Online game communities are tough. The anonymous nature of the internet can encourage people to be overly harsh with their criticism. It can be very frustrating to see that people don’t like something that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, and a toxic or negative community tends to keep new players from your game. But never fear! You can avoid a lot of these issues by following the principles outlined below.
First and foremost, tell your players the truth. Your most passionate players are pretty smart and can tell when you’re trying to cover up a mistake. If they successfully call you out on it, they’ll lose trust in you, and trust is difficult to win back. If they’re taking issue with something that happened in your game that was truly unintentional, admit your mistake and tell them how you’ll rectify it. They’ll appreciate your honesty, and will trust you to do the right thing in the future. Even players who aren’t actively posting will still see your responses in the forums, so it’s always good to post your plan and comments publicly. Some of the more involved players will even help out by sharing your responses to common questions when they inevitably get asked again. On top of that, if players feel they can trust you, they’ll feel far more comfortable spending money to support you and your game.
Important but easy to forget: Be nice. The first rule on Kongregate is “don’t be a jerk,” and for good reason! It’s a good policy when speaking to your players, or really anyone, even if they’re not necessarily being nice to you – but this isn’t a life advice blog post. Your goal is to appear reasonable to most people, and making a good first or second or fifth impression on your players can have a strong impact later. When players feel good about you, they feel good about your game, and they’ll want to stick around. Public perception is important in making players feel like your game is a good choice for them, and for the friends with whom they'll discuss your game.
The last point is one that I believe is important no matter where you go: Communicate. People want to know that their opinions and concerns are being heard, whether or not they are eventually implemented, and the simplest of responses can be very valuable.
Clear communication with your players is important, so that they know what to expect and why. Knowing that they’ll be heard increases their emotional investment in the game, and makes them more likely to come back to play again. Even if you won’t be acting on their suggestions or complaints, it’s good to give them some form of response. If a player makes a suggestion that you don’t think is a smart choice for your game, let them know that you appreciate their suggestion, but for reason X or Y, you don’t think you’ll be making that change. Even a “no” is better than no response at all, and while you don’t have to respond to every suggestion, players like to know that you’re paying attention. Simply by responding to them, you’re letting them know that they matter.
That being said, too much information can make them feel entitled to constant updates, and finding the right balance is a challenge. You don’t need to be reading their feedback 24/7, and you don’t have to respond to every suggestion. In fact, spending all your time in a feedback forum would become a pretty frustrating and overwhelming experience! Let the players know that you’ll be keeping an eye out for their concerns and responding periodically, so that they have reasonable expectations of how much time you’ll spend responding to them.
If players feel that an important issue is being ignored, they’ll generally let you know about it. Ignoring an important issue that is brought up by users can make things worse, but being responsive can show results surprisingly quickly. The following image is from a user deep in a long thread of concerns from a large group of players about poor quality rewards for a challenging event in a game. The developers chose to ignore an issue instead of confronting it, and other players spotted it quickly.
This kind of behavior resulted in a thread full of very worried players who were considering leaving the game rather than waiting to see what happened next. The lack of response made it seem to them like the developer wasn’t interested in improvement. Though player sentiment in the forums isn’t as accurate as hard data and metrics on whether or not players are really quitting, it can be an early warning sign of a growing issue. It’s good policy to respond to common suggestions or concerns in a timely fashion so that players feel like you’re always working to improve your game. If you do, players can feel confident in you, and get back to playing and purchasing happily. This can even bring back some of the same players who were so worried before! This image is from the very same angry player, just one week later.
Negative feedback is never fun to read, but always remember that criticism is often coming from some of your most dedicated players. They want the game to succeed so that they can keep enjoying it, and they’ll passionately make and defend their suggestions. Even negative opinions can have value, because you can begin to draw conclusions about what players aren’t enjoying, or what they find hard to understand. If a lot of people are ending up with similar opinions, there may truly be an issue with something in the game, and it’s always good to at least consider the possibility that a complaint may be accurate rather than ignoring it. You don’t have to change the direction of your entire game based on a single complaint, but having a finger on the pulse of the community can help you to find those points of friction within your game and help players move past them.
Listen to your community, communicate with your players, and don’t be a jerk, and you’ll find the cure to any amount of toxicity!