel Graziani, who manages the Assassin's Creed community with two other managers, the goal is to support the community in whatever ways he can when it comes to fan-made content. He said that he doesn't even have to do anything, and the fans will enjoy making videos about Assassin's Creed.

"They're doing the work for us," said Graziani, who enjoys creating opportunities for fans to meet the developers.

Volition's Goldberg highlighted the fact that the community has always enjoyed reading developer blogs, even back when they consisted of text, a few pictures, and a short video. However, he noted that the people who view the video greatly outnumber those who read the text, and they see that the community also reacts more to the video content.

"Make it engaging," said Goldberg, emphasizing that video is a powerful tool. "Make it speak to people and they'll watch the whole thing." He also added that videos need to be "somewhat short" because of attention spans.

A trip to the studio always bolsters the fan base.

As demonstrated by PAX, bringing the community together is important, and it shows that companies care for their fans. Stevenson says that "face-to-face interaction builds stronger bonds than any online interaction," and he has set up a community day for Insomniac fans for the past three years to check out the games. Gamers from as far as Finland have shown up for the event.

Goldberg talked about flying a handful of community members to Volition in Champaign, Illinois, to play a game for the first time and give them the chance to affect the finished product. Fans are excited to see their names in the credits, and he stressed that by building these strong relationships, they will go back to the community and be evangelists for the game. He also encouraged people to hold fun contests and panels for their fans.

"Everything needs to be fun at the end of the day," Goldberg said, adding that it's not just about coming out to play the game; there needs to be more interaction. Social media also plays a large role in how community managers communicate. Moore talked about how forums were static, and while he still surfs those pages daily, the ability to reply quickly and instantly via Twitter or Facebook makes a huge difference.

Moore stated that fans are "amazed there's a human on the other end" when he responds. Stevenson tries to respond to every tweet and joked that he is easily manipulated by the fans.

"Be personal with people," said Goldberg, who believes that people will get better brand recognition that way. "Adjust the message to that platform."

Face-to-face interactions can really energize the fan base.

Evan Berman added that "if you're using it like an RSS feed, you're doing it wrong."

The final part of the panel discussion touched on topics such as Web integration and how developers need to see the value of making it easier for gamers to make their own user-generated content. Offering incentives postrelease is also a great way for newcomers to join the community.

Takeaway: Community managers will listen to fan feedback, and good ones will try to interact with the fans as much as possible. The platform of choice is slowly moving away from forums and heading into the realm of broadcasting and social media.

Discussion

27 comments
dRuGGeRnaUt
dRuGGeRnaUt

I agree with this idea totally. The only problem is that, the people on the internet commenting in forums/message boards about games are not a large number. Look at the hate CoD has on the internet, yet year over year it breaks its own records. Until the "masses" as well start to speak out, the devs might listen, but the publishers look at the larger market.

=(

I honestly think when it comes to PC only devs, this idea has the best chance of working, as more PC gamers. Seriously though, if more "indie" companies made games with no publishers taking profit, they wouldn't need 10,000,000 sales to be rich at all.

sayondas4
sayondas4

ubisoft ! seriously waiting for prince of persia.

ZeroX91
ZeroX91

"Community managers will listen to fan feedback, and good ones will try to interact with the fans as much as possible." Capcom could learn from this statement.

GamerLegend10
GamerLegend10

"that 12-year-olds are now capturing their own footage in HD and editing videos together" their parents obviously have a lot of money to waste...i would never have an expensive pvr bought for me, kids are spoilt now lol...i sound old hahaha anyway i dont think it is good that websites like youtube are being filled with random pointless videos made by kids...its just rubbish...most of the videos are of games like cod where little kids (who are too young to even play the game) who think they are amazing are capturing and badly editing videos of their gameplay...so in my opinion this is a bad thing. kids views are worthless in making a good game, if u base it on what they want it would be terrible...whereas the only people who bother to make comments about games now on sites like this are real gamers. Just my worthless opinion though :)

SauhlGood
SauhlGood

@mewes82 nothin too wrong with dlc's ...but release day dlc's are bs, time better spent polishing the game... or for that matter content that was prolly cut out of the game and deemed a dlc... retail exclusives are a bit of a bs too, retailers interests, should not be altering any aspects of a game... there are other methods of giving incentive to purchase from your store...

Richardthe3rd
Richardthe3rd

@KBABZ : The only idiot here is the person who believes betas serve something other than the following 4 purposes: 1. Pre-release balancing 2. Infrastructure stress testing 3. Engine optimization/ bug squishing 4. Pre-order/ promotional incentives If you seriously believe that anything other than 99.99% of games go into beta with major design decisions left open then you should pause before calling anyone an idiot on these boards. When the beta drops, if it's a huge failure, the game will usually release as a huge failure or get pulled back into development. The devs are waiters waiting to take the communities orders.

mewes82
mewes82

ive just read 5 comments about DLC being pointless and to get rid of them (and i havent gone through half a page).... i realy like DLC, but i never buy the new mission or new maps untill i have finished the (disc) game.... and if i dont like what the DLC is offering (price to high, lack of content, ect.) i just dont buy it, simple as that

adc89
adc89

I find it ironic that this is a long article about how people prefer to watch videos instead of read articles.

Brutenuke
Brutenuke

don't they get the game will get cracked no matter what they will simply be making it easier for the buyers even xbox games get pirated

TheVGamer
TheVGamer

In a perfect world, developers would be their own publishers, ie. Valve style. In reality, as much as developers love their fan base, publishers will kick them in their balls while asking for more money.

motorxd
motorxd

Can someone tell the D-bags from whactiblizzard to start listening to their fan bases?

jsly268
jsly268

I def like the concept of being able to edit and create my gameplay seamlessly... I find it would be really entertaining and fun if they developed some decent hardware for consoles, or some software that has some simple tools to edit your gaming videos and possibly upload them to youtube via your console... That would be really interesting, i understand that u can easily buy cables and hardware from any store... but itd be nice if they put it in as an incentive, such as bluetooth on the ps3, for the next generation of consoles, I know that a new remade street fighter is allowing people to upload their fights straight to youtube grom the game... something like that but really fleshed out would be a Really nice feature to see on next-gen consoles =)

Skeetersan
Skeetersan

Geez. Are all of you broke? What is wrong with digital rights to an IP? You want to do whatever you want with a game free of charge then go spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars making your own. If the DLC isn't a good value to you then don't buy it. Of course it's frustrating when dlc is available at launch and should have been included in the game in the first place but this is the exception not the rule. With used game retailers and so many ways to rent instead of buy these days there has to be some good reason to purchase a new title. It's a reaction to the market place and consumer trends. It isn't unfair, it's just business. If you want it to change somehow then use your $$$ to "vote" for something else and the market will react.

bioghost
bioghost

@servb0ts I think it is very unfair for the developers. It is the managers, business men and other greedy men that wants DLC and DRM. What can the developers do, if they are just there to develop the games, not to market it.

KBABZ
KBABZ

Richardthe3rd, you're an idiot. Under your logic any sort of Beta Test would fail, and you suggest that all fans have no idea what they want in a game. That's bulls***. Also, people, Ubisoft weren't the only people attending this thing, so shut up with the DRM whining already. We've heard it all before.

Atheosis
Atheosis

@servob0ts Not all DLC is bad. Nickle and dime DLC like EA loves to do is bad, but full expansions to great games are generally a good thing.

strayfies
strayfies

DRM serves to insult their honest customers with the intent of protecting their assets. The problem is of course that they lose a lot of honest customers and thus their assets take a hit. Strategically, DRM is a bad idea. The risk to reward ratio might work for them, but I bet they'd see even better results with promotional content, given to registered players etc. If they're going to develop launch-day DLC (irritating), that might be put to better work. Preserving forums is probably a labor, but everything around that topic strikes me as inherently obvious. I will say that I appreciate the companies whose representatives do interact with the players (not govern), and do it often. Not corporate-friendly, agreeable posts but actual discussion.

Yams1980
Yams1980

agreed with the drm thing, i hate it and just dont buy many games cause of it. and end up using creative means around it

Valinor85
Valinor85

Get rid of stupid DRM (serial is fine) and stupid dlc. IF you need to add something, add a patch, or if it's really HUGE, make it an expansion.

Darth_Kane
Darth_Kane

Ubisoft listens to fans!? HAHAHAHAHA

Richardthe3rd
Richardthe3rd

This has to be one of the most idiotic stories Gamespot has ever published, and is ironically an example of how developer "community managers" patronize contributors on their forums: by saying absolutely nothing about anything relevant to their product. If flying a bunch of giddy fans to your base of operations and letting them demo your new product is a way of getting "real feedback" then someone should suggest Barack Obama go to a strip-club for advice on how to run the country. "You're so powerful, you're doing fine, you're the best!" Honest feedback, totally. In terms of artistic approach and design I honestly don't think they SHOULD listen to the community all the time, if ever. But when it comes to technical problems, absent features or just raw quality issues, the feedback becomes a little more relevant.

beuneus12
beuneus12

watch a 12 year olds video montage? uhm...

servb0ts
servb0ts

these developers are so full of Crap, public toilets are jealous. you wanna listen to the fans, get rid of DLC and DRM.

MMaestro
MMaestro

Haha no. Lets be honest, community manager is just another title for PR manager. If developers were serious about listening to its communities, they'd acknowledge the fans IN THE GAME (you know Bungie listens to its fans when theres a Red vs Blue skit in the game). There is no more blatant BS than having a forum post by a "community manager" claiming to "thank the community for all its input" and then having absolutely no visible effect in the final product.

Sohereiam
Sohereiam

If Ubisoft wanted to listen to their fans they wouldn't put DRM.

Cruisemissile
Cruisemissile

Sure -_- i think id rather read about the game then watch a gameplay video then look at the rating then decide to purchase or not