The Role Of Community Marketing In A Successful Soft Launch
We've seen it all before, right? A bombastic trailer. Fans go wild. A release date is announced and then… uh-oh, it's delayed. A new deadline is shared. It's missed again. The social media buzz becomes nowt more than a whisper, and someone somewhere wishes they'd never announced a chuffing date in the first place.
Those kinds of scenarios aren't unusual in our business. That's why soft launches – games that are released on the QT, without fuss, maybe even to a limited few – are so appealing. You can build a game at the same time as you're testing it, ensuring those unexpected bugs are squished sooner rather than later.
All too often, though, developers – keen to create a stable, glitch-free game – fail to prioritise community building. But by using social media or Discord simply to collect bug reports, you're doing your fanbase – not to mention your game – a huge disservice.
As well as collecting valuable player feedback, you should be using these digital spaces to make your players feel part of a passionate community, too.
Why? Because games with a fan-first community thrive. By dedicating time and resources to your early adopters and getting their buy-in on the ground floor, you can actively shape and grow your community. Engaging with your players both inside and outside the game – giving them a palpable sense of pride, ownership, and responsibility – will turn them from passive players into passionate advocates. You know, just like we care about our flat-pack furniture a little more than the ready-assembled stuff because it was our blood, sweat, and tears (yes, there's a healthy bias to the latter) that put it together.
Still not convinced? Here are the 5 benefits of a fan-first soft launch.
1. You'll learn more about your game
It doesn't matter how much planning or testing you do. There's no substitute for live data and immediate feedback from those that matter most: your players. The more you listen and respond to their views, the more they'll believe in you and your game. Together, you can make it the very best it can be.
2. You'll learn more about your audience
You might think you know what kind of people will play your game, but there are no guarantees. Until you start building a community, you won't know what impact your game will make, and with what kind of people and cultures it will resonate most. With a soft launch, though, you can tinker with your marketing plan as you go. Adjust your goals. Rejig your strat. It can also help you better assess how your players prefer to engage, which in turn helps you tap into the right place not only in culture but the marketplace, too.
3. You'll learn more about your best communications channels
Soft launch communities also act as a litmus test for new ideas, too. Experiment with which platforms work best for your players. Facebook? Discord? Twitter? YouTube? Instagram? Be prepared to diversify, though, as you may find the channels that work for some tribes within your community don't work across them all. Find out which is the best fit for your fanbase – are your core participants more active on Discord and your casual fans on Instagram? – and use that to prioritise the social channels that need your time and financial investment. Do this, and you'll build confidence in the positioning of your product before you tackle something as daunting as a global launch.
4. You'll get a better representation of the game
Having a ready-made fan community – complete with organic growth and evidence of developer interactions – will spark the curiosity of prospective players. Let's face it; launching with a ready-baked, thriving community is only going to attract attention for all the right reasons.
5. You'll build in real advocacy and player ownership
There's nothing cooler than getting in on the ground floor. Players that jumped in early will feel special and valued, and help spread the word for you.
For instance, when Supercell decided to launch manic multiplayer battler Brawl Stars, they needed a global campaign that would ignite its young community of beta players without relying on paid media. Our campaign helped drive five million pre-registration sign-ups in eight hours, grow the game’s social channels exponentially, and ultimately see it become the number one iPhone app in thirty-two countries earning over ten million dollars in its first week. Not an easy feat given such a crowded market, granted, but by building external optics and generating buzz, it can help your soft launch title stand out… especially if your community is as distinctive as your game is.
Okay, I'm in. How do I get started?
1. First up? Define your community strategy early.
What kind of role do you want your community to play? How can you inspire your players to advocate for you? Set clear goals, but be prepared to amend them as you go, too; a successful campaign is a flexible one. Be prepared to course-correct as you collate live data and feedback. Yes, this means you'll need to ladder up your comms and commercial goals early on, but it'll ensure you don't lose time – or money – backing the wrong idea.
2. Another benefit of soft launching? Working collaboratively with your community to set the tone of your comms strat as you go.
Though you can mould a community as it grows, it pays to be proactive. Engage and reward the kind of behaviour you want. Know from the outset what your values are. Chip, change, or completely revise things on the fly. It's easier to make small amendments as you go than try and make wholesale changes when things are set in stone. Decide early on what kind of approach you want to take in good times and bad. Will you implement every change your community wants? Can you be transparent when a change can't be made? Establish these key things before you kick off your soft-launch journey.
3. Including and valuing all segments of your audience is key, too.
Engaging them all – even if you have to work in different ways and via different methods – builds real advocacy. We all have our preferred social media channels and apps, and your audience will be no different. Some community members may want to be heavily involved in the development of the game itself. For others, it's about getting that shout out for their contributions. Others don't care as long as you keep them informed. The real trick is finding and understanding the signals that show how, and where, your player tribes show up in the community. Lucky for you, Waste are particularly experienced with this. We can run both things side-by-side by listening carefully to help us discover, and value, all types of players sitting within a community ecosystem, no matter its scope or size.
4. Talking of which – communicating with your community is crucial if you want to develop a fan-first community.
This includes not just listening to your players but participating in a two-way dialogue. Demonstrate when, and how, your community can feed into a game. No, we're not saying you need to bow to every whim. You should, however, ensure your community can see – clearly and demonstrably – that you're listening. Only this will foster a real sense of ownership and involvement.
5. Give the people what they want.
Engaged, passionate communities can do much of the heavy lifting for you. They can provide positive, word-of-mouth testimonies that don't cost you a penny. Whenever you can, give the people what they want, along with the content and tools they need to refer friends. Listen to what they love about your game. Respond accordingly. By giving them content they care about – well, within reason; there are limits, and that's okay providing you talk about them openly – they'll share their passions and introduce like-minded folks to your cosy community. Developing a trained ear to your community's complaints can even help you nip pain points in the bud early on, and help your fans learn the value of constructive dialogue, compromise, and alternative solutions.
6. Develop a clear, core structure on how you plan to keep your community both informed and engaged.
It's fine to experiment and test new ideas – that'll help you identify just how amenable your fanbase is to change – but stay true to your values. Keep your community apprised of what's new, what's staying the same, and be sure they understand not only when you're making the change but why. It's also important they understand what success looks like to you.
7. Bring content creators into the mix.
Experienced content creators can bring added value when it comes to shaping a soft-launch game. Identify, engage with, and actively involve content creators that provide crucial insight and shape the building blocks for a better player experience. By linking with them during your soft launch, you can lay the foundations for more mutually beneficial collaborations further down the line. It also helps bolster community growth, too. Though your soft launch game may inspire a couple of videos from established content creators and streamers, few will regularly engage with your game if there's nothing in it for them. They need a steady audience just as much as you do. Work together to build that for both of you. Can you collaborate on a big announcement? Are there smaller, up-and-coming creators that might be a good fit for your community? Could they come from your community? The reality is, most of today's stars took a punt on a fresh title and won first-mover advantage. So how can you inspire someone to take a chance on your soft-launch title? The trick is convincing emerging and established creators that your new game is worthy of their time and effort. We reckon the best strategy is to work upwards from lower-tier creators to higher-tier collaborators.
8. Have a plan.
Finally? You want to grow, right? Get bigger. Be better. So have a plan to manage that growth. Too many studios default to a "build it and they will come" mentality, but that's not enough. To leverage relevant communities from previous games or integrate your community into your soft launch, you need to plan it. Crafting an organic community can be great for earned reach, sure, but to get your game in front of more people, you need to reach that all-important critical mass. That means getting your product in front of as many prospective players as possible, whether that's by bolstering organic reach with paid campaigns, or planning carefully to accommodate for a large audience as you go.
Should you go global or hit a specific territory? Will your game appeal to individual cultures differently? It's tricky to know. There's no one-size-fits-all approach here, no – and to go in with that mindset is unlikely to go well. But while you could certainly have a few general global pages, you'll likely still need country-specific channels for customer support and feedback, be that via social media or a community platform like Discord.
What we've given here is just a taster, of course. By no means is this an exhaustive list. Every developer and every game will feel and act a little differently, and that's why every community will feel and act a little differently, too. But if you commit to hardwiring building a community into your soft-launch plans right from the get-go, there's no doubt you'll get off to a flying start.
Think you might need a bit of help with that? Not to worry - we're always around for a chat. Get in touch.