Twitch averaged 2.78 million concurrent viewers in 2021, making it one of the most trafficked sites on the internet. Once targeted at hard-core gamers, game streaming platforms have evolved into major mainstream media outlets that scratch a universal itch for connection.
Once upon a time, gamers were young, male, and tech-savvy. Now, that player in your Fortnite games could be a woman in her early 20s discovering shooters for the first time, a man in his 50s who’s been gaming since Doom, or even your mom.
As audiences expand from a single demographic to a broad psychographic, developers are forced to accelerate the pace of innovation. New audiences are as hungry as they are diverse, and their demand for groundbreaking content outstrips developers’ capacity to supply. Gamers empowered with tools, time, and money are rushing to fill the gap.
Here’s what happens next.
Communities are built and defined by the behavior and personalities of their members, both towards other members of the community and the world in general. Examples of toxic communities abound in gaming, resulting in games losing audience over time and capping the growth of the industry overall. Virtual community platforms often lack incentives for good behavior.
By contrast, once a year, 70,000 people flock to Indianapolis for Gen Con, the world’s largest tabletop gaming convention. Widely known as “the best four days in gaming”, this beloved event welcomes players of all backgrounds and gaming formats to the table for a mad-cap, joyful, and robustly inclusive good time. Gen Con President David Hoppe traces the roots of this inclusive community and discusses what virtual communities can learn from its model.
For Kore Bundt, being good at gaming, proactive in chat, and generally fun to be around led to the dream job; one in which they get to play all day, while making the world a better place. Occasional gaming celebrity visitations are fun, but beside the point: in the streamerverse, all are created equal.
When Katie McKeon-Smith fell in love with life at sea, she did what anyone would do—started a TikTok channel. She’s now an influencer who creates educational content for the massively popular Sea of Thieves. Hop on board as she imparts the Pirate Code to a swarthy bunch of rogues who follow from across the seven seas.
Gaming is dominated by triple-A blockbusters, but innovations in storytelling and gameplay often emerge from the work of indie developers. Without big studio budgets to fall back on, these small teams and solo creators boil down the process down to the essential of what makes their project unique. Wielding a diverse set of tools such as Unity, Kickstarter, and Discord, these developer Jacks-of-all-trades understand that community engagement isn’t a nice-to-have, but necessary for the game’s survival. Jyro Blade, game developer and member of the NYC-based Gumbo Collective, dives into the aspects of community development and engagement that are critical to the development and success of an indie game.
Early community inclusion can make games more fun for the players—and is a fantastic reality check for developers on what works and what doesn’t. Continuing the exploration of the Early Access phenomenon in gaming, producer Kristina Rothe recommends that in order to get the most out of Early Access programs, game marketers establish a framework for ongoing collaboration with the community, starting with a clear vision of the program’s goals and following time-tested practices that develop mutually beneficial relationships between developers and the community.
Early Access is a growing phenomenon in gaming that’s easier said than done. While Early Access programs can offer several potential benefits to gamers and game developers, they often result in disappointment for both due to mismanaged expectations and execution. But in the startup world, well-managed community engagement initiatives are standard practice for companies ready to scale. Dave Nemetz—co-founder of Inverse and Bleacher Report—shares his playbook for ways game studios can optimize their Early Access programs while giving back true ownership to player-participants.