Playing the Indie Game: The challenge of social media in game development

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Playing the Indie Game: The challenge of social media in game development

Big companies have dedicated SocMed experts - but how do smaller indies cope with the social management?

Large game development studios contain multiple silos, groups of subject matter experts that can be tasked to work across multiple projects to achieve the best (read: most profitable) result. Small studios don’t have this luxury, which means the modern Australian games industry is full of studios that have had to learn how to do everything for themselves. Bereft of dedicated marketing, public relations, accounting, management, and infrastructure and technical support teams, small studios are forced to learn either through experience, or the generous advice offered by peers – technically competitors – at events or over drinks at the local pub.

One of the most publically observable examples of this is the use of social media. Watching small studios’ social media use grow in maturity and professionalism over time is fascinating, and often bone-shakingly awkward. So how can studios new to using social media as a business tool navigate its treacherous waters? I spoke recently with Tara J. Brannigan of Boop Social on the subject.

Tara J. Brannigan of Boop Social.

“The content is just the start of a conversation,” Brannigan said. Her tone was practiced and measured, implying this was an oft-uttered phrase, a key learning delivered to her through tutelage and years of experience. “If you spend all your time on content, you’re not going to have the time for the stuff that makes people remember you.” To Brannigan, using social media well is about appealing directly to your audience, relating to them. You need to interact. “Write a bunch of stuff in advance and schedule it,” she advised, “block out time to write your content and schedule it out over the week. That way you can block out time to respond to people once the posts go up.” It seems a common misconception that the content itself is the primary output, but remember, while social media is a place for consuming content, it’s primarily a tool for facilitating conversations about that content.

Unfortunately, a big part of being responsible for your company’s social media presence is dealing with detractors. Social media has a deserved reputation as the internet’s bile-funnel, and community managers are required to stand directly under the thin end of it. So how can fresh new community managers protect both their mental health and their company’s reputation when faced with the full power of the internet hate machine? “Don’t take it personally,” said Brannigan, “I call it the Lebowski effect. The dude has opinions on things, but he doesn’t get ruffled by them. ‘That’s just your opinion, man.’” This might sound easier said than done, but this is a community manager’s bread and butter. “The real problem is usually just that the person you’re dealing with has probably just had a really bad day, and they’re taking it out on you or your game,” said Brannigan. If you’re not coping, step away from the keyboard for a few minutes, and return refreshed. “Write out the response you really want to say in a text editor that’s nowhere near the internet. THEN write your actual response.”

If you act like a person, it’s far more likely that your followers will treat you like a person, not just a brand. This is true no matter your profession, but it’s especially important for community managers. You can remind customers bluntly that you’re an employee, that their specific complaint isn’t personally your fault, and that you’ll do your best to help them. Or, you can remind them you’re a human through your actions. Brannigan believes that apologies are perfect for this, and are all too rare, “If the server goes down, immediately post ‘Hey the server is down sorry, we’re on it.’” She went on to recount a tale of working on 1 vs. 100, “at one point the game just wouldn’t start up. We had the live host in the server room with a flashlight, trying to work out what was going on. We were madly taking photos and posting them. Instead of getting mad, people ended up sticking around in the lobby chatting for ages after it all went down, because they liked how we reacted to it.”

So, you’ve turned some customers around. Maybe you’ve built up a dedicated group of fans? How can you best serve them via mediums social? “You have to remember to feed your fans,” said Brannigan, “You can’t keep taking love and adoration without giving back.” Much like apologies, thanks can also go a long way. “Saying thank you is HUGE. If you have someone that keeps retweeting your stuff, drop them a line and say thanks for the support. They’ll never forget you!” Even if you’re only serving a small sliver of your fanbase, if they’re extremely passionate about something, feed them. If they’re interested in the tech behind your game, get one of your programmers to write a short blog post, Brannigan suggested. “On 1 vs. 100, what people wanted hands-down was more dances you could do in the lobby. We spent a week building a system where you could level up your dances, it was HUGE. It cost us relatively little to do, but it won us so much favour with the community. Look for those big wins.”

While you may never get away from numbers and metrics, it seems that the best course of action for anyone in forward-facing community management roles is to just be human, and all that comes with. You’ll experience interactions that will bring joy, sadness, frustration, and anger. You’ll be expected to handle all of them with poise and grace. You’ll hold the reputation of the company you represent in the palm of your hand, and be asked not to drop it. But, all you really need to do is remember that you’ve been both the irate customer and the megafan, you know what both of those experiences feel like. Draw empathy from those memories and serve your community.


Despite numerous large-scale studio closures in the past five years, game development in Australia is not dead - far from it. Playing the Indie Game is a monthly column on a mission to explore, set expectations, and offer advice to any and all that would like to work in today's mostly independent Australian games industry, featuring insights collected from interviews with a wide variety of Australians already engaged in programming, producing, marketing, and writing about independent videogames.

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