Promoting active engagement in your game's community

This article is intended to provide tips for game developers with newly developing communities, based on personal experience and advice I've received over the past five years building communities both online and locally.  The topics discussed aren't so much about growth (though they might help!) as they are about building trust and mutual respect in your existing community for the long-term reward of a community that works for you. 

Be responsive

As a community manager I do my best to answer tweets and e-mails as if it's a natural reflex built into my person (inbox willing, of course). My community stays active and engaged because I'm active and engaged. Here are some ways to keep up with your community:

  • Use a third party Twitter application. Tweetdeck (free) and Hootsuite (paid) are both great options. For mobile, Fenix and Talon are my personal recommendations on Android. On iOS, Tweetbot and Echofon 2 are solid.
  • Don't get tunnel vision. The main reason for the apps above is that they let you see more than a single timeline. In Tweetdeck I tend to have up to 10 timelines side by side, all delivering different information. Notifications for one account, strictly mentions in another, and one that's a constant search for our game's name so I know if someone is talking about us without directly mentioning our account. This is true for more than just Twitter - find a way to get more than just a single stream of information, and there's most likely an app that will help you do that.
  • Get notified. Notifications ride a fine line between bothersome and informative. If you dig a little deeper and put in some work, you can tailor them to the way you want and have information delivered that's most important. Separate your website's contact form e-mail from your personal account and set notifications for that account to reduce mail blast. Set notifications for specific channels on Discord and mute others, or set everything to only let you know when you're mentioned. Make the tools you have at your disposal work for you.
  • Setup Google Alerts. People aren't always talking about you on social media. Google Alerts is a great way to be notified any time you're mentioned by a news source, which in turn is potential content you can use for social media.
  • If you're not around, try scheduling posts. Honestly, even if you are around you should still try scheduling posts. Many of the apps mentioned above let you do this. Setup content ahead of time like a neat gif from your game or feature a piece of fanart.

Track engagement

Now that you're setup to answer your community at face melting speeds, it's important to make sure that they're actively listening and responding. There's a whole wide world of tools that can help you with this, but for now let's stick with tools that you already use but may not have taken full advantage of:

  • Twitter Analytics: This is a totally free tool built right into Twitter, is easily accessible and simple to parse. 
  • Facebook Insights: Same deal - free tool, easy to access and use and readily available for pages.
  • Bit.ly: While you no longer need to shorten links on Twitter, Bit.ly is actually a great analytics tool. Accounts on Bit.ly give you the ability to see how many clicks you get on your link, how much traffic that link is getting and from where.
  • Google Analytics: Google can help you track website traffic totally for free. This can be especially useful if you have a forum, but if not you can potentially use it to figure out if a spike in traffic correlates with a particularly engaging tweet, Facebook post, blog entry and so on.

Questions you should ask yourself when looking at your analytics (some of these might seem like common sense, but hopefully they'll help you paint a larger picture of your engagement):

  • What was my most engaging post last month/last week/yesterday?
  • What time did I post it?
  • Did I use an image, video or plain text?
  • How many people replied?
  • Did they ask questions or simply comment?
  • Was the response positive or negative?
  • Did you use hashtags?
  • Did you mention anyone?

All of these questions can help you determine what community members and passerby most often engage with and further determine the type of content you should be posting in order to foster that engagement. 

For the love of Pete please don't do this:

Blind follows in an attempt to get instant follow-backs does absolutely nothing for you and could actually end up hurting your engagement. You may as well front-flip dunk your tweet straight in the trash, because if your audience is made up of people doing the same thing as you, then rest assured they don't care about your content just as much as you don't care about theirs. A healthy Twitter ratio should look like this:

This ratio very clearly shows that you post content, you probably do it regularly, and your content is good enough that people want to keep coming back for it. The low following number says look, I'm just here to post what I want to post and I guess people really seem to like it (and probably for good reason). Our game's Twitter account currently only follows our team members, and more often then not those follows from our game's account trickle down to our personal accounts - everybody wins.

On that note, I highly suggest separating your personal social media accounts from your business/game accounts. Even for solo developers - it's best to keep your personal posts to your own personal account. The most successful posts that we've had came purely from content about our game. We've even had trouble getting people to join us for streams where we play games that our game is heavily inspired by, which common sense says would be a natural attractor for people in your community. Pat yourself on the back and give your team members a high five, because you should feel proud that people are here to see the dope stuff you've been working on, so show it off and do it regularly - but don't tweet about that pizza you guys ate that one time. 

Identify your strongest members

One of the most important parts of maintaining and growing a strong community is identifying the people who are most active. The goal of a community manager is to build a community that works for them. Your strongest members are people who are going to put in that work for you; these are the people who are going to reach out and say "hey you need to play this game" and that's the absolute best thing you can hope for.  Give back to these people as much as possible because they're often putting in work to promote and support you entirely unprompted - they're your internet street team. I've gone so far as to offer an older graphics card I had on hand because one of our most supportive members wasn't able to play our game, and she absolutely deserved it. These are also often the people who end up being your mods, and modding members from your community further shows your trust in your people.

Sometimes people are mean

And that sucks. In some cases there are specific people who stand out as bullies, or just sour people who don't generally get along well with others and look for a fight in everything. These people can usually be ignored or blocked on social media, but they can become a bigger problem when they join a forum or chat.

Make sure that you have rules posted somewhere prominent in your community's hub and stick to them. Rules aren't about being an authoritarian, their intent is to show that your community is a safe space and that there are people leading who will ensure everyone is able to engage without fear of harassment.

If you have a person giving your community a hard time, my usual rule of thumb is to give them a single warning. If they can't hang then they're out - ain't nobody got time for that. Drama is one of the single worst things that can tear a community apart. Dragging communication on with a single individual isn't worth your time and especially not your community's time, so it's best to part ways quickly and discreetly. Banning someone is a time to practice compassion and tact, so tread lightly and be respectful.

Support creative content

We once had someone approach us at a convention to say they had seen our tweets and looked us up on YouTube, then watched all of our videos. That's amazing, and we appreciate the support, but in the two years we've been working on this game we've only made one video, while our community members have made nearly 30. 

The best way to support creatives in your community is by providing them with anything they might need to create what they have in mind. I try to make whatever I can available, including sending custom builds of our game with no background music for our video creators (our game is early and doesn't have the option yet). Fonts, music, key art for fan art reference - all you have to do is ask and we'll provide. We do ask that some things be made clearly separate on a case-by-case basis, such as this fan song which we wanted to stay solely in the hands of the creator and be clear that it was not part of the official soundtrack.

Sharing this community content (with full credit and mention of the artist of course) helps show that you support fan art and other creative content, which will hopefully lead to others will joining in.

Discord

It's incredibly important to have one central meeting place for your community. Forums and IRC have always been a popular choice and are still widely used. Our personal choice is Discord which I highly recommend. Here's why:

  • Response time: our community can get an instant response from our team. As a community manager and producer, I find it important to keep Discord active on my phone at all times so that a community member can ping me at any time, day or night, with a question or comment. I understand this isn't ideal for everyone and isn't always necessary, but my personal preference is to be as responsive as I possibly can. Having the desktop app with notifications for mentions turned on is likely more than enough response for your community and let's them know that you're just as active and engaged as they are. 
  • Organization: forums are great for this as well, but Discord takes it one step further by being a sort of forum/IRC hybrid with the added bonus of supporting voice chat. Discord can be organized any way that you want using chat and voice channels. Static channels can be used for establishing server rules and shouting announcements. Other channels can be broken down by general chats and community interests, places to organize games with other members and more. 
  • Bots: Discord truly shines when you extend it with bots. Our game's server uses a bot mainly for announcing a welcome message to new members and letting everyone know when our Twitch stream is live, and this may be all that you need it for as well. Bots can do so much more though and should be utilized whenever possible. We recently added a channel to our server where members can use the bot to opt-in and out of notifications for specific games so that they can be pinged later when another member of that group wants to team up and play. Typing !livemas in our chat returns a picture of a guacamole tube from Taco Bell. Our bot is named after my dog. We have a channel called #swole-club where you can sound off with a ✨💪✨ every time you work on getting that body right. All of this is ours as a community and Discord bots are powerful tools that can help you stay organized or blast your dumb inside jokes with ease.

If you'd like to learn more about setting up a Discord server for your community, there's a great post over on Discord's blog by Andy Nguyen from Pocketwatch Games.

Stream

Streaming can be a whole community on it's own, and there's already plenty of great content about building great streaming communities so I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but what I will say is this: if you have the time, the physical and mental ability, and the equipment, you should do it. Building a natural community around your stream can take a while, so patience is key, but it absolutely pays off in the end.

Streaming is a way to directly engage with your community, nearly face-to-face. Knowing that a streamer reads chat and will respond can be a powerful thing. Our game's stream runs like a live podcast, with the hook that we also happen to work on our game at the same time. We talk about subjects that relate to our community, we even play music that fits with our game and resonates with our fans. Also, because you're a game developer, you likely have the ability to teach others and answer questions about game development. I believe our audience is most engaged when someone pops in to ask an art question and Eliot gives a lesson on the spot. Everyone stops to watch and ask questions, including myself.

Also worth mentioning is Restream, which allows you to stream across all popular streaming services at the same time while keeping chat in one place. This is nice for funneling several streaming communities into your one main meeting place for your game. Added bonus is YouTube streaming, which means automagically archiving your streams.

Streaming is also entirely optional. I understand it might not be the right thing for some teams. If you don't want to show certain content early, or heck, if you're just not the kind of person that wants to be on camera for a few hours a week that's okay too.

"Imagine the world's cutest puppy. Now become that puppy."

- Christopher Floyd, First Officer at Indie Megabooth

This is the best piece of advice about being a great community manager I've ever received. Overall, it's important to keep in mind that everyone in your community is a human and so are you. Be nice, be friendly, be open and honest.  Take pride in the overwhelming passion you have for your game and your community will follow. Be the world's cutest puppy that your community needs.