How to build community features within your video game
A community is a group of people. To gather people, you need leadership, tools and goals. But video games are only entertainment, right? So how and why are people building communities within single player games?
What is “community driven”?
Community driven games allow players impact the game or metagame by putting efforts into content production & knowledge sharing.
Here are some community driven stuff:
- Podcast explaining the game lore (eg: World Of Warcraft)
- Level editor inside a game with levels showcase (eg: Little Big Planet)
- Replay editor that allows you to make movies & clips (eg : Trackmania)
- Wiki about all the crafting you can find in a game (eg: Don’t Starve)
- Theorycraft & guides for ingame progression (eg: Dark Souls)
- Marketplace to exchange or sell items around the game (eg: CS:Go)
- Mods to improve the art direction, gameplay mechanics (eg: Skyrim)
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
― Mother Teresa throwing rocks like a trebuchet
Solo VS Multiplayer
You could think that you cannot really build a community without having a multiplayer game. That’s not true! The need of building a community comes from explaining, debating, showing all the possibilities the game offers.
For instance, here are a few solo games with great communities:
Dark Souls — RPGs
The depth of Dark Souls’ narrative added to its difficulty and numerous game builds create a strong community. Players have a lot of space to imagine the bigger plot. Dark Souls’ story is made by design for the community. You need to speak with other players to understand the whole piece. It’s a puzzle that you can’t put together alone.
The best community feature inspired by multiplayer interactions is that your world will be invaded by other players. The game can continuously shift between PvE and PvP, but only if you want it. Other players can also help you in quests. It’s a feature many game studios wouldn’t compete with: you have to build BOTH a solo game and code a multiplayer network part.
Don’t Starve — Survival / Management
Don’t Starve was first popular a single player game. In Don’t Starve, the procedural generation gives interesting environment challenges. You can mix a lot of stuff together and find new recipes along your journey.
Don’t Starve’s community tools are mostly to help the players understand the world and list recipes he can use. The wiki made by the community is a must see for every intermediate players who want to push the game experience. In this case, the community helps you cheat to be better at the game. Yet, the challenge is still here!
I think tolerance and acceptance and love is something that feeds every community
― Lady Gaga
But how do you build community features for a solo game?
That’s the big question game developers are still exploring. I believe there are a few leads that could help you.
Optional content that helps understand the game’s lore and story
Some people love stories and the hidden parts that come with it. Whole communities are built around debating complex parts of the scenario. Take Lost and their 43k subreddit for instance. The show is already finished but the community is still speaking about it.
While writing your scenario, think about what the players need to know and what sub-plots you can hide. It can be done through books, items or voice over. This optional content will strengthen the need for a community. If it’s all mandatory, they will all get through it and loose this “Hey guys, I stumbled on this!” feeling. Ultimately, hire a good narrative designer.
Obvious or secret optional challenges
The different layers of challenges are a great way to improve your game length and boost your community. Here’s how to do it:
- Add game difficulties
- Play the game using specific content (like using only melee weapons in a game with guns)
- Play the game under timed constraints (speedrunning)
For instance, Into The Breach makes very good use of achievement and give ingame rewards for them. Every squad has a specific play style that can be hard to get. You just need to ask a few friends and understand how to play those squads.
User content to across multiplayer platforms
When players can create content and share it, your game length and value grows. The key word here is: autonomy. How much can your community share and build things without your help?
For instance, Skyrim is known for having hundreds of great mods. They improve or change in some way how people play the game. It can be by improving the art style, adding new quests or new sounds.
Procedural and mix oriented mechanics
The key word with procedural games is adaptation. The best way to adapt to unplanned risks and situations is to learn the core mechanic. Those mechanics are unexplained to add mystery. Players progressively expose the stats and patterns behind the algorithm.
Should you add money into the mix?
Some game developers try to monetize community created content. There can be multiple models ranging from:
- People pay content of other people directly (eg: Trackmania)
- Developers pay content of creators to release it to other players (eg: CS:GO, TF2)
- Mods become standalone games through community’s traction (eg: PUBG)
- Standalone community managing a system-wide money (eg: EVE Online)
A few years ago, Bethesda and Steam tried to make Skyrim mods paid. It totally failed for several reasons. Modders started to see it as way of living, while before it was for fun. Charging for something comes for responsibility around usage, content and laws. A community which used to have excellent mods for free will shit on your face when you change the rules overnight.
Read more about this
Here are two great blog posts from Daniel Cook and Raph Koster, two veterans game designer:
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Thank you for reading!
Ultimately, I think community is about building a story together. This story may be “useless” like video games, but at least it’s entertaining. Fun is one of the strongest human need, the one to prevent depression and loss of purpose.