Having worked on several early access titles (Dinkum, Inkulinati, Medieval Dynasty, etc.), I feel early access is a great model to help complete a strong community and great game. Of course, it can’t accommodate all game types, and it still has some drawbacks. But if the game is right, it’s a viable option.
One thing’s for sure: not planning your communications correctly can spell doom before your game even comes out. Without a proper communication plan, you may be bombarded with negative reviews, it may give the impression that your game is for money, and it may make you think your game is dead when it isn’t. I can’t.
Today, I’d like to share some marketing and communication tips that will help you make early access a success and create a community that loves spending time together (and vice versa). Most of these tips apply to the “released in early access, pre-1.0 launch” stage. Before that, traditional pre-release promotional tactics are effective. After 1.0, traditional post-release tactics are also effective, but that’s another topic for another time.
Prioritize infrequent, large content drops
Prioritize large, meaningful content updates over frequent, small efforts that may not be very positive for your players. This is my personal approach to doing early access campaigns. Large content drops, even if they happen less frequently, give the impression that more work has been done in the last few months than smaller drops here and there.
By doing big content updates every 2-4 months, the community gets excited about what’s to come and gets a better sense of how the game is progressing. You’ll be able to create bigger and better marketing assets that will encourage YouTubers and streamers to come back and play your game again. It’s also useful for maintenance of content machines, but more on that later.
Occasional spontaneous gifts are priceless
Remember when you suddenly got a little present? how did you feel? For the sake of this article, I hope you felt great, ecstatic. If a small gift puts a smile on your face, a small drop of in-game content for your community can also make your world better.
Even if it’s not a big update, it’s nice to have a little cosmetic, like clothes, accessories, new guns and skins. A little kindness or surprise can make the community really thrive and appreciate what you do – especially when you know the next major update might be a little late…
The First Few Weeks Matter: Be Green
There’s nothing worse than an early access title with a yellow Steam user rating, meaning less than 70% positive reviews. The evaluation leads to confidence in the title. So, while it’s fine to release a somewhat “unfinished” product, it doesn’t mean it should be full of “finished” bugs.
People expect a playable product with some content at that point. If you have any complaints or questions, communicate with the community. Respond to negative reviews with (possibly) help and compassion, write a Steam update, tell them what you’re working on, and hopefully release a bug patch soon.
Investing a little time in the first few weeks after an Early Access release, both in terms of production and communication, can build a lot of trust with your playerbase. Then it will be rated in Steam reviews. At the end of the day, ratings are everything. Also, try to plan your first big content update 5-7 weeks after release. This can also coincide with sales to attract more players.
build a better content machine
Need to build hype for big update. During the Early Access stage, there are three types of communication messages.
- Communication based on in-game content releases (game updates, bug fixes, content additions to the game, final releases)
- Communication aimed at community engagement and information, foretelling things and satisfying the player base (teaser posts, Q&As, See what coming)
- Marketing activities such as events, new platforms, partnerships, sons, etc.
Remember that each major update is a stepping stone in the Early Access phase. Let’s celebrate it, get people excited, and show that the game is alive and growing. Before and after a major release, you can build a really nice content plan.
Ask Questions—It’s All About Perception
The idea behind the early access model is to use community feedback to make better games. So how do you get good feedback? Asking the player questions is a good starting point.
After the game and subsequent major update, create a poll and ask players about their attitudes and feelings. What do you like most about the game, what do you dislike the most, how do you want to play the game, what features do you like, and what other content do you want?
There’s a lot of gold nuggets out there (some dirt, but you have to get a little muddy to find it) and maybe their feedback will lead you in a new direction…
prepare for a (slightly) turn
Even if you think about what content and features your players will love, they often end up playing in ways you didn’t expect.
I have previously worked on a survival game with elements of city building. Before launch, we were convinced that what players wanted was survival-related content. But when the game comes out and I send out surveys and read the comments, there are people who like the mechanics of building a city and want new buildings and decorations to express their creativity. It became clear.
Therefore, we decided to review the types of content planned for the next major update. So I started planning various buildings and items to make the city more unique. And when we announced and released that content, we were able to get a lot of positive feedback and praise from the community. So you need to be prepared to change direction a little. After all, you are doing everything for your community.
don’t be a slave to the game
If there’s anything to take away from this article, it’s this. Don’t be a slave to your game. Set boundaries for both yourself and your community. What if you work weekends and start releasing new minor bugfixes and updates many weeks after the release? People will come to think it’s normal. As well as exhausting yourself, fewer updates can make players think you’ve abandoned the game, and everything can go bad from there.
The same applies to general communication with players. If you don’t set boundaries, your lack of communication will become the norm.
Set boundaries so the community knows that developers will be on vacation Saturday and Sunday and will be back to query on Monday. You don’t have to tell them you will fix the bug on Sunday. they can wait.
Sometimes we forget that we’re just making games. We are not saving endangered species, we are not surgeons on standby, we are not soldiers defending our homeland in occupied territories. We’re just playing video games. I want you to relax. Set boundaries and expectations so you don’t crash and burn, both mentally and physically.
I hope these few tips will help you. If you keep your community informed, transparent, and honest (three elements of good communication), you’re bound to do well.
The worst thing you can do is keep silent while players fill in the blanks with their own stories and explanations. Then you don’t know (you can’t control) what the player will say. I want your communication to come from an honest place. If you do, I’m sure you’ll feel the same way, and I assure you that in the months to come, you’ll be building a great community for the game you love. Good luck.