We tend to think of community as a service…well, first, we tend to think of it is as “CaaS.” But running at a close second, CaaS is an opportunity developers and publishers give themselves to connect to their customers. Give your audience what they truly want, and they will support you and stick by you to the end.
In a year where Microsoft changed its entire hardware philosophy based on public opinion and Sony made Twitch broadcasting a button-press away, these are the stories that showed us that the industry is really starting to get it. We are a service. And this is how the community should be served.
Crowdfunder in Chief
We grew up loving Wing Commander (the game, not the movie), but we never thought that brand of nostalgia could translate into the single biggest crowdfunding success to date. That made it all the more amazing that 13 years after creating his “3-D Space Combat Simulator,” Chris Roberts reached out to his fans with an offer to build a 21st century equivalent…a Wing Commander for today’s gamer. Roberts’ initial ask: $500,000.
Star Citizen is still pulling in donations even though it’s raked in north of $34 million.
Call it a perfect storm of star power and empty niche — the list of modern space-combat sims is woefully slim — but after years away from the spotlight, Roberts is officially back in the AAA-game business. Even a recently announce delay of its player-vs.-player dogfighting mode hasn’t dampened spirits. Each new trailer and tease of Roberts’ persistent universe, and the promise of diving into combat with a live wingman, makes it increasingly difficult to imagine everyone won’t get their money’s worth.
Double Fine Productions
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the almost-took-it runner-up. Double Fine Productions spent years suffering through critical success without the commercial reward. When its splashy Brutal Legend finally missed on both counts, the entire company retreated into some serious soul searching…by way of a crazy fortnight of random game designs.
Since then, they’ve made a lot of those fevered dreams a reality, and now they’re doing it entirely on their own terms. Their “Double Fine Adventure” Kickstarter (now known as Broken Age) kickstarted the whole video-game kickstarter craze. In 2013, they repeated that success for a second project, Massive Chalice.
Now running 2-0, it seems likely that Double Fine could become the first 100% Kickstarter-funded developer. Hopefully, the first of many.
Mike “IdolNinja” Watson
Most publishers tolerate or ignore game mods and the wild-west community of engineers who break and rebuild code for fun. A few, like Valve, embrace and monetize that community. Rarely does a company flip from one column to the other.
Mike Watson changed that. He turned a chance encounter with Volition developers into an ongoing conversation with Jeff Thompson, studio director of programming. The end result? Volition threw its weight fully behind the Saints Row modding community, releasing a publisher-sanctioned SDK with documentation. That would’ve been enough, but Volition also sent one of its senior programmers into the forums to answer what questions he could.
Watson importantly notes that this never would’ve happened under Volition’s former owner, the now-defunct THQ. Deep Silver, Volition’s new parent company, has long had a much closer relationship with gamers. That cracked the door just enough to allow Watson and Thompson to swing it wide.
Single Best Mod of the Year
Team Dakota re-creates X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter using Project Spark
One of the few positives from Microsoft’s early days promoting the Xbox One didn’t even have a proper name. Project Spark was introduced as an action platformer with an in-game set of modding tools that are so comprehensive, they actually form a part of the in-game action. Players terraform the landscape as part of their arsenal against the forces of darkness.
But a modder’s gotta mod, and as Microsoft’s long-delayed response to Sony’s Little Big Planet – and its robust, content-creating community – part of Spark’s appeal is in how you can abandon the in-package game and make your own. To see just how far they could take it, the development team, Team Dakota, used their own toolkit to recreate one of the most revered (and out-of-print) PC titles of all time inside their own game. It’s a shame copyright issues will prevent X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter a la Spark from ever being officially released, but who’s to say one of the people on the team couldn’t upload it to the community as a private creation post-launch? Hint hint.
Regardless, such inspired geekery is at the heart of what mod communities do, and we salute them. Plus, now that everyone knows it can be done, you know everyone is gearing up to do it themselves…and all manner of other cool creations once Project Spark finally sees daylight.
When you’re one of the biggest, most successful guys on the block, nothing really compels you to change your ways. Wargaming.net did. And for no better reason than it was the right thing to do.
First, Wargaming took its signature, free-to-play title, World of Tanks, and moved it away from the “pay-to-win” model that drove its success from its earliest days…the same successful model that made Wargaming a juggernaut in the industry. Its new model: “Play to win,” just as its loyal fans wanted.
If that wasn’t enough, Wargaming flexed its muscle against none other than Microsoft to maintain its game’s integrity. The Xbox certification process has long been a bar to getting viable free-to-play titles on Microsoft’s consoles. So when World of Tanks headed for the Xbox 360, it seemed like a few things would fundamentally change, starting with the price tag. Not so. Wargaming stuck to its guns and made sure the game players fell in love with on PC made the transition to console intact.
It takes guts to say “no” to those kinds of short-term payout. But Wargaming believes in its products and in its community, and the community has rewarded Wargaming accordingly.
The Community Award
Valve: The Robotic Boogaloo Update (Team Fortress 2)
Valve frequently stands at the apex of community-as-a-service thinking, even to the point of crowdsourcing the development of their upcoming Steam Box console. But our favorite example from the last 12 months must be the Robotic Boogaloo Update for Team Fortress 2.
Sure, user-created content finds its way into Valve’s enduring class-based shooter with regularity, and the creators pick up some very impressive checks for their efforts, but the Boogaloo danced to a slightly different tune. It was — and to the best of our knowledge, is — the only 100% community-created update for a commercially available product in video game history. Yes, it came with a bunch of new in-game swag, tools, and weapons. Sure, it threw in a few new character effects. But it also included a new animated short, a web comic, a hub site, key art, advertising splash images…all of it fan-made.
It’s tough to imagine another company handing an entire, major update, right down to the advertising and promotions, of a beloved franchise over to a bunch of non-employees. Valve has that confidence in its community. So far, it’s entirely deserved.