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GDC Austin: Insomniac Games' 10 Commandments Of Community

Full-on community integration into console video games will be "second nature in the next five years," said Insomniac Games community director Ryan Schneider in a GDC Austin session with plenty of beer references.
Insomniac Games community director Ryan Schneider knows there are a lot of beers out there. "For us, when people go into the pub, we want to look for the Insomniac brand of beer," he said. "... We want them buying Insomniac brand beer and telling their friends about it." It was one of several references to fermented brew during his GDC Austin session on Thursday. Insomniac, the independent developer of the Ratchet and Clank and Resistance series, has been one video game company that has helped lead the way in the field of community management in console gaming, and going forward, a game's community will only become more important, he said. Today, when people think of a game's community, they think of official message boards, forums, blogs, game websites and podcasts. While all of those things will remain important, Schneider said complete game/community transparency isn't that far off. He envisions in-game community functionality that isn't an afterthought or side project for the game's developers. "It's there from the beginning [of a game's development]." Schneider said Insomniac is talking about manipulating game engines to incorporate community design. "I think it's going to be second nature in the next five years," he predicted. Clearly, with services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, and community-centric games like Resistance 2 and Halo 3, we can see the promising beginnings of full-on community integration into video games. Schneider added that as the "games as a service" idea continues to evolve, community management will become more important in fostering a game after its retail release. He also forecast complete multimedia connectivity, where you can access a game's community from your iPhone, PC, and other devices outside of your game console. He also predicted that the loyalty and size of game's community will be used by analysts, retailers, and media to measure a game's vitality. Somewhere down the line, Schneider said, developers might even be able to utilize the community as a "monetization vehicle," in which a game maker might charge people for premium community features. "Why can't they pay for a higher level of community access? This is a place where we can make money," he said. And when a game developer takes care of its community, it gets free help from its fans. In Insomniac's case, there's what Schneider calls the "Insomniac Defense Force," whose members will defend the honor of their favorite game developer on blogs and message boards. "When we take care of our community, it takes care of us," he said. Just five years ago, community management was much simpler -- there was a neat little lineup of leading consumer websites and magazines, and a relatively small amount of venues from which people can get their gaming fixes. But now there are a slew of blogs, social networking sites, highly-trafficked fansites, and Twitter, and various ways to game, from consoles and handhelds to iPhone, Steam, console digital downloads, and online. While juggling community management duties can often be "chaotic" and utter "bedlam," Schneider repeatedly stressed that it's best to handle it internally whenever possible instead of handing duties off to a publisher. That way, a game maker has total control over its message. Otherwise, there might be "too many cooks in the kitchen," Schneider said. "It's our opinion that it's always the responsibility of the developers [to address the community]." Leaving the message solely to the publisher "is not your best interest," he added. Schneider said proper community management can lead to better games by listening to fans, passionate fans who will spread your word and come to your defense, and overall good public relations for the entire studio. The community director also revealed Insomniac's "10 Commandments Of Community": 1. Thou art they experts. "We're the ones with the vision. We're the ones who know the game." Everyone has an opinion -- fans, friends, media, and so on -- but Schneider encouraged developers to be careful not to become too obsessed with what outsiders are telling them to do with a game. 2. Thou shall know thyself. "Don't bite off more than you can chew," he said. Things can get chaotic otherwise, so community organizers must know their limits. 3. Thou shall integrate with production. "The best games from a community integration standpoint are [built] from the ground up [to include community features]," Schneider said. 4. Thou shall build a divine database. If you're not tracking stats and data from the community, "What's the point?" Schneider asked. 5. Thou shall NOT screw thine fans. "Essentially, the disc we put our games on is just the beginning. .. Make sure your fans are being taken care of from start to finish." 6. Thou shall love thy neighbor. "If you have nothing nice to say about your competition, don't say anything at all," he said. 7. Thou shall create. Community content and management should come from within the studio, Schneider said. "You guys know the game better than anybody else. Why are we letting other people produce our content?" 8. Thou shall keep thy promises. If you tell the community you're going to do something, you better do it, and do it when you said you would. 9. Thou shall find internal champions. Community directors should act as advocates for the community within the studio, and fight for them. 10. Thou shall hire good partners. If you have to go outside of the company for help, partners must be reliable. "Make sure we're all doing our due diligence," Schneider said.

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