Pixels & Profits: Chapter 5
From the pulsating, neon-lit streets of Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City to the mystical landscapes of Zelda’s Hyrule, games transport us to unforgettable worlds and thrilling adventures. And while these experiences are inherently personal, they can also be profoundly social. A large part of what makes gaming so immersive and enjoyable comes from the communities that form around them.
Engaging with your game’s community isn’t some byproduct of making a fantastic game; it’s a crucial component of successful game marketing.
Think of it a bit like throwing a party — you’re not just inviting people to a location for an event, you’re curating an experience.
Building the Bond
Players who feel seen and heard are more likely to stay engaged, promote your game organically, and purchase in-game items or expansions.
Not to mention, they’re more forgiving (and even collaborative) when those inevitable bugs creep up.
There are countless examples of games who continue to enjoy niche audiences (for a significant amount of time), and are still able to keep the servers running, and remain profitable — all because of the loyalty of their audience.
There’s no better way to understand what players love about your game (and what they don’t) than by listening to them directly.
Player feedback is the closest thing you’ll find to a real-life cheat code to your game’s lean development cycle.
It helps you address issues faster and make improvements that resonate with your audience.
Plus, it sends a powerful message to your community: their voices matter.
I’ll talk about this more in a moment but, online even a small issue can quickly snowball into a public relations nightmare.
This is especially true in gaming, where player toxicity is so common that it has become cliché.
Yet, by actively and consistently engaging with your community, you can spot potential issues early, address player concerns directly, and help to steer the narrative in a more positive direction.
How to Build Community
Building a community around your game is, essentially, the core principle behind all of your marketing efforts.
Fortunately for you, you live in an era where the options for creating a community are practically endless — with all options being equally viable depending on what your audience research has been telling you.
It’s the community that will get you sales, now and in the future, as well as ensuring your game hangs onto the relevance necessary to make the whole thing worth doing.
Let’s look at some of the benefits…
Providing Forums for Discussion
Creating spaces where players can interact is the first step towards building a vibrant community. Whether it’s an official forum on your website, a dedicated subreddit, or a Discord server, these platforms are like the bustling taverns of the classic RPGs – a hub where players gather, share their experiences, and build relationships.
Choose your preferred platform and method, then get started. Nobody has to know about it until you’re ready.
Encouraging User-Generated Content
There’s nothing like seeing your players fall so in love with your game that they start creating their own content around it. Whether it’s fan art, cosplay, tutorials, or Let’s Play videos, user-generated content (UGC) is a goldmine for community engagement.
Celebrate it, share it, and inspire more of it.
Make sure your terms of service protects your IP, and allows you to use that content in your marketing.
Be fair about it too, compensate them if using their work.
Remember, you can’t buy that kind of dedication so, you want to encourage it where appropriate. Contests and giveaways are fantastic ways to do so. We’ll talk more about those in a moment.
A Hub for Communication & Updates
You wouldn’t abandon your party mid-quest, right? The same principle applies to your community. Regular communication keeps players engaged and shows that you value their participation. Don’t disappear on them — or, if you must, give them a heads-up about your situation, and your estimated return date.
Do you remember the excitement of waiting for the next big update for your favorite game? That’s the feeling you want to foster in your players.
Make them feel like they’re part of the development journey, because they 100% are.
You can’t accomplish your goals without them, so…
Share regular updates about upcoming patches, new features, or game expansions.
Think of it like dropping exciting quest hints to a group of eager adventurers.
And whatever you do, try to avoid delays!
You should only be setting dates when you know, for sure, that you can launch the content on that day. Missing release dates is not something you get away with for long.
The best way to avoid the problem is to build buffers into your scheduling. If you think you’ll have a feature release ready by May, schedule your launch for August.
The second you know that date might slip, send out an announcement and reschedule. It is better to do this quickly (and fully, clearly explain why) than it is to wait — or worse, have the date pass without a word from you.
Update your tribe on current game developments, share behind-the-scenes content, ask for their opinions, and celebrate their achievements.
And remember, these updates are even more important when things go wrong, or fall behind schedule.
Ideally, you want to be engaging with your audience and showing your game off, even if you’re sipping cocktails on an impossibly beautiful white sand beach, celebrating the success of it all.
Social media scheduling tools can facilitate this by allowing you to schedule a post at any point in the future.
That’s how you take a vacation without the public knowing you’re gone.
A Forum for Feedback
The approach I’m outlining works twofold: it gives you valuable insights into how players perceive your game, and it makes players feel immensely valued.
In an era where games are launching half-broken with expensive season passes in tow and microtransactions galore; gamers WANT you to ask for their feedback. They want the feeling of ownership in their game, particularly as physical media dies.
Give them that.
Get them involved in the process.
Let them steer the ship — it is their ship, after all — your job is to make sure it’s built well.
Contests & Giveaways
Everyone loves rewards and free stuff!
Running contests and giveaways encourages engagement and offers a fun way for players to show their dedication to your game.
These events can range from fan art competitions to in-game speed-running challenges, and more.
The key is, the giveaway has to be authentic to what your audience actually wants.
Look back on your audience research, and consider the kinds of events they might appreciate, then launch them!
Managing Negative Feedback & Criticism
Now is as good a time as any to circle back to this topic, so let’s address it. The gaming community is as passionate as it is vocal, so you can expect to face some form of criticism or negative feedback.
Here are some suggestions on managing it:
Stay Calm, Remain Professional
When you’re on the receiving end of criticism, it’s easy to take things personally. However, it’s crucial to respond calmly and professionally. Address concerns factually, apologize when necessary, and never engage in arguments.
People don’t change their minds once they’ve made a decision. Instead, they make new decisions based on new information.
The difference is:
Changing one’s mind implies they were originally wrong, and people don’t usually enjoy being wrong.
Making a new decisions implies they are intelligent for considering new facts.
And still, it may not make a difference. Be ready for that.
Take Constructive Criticism Onboard
Remember, even if delivered terribly, not all criticism is bad. In fact, it’s all just data — and there’s always something to learn from it.
Sometimes, hard criticism is the wake-up call you need to fix something that’s not working in your game.
The trouble is, you won’t be able to hear any of what they are telling you, if you aren’t open to receiving that data.
Listen to what your players are saying, identify any recurring issues, and take sincere steps to improve.
Trolls vs. Genuine Complaints
In any online community, there will always be people looking to stir up trouble.
It is common knowledge that many subcommunities in the gaming world are notoriously toxic, and there is no blanket advice that can cover every species of troll in the world — so, put your emotional armor on, and don’t take their vitriol personally.
At the other end of that toxic spew is a deeply unhappy person whose only joy in life is saying triggering shit. That’s not your problem.
Their goal is to hijack you.
Don’t play into it.
Yet, it is important to distinguish the trolls from the players with genuine complaints.
The troll species thrives on attention, so the best response is often to ignore them. On the other hand, genuine complaints from your player base should be addressed promptly and respectfully.
With some experience, you’ll begin to sense when someone is just trying to get under your skin. Trust your intuition but, when in doubt, give yourself 24-48 hours to calm down before you send that devastatingly clever reply you drafted up.
What Does Effective Engagement Look Like?
If you’re sold on the importance of creating and maintaining community engagement, then you’re likely interested in examples of communities that have been effectively managed.
Here are a few of my favorite case studies:
Final Fantasy XIV - Square Enix
Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV is a stellar example of effective community engagement. The game had a troubled launch in 2010 and was met with significant criticism.
However, Square Enix took the feedback to heart and went as far as completely overhauling the game, re-releasing it as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in 2013.
The developer’s commitment to listening to and engaging with the community transformed the game into one of the most popular MMORPGs in the world.
No Man's Sky – Hello Games
No Man’s Sky’s launch in 2016 was fraught with criticism due to the game not delivering on its ambitious promises. However, developer Hello Games took the criticism on board and spent years (even to this day) releasing free updates, dramatically improving the game based on their player’s feedback.
This level of dedication turned the game’s reputation around, and it is now widely celebrated for its scope, as well as how the team handled the rocky start.
Warframe - Digital Extremes
Warframe, a free-to-play game developed by Digital Extremes is a truly impressive example of community management.
From the start, the developers committed to regular communication and transparency with their player base, often incorporating player feedback into updates and new content. They also host regular live streams (known as “Devstreams”) to discuss upcoming features, changes, and to address community concerns. This approach has allowed them to maintain a strong and engaged community for years.
It’s also worth mentioning that the player base is quite helpful – with veteran players regularly helping out those newer to the game.
In Warframe, toxicity is rare, and hardly present across the forums and social media communities for the game.
(Opposite examples: Rocket League and League of Legends)
For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into it here but, it’s worth investigating how the Warframe team accomplished such a feat of online peacemaking.
It’s also worth mentioning that “Warframe” could have very easily faced a split in the community when it was announced that Steven Sinclair, the Creative Director of the game, was stepping down to focus on Digital Extremes’ new game “Soulframe”.
Surprisingly, not only has the “Warframe” community embraced the new direction the game has gone in, but pre-release interest in “Soulframe” remains high as well.
Minecraft - Mojang
Minecraft is another example of community engagement done right. Early in the game’s development, Mojang established a strong rapport with its community, providing regular updates and engaging in open dialogues about future developments.
They listened, and acted on what they heard.
This feedback-driven approach contributed to the game’s exceptional popularity and longevity.
Today, Mojang continues to engage with its player base, holding annual events and releasing an unending stream of regular updates based on community input.
Solidarity & Shared Experiences
In the end, it’s clear: in today’s hyper-connected world, games are no longer just about the solitary quest or the lone victory. They are about shared experiences, about being part of a thriving community that extends beyond the borders of the game itself.
As a game developer, your mission is not just to create a game that players love, but to cultivate a community that grows and thrives with it.
I recognize the common “I just want to make games” resistance here.
But let’s be clear on this…
Building and tapping into your community is not just critical for marketing; it is a vital path towards improving your game, building player loyalty, and creating experiences that resonate.
Once you’ve found your people, you’ll need to position yourself in a way that speaks to them.
You’ll need to continually nurture those relationships throughout your game’s life cycle.
If you plan to release more than one game, you’ll never stop nurturing those relationships but, by then you’ll be able to hire someone to do that work for you.
Alright, if you’ve read this far, you’re now armed with the knowledge of how important your audience is, you have a good idea of how to find them, and you understand how to engage with them once you do.
But there are still lingering questions, aren’t there? Questions like:
- What do you do next?
- What about social media?
- How do I budget for all this?
Don’t worry, I’m just getting warmed up. We have a ton more to talk about.
Just like any of the latest RPGs, indie game marketing just doesn’t let up. There are plenty more things to consider at this stage in your journey.
Like the actual process of marketing.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, there is a LOT to unpack there.
In the next volume, we’ll take a look at social media marketing, traction channels, analytics, and the high-level strategies that bind your marketing system together.
Continue when you’re ready…