Building a community for an obscure fighting game

A little bit about me

Hi, I’m Shimatora. As of writing this I have been moderating and managing the English language online Eternal Fighter Zero community for 7 years. For a long time I’ve wanted to write up something for passionate, budding community leaders who want to try and build a community for a game they love, but don’t quite know where to start or how to do it. While I do come from a place of privilege in the scene (community manager for a game that is a cult classic, has rollback netcode), I believe the advice in this article can be applied to any game with success, if you persevere.

This is not a step by step guide. Instead, this article offers advice on three broad topics: mindset, advertisement, and player retention.

Preface: Knowing what you’re getting into

Unless you’re very lucky, the process can be incredibly grueling and unrewarding. Consequently, it may feel like you’re wasting your time or that no one’s interested, but that’s simply not the case. Your game has an audience out there, you’re not alone with your passion, you just need to find those as passionate as you are, or those who have the potential to be as passionate as you are. As a result, this should be your primary goal—not retaining players who hop games on a whim (although they are extremely valuable for your community, more on this later), but reaching players who will want to play your game as their primary interest for the genre. You want to build a strong, core playerbase that will stick around no matter what.

Essentially, this project will demand patience, persistence, realistic expectations, and above all else an undying passion for your game, a strong desire to show the world just how incredible it is, no matter what it takes.

A word on burnout

In all likelihood, you’ll be doing a lot of this alone, at least at the start. Creating a community from scratch, especially for a game with few resources, is a lot of work and has no guarantee to be successful. However, the longer you persist, the higher your chances are for success.Therefore, it’s important to keep your focus on the long term and manage your efforts to keep yourself going as long as possible. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Showing the world your game

The power of word of mouth

Advertising is a lot like playing darts blindfolded. You have a general idea of where your audience is, but you have no idea if you’re reaching them. For instance, a bullseye is someone seeing a post about the game on social media and trying it themselves, showing it to and discussing it with their friends, who in turn may also go on to show other people, and so on. Word of mouth is a powerful tool for advertisement, and we as advertisers rarely ever see what goes on past the blindfold. We just throw darts and hope they hit.

In particular, flavour of the month players are a gold mine for advertising by word of mouth. Even if they only play for two weeks, they are almost certainly involving friends in that experience. Understand the value and potential of every new face and you’ll be able to start brainstorming all sorts of ways to get your game out there. Be persistent with your advertisement and don’t give up if you do not get immediate results. You’re setting so much in motion by merely posting and talking about your game.

What makes good advertising?

Anything that shows off your game is good advertising. For example, this can be short highlight clips posted to Twitter, match VODs posted to YouTube, streams on Twitch, even learning resources can be good advertising. Being a constant presence on every platform you can without it being too overwhelming is ideal. If your game has cool combos, post a new combo to Twitter everyday. If your game has interesting neutral options, show short highlights of footage and explain what’s going on. It all depends on what your game has to offer, and what makes it appealing to you. In general, that will be what appeals to others too. Be creative and never be afraid to explore new ideas, even if they seem like they might fail, you never know what will be an unexpected success. Even this article serves as a hidden advertisement for Eternal Fighter Zero.

Running events is an excellent way to advertise and create content that will continue advertising for you, even after the event is over. You get to advertise the date of the tournament multiple times leading up to the event, announce the stream going live, announce the results, and finally upload the VOD to YouTube so that it may, with optimal SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), appear in search results and recommended videos. Intrinsically, you fulfill the need for content creation, events, advertisement, and learning resources all in one package.

As with word of mouth, success is largely invisible to you, beyond view counts and impression statistics. Have faith that what you’re doing is reaching people, fill as many niches as possible, and your community is bound to be successful.

The invisible playerbase

The majority of people who see your advertisements and go on to try your game will not be active in your community, instead preferring to play in private with friends. If you’re lucky, you may stumble across random tweets talking about the game, or find recent YouTube video uploads or Twitch streams, but even that may be rare. This does not mean no one is playing your game. This invisible playerbase makes up the bulk of your game’s players, and they are a key facet of word of mouth advertising. These players may end up showing the game to someone who does end up joining and participating in your community, or may one day decide to join themselves. A lack of new members in your community after seemingly successful advertisements is not a sign that you have failed. The seeds you plant may take days, weeks, or even months to pay off, but they will pay off, as long as you are persistent and creative with how you market your game.

Quality learning resources

The higher the quality, and the easier they are to access, the better. If your game is a vs fighting game and obscure enough, it may even be accepted to a wiki like Mizuumi. People often use Mizuumi as a way to find new games, which makes it an excellent niche for advertising, while also filling the role of giving new players a resource to learn from. As such, the quality of the wiki reflects the passion of the playerbase behind it, and ultimately how much they care about helping new people play their game. We want the game to be as easy as possible to pick up and play. In short, less steps means people are playing your game sooner, and are far less likely to give up before they’ve seen its true potential.

Mizuumi Discord and the Poverty FGC Twitter

Mizuumi’s Discord server is a central hub for what is known as the Poverty FGC, a community of niche, obscure versus games that, generally, have small playerbases. It links to many related Discord communities and is an excellent place to show off your game. Ask an admin if they can include an invite link to your Discord server in their #poverty-discords channel. Join the server here.

The Poverty_FGC Twitter account is an excellent place to get signal boosts on your tweets. After you’ve made your tweet, simply tag the account in a reply and, if deemed on-topic, it will eventually be retweeted. Alternatively, tag “@Poverty Twitter” in the Mizuumi Discord when you share your tweet there, this is another way to ask for retweets.

The Community

Community atmosphere

There is one key facet of new player retention I see many communities completely ignore: community atmosphere. How the community members speak to each other, their frequent topics of conversation, the ways in which they discuss their game, overall server positivity, and ultimately what the moderators do to protect the atmosphere, all contribute to the overall atmosphere. If you want to attract new players and retain new players, your server needs to take the game you play seriously, have a positive, welcoming atmosphere, and be led by an active moderation team who cares. Fundamentally, the atmosphere of your community is the first thing new players will judge, and first impressions mean everything.

New players are the soul of a healthy community focused on matchmaking. People will inevitably come and go, and we ideally want a relatively persistent stream of new players to replace them. As a result, it’s important to be prepared to remove community members, no matter how core or central to the playerbase they are, no matter how strong they are in game, if they are a detriment to the community atmosphere.

Moderation style

Public discussion and matchmaking communities are always a delicate balance of friendly banter and formal discussion. We want the community to be a friendly, fun place to be, but we don’t want the community to start exhibiting the more outwardly toxic sides of friendship circles. For instance, in private friend circles, some people are prone to shit-talking friends, or being generally mean as banter. In other words, being toxic as a joke. In these closed circles this often isn’t actually toxic, it’s just a core part of being friends, a core part of their community atmosphere. In contrast, in public discussion platforms there are always people lurking who have no way of knowing which comments are banter and which are legitimate toxicity. No matter the intent behind banter, the only way it isn’t toxic is if everyone in the community understands it isn’t serious. As this is only possible in private communities, where people either merge into the flock or go elsewhere, I highly recommend dissuading people from this behaviour as much as possible.

New community members will try and match the community they join. Therefore, if the server has a positive and welcoming atmosphere, no matter how openly toxic a player may be elsewhere, they’ll often feel extreme discomfort being the toxic outlier. Likewise, in a more toxic atmosphere, someone with a more positive, wholesome outlook becomes the outlier, making it difficult to attract and retain anyone who isn’t toxic. Predominantly, this is what makes it so important to build and maintain the community atmosphere from day one. A community built on positive foundations, frequently maintained by an active and passionate moderation team will stand the test of time, eventually becoming a community that moderates itself.

All I can give is tips, your journey is your own

We all have different ideas for what works and what doesn’t. There are many different ways to approach a project like this, and the best choice is the method you’re most passionate about. My advice is not gospel, it’s just what appears to work from my limited perspective for the game I play. Do what you feel is best, and remain passionate. That’s the best you can do for your game and your community.

Posted in Discussion, Guides and tagged , .