Best practices for mobile games in multiplayer communities
10 principles to guide your community management strategy and drive engagement for your mobile game
For mobile multiplayer games, a thriving community that’s both active and large can do wonders for player loyalty, brand affinity, and even feedback-gathering for your feature roadmap. To achieve this, a good relationship between developers and their communities is critical, and that’s why a community manager’s role is so important. Depending on a game’s genre and lifecycle stage, different strategies are often necessary, but some tactics are proven powerful enough to bring a reliable amount of success with player engagement.
To explore this further, Google Play partnered with leading games research agency Nimbly and interviewed developers from around the world to understand their different approaches to community management for mobile multiplayer games. I will be sharing the outcome of this research below — having established 10 principles of good community management from the results. The recommendations focus on the core aspect of a community manager’s job, which is caring for the existing community, supporting business goals like long-term retention, and player satisfaction. Note: these are guiding principles, not strict rules, and that every community has unique needs, so adjust your best practices accordingly.
“My first rule, after all those years in community management is to never assume it’s going to be the same.” — Customer Relations Manager, Ubisoft Mobile
1. Be authentically passionate and human
At its core, community management is about handling the human interactions a studio has with its audience. Players don’t just want to deal with storefronts, FAQs and trailers — they want someone they can ask questions, hear gossip from and have fun with! We found three important aspects to this:
- It’s important to consider community manager candidates not only for communication and channel skills, but also for passion. The ideal candidate is already a die-hard fan of your game, though this is rare and realistically you may want to look for someone with an interest in the broader genre. They will be talking publicly about the game a lot and acting as a ‘leader’ within a community of players, so a desire to play more of the game is essential.
- Community managers need autonomy within the studio to represent player interests — they cannot simply be put on the shelf when other business factors come into play. The community manager is constantly talking to the community, and if they are left uninformed or kept out of critical decisions they will be forced to resort to generic marketing jargon, undermining their core relationship-building function.
- Community managers should guide channel presence as they are closest to the community and understand what players seek on different channels — sometimes a swift and guaranteed response to a technical issue, sometimes just a presence on a channel with an occasional comment. Staff should be highly visible so that everyone in the channel knows the developer cares enough to be present.
Live streams are great as they put the community manager (along with any developer guests) in a position to have a natural, real time conversation with a large section of the community. It is important to come up with a high-quality, varied and engaging stream — and in return you should gain effective and nuanced feedback, the opportunity to explain new developments, and a more engaged fan base.
“For example, let’s say some new features are not perceived in a positive way, and we would like to explain why we’re doing that and provide some arguments. Or we would like to explain some mechanics that seem to be very difficult to understand or are not clear for our players. This would be done through live streams.” — Publishing Product Director, World of Tanks Blitz, Wargaming
2. Be present and proactive to foster trust and safety
‘Toxicity’ — willful trolling, bullying or rudeness — is a plague on gaming communities. Good community management removes toxicity by carefully walking the line between being generous and friendly while also upholding standards of behavior. The dangers of being too strict (destroying the fun and reducing engagement and retention), or not strict enough (allowing trolls and bullies to thrive and driving away new and old players) are very real.
The good news is our research indicated that while communities may differ greatly, there are general steps that can be taken to help put things on the right track:
- People (especially within a global audience) will speak very differently and have different standards of behavior. In order to have a uniform standard, It’s best to proactively create clear rules of behavior for each channel — especially ones built for long-form discussions. Players can then be directed to a written form of these rules when first visiting a channel.
- Consider when to engage. Not every conversation needs developer input and not every question needs an answer — sometimes it’s best to simply watch and learn. Other situations urge a response — for example after the discovery of a major bug — and it’s advisable to prepare broad guidelines on how to handle such situations.
- With an audience of (hopefully) millions, no amount of developer involvement can deal with every issue and respond to every question. Set up your community to be self-regulating with volunteer moderators and easy-to-use reporting systems — a great way to reduce the impact of future problems by taking steps today.
Be sure you are able to differentiate between true toxicity and passion. Toxicity is ill-intended and has the intention of belittling or harassing other players for their views — entirely different from two passionate players sharing different opinions in order to improve the game or simply have a fun conversation. The border is often blurred and it can be hard to determine, but keep in mind that a real love for your game will make people passionate, and some allowance must be made for their emotions.
“I always say that a player that is complaining is still hooked to your game. The reason why he complains about the game is because he cares about it. The player that you should be afraid of is the one that does not complain anymore.” — Senior Community Manager, Deca
3. Know your player types and what they need from the community
Players are not identical to each other — hardly surprising since they are real people. Grouping people with similar desires, engagement types, and usage styles together can help make your communications relevant and engaging.
“[think about] What type of content will be best suited, not only to be successful on the platform, but also to be tailored for the people that are on this platform. Because in the end, you have Facebook fans not necessarily looking at the same content as your dedicated player that joined the forum 10 years ago, and logs in every day.” — Senior Community Manager, Deca
More than in previous sections it is important to emphasize that a bespoke approach is advised in each community to understand the unique interest groups that exist within it, however some general rules did emerge from our research. A very rough split of gamers according to their usage tends to reveal three main categories in most games. These have different needs and consume different content:
- Superfans — incredibly passionate and desirous of deeper knowledge, breaking news and the opportunity to talk. A lot. They’ll live on your forums or Reddit, and constantly request more information and detail.
- Middle engaged — who enjoy the game a lot and keep up to date with news, but tend to let others lead the conversation and will engage with things that entertain them rather than all long-form content.
- Peripheral fans — these players will follow the news but want top-level summaries. They might read posts and threads, but will rarely engage — and their favorite content is bite-size. They may be new players who can be converted…
It is also important to consider regional differences — some regions may appreciate a more lighthearted tone or an entirely different type of content.
4. Let your community guide you to the right channels
There is no ideal mix of channels, and in any case the landscape will constantly change. We recommend that developers follow the community’s lead in determining channels, and should enable their desire to engage with each other rather than defining what engagement should look like.
“I always said that if tomorrow my players want to meet on a dating app, and that’s where they want to be, if they want us to be there, we would be there.” — Senior Community Manager, Deca
Consider your region, demographic, game type, and any other data when initially deciding on channels — if you’re not sure, consider starting multiple channels and see which ones take off. As soon as you have a functional community you can ask them what channels they believe should be the focus.
Finally, ensure you understand each channel. Is it a casual posting board full of random comments and memes (like Twitter) or a text-based message board designed for long-form discussions? The resources a channel needs will depend on its purpose, and before opening an official channel you want to ensure you have the resources available to properly run it.
5. Don’t forget your content essentials
While we encourage you to be inventive, our research shows certain content types are almost universally successful as they effectively respond to a common desire from the community.
- Aim to maintain a steady stream of these content types:
➢ Game content releases — new content should always be engaging to your players as it expands on their existing experience.
➢ Patches and updates — players love to know their game is still being improved, especially if the patch deals with issues the community has raised previously.
➢ Influencer content — sharing content originally posted by an influencer will help engage their audience, in addition to strengthening your relationship with that influencer.
- Other content can be designed looking at core elements of the game. Do you have a strong story / RPG element? If so, your players may enjoy content featuring backstory and world building. If your game is either puzzle or strategy based, players might appreciate tactical content that directly informs how they play the game. Shooter and Action players often enjoy short ‘action highlights’ that celebrate and exemplify the skills they are trying to build.
- Over the lifecycle of a game, content will naturally trend from early tutorials, content features and descriptions towards breaking news, strategy discussions and other high-level content. Remember to ensure that new players have a home. A playlist featuring a mix of old and new introductory videos or a landing page that links to guides, wikis and other resources would be perfect examples.
“When the game launches…at the beginning is where we talk more about how to play the game, tutorials, how to begin in the best way, and these kinds of things, and when the game gets old we tend to share less of these things, but… we can always redirect the new players to forums, and forums are like our library.” — Global Marketing Director, IGG
6. Leverage your community to create and source content
While in-house assets will often be essential, why not leverage some of the fantastic content our community produces? Our research shows featuring community content is a fantastic way to keep people engaged at minimal cost. Studios should consider removing friction around sharing with activities and tools that make it easy to create content and/or incentivize content creation — such as:
- In-game tools for sharing clips and screenshots
- Sharing community pieces on official channels
- Creating community initiatives or challenges that directly reward players for developing content.
- Codes and coupons that allow professional influencers to reward their audience
- Supporting player Wikis, where relevant.
The content created by the community can also inform your in-house efforts. If the best reviewed, most watched, most liked community content related to your game is a simple image showing off the power of your graphics, then consider putting out similar content yourself. More importantly, community content can reveal areas where people are struggling and churning out of your game by examining which types of guides are most popular.
7. Remember that small actions can yield high levels of engagement
Often successful community management is down to a single, carefully crafted and delicately timed post — not a huge ad spend or new expensive forum overhaul. This section looks at a few ways studios can make this happen:
- Reaction posts which ask users to cast a vote by using their reaction type (e.g. laugh / wow / smile). Asking people to choose between things from a game they care about encourages users to engage with the post, resulting in higher reach.
- Starting debates, votes and polls have two positive effects. First, it is engaging content that should generate decent conversation leading to a wider reach. Secondly, it is a fantastic source of user feedback since you can either have a simple poll (gathering quantitative data) or a wider discussion (for qualitative data) depending on need.
- Posts that highlight players accomplishments are also powerful tools. The individual will obviously feel celebrated, but the community will likely relate to the success story as it involves a fellow player, and support the post to promote “one of their own” as well as in the hope of achieving something similar one day.
There is a reason these content types showed up so often in our research as tools developers truly value. These are posts that are not seeking to simply ‘promote the game’ but instead relate directly to a key concern of the community or seek to bring them into the discussion process. It is ‘player first’ content that tries to think about what they would value, rather than starting with a list of your title’s unique selling points (USPs) and trying to turn them into a social post.
8. Develop tailored partnerships with different community members
Partnerships with individuals within the community can be a scary proposition. Collaborations often involve sharing private information or even game assets before they go public which runs the risk of enabling a leak — however your community can be your greatest resource and developers are increasingly turning to it for help for game development and promotion.
Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your partnerships:
- There are various types of community members who may be valuable to you:
➢ Calm, knowledgeable and mature players make fantastic channel or forum moderators
➢ Intelligent, incisive and passionate players make incredible testers
➢ Excited, charismatic and popular players are born influencers
“A player making tutorials on his YouTube channel, simply because they are fan of the game has different needs compared to the player playing with their friends or other content creators and organizing tournaments, so we need to support them differently.” — Customer Relations Manager, Ubisoft Mobile
- If you have a lot of partnerships, consider starting a ‘partner program’ to formalize the process. This will help keep things fair, lures in more potential partners and simplifies the work involved — all of which generally results in more rewards for the partners and more usable data for the developer.
- Partnerships require effort — even if it’s a simple email seeing how things are going sent once a month. Ensure you have the resources available to support all your partnerships — your partners deserve and expect a more direct line of communication than your average players.
- Look for players who give it to you straight — not angry grumps but also not die hard fans. Aside from giving you more useful feedback, moderate individuals will be more relatable and respected by the wider community.
- The feedback you get from your partners can be hugely useful, but keep in mind they only approximately represent the community — if an issue is heavily reported in comments and via support tickets, don’t ignore it on the basis that your influencers have not reported the same thing.
9. Be ready to action feedback and let players know you’ve listened
Taking action on community feedback to improve the game is the ultimate expression of good community management — but be careful about setting unrealistic expectations…
- Use feedback and then feed that back — Listen to users, take action on their requests where possible and (when changes are made) be sure to let players know.
- Only solicit feedback if you are ready to take action.
- Be aware of who is in your community. Our research shows that normally less than 10% of a community gives visible feedback, so be aware that they may not represent the entire audience.
- Different types of feedback mechanism are better suited to different things, for example:
➢ In-game polls are great for a simple choice between distinct options.
➢ Super-testers, effectively volunteer QA, can provide a steady stream of insightful feedback on any area of the game — including technical or mechanical errors that may not be ‘exciting’ for the wider community but hugely impact gameplay.
➢ Live streams enable a natural conversation between developers and players, meaning more complex issues can be discussed up-front
- Once feedback has been collected, a regular, top-line community report, can help to get issues on the wider developer agenda. This should boil down complex issues to be actionable, and focus on what works as much as what doesn’t.
10. Don’t expect a single success metric
Be aware of the challenges around community measurement — there is no single ‘success’ metric. It is often difficult to pin down results and there are multiple interpretations possible in any given situation.
There are four key areas that can be generally used to indicate a healthy community:
- Engagement with posts, measured in responses and reactions, which provides a general assessment of how a piece of news is received.
- Channel growth, measured in followers and subscribers, which provides a similar general assessment of a channel’s health over time.
- Quantitative sentiment, measured as a rough ‘X% positive’ metric, which shows how the majority feel on a particular issue
- Qualitative sentiment, in the form of a community manager report on the overall mood, which should capture all the nuances but will be longer than other formats.
Keep in mind the objectives and context when measuring success. A post detailing a fix that only impacts users in a particular language will perform worse than one that affects all players — but that doesn’t mean it has ‘failed’ if it has lower reach. Compare posts to historic examples of similar types, and make sure metrics are appropriate to compare before analyzing.
Having a good relationship between the developer and the community benefits everyone involved with a game’s success. The community feels safer investing in the game as their concerns are heard and addressed as well as enjoying more tailored content. The developer benefits from increased retention and ARPDAU, and improvement in sentiment means errors are forgiven more easily and feedback is more constructive. We hope this article has helped identify a few areas in which your community management could be refined or adjusted.
We’ve produced a printable infographic summary available HERE — keep it on your desk so community best practice is always top of your mind!
What do you think?
Do you have thoughts on community management? Let us know in the comments below or tweet using #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.