Abylight Studios on Community Management for Indie Games

07/23/2021

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Some time ago I played the mobile iOS port of Hyper Light Drifter. I had some issues with the smaller screen size of my mobile device, but I thought the game itself was a beautifully designed and animated story portraying struggle, loss, loneliness, and desperation.

Abylight Studios, the publishers of Hyper Light Drifter on Switch and on mobile devices, do an incredible job of keeping their audience engaged with visually creative content, a positive community space where fans feel welcome and supported, and where the source material of their games is celebrated in all its glory.

I asked them for some advice on how to manage a game’s community. Here’s what they have to say.

I. How do you identify where your game’s audience is?

We start from researching existing games with one or more aspects similar to those of ours (developed or published). Topic, platform, aesthetic, genre etc. Where these overlap is our sweet spot of an audience. For instance, a retro game lover (genre) who happens to like Greek mythology (topic), uses iOS or Apple TV (platform), and appreciates pixel art (aesthetic) is very likely to enjoy The Curse of Issyos.

Check hashtags on social media to see whether a certain scene is active on a particular platform, go on Reddit and forums to find where a subject is most actively discussed – then chime in and share what you’ve got. Participating in existing interest-based communities is a good starting point to identify the audience for a game and then offer them a unique experience relevant to their interests.

II. How do you create enough content to post? How do you know what your audience will respond to?

Anything is content in today’s online world! 🙂 Dressed your cat up as Drifter? This is content!

At the same time, there’s no such thing as enough content: creating new stuff to post is a never-ending process that takes significantly more time and effort than it looks from the outside. Each piece of content needs to deliver a very specific message or emotion. Therefore, behind some 15-seconds video there’s quite some planning, filming and editing, and the words in a sloppy-looking meme are carefully picked to make it fast to consume and deliver a powerful emotion.

https://twitter.com/abylight/status/1359465628252450816?s=20 We’re into versatile content, something you create once and reuse on different platforms or multiple times. Saves a lot of time and energy! And, of course, user-generated content: we love the fan art, photos, memes and music our players make! We get something to post, and our community seems to enjoy it when we share their creations. Especially now, when people online are looking for something to relate to and social circles to connect with.

Analytics pages of each platform clearly show which posts perform better than others. And, once we post, it’s usually visible when our players find it useful, amusing, or relatable. Then we make more posts of the same direction, or mix and match different elements of those best-performing ones – and watch how the audience likes it.

III. How do you make your community a safe space? What are some of the rules and guidelines you establish, and how do you enforce those?

A community can make or break a game, especially now: as people flock online to find the connections they’re missing in real life, a safe and welcoming game community matters more than ever – for gamers and game teams alike.

We keep ours this way by sticking to games/gamedev content, discussions, and communications, and focusing on the uniting aspect of it, while staying out of divisive controversies. We respect differences of opinions, but we’re all in this particular community because of our passion for games: as players, developers, or both.

Issues are unavoidable, and we prefer to tackle them through simple communication: if a not-so-nice occurrence or trend is detected – we would tackle it directly and immediately, without letting it spread. Even the most frustrated people, the “problematic” or “haters”, can be a source of constructive feedback: once they realize we’re actually listening to their concerns.

IV. How do you find commonly asked questions? Where do you find them? How do you collect them?

We obsessively monitor all communication channels to address any questions and concerns ASAP. Players connect with us everywhere, from email to Twitter and Instagram, sometimes even comments on TikTok. And, of course, App Store reviews. Those are crucial to see the sentiment around our games, as well as to find out if something isn’t working.

Reddit is an interesting platform too: players often ask questions under our posts there, and it’s a chance to invite them to our community.

Questions are especially important now that Hyper Light Drifter – Special Edition Collector’s Set is being shipped. Players inquire about their order status, report issues in case they encounter them – and we’re always there to fix, check on the orders and keep customers happy as they wait for their package. https://twitter.com/abylight/status/1336312222428114944?s=20

V. How do you consistently think of new ideas for your channels? What’s worked best?

We write ideas down as they come, just not to forget them – then go back to the list, pick out the most relevant and doable ones, polish and execute them. The latter is best to do with some versatility in mind: how can this piece be altered to work on another platform? How can it be reused later?

The entire process isn’t as consistent as it (hopefully!) looks from our social media: the trick here is to keep writing ideas down once they appear, and find fresh ones wherever possible. The TikTok trend of “random things that just make sense” was a perfect way to show around our office (and tap into a platform’s trend!), and the infamous Bernie meme just had to be merged with a not-less-iconic screenshot from Hyper Light Drifter. And yes, it’s sometimes a challenge to stay updated with those social media trends – unless you’re on 24/7.

VI. How would you define your studio’s brand voice? How is that voice tailored to your audience?

We’re all gamers here at Abylight: gamers of different preferences, generations, and skills, who made our passion our profession and have been able to deliver unique and addictive experiences to other videogame connoisseurs for 17 years. We genuinely enjoy playing the games we work with, they become a uniting factor for us and our community.

On our role as Publishers, we’re aiming on being approachable while striving for high quality: we’re open to any kind of game, as long as the developer has the talent and is passionate about their game, having it in our portfolio will make us all even more awesome, once polished enough to fit the Abylight standard.

Play Abylight’s new release Prison Tycoon: Under New Management now available on Steam for $29.99.

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