Times change and so do communities. Over the years I have seen priorities shift and a lot of servers shutting down. The traditional community containing of gameserver(s), website + active forum and voice server seems to be fading away, which to me is a shame. Being part of a good community can feel like a second home. I remember years ago when I got home from school the first thing I would do is join ventrillo and check the forums before I even launched a game. Immediately I was able to speak to my fellow community members/friends and continue where we left of.
The reason why the landscape has changed has to do multiple factors which I will be discussing. These factors being:
- The social aspect of games
- The amount of games
- Mod support
- Streams and videos
- Forums vs. Social Media
Keep in mind that this article is based around my observations over the years and might differ from other games and genres, or… I am just getting old.
The social aspect of games
A thing that a lot of newer (multiplayer) games lack is the social aspect. Priorities switched from encouraging players to chat with each other towards having it just as a function (that is mostly being abused with flames). You even see this with games that are meant to be played cooperative. Players hardly use the (voice)chat function when they are playing online. (of course there are exceptions)
Let’s take Battlefield(1) for instance. This game is meant to be played as a team, that is if you play rush or conquest. But when do you ever see someone typing in chat or hear someone talking in voice chat? Also don’t get me started about the garbage dedicated server support from EA. It seems like they discourage communities to host their own server since you got to have a separate license and can barely configure any of the server settings.
Most new online games tend to be built around being able to play a quick game without any consequences. Let’s call them DIDO (drop in, drop out) games. A few examples of these games are : CS:GO (casual), DayZ, H1Z1, COD and PUBG. These are games with a big population which means a lot of servers. Because of this players with bad intentions will not be punished for bad behaviour. If you are an asshole in one server and get banned you just hop on the next server which is most likely almost identical. Because of this system it’s hard to build a community and maintain a nice atmosphere.
The amount of games
Let’s play a game shall we? We both check which of our friends on steam have the most games. Let me guess 100..? 200..? 300..? That’s right, there are so many games nowadays and they keep on coming. Don’t get me wrong as a player this is great, but if you want to start a community it’s not. This is another reason why it’s so hard to start/maintain a community. First of all you have to choose which game you want to host a server for. And then you have to attract players and try to keep them on your server. but with all this games popping up everywhere it’s hard!
I remember back in April 2015, at the time were running a successful server, but then something happened what greatly impacted our player base.. GTA V got released on PC. Player Count dropped with 70% and the remaining players were having less fun because of it. This was a phase that lasted about 2 weeks, but after those 2 weeks the player Count wasn’t the same anymore. Some people sticked to GTA while others found something else.
A game supporting mods might be its strongest selling point. Mods enhances gameplay, increases the replay value and stimulates communities to be unique with it’s content. Besides that it inspires starting programmers to come up with mods for the game that they enjoy.
This is why I don’t understand that mod support is rare these days (I am not talking about skins on the workshop). Take games like Mount & Blade, Unreal, Left4Dead, Half-life, ARMA and of course the modception called Garry’s Mod. You actually have a website where developes sell scripts of mods for a mod of a mod. How great is that?
These games are still alive and kicking because of the communities that keep the train rolling.
Ow and did I mention MTA (Multi theft auto)/ San Andreas Online? Yeah that’s right, those mods are also still alive and kicking!
Streams and videos
The last couple of years live streams and “let’s play” video content has become very popular. This to an extend where some viewers decide to watch instead of play a game themselves. However, a streamer/youtuber also interacts with its viewers. These interactions can also be hosting events where his viewers can join in on the fun (it be in a game or a voice server). With actions like that a community forms around the streamer/youtuber, which is something fairly new in the gaming community.
Forums vs. Social media
I will really sound like an old man if I went “hey guys have you heard about social media?”. Social media has become the standard medium of providing news and sharing content. It has also started to function as a discussion platform. Back in the day communities used to use only forums for this. Although the concept of forums is far from dead, it is however being used less frequently.
Some might say that managing a forum board is more work than managing a Twitter page. Although Twitter is great place to create new contacts and to share your news or give a quick answer to questions in your dm/feed, in my eyes it will never serve as a discussion platform the way a forums does the job (phew that was a long sentence..)
Having a forum board for your community gives you and your members a place for discussions, questions, reports, organise events and a source of (community) news.
A forum can be installed within a couple of minutes (after which you have to configure it to your own needs ofcourse). The most popular forum systems are Phpbb3 and Mybb (both are free). The days of having to fill in all kinds of information when registering on the forums are also over, since you can find plugins that allow users to register with their social media accounts, this literally takes one click.
Some communities have decided to switch to Discord for their discussions, since Discord has built in chat channels (kinda like “mIRC” for you old people out there). Although this is a good solution for smaller communities, I still recommend setting up a separate forum board once your community is growing.
So we have discussed the benefits of social media and forum boards. Why not have both? This way you can interact with both user groups and spread your message even further. Using the social media to post news and attract new players/contacts and using the forum for all the more in depth subjects and interacting with your members.