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.
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.
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.
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.

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