Streamers and influencers can play a key role in a game's success, but they don't throw their support behind titles completely at random.
In a Game Developers Conference virtual talk yesterday, ICO Partners communications director David Ortiz Lapaz offered ways for developers and marketers alike to foster that kind of support and create games that naturally lend themselves to meeting the needs of today's content creators.
Lapaz's suggestions were built on eight principles of desirable qualities for streamer-friendly features, with each suggestion tapping into one or more of these principles.
- Creation of narratives: Anything that creates stories people will want to share
- Sense of ownership: Content creators are more likely to stick around if a part of the game feels like it's theirs
- Supporting creators: Features that let content creators turn community support into money will appeal to them
- Playing with fans: Friend lists, quick joins, and anything that makes it easy or quick for streamers to play with viewers is good
- Real-time, shared experiences: Whether through chat or multiplayer, things that allow for personal moments between influencers and fans help
- In the moment: Special events, esports competitions, anything where everyone watching and sharing the same thing is a real part of the experience
- Emotional connections:: Personalized experiences that let creators connect one-to-one within the game
- Fun, quick: Make it quick and easy to get into and out of matches to keep the flow up so streamers don't have downtime or need to fiddle with settings
Having established the basics, Lapaz then ran down a number of features based on these principles, broken down by what point in the game's lifespan they could be implemented.
The first things Lapaz said developers can consider are the social features that let people play with each other. Whether it's friend lists, guilds, and clans within a game or integration with platform-level social tools, Lapaz said these basic tools can make a content creator's job much easier when they decide to feature a game. Anything that lets the content creator play with their audience quickly and easily will give both groups a sense of belonging that helps retain their interest in a title. He namechecked Apex Legends' invite system and Clash of Clans' clan system as two good examples of such features.
The next pre-launch feature Lapaz advised developers to consider was backend tracking, creating or integrating metric-tracking systems in the game. There are a number of ways this can be done and things that could be tracked. Beyond using such tracking for game design and balance, Lapaz said it can be essential for tracking what sort of sales and referrals a game might be getting from specific influencers.
In addition to referencing them with backend tracking, Lapaz specifically called out referral links as a key feature for content creators. They can be done a couple different ways, either by giving creators custom URLs to advertise that will link to the storefronts for purchase, and give the creators a cut of the resulting revenues. It's also possible to handle them internally with less friction for users, like Fortnite does with the Support-A-Creator program. The way that system works is that players click on "Support a Creator" in the game's shop and add their favorite creator's Epic user name. For every 10,000 V-Bucks spent in a creator's name, they receive $5.
"The benefit of having something like this is that as a marketing team, you can manage and monitor all the purchases that your content creators are actually generating," Lapaz said.
Beta testing and Early Access
Lapaz only offered one suggestion specific to the Early Access phase of game testing, and that was giving creators first crack at new content by implementing a beta or a private branch of the game and inviting them in. This gives creators time to prepare content for the day you take your game or update live, like the sort of in-depth guides new players will want to check out right away. It also lets content creators get over the initial learning curve of a game and present themselves as experts from the start.
And while it can also be helpful from a QA perspective to have more players exploring a game and stumbling across bugs, Lapaz suggested making sure the QA team has time to give any such beta a thorough pass beforehand to avoid them having a less-than-optimal experience because of bugs.
Lapaz offered two suggestions for influencer-friendly additions that can be added after the fact. The first was customization, which he called "very low hanging fruit." The basic idea is to add items or features inspired by content creators, such as the Dr. Disrespect and Shroud weapon skins that were made available in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. These can provide a strong marketing boost as the creators drive fans to the game to get the content and it lets them benefit monetarily, assuming the inspired content is for sale and the creators get a cut. However, Lapaz noted it's not a great fit for every game as it can "break the fourth wall a bit."
Lapaz's last suggestion was custom game modes, like Overwatch's Workshop mode. Players of Blizzard's game have used the custom game mode to try recreating other games like Mario Party or Super Smash Bros., to propose marriage, or to turn the shooter into a paint application. This sort of mode is fertile ground for narratives, not to mention giving creators a potentially endless supply of weird and entertaining modes to highlight for their audience.
As much as these suggestions might help a game, Lapaz cautioned that developers shouldn't try to build their games solely around content creator-friendly mechanics. The game needs to stand by itself, he stressed, and these sorts of features only build on the appeal that was already there.
He also cautioned against relying solely on content creators for the launch of a game. While it can be done -- he pointed to Apex Legends as an example -- in the long run he believes any game will need a full mix of marketing.
As for where the trends are heading, Lapaz believes playing and streaming will eventually become one, saying the boundaries between the two are already blurring as Stadia and YouTube explore ways to let people launch games from links shared on stream. He also believes content creators will increasingly find work as consultants -- again pointing to Apex Legends as an example -- and that content creator-friendly features will become the de facto standard in games moving forward, with designers considering streamers' needs from the outset.
Finally, Lapaz said marketing teams will likewise improve as people who have grown up participating in the content creator ecosystem become marketers in the future.