How to grow your player base for next to nothing.

Sami Rahko
Mar 3, 2020 · 13 min read

And why Battlelands Royale has one of the most engaged communities on mobile.

Battlelands Royale was named one of the Google Play’s Best Games of 2018.

This article has also been published on ironSource’s LevelUp magazine.

If you’ve worked on a multiplayer game, you’ll know community engagement forms a massive part of your marketing strategy. I’d 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.

The initial organic growth of Battlelands Royale is a story of its own. What’s more important is what you do in the long run. 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’s five tips to take away!

Live streaming builds your player base and company core

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 get a face for 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. How you interact with the players is what you are as a company.

  • 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, an USB microphone and a sense of adventure will take you a long way.
Dev Streams in their early stages. Start small and build from there!
  • 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!
    The players 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 the 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 help you further hone the tone, consistency and feeling of the videos, making your YouTuber-like 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 them 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.”

Our Dev Streams have evolved from a Friday afternoon happy hour to a consistent engagement tool.

Further engage your community: Community Challenges

“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.

  • 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 format 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.
Start small and grow with your audience! Don’t be afraid to be a bit silly at times.
Community Challenges are a great way to get creative and engage your community!

Get active and be the advocate

Instead of doing a deep dive into everything you should know about setting up your Discord server, which I might actually do some day, here’s 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 automated!
    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”

Stay close to the product

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.

  • 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 to 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 can share our freshest YouTube videos, update change logs etc. 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.
Battlelands Royale has an in-game News and Inbox feature and links to social channels.
Videos advertised through the News feature get a massive boost in their views.

Influencers, the King and Queens of YouTube

  • Go after the big fish!
    They might bite even without massive bait. 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 make 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.”

We create personalised in-game Battle Flags for YouTube content creators we collaborate with.

Looking for more tips? Keep reading!

Know your audience. The basics!

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!

Further know your audience. And I mean really know them!

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.

Be excited. It’s infectious!

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.

Be excited and proud of what you do!

Stay open… To an extent!

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. Whatever you choose to use, my three tips are to keep it vague enough, stay honest and to always preferably underpromise and overdeliver than the other way around.

Trello is a nice tool for sharing roadmaps and development progression to the players.

Interact, interact, interact!

“Self-sufficiency is a pretty thought, but not necessarily always a viable option.”

Bonus — things we haven’t done

Starting from a company of five guys and growing to a group of 34 enthusiastic game developers in a period of less than five years is quite impressive for sure (to back that up we just came in at #24 on the list of faster-growing startups in Europe).

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.

Be it with 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.

Tales from a mobile game studio

Blogs, case studies and other mobile game development…

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