Saturday, 14 July 2012


I think technology was always about bringing people together.  You can look at all the greatest inventions we humans have, things like mobile phones and automobiles, and I think you'll find their most sweeping enduring legacy will be in social terms - how they changed the way we as individuals interact with our friends, peers, families etc.

I think that used to be true of video games too.  The (enduring) impact of a video game is cultural.  You could frame it as, "How does [the game] let different players interact, come together, be playful, etc. in a social sense."

The Master and the Student

Take the arcade classic, Super Street Fighter II.  It has this simple mechanic where 1 credit buys 2 players a best-of-three match.

The master camps out on the machine - he plays for free the whole day.  One by one, the students come up to feed the machine a quarter.

Round 1: The master refuses to attack.  He ducks, dodges, feints and runs.  But without attacking, ultimately the score will be Master: 0, Student: 1.

Round 2: The master attacks, but only using one technique.  Punches, or fireballs.  Whatever is the student's weakness.  Of course, Master: 1, Student: 1.

Round 3: It's on!  In the deciding round they have a real fight, with the master either exploiting or avoiding the student's weakness depending on his temperament.

What's fascinating to me about this, is the community of players that it builds up around the game.  There's this implicit trust that builds up around the master/student relationship that carries forward when the student becomes skilled enough to provide a challenge to the master.

Players can have a dialog about the game, even when they're not actually playing.  If you're on the bus, you can still have a social moment with another SFII player.

The Metrics

These days, we all love our metrics. MAU - Monthly Average Users.  How many people (in numbers) are playing your game?

I think sometimes we get so blinded by the ability to measure what our players are doing, we forget to look to the quality of the interactions between our players, and (to some degree) to the qualities of the players themselves.

Take a closer look at those SFII masters.  They played that way because that's how they learned to play.  It was cultural.  But they were also self-selected because they were the players who wanted that kind of experience.  They're the kind of players who foster new players and (through their actions) create a strong community.

Your can't write a metric to capture those kinds of qualities.  (And even if you could, what would you use it for? It could only tell you about the community you had in the past, not about the one you're going to have in the future.)

A recipe?

Bringing it full circle, I believe that video games are still about bringing people together.  The games that do that well are the kinds of games that I want to make, and the kinds of games that I'm trying to make.

Of course I want a large community around each of my games, as measured by MAU.

But before that, and more importantly than that, I want a strong community around my games, as measured by good-vibes and actually talking with real people.

Now it's your turn to help me help you : How do you build the right community around your game?

Let me know in the comments below, or drop me an email and lets talk!


  1. Well Chris, I think if you can get people on an aircraft talking to the passenger right next to them, then you will have reignited the lost art of conversation and all the answers to every question you have will come flowing. Oh, and by the way, let me know if you're interested in being interviewed by me or anyone else. Cheers.

  2. Largest online community I've seen would be NWN (excluding MMOs). The game I've seen real people having a long conversation about game mechanics would be the Elder Scrolls, although I feel they stuffed up Skyrim a little bit by making the spellcasting standardised.

    Modding is pretty key in both. Having an open-ended world. Having a good balance of power in your game, but not being afraid to let people break it if they want (the balance, not the game).

  3. I guess the first question is what would define the "right" community.

    Something your wife and I worked through a while ago I think applies here.

    Define what that right community is (or what you see it being)
    Then define what that right community wants or is attracted to
    Then define what your product is or is not, and see if it matches. Either you change your product, or you change your community. If both are a match, then you let it be known that this is what you (your product) offers or stands for, and whomever shares that same perspective should be drawn to it and want to participate.

    In my "Game" I've been searching through my own experiences and reasons for joining in on the game, and something I've come up with is that it provides and easier way to "talk" (communicate) with people without having to know the right words to say and when to say them. I know the basic rules of interaction, and in that I have the freedom to do whatever I want.

    I am a Salsa dancer. I consider the interaction of dancing with someone a game (lead and follow). I have been giving away free product (dance lessons) in a social setting with the hopes of people seeing what I do, being attracted to it and wanting to join in.

    Part of my end result is to have a thriving dance community which gets together and interacts socially on a weekly basis. I figured that in order to get more people into my classes (to learn to dance so that they could participate in social dances) was to get them out in a social setting dancing for free with no commitment. So far, it's been slow, but I am hoping that by the end of the summer I see some significant results. Also I have a feeling that with the regularity of a social event happening throughout the summer, people may expect it to continue through the winter, thus creating that thriving dance community I am looking for.

    What do you see as your right community?

  4. Loving the comments everyone, thanks :D

    For me it boils down to /growing/ the community in the right way. How do you seed a small community, and what tools/privileges can you give them, such that when the community grows big it still keeps the same culture.

    ...hard at work on that problem now...