Video Games: Building the Communities of the Future

Felicia Day on showcasing co-op gaming on her web show Co-Opitude.

Felicia Day on showcasing co-op gaming on her web show Co-Opitude.

Consumer choice is at an all-time high in virtually every market. With few exceptions, a consumer can easily switch brands, shop at a different store, or use a different service. Not happy with the sales experience at the Hyundai dealership? Walk across the street to the Nissan dealership and see what they have to offer. Or as is the case for most businesses today, navigate to a new webpage.

Finding products is easy. Choosing, however, can be overwhelming. If a consumer can choose one of 3000 products to meet a specific need, the battle is no longer about price or even features. The truly successful businesses compete on brand and on community.

In the video game world, we see this reality playing out every day. Steam, the leading digital delivery service for video games (think iTunes but for video games) has an estimate 5600 for sale, and that number grows each day as more developers upload their titles in the hopes that they can find customers there.

What does it take to standout in a hyper-competitive marketplace like Steam? Let’s look at the top games as of the writing of this article.

Immediately, there are a few clear takeaways:

  • The age of a game (or product) is not always relevant. If the gameplay is engaging and the community surrounding a game is passionate, being new and fresh is less important. Dota 2, CS: Go, and Team Fortress 2 have been around for some time. Garry’s Mod is over 10 years old and still averages 3,000 copies sold a day and recently sold its 10 millionth copy.
  • Community matters. Each of the games on this list, even the new comer ARK: Survival Evolved have energetic communities surrounding them. This communal element, the idea that a product can make an individual feel like they are part of something, is one of the holy grails of branding. The games on this list were designed to foster and support community.
  • Multiplayer helps. While the community for Fallout 4 has not yet stood the test of time, Bethesda’s single-player experiences (with the help of modding communities) help to extend the shelf-life of their expansive games. For the other games on this list, however, competitive gameplay is essential. In this way, the behavior of other players generates “new” content, making each play experience just a little bit different from the last.
  • Cooperative elements are powerful as well. While competitive gameplay is a part of most of the games on this list, cooperative mechanics also seem to be a common thread. In team-based games like Dota 2, CS:GO, and Team Fortress 2, the gameplay is just as much about collaborating with your team as it is about conquering an enemy. This deepens the experience of community but playing upon feelings of trust, friendship, and comradery.

From a business standpoint, the battles that we are seeing for video game audiences are not that different from battles we see in other industries. Brands across the spectrum are trying to build communities of inspired, passionate advocates. They want people organizing events around their products and sharing brand-related photos on social media. It’s something every brand wants but very few brands succeed at building because it is just plain hard to do.

For the video game world, here are my predictions:

  • Competitive e-sport level gameplay is here to stay and will continue to grow, but the fight to be the next e-sport phenomenon will be a hard one. Competitive gamers are already entrenched in their franchises, and with the biggest studios entering the fight the winner might be decided just as much by budget and industry connections as gameplay.
  • The importance of community in games is just beginning. With such a huge emphasis on competitive gameplay, we anticipate a resurgence of purely cooperative games that capture the attention of gamers that want community but don’t much enjoy spending the better of an hour waiting to respawn.
  • More non-gaming specific communities will find homes in video games. We are already seeing this happen on mobile, but we suspect that these “casual” gamers will soon demand deeper gameplay experiences. They are getting a test of the enjoyment that community-driven gaming can provide, and they are likely to go deeper into that rabbit hole if they are properly motivated.

In our minds, all of these trends are good things. What it means to be a gamer is changing. In fact, that definition is being revised and revamped hundreds of times over by people that are looking to video games for vastly different reasons. In the end, whether they want to compete or collaborate, the upward trend is definitely about community.