On August 8, 2016, the collective world of space/exploration game enthusiasts held its breath as the most anticipated space exploration of all time—No Man’s Sky (NMS)—prepared to hit the shelves.
On August 9th, hurricane force winds were reported as these fans exhaled and rushed to grab a copy of the game for themselves. Within hours, joy quickly turned to outrage.
The game had failed to deliver on some important promises.
What had been a global community of raving fans devolved into a murderous rabble. Torches and pitchforks in hand, these angry gamers wanted to storm down the gates of the game’s developer: Hello Games. Well, at least that’s what they said on reddit.
Today, I want to look at four lessons we can learn from this debacle. My purpose isn’t to narrate the failures of Hello Games so much as to suggest a few things we can learn from this epic blunder in community management.
1. Make Promises You Know You Can Keep
NMS promised gamers a universe with literally no bounds. Using a technique known as procedural generation, Hello Games sought to create an endless array of unique and exciting worlds to be explored. Lest it become an overly lonesome experience, they also promised that this expansive universe would be full of fellow travellers.
Sadly, the developer failed to deliver on these two basic promises—not to mention a whole host of others. The worlds were monotonous and the galaxies overly diffuse. Contact with other players seemed impossible. As a result, the most ardent supporters of the game pre-launch were livid. What had excited them most was now their deepest source of frustration.
As a community manager, you regularly make promises to your people. From the quality of content presented to the pace of interaction, it’s on you to meet the expectations you’ve set. Don’t promise exclusive content if you can’t get your hands on it. Don’t promise regular updates and then let your community become a ghost town.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition. Just don’t let your ambition drive you to flakiness.
2. Own Your Failures
Shortly after the game’s launch and subsequent outrage, Hello Games simply stopped responding to criticism. Much to their customers’ frustration, they went completely silent.
More than the dollars they spent, NMS fans had made an invaluable personal investment of time, energy, and anticipation as they waited eagerly for the game to launch. They not only felt like Hello Games had made off with their hard earned cash but their hopes and dreams as well.
Every community takes on a life of its own. While you should strive to keep your promises, you’ll inevitably fail from time to time. When you do, don’t be afraid to admit to people that you were wrong.
If that stellar piece of content you shared yesterday turned out to be a steaming pile of garbage, then admit it. Strive to do better next time. Own your mistakes. Let your people know that you were wrong and then move on from there.
Whatever you do, don’t withdraw from your community. If you do, so will they.
3. Get Clear on Viability
In product development, the conventional wisdom is to ship as soon as possible and to iron out kinks as you go. This is what Apple does when they release a new operating system. It’s also why you should wait to download the newest iOS until its first patch is released days later.
Some have suggested that the NMS’s launch was Hello Games’ attempt to deliver a minimum viable product. They knew they hadn't fulfilled their original promises. Still, they couldn't delay the project any longer. So, they went with something they could ship and then improve upon.
Two problems attended this approach. First, people ended up paying full price for a game that played like a rough draft. The second, more fundamental problem was that Hello Games failed to define what a genuinely viable product should look like.
It’s one thing to release a 95% functional product that can be improved upon over time. It's quite another to release a game that delivers—poorly at that—only three-quarters of that which was originally promised.
So what does it mean for you to faithfully execute your duties as a community manager? What promises have you made and what do you need to do to keep them?
Nobody expects every piece of content you share to legitimately change their lives—perfectionism can severely hamper your efforts to generate content and effectively engage your community. You're going to have to compromise in one way or another.
When you do, know what you’re willing to concede and what you're not.
4. Actions Speak Louder than Words
Despite its ignominious launch, a core of faithful players continued to frequent the NMS universe. And after months of near-silence, Hello Games released a free patch incorporating several of the features that had been glaringly omitted from the initial release.
After making and breaking so many promises, it seemed that Hello Games had decided to stop talking and start putting up results instead.
While we questioned the wisdom of radio silence above, we can respect the developer’s decision to let their actions do the talking. Steadily, players are returning to the NMS universe with renewed enthusiasm and hope that it’ll, one day, deliver on its ambitious promises.
As a community manager, your members will ultimately judge you and your brand by the concrete steps you take to bring value to their lives. You may do a lot of talking, but its what you do that will ultimately matter most.
Make promises you can keep. When you fail, own your mistakes. Keep talking and providing value. Don’t hide. Stay faithful to your task and your loyal core will stick with you through thick and thin.
That’ how small bands of loyal fans turn into mature, thriving communities.