In this week’s series on game tools, we’ll be exploring the mechanics used to create communities and a sense of belonging to your players. Belonging and being part of something is one of the strongest motivators that you can use to engage your players in your game or the gamified environment. Belonging and community have two aspects though, one inside the experience and one exist outside of the experience, and dependent on how strong each is, the other will be augmented and improved by it. In other words, if the group narrative in the experience is very strong, then the connection that people have beyond the experience (outside the game) is also strengthened.
The beauty and power of belonging to a community or group are that information and value are shared across the collective. Mentor and peer relationships will organically occur if the experience for the group is learning oriented, which in the case of gamified environments, they generally are. Relationships, therefore, act as transmitters and receivers of teaching, conveying and gathering knowledge. And as we’ve seen with the rise of systems that use recommendations and karma points, and so forth, we tend to accept and thus learn faster when we receive information from a know and familiar source that is of a similar level to our own. If you’ve ever struggled with creating an onboarding or tutorial system for your experience, then utilizing the mechanics of belonging is a good way to get your players through what would normally be a very difficult and taxing event.
What you must remember is that mechanics are tools, they facilitate or allow certain actions to occur that help fosters the feeling of community. At the end of the day whether the community grows and thrives is down to the quality of the experience you provide and the level of authenticity and transparency in why there is a community required. If it is to share knowledge and have enjoyable yet challenging experiences, then there is a good chance a community will thrive. If there are hidden agendas and inauthentic behavior, then trust and engage will erode and eventually disappear.
The last thing before we jump into the mechanics themselves is also the opposite side of belonging, and that is exclusivity. Both are powerful tools, a method in strengthening a want or need to belong is by making it exclusive. Club memberships and loyalty programs work on this basis, everyone wants to be part of and belong to that group, but certain obstacles and prerequisites are required for it. You’re probably already thinking of a club you want to be part, but can’t, just yet, right?
Well, let’s dive into the various tools at your disposal to grab and engage your players into wanting to be part of a community.
The first isn’t one mechanic as such but a few bundled together under what is best described as the peripherals. These include all the methods in which players can communicate with each other using text, audio/voice, and visuals. Though peripherals may denote that they are not that important, the contrary is more than true. Having these various features and tools within your experience helps facilitate communication and allows for communities to grow.
If your experience is fully digital and online, then having a chat feature available to your players is paramount. If you’re unable to implement one due to budgetary constraints or other reasons, then informing them of and allowing them to use alternatives (such as commercial messaging service) is a good workaround. Remember having a chat feature does not mean it is purely text-based, if your experience benefits from audio or visual communication, then obviously use that in place of or on top of the other tools at your disposal.
Having visual and graphic elements within your chat feature, such as emotes, and other such things help to promote individual expression and variation. For larger communities, using a forum or Reddit style feed is a useful way to engage many groups in a cohesive conversation.
All of these tools allow for the sharing of knowledge, which is the activity you will most want to encourage your players. As we said earlier, learning from each other is a good way of strengthening relationships.