Many major titles have official web destinations, but Insomniac Games has for some time invested in building a community around its Resistance
franchise via MyResistance.net.
Beyond the traditional marketing splash page-slash-content hub, MyResistance.net aims at broader social networking features. In addition to forums, fans build profiles, aggregate their play stats on leaderboards and receive communication from Resistance 2
Insomniac's Ryan Schneider talks to Gamasutra about the team's process in building a rich community initiative, and the careful balance the developers -- many of whom speak directly to the community on the site -- maintain between development and public relations.
Schneider also illustrates the broad benefits of such an ambitious, persistent effort -- keeping players engaged in the long term and gaining a closer understanding of the enthusiast audience through access to player data.
The extensive effort placed behind building MyResistance.net also provides an infrastructure for communities around the studio's future games, and Schneider also discusses the group's plans to expand the community into mainstream social networking.
Where did you get the inspiration for MyResistance.net, and what did you want to do with that site when you first began it?
Ryan Schneider: We wanted to build a relationship with our community, period. We wanted to connect with our fans on a basic level, so we started just with forums in general on Insomniacgames.com. Then, over time, we realized how passionate the community was.
Actually, Corey Garnett was instrumental. He's our system network engineer-slash-community architect on the backend, and he suggested we break off Insomniac as a company entity from Resistance as a game entity. I agreed with that. I thought that was a good move, and MyResistance was born.
We ultimately built the site from scratch, and we were able to do things that a lot of sites weren't able to, in terms of near-real time status updates on dozens of different stat categories. That's sort of how MyResistance came into being.
Did you build it with an internal team, or did you contract out?
RS: The original MyResistance from Resistance: Fall of Man
was an internal effort. Then, for MyResistance 2.0, we realized that we had an opportunity to build the website and integrate it with production and do something that nobody had done before, and make it more of an integrated experience on a deeper level.
We approached Sony with our plan; they supported it. We contracted with a design agency as well as a technical developer, and we were responsible primarily for designing the site. Brian, James, Corey, and myself worked very hard on designing site features, and then the agencies helped flesh it out a lot more as well.
When you were building the site and brainstorming functionality in how it would tie into the game, did you have any roadmap? Did you look at what other people were doing in community space, or did you do it as a natural outgrowth to the design of Resistance 2 as it was rolling along?
RS: We obviously look at other competitive studio and game sites. There are some great ones -- obviously, Bungie.net comes to mind. We liked a lot of the things that Infinity Ward was doing for Call of Duty
The one area where we saw we could innovate was the obvious one -- combining social networking applications with a huge stats offering. That's where we really focused our energy.
What kind of social networking functionality does the site offer? Is it all self-contained in MyResistance, or does it hook in to any existing social networking that players might be involved with?
RS: To answer the latter part first, you can publish your Facebook and MySpace profile page, or offer a link to it in your profile. So we do link that way. But from a general perspective, we do allow for blogging and comment walls.
We offer 14 different modules at launch that can be totally customized, and we offer themes that help with this customization. So you can have a social theme that allows you to connect more with the community -- whether it's showing off your tagged friends or what have you -- versus your stats theme, which may have more of a visual representation of how you play the game, with graphs showing how you play the game, versus more of a general theme that's kind of a hybrid of both.
But there's a lot of customization. We also offer something called the Ticker. Our philosophy that guides the site in general is that we think that people like to see their name in lights. You probably have a passion beyond games in a community that you want to be a part of. In that community, it would be nice to be recognized for your contributions to it, and that's what the Ticker is about at MyResistance.net.
You can customize the type of info you want to get, whether it's game content...you can customize the info base on game content, user-generated content updates, community updates, and basic game info, like if there's a patch coming, or a server update, and an editorial side info, meaning when we have a podcast or a newsletter update. So you can control what you see.
Besides looking at competition and also your own ideas, you also incorporated user feedback. So did a lot of these features come about as a natural growth from what the community was requesting?
RS: I think we really looked at what we had with MyResistance, which is an amazing forums community. We're talking two million-plus forum posts in less than two years, with a large number of members. We just use ourselves as guinea pigs, basically, being social media consumers.
We said, "What would we want to see out of a game community site? What's missing?" There was a lot of brainstorming internally, and as we started to tell people what was coming, we would listen to feedback, and it was really positive.
As far as I recall, we didn't really take suggestions like, "Hey, you should try this," and then decide to implement whatever that was. The short version of that answer is that most of the design came from us exclusively.
And then you got some sort of feedback on what was coming, and people were mostly positive about it?
RS: Oh, absolutely. When people found out that we were essentially creating a social networking site that wrapped their stats experience into it, people were really receptive, because everyone today is really addicted to those types of sites. We wanted this to be as addictive an experience, but focused on the Resistance universe.
Do you have any idea, compared to what your sell-through is on the game, what the level or percentage of participation in the MyResistance site is? Do you have any clue about that through research?
RS: We do. With the first Resistance
, if we look at actual members compared to game sales, it's probably around five percent or less. That's about what we would expect, actually.
We realize that this web community is for the vocal one percent. It's for the hardcore evangelists. It's for the people who want to tout their involvement with the Resistance
universe and tell their friends about it. It's definitely a hardcore audience and it's geared towards them -- but at the same time, it's geared towards the novice who is just trying to learn about the universe and be accessible.
It mirrors the way we make our games, as you saw today. We give you a hardcore experience, but it's got to be accessible to the mainstream.
It's an overall challenge in the industry that everyone's facing. There's a lot of talk about casual games and hardcore games and a split in the market, but I think there's also a real challenge in terms of making games that are accessible to a relatively broader audience than I think is generally talked about. The same challenge probably exists with creating a community site.
RS: That's really why we wanted to involve social networking features. It doesn't matter how hardcore a gamer you are -- at the end of the day, you want to be able to tout your accomplishments to your friends, compare your stats with others, blog about your experience, poke fun at other people on their comment walls, tag new friends, and make the experience your own. That's what MyResistance gives you.
Since the game has a very high focus on multiplayer and competitive multiplayer particularly, do you find that this is reflected in the community behavior, or is it actually a really supportive community in general?
RS: Do you mean..."People can be dicks online, are they dicks in your community?"
Thank you. You just summed it up.
RS: Our community is really friendly. Of course we have flare-ups, but our mods are amazing. We flew down our moderators from wherever they are in North America to thank them for their work. They're passionate and they've done a great job. Some of them have been with us for almost five years now, so there's a lot of consistency there. It's not a perfect community, but it's a largely self-policing one.
So Resistance 2 actually launched on Election Day, and in the same week there was a big discussion with a spoiler alert for those who haven't finished the game yet.
RS: We wanted to keep momentum going. It was important for us to do this right off the bat. "Go get the game. Go get it signed. Go home and play it."
It felt more exciting to us, as opposed to letting some of that excitement dissipate over the next several weeks. It's the holiday season and there's a lot of other games to play. This allows us to capitalize on momentum.
Often, when people discuss community from a developer's perspective, it's talking about sitting between development and PR -- sort of having your fingers in both pies, if that even works as an analogy. What do you think about the idea of balancing both concerns?
RS: I don't think it's a bad thing. Every organization has a right and an obligation to convey its personality to the public, and this is our way of doing that.
We should be accessible, and we should be honest, and at the same time, we should be excited about the games we make, the process behind it, and relating to our fans and making sure their feedback is heard.
You talked about building MyResistance and MyResistance 2.0, and you put a pretty big investment into the tech aspect of it. Is that tech reusable? I don't know exactly what kind of community you have for Ratchet, for example, but potentially if for the next Ratchet game you wanted to build a really robust community site, is that something you could actually do?
RS: Oh, absolutely. There's a lot of great data you can get out of building a community. You can figure out which weapons players are using predominantly, how far people are progressing through a game, how much of the intel they're collecting...this is valuable data, from a design perspective. Should you be making a bigger game? Should you be making a smaller game? What are peoples' play styles?
so you're not talking about forum posts and people talking about it -- are you talking about data-mining from their playthroughs?
RS: The info you see on MyResistance is stat-driven, so it's actual game data. So we should be able to mine that data and analyze it, so we can make better games. But of course, there's a pragmatic side to building a great community site that helps us make better games. In order for us to make better games, we need feedback from our fans. So it's a very symbiotic loop.
So although you can only mine data from people who actually sign up to MyResistance, it's still obviously extremely useful.
RS: It's extremely useful, as long as we keep in mind that we're looking at data from the vocal minority, in essence. It doesn't necessarily reflect the mainstream perception or how they play through the game, but the data is still valuable nonetheless.
And even if the most passionate players aren't collecting all the data and completing the game at its fullest or aren't playing through the game on Superhuman, that's good information for us to know as we move forward.
CN: You guys own the tech, too? The website tech -- that's Insomniac's property, right?
RS: Well, that's a good question. There are aspects of the technology that we own... there are two systems, known as Igloo and Eskimo, that we built internally. There are other features for the site that, while we may have designed them, they were created by Sony tech consultants -- the web developers.
As Sony owns the intellectual property, they may own certain parts of the tech, too. So it's sort of a give-and-take on who owns what.
I would imagine it's also mutually beneficial to work with Sony on that.
RS: Well, the site is much bigger and better as a result of having a much bigger investment. In the original MyResistance, we had a functional site that became very popular, but it was only because it was essentially built by a small handful of Insomniacs when we weren't making the game itself.
Now, we have a much larger team working full-time on not only building a great site, but integrating it into the game.
It's harder for development to engage directly with the fans -- and you kind of don't want them to, because they could potentially be sensitive to stuff if they're stressed out. You want to filter the feedback from fans into a usable format for the development process. Is that something that you concentrate on?
RS: Our guys have direct access to the fans. We have guys in gameplay who are admins. We have tools programmers who are admins. We basically just have a golden rule, as far as... people know that anything we say or do could be misinterpreted, could wind up in the media, and could put us in a potentially negative light. And we go through in very broad terms what to be mindful of.
But otherwise, we turn everybody loose. Everybody has a right to participate in our community, and everybody is a big boy or a big girl. We have to, at a certain point, trust the people that we work with, and know that they have a good understanding of privacy.
Is it challenging for people who, as developers, are extremely savvy with online communities, to filter themselves, both in terms of what they put out and what they receive? After all, people who work really hard and long on something like a game begin to take it personally.
RS: Right. Well, I think that goes with anything. That debate happens frequently here. You can easily fall into a trap of taking the community feedback too seriously. You have to temper what everybody says with an amount of reason and perspective.
Nobody here would make a unilateral design decision based on forum posts, but at the same time, we will look at the forum posts, discuss what we think is valid, and see how it pertains to what the media is saying, as well as our own experience, combined with what QA is saying, because they play the game all day. Once we take all those factors and more and mash them together, we can filter through and see what makes the most sense to implement in the future.
Your design team internally seems heavily consensus-based anyway.
RS: Absolutely. It all starts with Ted. That's Ted's approach: collaboration, creativity, quality over quantity, and independence. Those are the qualities that drive the company, those are the qualities that Ted stands for, and they're lived every day.
You told me you were brought in from internal PR, and now you've been at Insomniac for a good five years -- has your focus been community the entire time?
RS: I was brought in to help work with Sony marketing and PR, domestically and internationally. When I arrived, I realized that we didn't have much of a website to speak of. I felt strongly that we should build one and that we should trust our employees to be ambassadors for Insomniac.
And while it took some convincing, we've headed in that direction ever since. And it just keeps continuing to grow and get bigger, and it makes a lot of sense for us, because we are independent, and it helps us expand our audience and build a brand.
Have you thought about reaching out, with the community, through a Facebook app or something like that?
RS: Oh, definitely. We're going to support MyResistance.net for a long time. Our main ambition was to make MyResistance an actual franchise destination for Resistance
, instead of a marketing destination for one game that is consumed for a matter of time, and then the website viewers go away and onto the next game.
So you will see more applications in the future. You will see phased rollouts of additional applications. Our first phased patch is going to be in early or mid-December. More modules will be coming, and more functionality with the ticker. So we'll be supporting MyResistance for a long time.
And you're considering integrating it more thoroughly with existing social networks?
RS: That's definitely a long-term goal of ours. That's the future. First, you want to create a passionate community: a community that will be self-sustaining, self-policing, and will help you expand, because it's a safe, healthy environment.
Then, you want to grow the community while still retaining the core elements into a larger, more mainstream audience. As you do that, you want to look at what's going on in the world and obviously use the most popular sites as funnel points in order to further expand your audience. But I think it has to come in phases, and it definitely takes time to get there.
With the used game market being what it is, there's been a lot of talk about encouraging retention, for example, via downloadable content. What role do you think community could play in that?
RS: I think it's a byproduct. Our philosophy at Insomniac...at least, my philosophy, and I think a lot of other people agree, is that video games have become much more than the content that is on a disc. All we're trying to do is extend the gameplay experience into other realms, whether it's an alternate reality game like Project Abraham, or if it's MyResistance.net.
All of those components should create a more encompassing game experience. The more engaging an experience you offer a consumer, the more likely they are to stay in your universe over a period of time, tell their friends, and wait for the next game that you make and eagerly anticipate it.
So it's more like a ripple effect. There's one person who may be the center, who is the super-enthusiast, and you feel like their voice will sort of expand across the people they come in contact with.
RS: Absolutely. We want to empower our most passionate users with as much cool stuff as possible, so they continue coming back for more cool stuff.
[Other recent Gamasutra interviews about Resistance 2 have covered the creation of its co-op mode and a wider chat with Insomniac CEO Ted Price.]