An important element of a successful game is the community team and the role they play in pre-launch planning, initial launch success and post-launch continued popularity of a game.
This article is intended to help designers understand the role of a community team and explain how a designer works with a community team for their mutual benefit.
Community managers and community teams will have slightly different responsibilities based on the game they support and the company they work for.
As a designer, you may be surprised by how extensive the list of responsibilities can be. The following is a list of responsibilities that community management team at your studio may have.
Community Team Responsibilities
- Community team members develop expert knowledge of the community they are serving. Each community is different in terms of demographics, player experience level and player priorities. The needs of a community composed of hyper-competitive FPS players will be different than the priorities of a tween super-casual player base that is drawn to a game because of a specific IP or brand. The best community managers understand how the player base thinks and what they care about, so they can tailor their messaging and actions to best serve that community.
- Recruit and build strong relationships with content creators in order to promote and support the game as aggressively as possible. This can include Twitch streamers, YouTube content creators, fan artists, cosplay performers, fan writers and so on.
- Promote gameplay streamers on Twitch and other services. Support those streamers in an effective, fair manner.
- Design and execute community contests as appropriate for each game. These contests could include competitions involving screenshots, fan fiction, art, cosplay and creative in-game challenges.
- Maintain strong relationships and open communication channels with internal departments, including design, production, marketing, Esports, public relations, customer service, quality assurance, finance, legal and executive teams.
- Act as an evangelist for the player community and the “voice” of the players within a game studio. Similarly, act as an evangelist for the game to the players on behalf of the studio.
- Often a community manager will be responsible for collecting, wrangling, writing or editing of patch notes and ensuring patch notes are one-hundred percent complete and accurate.
- Collaborate with design teams on top player issues, game features and feature development.
- Maintain a deep understanding of top community issues and community opinions on all game elements. These issues and their priority change over time and with each patch.
- Communicate those community issues in an organized manner to internal teams, through regular reports or updates to a centralized “issues” collection.
- As a community manager, provide your own opinions on issues, including design, release schedules, microtransactions, player acquisition, player retention, and so on. The best community managers are industry veterans who will have a valuable perspective on the state of the game.
- Assist with planning, development, and implementation of player-facing communication tools, including official forums, websites, in-game messaging systems, social features, and so on.
- Often the community team or marketing team will handle social media communication, including:
- Facebook (1.1 billion monthly unique users)
- YouTube (1 billion)
- Twitter (310 million)
- Reddit (85 million)
- Twitch (10.4 million)
- Manage official forums to ensure they are a welcoming, productive place for community discussion. This may include management of forum moderators.
- Work with development teams to help design in-game features that serve to build community and social engagement within the game.
- Work to manage and message community during patches, downtimes and service outages.
- Handle community related emergencies, often in consultation with customer service, design, production, and public relations.
- Advise marketing, public relations, and MTX teams on most-effective ways to message the community.
- Many community teams have international functions, often with localized language requirements and representatives dedicated to specific regions or language groups.
How Design Can Help Community
As a designer you can help the community team be successful through your actions and teamwork. The following are ways that a designer can assist the community team.
- When entering design change notes into your tracking database, be extremely detailed about what changes you’ve made and the precise effect on the game so community can be sure that patch notes are comprehensive and accurate. Companies use different methods to track design changes, so ensure any change you make gets into the system.
- If your studio doesn’t use some form of automated change tracking, then be vigilant about maintaining notes of design changes and keeping those notes accessible for the community team.
- Proactively inquire about how new features are received by the community to determine if the design team needs to prioritize any adjustments or fixes for upcoming patches.
- Review any reports that the community team creates. Consider how they will affect short-term and long-term design decision.
- When the community team sends patch notes for final internal review, immediately look them over. There’s usually a very limited window of time at this stage of the patch process, so be respectful of the need for the community team to deliver excellent patch notes for the players.
- When reviewing those patch notes, pay close attention to anything you worked on, and ensure that the wording is perfect and nothing is missing or misrepresented. Incomplete or inaccurate patch notes will result in player frustration and can affect community trust.
- As a designer, if a community manager asks you to participate in any kind of promotional event, contest or Q&A, you must choose a course of action: Either participate in the event and be “all in” with maximum effort or decline to participate if workload or other reasons make it impossible. If your schedule will clear up in the future, let the community team know so they can plan ahead. The community team will understand that designer workloads don’t always allow participation in community outreach, but will take advantage of developer availability when the opportunity presents itself.
- Ideally, a design team will identify a few members who are skilled communicators with a deep understanding of the game and an understanding of what the players want or don’t want. These designers can be the “go to” people for community when they want to have a developer voice involved in a community outreach effort.
- Carefully consider design changes that will be considered “nerfs” by the community. Seek input from the community team before implementation. A designer may consider a change to be minor in significance, but players may consider it extremely significant. Regardless of the outcome, it’s prudent to confer with the community team and try to work out a plan that has minimal negative impact on the community while still supporting the needs of the game.
- Keep the community team in the loop in broad design team communication that could be beneficial for planning of community events, promotions, and so on. Sharing early design documentation and finalized designs is valuable. Keeping the community team involved in early feature testing will help identify problems early in the development cycle and will help the community team anticipate player management needs ahead of time.
- Depending on the size and layout of the studio, consider moving one or more community team members within close physical proximity of the design team. It’s easy to overlook communication with another team when you don’t see them every day.
- When making design changes that may be controversial or confusing for players, include editorialized “design notes” to explain the changes to players. Successful companies have been doing this more and more with overall positive community reaction.
How Community Can Help Design
If you’re a community manager or aspiring CM reading this, the following are some actions you can take to help a design team be more successful.
- Provide regular updates to the team describing the top issues facing the community, with corresponding priority or severity levels.
- When sharing lists of current issues, include your both objective and subjective opinions on what solutions would be best received by the community. Your personal opinion matters on these issues, you aren’t just a conduit, you are an integral part of the evaluation process.
- Before releasing a nerf or other change that will upset the community, work with design to prepare the community ahead of time and minimize potential frustration.
- Prioritize early creation of patch notes to allow design as much time as possible to review the notes before they are published to the community.
- Check in with the design team regularly to see if they would like feedback from the community on any specific issues.
- When the design team sends documentation to review, read everything carefully and respond with clear and timely feedback. Make a point of being loud and clear if any issues exist or any red flags are raised.
The community team can be a powerful ally and resource for designers. It’s been proven time and again that the strength and happiness of a player community can affect the success and longevity of a game.
We’ve all heard about the game that stuck around because of an amazing relationship between the developers and the community. We’ve also heard about the game that had a notoriously bad relationship with its community and suffered because of it.
As a game designer or design manager, work together with the community team to help develop the community for your game into a force multiplier for your studio.