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Deep Dive: Harnessing the power of player feedback with Dying Light 2

Whether you decide to launch a dedicated program, or follow a general strategy of community-driven development, here are five rules for you to follow.

Tymon Smektała

May 24, 2024

7 Min Read
Image via Techland.

Game Developer Deep Dives are an ongoing series with the goal of shedding light on specific design, art, or technical features within a video game in order to show how seemingly simple, fundamental design decisions aren’t really that simple at all.

Earlier installments cover topics such as creating asynchronous multiplayer in Solium Infernum, expanding accessibility for the PlayStation port of As Dusk Falls, and conquering hardware hurdles to port Kingdom Come: Deliverance to Switch.

In this edition, Dying Light franchise director Tymon Smektała discusses Techland's Community Ideas initiative and how it supports their community-driven approach to development.

Hi, I’m Tymon Smektała, Dying Light franchise director at Techland. In this article, I’d like to tell you a bit about our collaborative, community-driven approach to the development of our flagship franchise, Dying Light. I want to convey why this attitude is so important for us and why we think it’s the right way to go when it comes to our games. I’ll also spotlight the Community Ideas initiative, which is a perfect encapsulation of this strategy.

Community Ideas Key Visual

The first Dying Light game was released back in 2015 as our second venture into the realm of open-world zombie IPs. We were very proud of its uniqueness—the core elements, such as the first-person perspective parkour, focus on melee weapons, and the day/night cycle that heavily influenced the gameplay, made Dying Light really stand apart. The appreciation we got from the players back then and the community that started to form around the game gave us—the developers—a lot of confidence and let us spread our wings. Since then, we adopted the strategy of giving back to our players, we’re listening to their suggestions and feedback. We ended up supporting Dying Light for almost seven years after its release, building a massive community—the game currently has an overwhelmingly positive rating on Steam with 300,000 reviews, more appearing each day.

When we released the sequel in 2022, we knew from the very beginning that we wanted to support Dying Light 2 Stay Human for a good couple of years. We wanted the fans to have a say in how the world is shaped, to have their opinions taken into consideration when it comes to decisions regarding the direction of the brand itself and design decisions, both big and small.

We focused on the three main areas of cooperation with the community:

  1. Social Media communication

  2. Community Council

  3. Community Ideas

Let’s start with the basics. Like every studio, we try to monitor the opinions of our players that they share online. Our Community Management Team reads and analyzes the feedback and investigates the player sentiment as well as the reception of updates and features that we regularly add to the game. Additionally, said team, together with our QA department, turns the players’ requests into tangible project tasks, recording them in Jira once a week, which are then properly groomed by producers and have their priorities assigned. This helps us work on the requests from our community on an ongoing basis.

Community Council is a group of several dozen of the most dedicated, trusted players, community members and influencers with whom we meet once per quarter to talk about our plans for the evolution of the game and get their feedback. Those are the same people we invite to participate in the closed beta tests of the new in-game initiatives. Some of the features that benefited from this treatment—such as the addition of a physical parkour setting or the newly released Nightmare Difficulty—were broadly appreciated by the community.

Today, however, I’d like to focus on what is, in our opinion, the most interesting endeavor we’ve attempted yet: the Community Ideas program. It’s a special means of getting feedback, where our players can submit requested features and elements they’d like to see added to our game. The ideas that are feasible to implement, based on the existing gameplay mechanics, can be found on the dedicated page of our community hub, Pilgrim Outpost. Then, the players vote for their favorites to be included in the game. But don’t let this cursory outline fool you! The entire matter is quite complex, with a pretty extensive process that involves us checking each submitted idea.

The voting happens in stages and it’s important to note here that this timing is aligned with our release cycle, as we aim to update the game once every few months. Thanks to this scheduling, the ideas can be implemented fairly soon.

Community Ideas Tutorial Slide

Next, several of the most popular ideas end up with the development team, where they’re further assessed. While evaluating them, we pay attention to their originality, feasibility, added value, whether a given feature would clash with other gameplay elements from a technical perspective, and so on. The ideas are divided into three categories:

  1. Accepted

  2. Rejected

  3. Backlog

The accepted ones land in our task lists, where we calculate what is needed to implement them and what’s the rough timeline for that. The rejected ideas are deemed unsuitable or ultimately too costly. It’s also worth mentioning that we not only notify the authors of the rejected ideas that we’re not moving forward with them, but we also try to give them the reason for the refusal whenever we can. It’s additional work, of course, but we don’t want to discourage our players by the lack of feedback from us. The third option is Backlog—it’s for the ideas that we like and want to take a closer look at, but their implementation is not immediately possible. It might come down to the insufficient amount of time and resources at a particular moment, or the fact that they would involve altering the game in a significant way—but we still like them and want them to happen at a later date. They’re benched for now.

We launched the second round of Community Ideas in mid-April, which means that the players can again submit their ideas and vote for the best ones. We received over 1500 new entries in a couple of days, so the interest has not waned. We also keep getting feedback concerning the process itself. At the community’s request, we implemented features such as a keyword search bar, extended categories filter, multiple language support, and entry translation powered by Google API. And we will keep upgrading the tool.

Community Ideas Tutorial Slide

We consider this collaborative, community-driven approach to supporting our games to be a good strategy—as every developer cares about favorable reception as well as high community engagement. I think I can confidently claim that our method works. Since the introduction of the Community Ideas program, the player sentiment, expressed as positive comments and reviews, has risen. And Dying Light 2 Stay Human—despite the fact that it’s an open-world AAA game—can still boast a sizable player base two years after it premiered.

Undoubtedly, this type of approach comes with a multitude of challenges. The most substantial one is finding balance between applying the suggestions from the community and maintaining your own authorial vision of the game. The other obstacle is finding time and appropriate resources to be able to focus on implementing the community's ideas, yes, but first and foremost, on realizing our development plans.

The technical side alone—Pilgrim Outpost website maintenance, accumulating and cleaning up of the ideas themselves, not to mention managing the duplicates—is incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive. Regardless of whether you decide to launch a dedicated program, like our Community Ideas, or to follow a general strategy of community-driven development, you need to:

  1. Prepare a production pipeline that will be able to take on the incoming community requests;

  2. Make sure that you have appropriate resources at your disposal: people, time, money—all according to the model you’re working with;

  3. Interact with the players—launching such a program or a development strategy is a huge commitment on the part of the developer, so you need to be transparent in your actions and communicate the respective stages, decisions, etc.;

  4. Be consistent in your actions—nowadays, it’s extremely easy to lose the players’ trust and end up with a result that is entirely opposite to what you had in mind, so if you show your community that they are important, stick to it;

  5. Brace yourself for tough feedback.

This all may seem a bit daunting—and that’s a reasonable reaction. The entire process is a lot, but with good planning, cleverly allocated resources, and some flexibility, it’s entirely feasible. And the benefits are really worth it. On the one hand, you get a structured and regulated source of player feedback, and on the other, you give the community the means to influence the game’s development. Both sides benefit, and the game itself ends up getting better and better!

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