Many wonder why an online forum, or other community, is necessary when launching a new video game. It not only creates a place for studios to engage with their players but also builds awareness of the new game - especially during early access.
Gamers are cautious with what games they spend money on, and won’t consider a large purchase without an informed opinion. The player is investing both time and money, so they will research and gather information on it before they decide whether to buy. With new video games, especially ones that have not yet been released, this can be even more challenging.
The typical price range for a new major title is between $60 and $80, and while that isn’t all that “pricey” for a game, it’s the time spent in playing the game that is more valuable. A factor gamers consider is when a game is exclusive to a platform that they don’t have. When this is the case they will need to spend hundreds of dollars just to get the proper system and any accompanying accessories; and that’s before they even purchase the game.
The seemingly smaller purchase of a new game can quickly snowball into a large investment. If the gamer then winds up hating it; you can bet that their buyer’s remorse will quickly become sour reviews as well as potential negative rants on social media.
What can your gaming community do?
A forum can foster creativity, community, and feedback, as well as help lead to a more successful launch. The dev team can more easily get into the heads of potential players, and in turn gamers can make better informed decisions. It’s no wonder most studios are turning to creating online forums for their pre- and post-launch needs. In the most traditional sense, an online community is a place where like-minded individuals can exchange thoughts, ideas, and opinions. In fact, bringing people with similar interests together is essentially what an online community is intended for.
With how an online forum is designed and how it functions as a tool to foster a community, it makes perfect sense for a new studio to use one for their game launch. Just as an opt-in email list works for targeting the right audience; a gaming forum engages those who already have interest and can help spread awareness as the game is prepared to launch. It’s a place to create pre-launch buzz, source early testers, and gather valuable feedback both during and after your release.
As it becomes increasingly more difficult to capture organic outreach with social media advertising alone, forums are still effective at creating long-lasting bonds with gamers. Forums allow you to create brand loyalty and build a community at a smaller cost. Many publishers see the use of forums as an effective way to build rapport with players rather than just selling to them; and often they get back as much, or more than, they give.
Going beyond discussions
Any online community, especially one ran by a studio or publisher, must be managed by community managers, or a marketing team. Their goal is to create a buzz around the game, introduce topics of discussion, gather feedback, and generally guide the community and keep it active.
The true power of an online community, rests with the community members or players themselves. In the beginning it will be important for the community managers to leverage content such as screenshots, character design art, and gameplay trailers to create and increase engagement. Once a forum gets going, the members and fans take over a large portion of the action while the community managers take on the role of moderators. This is one of the reasons why it’s important early on to set the tone and keep the community moving in the right direction.
As the community grows, members and fans will start creating their own content and driving their own discussions. Common forum activity includes posts asking about favorite characters, fan art, fan fiction, and comparing the series to other similar titles outside of that game's universe. But this does not mean that the community managers stop their work of seeding conversations and engaging with members. Managers will also be able to utilize the forum to post game updates and bug fixes.
Sounds fun, right? It is. Creating a fun environment for your fans to congregate is half the battle.
Using forums to generate hype
Many studios rely on online advertising,video trailers posted on YouTube, , social media ads and even influencer marketing. There’s no doubt that these tried and true methods still work, but can be costly and time consuming to employ. In some cases, you might even need to hire an agency for assistance and then the costs really start to rise.
Online communities, however, offer a more personal approach to marketing. In an age where consumers are desperately trying to avoid being sold to, an online forum provides a different opportunity for marketing. It also creates access that fans not only respond to, but enjoy as well.
Active forums can generate a lot of pre-launch hype for a video game. Fans welcome the opportunity to be involved, and being part of an online community eagerly awaiting a game release gives them plenty of chances. This also makes your fans feel invested in the game long before it launches.
As the launch date approaches, pre-release materials can be distributed. Some forums may post an exclusive image or trailer, while others may sit down and discuss key factors of the game as it gets closer to being playable.
Unlike posters, billboards, and other static means of advertising, forums generate excitement by giving fans enough to pique their interest and keep them hooked so they come back for more. With other advertising methods, what you see is what you get. But with forums brand ambassadors, artists, and even key personnel of the development team can interact with users and answer questions; giving an inside look into what will hopefully be their next favorite game. Simply put, fans eat up this type of access and ask for seconds.
Another effective way to generate hype is by hosting periodic contests for exclusive gear, early access, or other prizes. Whether it’s a fan art contest of a character or a simple forum sign up, prizes can run from small to grand and can help get the word out. You can use loyal fans to spread awareness and attract new ones, stretching the resources spent on your forum to work even harder. From tee shirts and hats to a complete gaming system with a copy of the game included, there are many options available to help you generate the sort of excitement you’re trying to achieve.
Generate early access revenue
While not required, many developers will offer their game up for early access to eager fans. With an active and engaged player base , it makes perfect sense to start the sale early. This is an extremely effective strategy for many reasons. Although it is not entirely without risk.
Pros of early access
- Fans are more likely to stick around if they’ve already invested in the game.
- Fans feel more connected to the game and are more likely to encourage their friends to take part.
- Generate early access revenue that can be used to shore up late development costs or to finance pre-launch marketing efforts.
Cons of early access
- Early access prices are expected to be lower than launch day prices, meaning you won’t generate as much revenue per sale.
- Once you make a pre-sale, that customer isn’t likely to purchase another copy at full price when the game launches. This means that a portion of your total sales are going to occur before the game even launches.
- You are now fully obligated to deliver the game, especially on time, or run the risk of having to process refunds. Fans will also be less tolerant of delays if you have their money.
- If the game has any issues players notice, that have been overlooked, it’s going to be spread all over your forum.
Get helpful feedback
Rather than spend a fortune on testing games and gaining feedback from focus groups, a lot of resources can be saved by going directly to the source. In this case, that’s your fan base. Sourcing beta testers from your forum ensures that you have an active and interested tester who is more than willing to give you feedback, both positive and negative.
The one challenge with obtaining testers in this way goes back to one of our earlier points. Active forums talk, which is certainly what you want them to do. However, if a particular aspect of the game isn’t testing well, it’s only a matter of time before the whole community knows about it. Your fans will know what isn’t working and they will expect it to be addressed before the finished game rolls out.
Feedback doesn’t begin and end with testing either.
Sure, that’s an important part of it, but there’s more to making a successful video game than just smooth gameplay. Those exclusive screenshots, trailers, and concept art we spoke about earlier? The stuff that keeps the forum active and the fans coming back to see more? Those will all be spoken about and fans will let their voice be heard on all of it.
There’s no better focus group than your loyal, eager fans. What you do with that feedback, however, will be up to you and what your project’s budget will allow. Not every suggestion should be acted upon, of course, but there will be plenty of opinions to look through.
Some may ask if social media would be a better platform for feedback. While social media is great for a single customer to voice their concerns, or to release a general promotional item to many; it does not, however, offer the best platform for deep discussion concerning your title. It also does not have the close-knit and structured environment that is key to the success of a studio or publisher driven community.
Launching your game
Once a release date has been announced, it’s important to reach that goal. Fans are forgiving to a point, but gamers have been burned by pushed release dates plenty of times in the past. Anything you can do to avoid the moaning and groaning of a delayed launch is important.
Once the launch date has been set, however, it’s full speed ahead until the big day. Choose the date and even the specific time and your fans will know exactly when they can get your hands on the game. Many forums create a special event for launch day and get the whole forum involved.
Remember, at this point forum members will know a few things about your game; including any bugs or features that needed work during beta testing. They will want to see that these issues have been addressed adequately.
As anyone who has ever worked on a video game knows: it’s near impossible to launch a game with zero problems. However it is important that on launch day it’s all hands on deck to troubleshoot and assist on any issues that do arise.
The forum will also be a great early feedback place for fans to share their impressions of the full game. This can help inform you for updates or expanded content as time goes on.
Keeping interest after launch
Your community doesn’t just end after the game has launched. Far from it. Additional updates, patches, or downloadable content will need to be offered in order to keep the community, and the game alive.
Since your fans will be giving early and often feedback, you can begin planning your next steps. Enhancing or expanding a game with additional levels, characters, quests, or gameplay modes all extend the lifespan of the game and keep the community growing.
In all of the areas above, using an online forum to build a community is a crucial component for success. At a mere fraction of the cost of traditional marketing efforts, online community forums connect the game makers directly with fans in a way that a radio ad or internet banner simply can’t do. When choosing how to go about marketing your video game, starting with building a forum is a great place to look.