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Community management isn't just a complaints department

Ludia's Philippe Ha talks about the passion of casual players and the need to bring player liaisons into the development process sooner

Mobile games like The Price is Right and Family Feud are often grouped under the "casual gaming" header, but there's nothing casual about the audience's passion. That's according to Ludia's Philippe Ha, who will share his experiences as community manager for those games at next month's Montreal International Game Summit, in a talk titled, "How to Manage a Million Screaming Fans: There's No App For That."

"Casual gamers are playing games they can find on their mobile device for free, it doesn't mean they're any less engaged or less fanatical about the brands."

"The general misconception of casual games is that the user base is less engaged than, let's say, with a core game, but that's really not the case," Ha told GamesIndustry.biz, adding, "Although casual gamers are playing games they can find on their mobile device for free, it doesn't mean they're any less engaged or less fanatical about the brands."

It was a misconception that Ludia might have shared once upon a time. When Ha was hired in 2011, he was supposed to be working on in-game content. But player response was overwhelming; Ha said the company's multiple Price is Right games have a larger Facebook fanbase than the show itself.

"These are people who expect a certain standard from the Price is Right brand, from the Family Feud brand. No matter how new your game is, they really expect to see content on a daily basis that will be immediately familiar to them. So that's really the challenge we have here in terms of creating content and generating user feedback."

When it became clear how engaged the player base was going to be, Ludia started using Facebook to create a dialog with users, giving them a place to give feedback that they would ideally see reflected in the game. The studio also spawned a community management team in response, and then a separate customer service team just to deal with the e-mails and social media feedback.

"We just hadn't realized how interactive these fans want to be," Ha said. "They're ready to not only talk about the show and the brand, but they're there to give suggestions as to how we can tailor our games back toward the original license, which is really interesting."

Even though the target audience is different from that of a AAA shooter, Ha said the interactions can be just as negative. The difference is that with casual games on Facebook and mobile platforms, there's often very little pre-release hype or community-building efforts before launch, so developers don't get a lot of time to gauge what fans want before it's time to react.

"Users will be heard whether the developer likes it or not. Just the data alone will show you a pretty clear drop-off if you're not attentive to users from the get-go."

"The work of the community management team, the bulk of it begins at the launch of the product so the tone of [the feedback] can be whatever the fans make of it," Ha said. "So it's really important to be able to respond transparently and not just move forward and bulldoze with your content strategy. It's important to take the time [to be] responsive and reactive to user feedback."

When community managers are working effectively, they act as a go-between for developers and players, Ha said. They pass the constructive criticism through to developers, and work with the developers to ensure it leads to something interesting for players. It's not enough to make sure players are heard; they need to see evidence of it reflected in the game.

"Users will be heard whether the developer likes it or not," Ha said. "Just the data alone will show you a pretty clear drop-off if you're not attentive to users from the get-go."

However, Ha said studios don't always make the most of community management.

"I think within the industry, we kind of assume that since the bulk of it comes later, we don't need to include community management as an early part of the process," Ha said. "This is something at Ludia we've worked very hard on, integrating all of our teams from the get go."

By bringing the two together at an earlier stage, Ha said the development and community management teams could learn from one another and get a better sense of the other's concerns and expectations. And if the community team is involved in the process earlier, they can do a better job managing expectations and building tools to understand exactly what's happening with users.

"Community management is often seen as just an afterthought of the marketing department, brought in to entertain the user outside the game."

"Community management is often seen as just an afterthought of the marketing department, brought in to entertain the user outside the game," Ha said. "Which is not false. But at the same time, it needs to better understand what the development team is looking to accomplish. And vice versa, it needs to understand how to communicate user feedback back to the developer as well. I think the language there sometimes is lost in translation."

For developers with a stable of licensed games like Ludia, starting community management efforts earlier also helps build and retain a fan base.

"Users aren't always looking for a game," Ha said. "They're looking to interact with a brand in some way or another. So I believe that community managers' responsibility is really to establish itself wherever the user base may be. That can happen well before a game is launched, in my opinion."

That ideal synergy of development and community management still isn't the norm in the industry, however. Ha said there's a lot of work to be done in establishing the various roles and responsibilities for community managers in those early days, not the least of which is being able to demonstrate the positive impact in a concrete way. Instead, all too often, Ha said the importance of the conduit between developer and player is taken for granted, and everyone suffers as a result.

"Unfortunately, there's still a lot of blatant advertising that isn't well integrated to either a brand or a particular product," Ha said. "And in that case, I think what happens it the user base gets turned off by this, and community managers are too often seen as one-way communicators for the user. And for the developer, it's really just seen as a complaint department."

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Latest comments (4)

Julian Cram Producer 2 years ago
they act as a go-between for developers and players, Ha said. They pass the constructive criticism through to developers, and work with the developers to ensure it leads to something interesting for players. It's not enough to make sure players are heard; they need to see evidence of it reflected in the game.

I remember when the people fulfilling this roles used to be called "producers" and "games testers".

The problem is nowadays Producers and Testers are often tasked away from making the game fun to making the game profitable.
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Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis2 years ago
I did quite a bit of Community Management when I worked on the early Battlefield titles. Eventually we hired a Community Manager so I could focus on development but the main thing I have seen from the use of Community Managers is that they tend to be marketing led.

Very few companies seem to use Community Managers as that role where they are out there talking with players, answering questions, attending events etc. Now it is all marketing content and promotions. Players tend to not like being marketed at all the time.

Robert Bowling probably did it best in recent memory. Good balance of promotion and personal interaction with the audience.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
I remember when the people fulfilling this roles used to be called "producers" and "games testers".
Really? We could also say coders should do the testing and producers should do the coding but in reality it doesn't lead to the best practice.

When I was a community manager, it was an incredibly important field of its own that simply couldn't be fulfilled in one's spare time. That included the customer support and moderation side of things as well as setting up and attending events, social media etc.

I don't really believe it should be any other way, mainly speaking from the perspective of the 'bigger' companies. Sure, its great for producers and testers and so on to be involved with the community but there's a reason why this job function exists. Everyone should be involved in the process of making a game fun not just those who speak to the community.
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Adam Jordan Community Manager, Ubisoft2 years ago
I remember when the people fulfilling this roles used to be called "producers" and "games testers".

The problem is nowadays Producers and Testers are often tasked away from making the game fun to making the game profitable.
Not necessarily, these days there aren't a lot of people that can withstand the criticism or the harshness of negativity/toxicity. Phil Fish being a prime example. Not to mention, placing a thousand jobs and tasks onto one person isn't just absurd but provides a chance that all those tasks will be done with less than 100% quality and passion. By taking away the community management aspect, those roles can then focus on other tasks along with the community management side of things gaining 100% quality and passion, which is what it should be getting upon a daily basis

The roles of a community team or just a community manager have now become specialist roles. They also act as a barrier as well as front line interaction. Plus no one is saying that developers couldn't interact with a community, however I have always believed that it should be a personal choice on whether someone interacts with a community, not a mandatory task. Some people are just not comfortable with being put on the spot and believe me, some people just don't have the ability to do so either.

Let me put it this way, not everyone has tough skin and an iron stomach. Something that is needed if there is ever an issue within a community. Some people out there will go to any lengths to harass or destroy a reputation. On top of this, the ability to word smith is needed. Finally not everyone needs to interact with a community

Not everyone can or will wade through hundreds of pages of rage if something added to a game is detested. Not everyone is willing to read the hate and I can't blame them, if I was a coder, designer or a programmer and I read something that I worked on was hated; it would demotivate the hell out of me but that's where a community team or manager comes in. They can wade through the hate. Pick out the important parts or request further details and "pretty" it up in a nice report that will allow the developer to take note that what they did didn't go down well with the community but at the same time, find a way to improve it.

I have always believed the best way to help a community is to educate them. Any time someone rages, I explain to them that raging will not help but instead if they were to word their issue in a more civil and constructive method, then it will be a greater help than their rage. It's actually quite amazing how many people take note of this but at the same time it also helps if that feedback is acknowledged

Personally, the ones interacting with the community should be a community team, QA Testers/those fixing bugs and Store managers (If you have one due to being a F2P game etc.) Any other interaction should be when feedback is needed or a Q&A with devs is taking place. Everything else should be fed through the community team. Otherwise there's no point having one but that's not to say that any other developer is forbidden to interact with the community, it's just simply a good method of protecting developers and the best way of portraying information to the community along with keeping it simple in regards of whom the community can contact when they have issues.

I will agree that there seems to be more of an agenda in regards to earning money/profit over enjoyment/fun but I would blame that more on publicly held versus privately held. The intense pressure to create profit for shareholders and investors is enough to turn those that are in this industry for the creativity and fun into money chasers.

In regards to the article, it's pretty much spot on and it certainly highlights the importance and the need for community management and customer service.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Jordan on 27th October 2014 3:37pm

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