Today, the video game community is vast and encompasses people from all walks of life. The hobby has never been more popular. What this creates is niches within one larger community. In an industry growing more reliant on games as a service (GAAS), with a model of continuing content, fostering a community has never been more important.
Without a player base, games seeking longevity are doomed to die – see 2017’s Lawbreakers which was shut down after just a year. Many developers appreciate what a healthy, core audience can do for a game. But how do they go about making sure that same audience wants to stay?
And they say there’s no such thing as a free lunch
DLC has been bountiful since the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. And depending on how loose your definition is, expansion packs of yore fit a similar bill. But, with the rise of GAAS, releasing paid DLC after paid DLC is sure to turn audiences away, especially if they’ve already paid upwards of £50 for the privilege of playing the game in the first place. Add to this all the deluxe editions, pre-order incentives, and season passes and suddenly the entry point for a game is above £100. And that’s before any microtransactions!
There are still new examples every year; they introduce an aspect – say, an in-game economy – which is rebalanced after launch, thus locking in positive reviews and purchases before pulling the rug from under everybody.
It’s why those whose communities continue to thrive choose to release new content for free. In something like Blizzard’s Overwatch, it comes in the form of new skins and maps. Epic Games’ Fortnite has a season system that keeps introducing new elements. They even have unfolding mysteries and references to their own internal lore. While on a business level it’s used to keep players in the ecosystem, it also makes them feel valued. They would even see such a company as one who puts players first, money second. Warframe has a dedicated following and manages to be one of the top ten most played games on Steam. They adopted a fair cosmetic microtransaction system that eschews loot boxes and randomness.
That’s not to say the DLC model is dead – it’s still incredibly profitable. Some mix the two styles together; take Destiny 2, which added the ‘Forsaken’ expansion, yet made some a lot of its prominent features available to those who didn’t purchase the DLC. There’s another critical aspect of fostering community in that last example – open communication. By opening up and providing regular updates, sometimes done in video form à la Civilization VI right now, you make audiences feel involved in the process. Almost as if you’re letting them see something they shouldn’t.
A wink and a nod
Appreciation for the community extends to game trailers too. For long-lasting series or entries, including in-jokes and references is always a sure hit. The Hitman fandom loves one of Agent 47’s signature weapons more than the rest – the rubber duck. It’s made its way into trailers for the game, even though they are serious affairs, and one was included in the Collector’s Edition.
It’s effectively a meme among the community, one that IO Interactive is more than happy to fuel. It makes the trailer feel like it’s for them and they can unite behind this one joke only they understand. The same can be said for StarCraft II – Blizzard snuck in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gnome decoration hanging in a ship’s window. Pointless addition? Not if you ask the community. One reddit thread had over 100 comments about it.
An impressive example is last year’s trailer for EVE Online, which was made to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Community was the imperative word – especially in a game that has a relatively small community by AAA standards. The entire trailer is a thank you to all their players, their loyalty, and everything they have accomplished over the years. Special moments, of galactic battles and interstellar intrigue, created solely by the players, are now a part of the game’s lore and environment. The trailer culminates in a spectacle of fan-submitted clips and real-life videos. It’s true appreciation for the people they know built this game. It wasn’t the developers who did it; it was the fans.
And that’s what fostering a community is about: appreciation. Developers and players share a symbiotic relationship, where one cannot exist without the other. With derision thrown at developers in the past who chose to squeeze money out of their players, many have wised up and recognised what lets them thrive. It’s the community.