Eric Johnson

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Does Social Media Help Videogame Developers Find Fans? It Depends on Whom You Ask.

snoo-games-featureA few common themes bubbled up throughout the morning sessions of the Gaming Insiders Summit, a one-day videogame developer conference happening today in San Francisco: Take risks. Go after “blue oceans” (untapped markets). Don’t ignore a game’s little details.

But when it came to the value of social media in building a videogame’s community, the buzz from industry attendees has been less unanimous. It started when an audience member asked ex-EA CEO John Riccitiello about social media, specifically singling out Reddit as a purportedly vital force in the gaming community. Riccitiello was humorously dismissive of this idea.

“At least two-thirds of the people who use Reddit have acne,” he said. “It’s a lot younger than you know, and they’ve got a lot of free time on their hands. … Reddit reaches a lot more blogs than consumers.”

Nevertheless, Riccitiello called himself a “Reddit fan, despite what they’ve said about me over the years.”

Later in the morning, though, InXile founder Brian Fargo said online word-of-mouth from hardcore fans (acne or no) was important for his back-to-back crowdfunding successes, Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera. Those games are the No. 7 and No. 2 most-funded gaming projects of all time on Kickstarter, with $7.1 million raised between them.

In a Q&A after his onstage appearance, Fargo said developers should go after gamers like the ones who browse Reddit for the same reasons movie and TV producers take their projects to Comic-Con. The most passionate fans, he said, get projects off the ground, and he tries to avoid thinking about “the mainstream.”

Fargo didn’t single out Reddit as the best of all worlds, though. In his experience, the most important sources of Kickstarter fundraising were forums, press coverage and the support of other game developers.

“If you’re in this industry and you’ve made millions of dollars, you really should be supporting crowdfunding,” Fargo said in his address to the Summit.

Another Kickstarter success story (although not in attendance at the conference), Jordan Weisman, said that Twitter and Facebook were the greatest helps to his two funded projects, Golem Arcana and Shadowrun Returns (total raised: $2.4 million). “Reddit was an effective tool for deepening engagement with people that were already aware of the projects but not that effective for new customer acquisition,” Weisman wrote in an email.

At the far other end of the spectrum was Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, who waxed rhapsodic about Reddit, and said he has even gotten into hot water with co-workers with members of the Oculus forums for posting frequently in the /r/oculus subreddit. Luckey said 60 percent of the Oculus Rift’s day-one support came directly from Reddit, and that the site drove at least $1 million in donations out of its $2.5 million total raised.

The unsurprising, and maybe a bit unsatisfying, conclusion one might draw from all this: As with non-gaming products, the value of social media varies. And despite these three counterpoints, Riccitiello may still have a case: How much money and attention a game raises in its first burst of publicity is an indicator of, but ultimately distinct from, community-building and sustainable long-term success.

Correction: An earlier version of this article paraphrased Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey as saying coworkers had criticized him for his love of /r/oculus, when in fact it was fans of the company on online forums.

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