Gary Gygax said “I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else.” I wonder what my legacy will be.
As I sat down to call Jayson Elliot, the editor-in-chief of Gygax Magazine, my own feelings towards Dungeons & Dragons were bubbling in my mind. Role Playing Games have an unfortunate stigma for an activity that comes naturally to us as humans. Very young children play games similar to those I play with friends. The main difference is one happens on a playground with a loose structure and our games happen around a table with a player’s handbook to guide our choices.
Point forward, I believe everyone is a gamer. This is the attitude I expressed when I met with Jayson for our first phone call. People who play games are my friends. I want to have more friends therefore I want to include more people under the gaming umbrella. Everyone is a potential friend that I haven’t met.
This set the tone immediately for what Gygax Magazine’s online presence would become.
How does one generate an inclusive community set against a volatile history?
There are a lot of issues confronting a brand focused around gaming and in particular Tabletop RPGs.
- Edition Wars
Debates around editions get very heated. This was something that we have to be careful about because the magazine is system agnostic. The adventures published are meant to be adapted by readers as they need. These arguments are deeply tied to the history of our hobby. You cannot enter into any community without knowledge of its past, particularly in online discussions.
- Creating a Safe Community
We had to set a tone early on that was inclusive of all who have a gaming identity, including those whose voices are not heard in online discussions. This meant creating a safe space where people could express their point of view without being challenged for their right to do so. We worked with the community to let them know there were boundaries and if crossed they would no longer be welcome.
The gaming industry has become one were the majority of publishers are independent. They have a small, but loyal, cadre of customers. The biggest issue is usually around communications because these companies are often understaffed. Social media is a tool that works for and against us at times.
Gygax Magazine had already existed for several months as an idea shared by Jayson Elliot and his business partners Ernest Gary Gygax Jr., Luke Gygax, and Tim Kask. I had discovered the existence of the magazine only due to a leak. This put the magazine at a disadvantage because it garnered interest but just wasn’t ready yet. The inquiries were flooding the inboxes of staff and this became my first challenge to overcome.
Communities develop organically based on the choices that we make
I was not concerned with growing the community at first. The leak had caused an influx of PR opportunities and we needed to leap on them while the momentum was there. My primary tasks were responding to individuals, the press, and building our relationships with key stake holders. My goal was to sustain what we had garnered through luck and use it to promote our company, but we were a company without a product.
It became clear that the magazine was still a few months or more away from being complete. While the staff hoped for a January 1st 2013 deadline, due to many factors, that was no longer looking possible. Our community was growing at a healthy click without much influence from us. Our next challenge was keeping people happy while they waited for the magazine to go on sale.
One of the great things about RPGs are the talents that develop the storylines, game mechanics, characters, and illustrations. These worlds are born through collaboration between peers. This is enduringly true from the perspective of game publishers and those who play the game. We work together to bring life to these settings.
Our first social media marketing campaign was simple, highlight our contributors and share resources that would show off their portfolios.
The biggest gains for the brand for this campaign came from our growing social media numbers. We were racking up likes, comments, and follows. It became clear to use through the data that Facebook was our strongest channel and that became the cornerstone of our community strategy. We were creating an online presence that demanded attention beyond what was in the magazine. We were showing that we also understood the online gaming culture.
When do you have a community?
When I started with Gygax Magazine in December of 2012 the social media accounts already had a following of 1,000. People had gathered, but their motive of following was to receive updates on the progress of the magazine. This was not enough for me. Community isn’t about numbers. It is about creating a space where the individuals share at least one connection, the emotional investment in your product.
I will say that at this point we had captured the curiosity of those in the gaming hobby. People were waiting in anticipation for our next move. This kept our engagement rates high from the get go. This also meant that the magazine was more of a spectacle than anything else at this point.
The real challenge of building the community was connecting this group together with something more enduring than our future product. We all know that a company’s offerings will evolve over time. The customers you have today will not look like the ones you will have tomorrow. Your company is going to grow and you need a thread that people can follow from your first product to your latest.
I didn’t want our community to be based upon the experiences of those who already play. We know we are awesome. I wanted to know what would feel most welcoming to someone new to the hobby. I made a key assumption, treat our community as if everything was new. I thought carefully about the rites of passage related to Dungeons & Dragons. I went over my own history, retracing the path that lead me to becoming a player.
What had felt most welcoming? What is that every gamer needs?
Every RPG requires some element of random chance and D&D represents this in the form of a unique dice set; the d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and the percentile die.
A person’s first dice set is incredibly personal. There is an industry within gaming responsible for the production of these dice sets. They came in all manner of sizes and colors. Some are even made from unique materials like precious stones. Chessex and Game Science are two companies that specialize in manufacturing dice for RPGs.
I made the request for the community to send in pictures of their dice collections. These posts on Facebook proved to be our most viral and were the first to gain active comment threads. Turns out people loved comparing their own collections to those featured.
Did we have a community yet?
Yes, I felt that there was telling evidence of this fact. People who commented began tagging their Facebook friends to respond. They were actively recruiting people to our page. We didn’t ask them to, it just kept happening. We soon found that our Facebook presence was beginning to transform from a place to get information into a place where people went to hang out.
I began to notice a strange pattern. The majority of traffic to Facebook was not coming from people seeing updates in feeds. Our community actively sought out our page and would spend time responding to or liking new updates. People who already liked the page were coming through to see what they had missed.
I believe this is why the Gygax Magazine Facebook page continues to thrive despite the crisis of Facebook Zero. We’ve only experimented a few times with paid ads, but they didn’t perform. Without a doubt, our community grew organically based on the enthusiasm of the people who banded together to personally promote our page.
The Gaming Family
Gary Gygax’s words exemplify the attitude of players. Gamer is just another label, a stereotype, and no one person in the hobby fits the outside perception held by people. We certainly have our issues, but you find they are similar to what you encounter anytime a group gathers together. At heart, We are people with a fun hobby that we want to share with others because it is meaningful in our own lives.
That is why I was first drawn to Gygax Magazine. I wanted to preserve that legacy. I took a proactive approach by showing the ways gaming empowers people doing good in the world.
I shared stories about:
- Educators using RPGs to teach
- Kids who use gaming to raise funds for charity
- Cool or unique places related to the hobby that people could visit
- DIY projects
- Plays, movies, and books inspired by D&D
- Little know history or origins of games
I especially enjoyed sharing the stories of parents who were playing D&D with their children.
These are stories that you don’t always see in mainstream media, but are very real examples of how this hobby enriches people’s lives.
I would like this to be your take away as you begin building a community of your own. The cognitive and emotional aspects of behaviors are also associated with the data they generate. When performing an analysis do not neglect to consider the hopes, dreams, desires and frustrations of your customers. As you begin to make choices there will be a real emotional impact on the members of your community that will also influence their behavior. That is a relationship that needs to be respected and nurtured.
Susan Silver is a community focused strategist who uses social data insights as the foundation of her work with ARCOMPANY. Her philosophy “Humanity in Data” is informed by a background in cognitive-behavioral psychology. She is making positive change in people’s lives, and the world, with thoughtful communication on behalf of her clients.
Interesting post Susan. I think a lot about ecosystems, and there are some good points here about how to organically build a community. Part of that is about fostering creativity / discovery, and it’s more subtle than most people think.
I often find myself re-framing things I’m working on in the community / ecosystem building sphere from “what are my goals” to “what kinds of things do I want people to understand / what ways of being & behaviors do I want to encourage?” … helping to drive those underlying behaviors leads to more accountable metrics anyway, and it’s more transparent because there’s nothing quite like saying “hey we want you to walk away feeling smarter, having fun, and with something that matters to you.” The other stuff always follows.