How Battlelands Royale built one of the most engaged communities on mobile
This article is also published on Futureplay’s blog
If you’ve worked on a multiplayer game, you’ll know that community engagement forms a massive part of your marketing strategy. I’d even argue that the most important thing for a game development company are the players. They keep the game alive and the people working on it motivated.
We learned this much through our experience growing Battlelands Royale and realized, despite the great initial organic growth we had, what’s more important is your long-term growth strategy. The goals are simple — make the players engaged, make them enjoy the game on multiple levels, make them support the developers and make them tell their friends.
If you’ve ever wondered how to grow a thriving player base, here are ten tips to take away!
1. Live stream to build your player base and company core
When we released Battlelands Royale, we already knew we had a great game on our hands. The excitement we had while playing the game at the office was something we wanted to share with players around the world. One Friday afternoon, one idea led to another and we found ourselves sitting around a single laptop in a meeting room, live streaming.
Though it was probably quite awkward at first, and extremely low-key, we and everyone joining the stream had a blast. It was also a way for the players to put a face to us as a company, and the Battlelands Royale development team, further improving their engagement.
“Customers always trust individuals more than companies or brands.”
What started off as a low-key Friday afternoon happy hour with the players and developers has turned out to be a consistent tool for engaging players on a weekly basis. Openly interacting with players around the globe has helped us shape an image of our product, company, and values for the players and for ourselves too. What you are to the players is what you are as a company. Here are some best practices we’ve learned to help you build an engaged community via live streaming:
- Know your audience
Set the tone for the stream and the way you communicate with the players. Aim for consistency in the way the game and the live stream looks and with how you communicate with the players through social media.
- Start small and build from there
You don’t need to go all in from the get go. A laptop, webcam, USB microphone and a sense of adventure will take you a long way.
- Overcome the fear factor
Putting yourself on the line for everyone to see can be quite nerve-racking if you’re not accustomed to being in front of the camera. Be honest and true to yourself, make mistakes, let your personality shine through and don’t be afraid to be a little bit silly if you feel like it!
- Grow with your audience
Payers will vote with their comments and views and you’ll know quite soon if something is worth doing on a regular basis. If there’s a demand for it, take the necessary steps to keep improving the quality and content of your videos.
- Improve the gear you’re using
Having a decent camera and lights made a world of difference for us, not to mention getting better mics and room acoustics. There’s no reason to go overboard with your setup though, as you can get decent quality content out without building a massive professional studio for it.
- Plan ahead
Writing short scripts for the streams or creating short video clips to show during the stream can help you hone the tone, consistency and feeling of the videos, making your YouTuber personality more distinguishable and memorable.
- Get your team members involved
Invite the coders, designers, artists and office dogs to join the live streams. It keeps the videos fresh and is a great opportunity for the players to ask questions about certain aspects of the game, as well as introduce new faces from the development team.
“Whatever you choose to do, make sure to always enforce a positive, excited atmosphere.”
2. Deeper engagement: Community Challenges
YouTube is not only great for live streams, dev diaries, trailers and update announcements. It’s also awesome for pushing the players to create their own content while finding fresh new ways of playing and enjoying the game. In came Community Challenges, where we made rules for the players to follow and they’d upload videos of themselves completing the challenge. We’d select, announce and reward a few winners who had the best editing, best gameplay or other aspects of the video that made watching it worthwhile.
“Investigate the trends set by your competitors and go beyond them!”’
What started off as a six-second fast-forwarded gameplay clip has evolved into five to ten minute scripted videos with professional makeup, props and gameplay. Our 17 challenge videos have over 200,000 combined views and have helped create hundreds of awesome videos on YouTube. Here’s some key takeaways from our experience:
- As with live streaming, it’s best to start small
Make the format known to the players by starting off with easy challenges and building up from there.
- Keep improving
Develop the format into a more structured, consistent version over time, as with the live streams.
- Every video matters
Players uploading videos of the game onto YouTube is a great way to build presence there and gain some organic uplift for the game.
- Showcase your product
Challenges are a great tool for showcasing new features and the most exciting aspects of the game.
- Involve the players
Drive the players not only to participate in the actual challenges, but to ideate new ones. Polls for new types of challenges are a great way to get the players involved on multiple levels. Remember to involve your super fans and moderators too. You can, for example, let them vote for the winning videos.
3. Get active and be the advocate
Discord has played a massive role in building the Battlelands Royale community. Created during the soft launch period of the game, the server has grown to over 130,000 members in a year and a half. While our numbers are even bigger on Instagram for example, the combination of active community members and the possibilities provided by the customisable server on Discord make it a brilliant hub for our most active player base.
Instead of doing a deep dive into everything you should know about setting up your Discord server, which I might actually do someday, here are some tips for what we’ve learned so far in the process.
- Start early
Create the server at a very early stage of the game development. Try to get the community to start building and forming an identity already during soft launch.
- Get to know the players
Acknowledge the super fans and evangelists. Spending time with your core player base will help you pinpoint the true fans of the game.
- Involve the players
Make polls, giveaways and challenges to the players. Ask for their feedback. Build a system for recruiting the super fans and evangelists to help you maintain and organise the community as volunteer moderators.
“What you are to the players is what you are as a company.”
- Be the advocate of the players
As a community manager, I take great pride in being the voice of the players and so should you. Our active community has helped us shape our game into something greater than what we had even imagined with their feedback, suggestions and enthusiasm.
- Not everything can or should be automatised
Self-sufficiency is a pretty thought, but not necessarily always a viable option. Even if you build a solid foundation for the moderators and how the server operates, you’ll still need to find the time to interact with them. The moderators are players too, and while they have a better understanding of how the development team works, burning questions or issues beyond their jurisdiction are always likely to pop up. Also you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to get all that feedback, spread the excitement and share all that information to the community!
“Be very open to collect and discuss feedback whenever possible”
4. Stay close to the product
Hosting multiple social platforms for a growing online multiplayer game community while maintaining a feeling of togetherness, effortlessness and fluidity in the user experience is no easy task. Once the community has started taking shape, there’s a constant demand for things to operate, improve, grow and information to flow. All the social platforms require quite an amount of effort from the marketing and community team on a regular basis, and with some luck, the demand will just keep on growing.
Whether it’s a Facebook group maintained by the players, an official Instagram account, YouTube channel, Discord server or subreddit, they all should be tied to one common thing as tightly as possible — the end product. While the goal is to have as big and engaged community as possible, it’s all for naught if you don’t keep the product right at the very core of everything you do.
“Every time you push players away from the game, there’s a possibility they might not come back.”
In order to keep our community growing and close to the game, we added links to all of our social channels to the main frame of the game UI, as well as to the in-game Settings menu. To be a bit more precise, we tried different placements for the links and adjusted them based on the traffic data we collected. We don’t track the data of whether for example a player opening our YouTube channel from within the game would actually go and watch a video or subscribe, but so far we’ve been able to prove that the traffic from the in-game links has a significant effect on the member flow of our community platforms. Key tips for ensuring your product stays at the core of your social activity:
- Create your community hub
Think of different ways to crosslink the social platforms from inside the game, and the game from inside the social platforms.
- Monitor the traffic
This will help you make adjustments later down the line.
- Keep the game at the core
Be mindful that every time you push players away from the game, there’s a possibility they might not come back. It’s important to find the balance for how much to push players away from the game and into social platforms and vice versa.
- Find what works for you
We took it one step further and designed a global news feature where we share our freshest YouTube videos, update change logs and more from inside the game. As an example, our 40-second announcement video of a new feature got hundreds of thousands of views quickly after we added a link to it from inside the game. It’s since been a popular meme and topic of discussion within the community.
5. Use influencers, the kings and queens of YouTube
YouTube content creators are a great way of reaching different people around the world. There are tons of channels out there focusing on a specific topic, such as mobile games, battle royale games and even Battlelands Royale. Depending on your product and your marketing budget, there are many different approaches you can take to reel in some content creators. Here are our best practices:
- Go after the big fish
They might bite even without a massive lure. If you have an awesome game or a product that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about, don’t be afraid to spread the excitement to some targeted bigger content creator channels. If you don’t have a marketing budget, think of other means to get them interested. The goal is to get them excited about the game — everything else will follow.
- Don’t forget the small channels
That’s usually where you’ll find your super fans and the players who have started their YouTube content creator journey solely for the purpose of making videos of your game. Spread the love and show your support to the smaller growing channels as much as possible.
“Acknowledge the super fans and evangelists.”
- Don’t be afraid to fail
We blew $10,000 on a marketing campaign that didn’t really work. What we did in the end was donate the money to charity and stood fast behind our decisions.
- Share content
Create a group of the most enthusiastic content creators and give them your attention, in-game rewards and sneak peeks. Discuss the game with them, collect feedback and make them understand their core role within the community.
- Share more content
Make some of your game assets free for everyone to download. This will greatly increase the quality of the content shared by the players on YouTube and social media.
Looking for more tips? Keep reading!
6. Know your audience
Different game genres attract different audiences that naturally tend to favour different platforms. Knowing the basics of your player base will help you determine which platforms to use and for which purpose for each given community.
As an example, older hyper-casual gamers are more likely to be active on Facebook, but aren’t likely to be very active on Discord. On the other hand, younger, more active gamers are more likely to be active on Discord or Instagram, rather than Facebook. Investigate the trends set by your competitors and go beyond them.
On a deeper level, having an idea of what the players are really into, what they dislike, how they communicate amongst themselves, and what they expect of the game developers can really help you determine the tone used in communicating with the community. It’s not all about age, gender, retention and ARPDAU, but instead something much more human.
Someone wise once said that customers always trust individuals more than companies or brands. I fully agree, and letting your personality shine through when interacting with the community makes you, your company and your brand appear more trustworthy and approachable in the eyes of the consumers.
7. Be excited. It’s infectious!
There’s nothing worse than building something new and great for a product you’re not enthusiastic about. Always convey genuine enthusiasm and excitement when interacting with your players: if you literally can’t wait to get your hands on the latest update and play with the community in your live stream, the players will notice for sure. Not only does it make your day to day work life much more pleasant, it spreads the excitement and hype amongst the players.
8. Stay open… To an extent
Most players don’t really have a solid idea of how game development companies actually operate. It can be super exciting for them to get sneak peeks of the game development, what plans the development team has for the game’s future and why certain decisions affecting the players are made. Sharing too much too detailed information can have its fallbacks though, so be mindful of what is relevant to the players.
We decided to use Trello (Battle-Plans) as our main tool for giving the players a better understanding of what we’re working on and what can possibly be expected of the game in the future. My three tips are to keep it vague enough, stay honest and always preferably underpromise and overdeliver than the other way around.
9. Interact, interact, interact!
The players love to get noticed, especially by someone special like the developers of their favourite game. Having random discussions with each willing individual is not really a feasible solution though, so make sure to keep your presence in the community known by other means. Be very open to collect and discuss feedback whenever possible, arrange challenges, competitions, polls, giveaways, live streams, give shoutouts, drop in on a random live stream or just pop by to say “hi” and complement a winning screenshot of a player on Discord. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to always enforce a positive, excited atmosphere.
“Self-sufficiency is a pretty thought, but not necessarily always a viable option.”
10. Bonus — things we haven’t done
Growing too fast and for the wrong purposes? Stop it right there! This is what we try to avoid here at Futureplay Games.
Starting from a company of five guys and growing to a group of 34 enthusiastic game developers in a period of a bit over five years is quite impressive for sure. However, each and every step we’ve taken or a new recruit we’ve made has been for a specific need and role, making our growth smart and purposeful. Not only does it mean that we’ve been able to keep our company core humane and our values intact, growing smart has helped us further improve our values and tighten our core.
This also means that we don’t have huge marketing and community teams handling all the tasks related to our current five game titles (Battlelands Royale and four Idle Empire series games). Having a marketing & community team of four people for games with millions of players means harsh prioritising with everything you decide to do on a daily basis.
Whether you’re either growing as a company, scaling as a marketing team or upgrading your live streaming gear, make sure you’re always answering a demand. Trust yourself, listen to the players, monitor and analyse the market and you’ll know what to do.