Reprinted from the Mary Margaret newsletter... but it's a good piece and wanted it to get more eyes.
One of the odd offshoots of the rise of the internet was the creation of an entirely new profession: the Community Manager. And while still in its infancy, Community Managers do something that's likely critical to your game's success: they work with your community of players. They're there every day (and often nights), connecting people, putting out the messages that will help your game thrive, helping to nourish a positive supplementary game experience, and bringing back all of the info they gather to your dev and marketing and CS and QA teams. They're doing their best to grow a huge asset for your game: the community.
And that community is even more valuable to you in tough times than it is when it's all gravy. Your CM is a lot cheaper than new content development, can help you keep customers that you otherwise have to spend marketing dollars to acquire, and can help build brand loyalty so that even a less-than-stellar title won't take the franchise down. And more, the Community Manager can help foster ties between players that add a lot to their game experience, making them that much more likely to stick around, rather than wander off to the latest new release. And when they stay, they are building further brand loyalty, or, in the case of the MMO, continuing to be an active revenue stream.
COMMUNITY: WHAT IT DOES
This is the basics, but it bears repeating because it's easy to get lost in the shuffle of new games and new technology. Your community can be an integral part of the success of your game. If you have a good relationship with your community, you'll reap a number of really exciting benefits, benefits that were usually impossible to get to before the internet. Speak directly to your customers on an ongoing basis? Build personal relationships with them? Get day to day feedback from them? Inconceivable! But it's not, that's the world we live in now, and if you're not building a stellar relationship with your community, you are losing out on a rare opportunity (and you can bet your competitors are not being so profligate).
Community adds to the content in your game.
Whether it's a shooter, an MMO, or a flash game played in Facebook, when people interact they create content that you can't get otherwise. Other players or teams or guilds are much more challenging than the best AI, and they keep that challenge fresh by evolving new strategies and exploring new competitive options. How many times have your players shown you game play options that you hadn't realized were there? Whether they're exploits or really clever new uses for existing game elements, players can be really dedicated to finding the best winning combination (and using it on others).
Community creates an improved supplementary experience.
But community doesn't just give you the ability to improve your game experience, it also creates an opportunity for a powerful supplementary experience as well. Everything from the creation of goods to support help in the forums, from helping orient newcomers to giving you feedback on game changes, from off-topic jokes to having a great time doing your marketing by making machinima that ends up on youtube: your community can do great things outside of your game to help drive your success. And have a great time doing it, which improves their experience and reduces churn.
Community forms bonds
And community does even more than that really. Because when I use the term "community" I mean the normal definition of the word. I'm not talking about some random group, though there's some of that, I'm speaking about a collection of people, united in a single interest (your game) that come together to share that experience. It's really about the heart, it's about people connecting to each other and forming ties that can outlast your game. Weddings as a result of meeting through a game? Old news. But it's important enough, I feel, to stress again: people are having genuinely meaningful experiences together as a result of your game. Do us all a favor and appreciate that, people don't make those kinds of ties with NPCs. But they can with each other, and your CM, and thus your brand. Support your community, and you'll reap the benefits.
COMMUNITY: WHAT'S COMING?
So you've covered the basics, all of the stuff above was old hat, nothing new. The next question is: what's coming? I've worked in community for something like twelve years, and it's never stopped growing, evolving, forming new was for people to connect and interact. Just as the internet has created new ways to communicate, present information, and organize, so interactive technologies have consistently created new ways for people to connect. The ways people play with online identity are a new ability for us, we've never had such freedom to experiment with how we present ourselves, never had such opportunity to learn without disasterous consequences of failure. It's consistently meant new levels of personal and social freedom (and mostly we've done great with them).
I was at the f8 Facebook developers conference last year, and was struck by the architectural changes Facebook seemed to be making. Facebook is highlighting the "feed" (of events, actions, and comments by your friends and connections) which makes a powerful and fascinating statement, but one that held a deep ring of truth. Throughout human history, we've communicated our history and values and meaning in stories. And the feed takes a static medium, the profile, and makes it into something dynamic and evolving: rather than check out your friend's profile because you're curious, now you've got an up-to-the-minute update of what they've been doing. You've got a window into the evolving story of their life, and one that you play a part in... and too, you're a story teller, as you go through your day, and others in your circle, be they near or far, can take part in your day.
And that's a good example of both how online interactive experience can extend existing social dynamics, but also create new ones. leisa reichelt coined the term "ambient intimacy" (in the disambiguity blog ) to describe the sense of connectedness that comes with involvement in a twitter stream or Facebook updates or something similar. It's the sense of presence on a sustained level, a feeling that someone is close, even though they may be thousands of miles away. And yet they are close, in the sense that you can be sharing even small experiences and impressions.
Web 2.0 has created a number of similar experiences, where people are able to connect in very subtle and fluid ways, via tweets or updates or pictures or youtube dialogs. The technology is still very much evolving new ways for people to connect... and to form community. And so far, there's still a tremendous opportunity for games to create new and exciting social experiences for their players - experiences that will mean satisfaction for the players and success for the game.