No matter what stage a game community is at – from brand new to well-established – game developers want it to be kind.
One of the biggest mistakes we see games companies make is underestimating the time (and people skills combined with technical proficiency) it takes to create kind online places for players to safely interact in. Community Management is a full-time task. There is always someone to talk to; there is always research to perform, feedback to collect; there is always a need for creative engagement ideas. And there is always room to improve the ‘at home’ feeling within a community.
We have compiled a list of our top tips for creating kinder online spaces at different stages of a community. This is aimed at Community Managers looking to create a positive place that newcomers want to join and that longtime fans want to revisit.
The Basics (Community Launch)
1. Define what friendly means for you and your community. While for some it might mean ‘discussing gameplay without yelling at each other’, it might mean ‘sharing and caring about real-life events’ for others.
- Be positive. Be encouraging. Be empathetic. Accept each other’s backgrounds.
- But also hold each other accountable when someone fails on being friendly according to your definition.
Terraria’s community culture as published on their Discord
2. Set the tone by being a role model. Show people the respect they deserve. Explain them why their behavior is wrong, not why they are wrong as a person. Allow them to exit a discussion, or the community, without a feeling of bitterness.
- Show them that you can forgive by saying things like “No worries. We all make mistakes.”
- Talk to the community the way you want them to talk to you. The way you communicate as Community Manager will automatically become the community norm, the acceptable way for the players to communicate with the game developer as well as all other players. Don’t like to hear ambiguous jokes? Don’t tell ambiguous jokes!
3. Have clear and fair rules that can’t be misinterpreted. Write them up and publish them in an easy to find place as your official community guidelines before opening your communication channels. Write them as solid as possible. Vague wording will be used to find loopholes to justify unkind behavior. The last thing you want to do is to change your community guidelines after each incident. This will make you lose trust.
Our advice for when the rules are broken:
- Send those players a direct message and let them know in your own words why they are receiving a warning shot. You can take an action if they show no understanding or repeat their offense.
- We also recommend working with a hidden reputation point system rather than a public one. Labelling people with minus points is a bit like calling them out in public, which might trigger their defense system, moving them further away from being receptive to change.
4. Personally welcome new community members. Mention them by name, guide them to places where to find more information, or ask them a question to get them involved into a discussion.
- Don’t forget to introduce yourself. Share your name, your location, a fun fact, and explain your role and the instances when players should reach out to you personally.
- Easy accessibility to the Community Manager will create an extra sense of exclusivity, which is a big motivator for newcomers to join and participate in your new community.
5. Make them trust you. As the Community Manager you basically act as a bridge, making sure communication flows freely between the people who play the video game and the people who made it. But your community members cannot cross that bridge. They will heavily rely on you for information.
- Be open and transparent. Trust your community with information. Admit mistakes. Interact – don’t be a stranger popping in from time to time. Would you trust a stranger?
- When you ask your community for feedback, you also need to get back to them about it. Otherwise, they’ll ask ‘Why do you want my opinion if you don’t care about it afterwards?’ When making promises, keep them. If you can’t keep them, explain why.
Accepting Help (Established Community)
6. Work with volunteer moderators as soon as you get the feeling that everything becomes overwhelming. Even small communities can have moderators, especially if your small community is super chatty or online 24/7. Have clear instructions for your moderators on what they can and can’t do and train them how to react in specific cases. Tell them to escalate things if they have the slightest doubt.
- Give clear guidance to volunteer moderators and don’t expect them to trust their instincts.
- Quoting our colleague Sam Leloup (because he nailed it with these words): “If your moderators follow their own instincts, soon enough, players will start noticing that some of your moderators are more permissive than others regarding certain topics. Your community will start questioning moderation decisions (“I just got banned, my friend said the exact same thing yesterday and nothing happened to him”). You will start doubting your moderators’ judgement. Your moderators will start doubting your ability to give them proper directions. Your players will start doubting your ability to address complaints fairly.”
There goes your trust.
- If you heavily rely on your moderators during your absence (vacation, sick leave, training), consider rewarding them for their help.
7. Appoint a welcoming committee as soon as the community picks up and welcoming new members personally becomes overwhelming. Scout for friendly long-time community members, who enjoy talking to everyone. They are perfect for showing new players around, getting them to join a discussion, or simply making them feel welcome.
- Some community platforms like Discord or Slack allow you to install bots, which can take over some basic welcoming committee tasks like shooting a DM to a new member with links to interesting reads, community guidelines, event reminders, etc. Take a look at ProBot for Discord and GreetBot for Slack for example.
Customized welcome message sent out on Discord thanks to Eli bot
8. Make your job easier with existing moderation solutions that most communication platforms come with. Many of these solutions have been around since a while and they get constantly refined by community platform developers aiming to decrease toxicity and troll behavior in online communities.
- Flood control: If a spam-bot does get through, flood control prevents it from filling the community with garbage.
- Pre-defined profanity filters: Toggle them on or off or set them to lighter / stronger depending on the number of new messages being created daily and the availability of your Community Manager and / or moderation team
- Allow members to flag inappropriate content: Their reports will pop up in a private space for the Community Manager or the moderators to review and to act upon.
Did you know that GetSocial recently enhanced mobile moderation features for more control and flexibility?
- You can now disable/enable the automatic profanity filter.
- You can replace all offensive content with * and you can reject the entire post if there is any offensive content.
- You can set every post and comment as “pending for approval” so you can manually review, approve or reject it.
9. Develop strong relationships with your top members. Encourage them in a direct message, give them a public shoutout, or connect them with each other to strengthen relationships between your top members.
- Set up a separate space for the top members of the community where they can easily interact with each other. This can be as simple as a hidden Discord channel.
- Chances are that you will have many streamers among your top members. Treat them for what they are – influencers. Share some extra insights with them. Provide them preview material for their next Twitch stream. Host a monthly developer Q&A for them. Or offer them VIP support when they report an issue.
Going the Extra Mile (Mature Communities)
10. Some Discords and forums for gamers have non-game related fun channels to create an ‘at home’ impression. Admittedly, these channels have no return for the game developer, but players like to frequent them to share memes, pet pics, and recipes. It’s like a community within the community – a perfect retreat when the main channels are getting flooded with update feedback or event suggestions.
- Give those fun channels some fun names.
- Let’s go with the example of Novaquark’s Discord for Dual Universe (simply known as DU in their community). They share special announcements in ‘duscord-news’, they created various ‘duscussion’ channels for players speaking different languages, and they occasionally motivate their players to ‘just-du-it’. See what they did here? Admittedly, it’s a small thing to du (hah), but it’s enough to make your players smile and to feel connected / to bond over their own ‘du creations’.
11. Be social on social. We get it – your game is dark and competitive, and your brand guidelines are sinister and brooding. But people are not on social media to read your marketing messages. They are on social media to talk to friends. We have successfully tweaked the social media tone for a popular esports game last year and saw an immediate rise in engagement with our posts.
- Be human without interfering with your brand image.
- There is no harm in avoiding over-used marketing vocabulary, showing some occasional humor, appearing approachable and replying with an emoji.
12. At around 500 active contributors you are reaching a point where even the best community platforms need some manual help to get content sorted and make it more searchable. Have a concise tagging system in place, sort your content in categories and pin knowledge base articles for the most popular content. This action shows your community members that you care about knowledge transfer, that you keep track of what they’re saying, and that you don’t want the newcomers to get lost in a cloud of random member thoughts.
- Highlight the best community content. Pin it. Share it on social. Send it out via newsletter.
- This is the perfect motivator for your creative community members to keep creating great content. Their aim is to shine and to build up a name for themselves as experts in a field. Encourage and reward them and you’ll have the best user content machine ever.
13. Have clear ways for community members to contact you. The bigger a community gets, the more likely you will have to prioritize who gets an immediate reply, a delayed reply or no reply at all. Members that feel ignored are often the most vocal ones on social media. So, if you are drowning in a flood of private Discord messages, define your own preferred workflow for the community on how to reach out to you, then announce it in public.
- Share a list of contact points for different topics with your community. You will probably notice that in many cases you can forward community members to your volunteer moderators or to your customer support team.
- Make it very clear where your players can’t expect an answer. This is a simple way to reduce the number of messages to the private Twitter handles of everyone working on the game.
Communities Can’t be Too Kind
“Oh, I don’t know. Your community seems too kind for me to join.”, said … no one. Ever.
No matter what stage your community is at (launch, established, mature) you will always be able to find new ways to foster kind behavior between your members and to give them the feeling of being in a safe space where their opinion matters, their feedback is appreciated, and their presence is welcome.
A constant influx of new community members and new technology will always challenge the way you have things set up for your community. Don’t forget to regularly revise your kindness strategy and adjust it if needed.
Our Community Management Specialists at Keywords Player Support are well equipped to guide you through the tips above. Please do reach out if you would like to discuss ideas on how to make your online community kinder.