Yesterday Unity Development Interview with Unity Development’s Carl Callewaert about what they have learned about the best ways to build developer communities. Today we are talking with David Bowman, the Director of Production at Crytek on the same subject, and how social media is a vital element to empowering your community.
Crytek has a very active and vibrant community, how has that happened?
So it is a growing success, and until recently we weren’t doing as well on the consumer-facing side of things, and what we have been really really focusing on is who are our users first, make sure we identify them, and then understand what do they really want. And our communications channels have had to vastly improve, and our social media and finding people, and then every time people have questions being responsive to those questions and then providing them better and better tools.
Is there a single trick to that? No, it’s a bunch of small things done really consistently. And really knowing that you don’t have all the answers yet, and listening to them, and letting them know that you are listening to them, and feeding that back to them.
So we realized CryEngine 5 is awesome, but it wasn’t accessible before to people who were indies. Before it was for AAA developers absolutely, no problem, but indies we had a tool set that was not as well documented as we wanted, so what do we need? Better documentation! And they said that we want better support and to get our questions answered, so we have started to do a better job of supporting them. We created a portal, a place where they can talk with each other, and that’s what you need; you need series of answers to the questions to start a community,
How do you moderate the community and their thoughts versus your core development track, and how do you expose that process to the community?
On social media, we have people who are dedicated one hundred percent of their time monitoring or providing the answers you need. So you go to our portal and start asking questions, and if the community does not have the answer then our people can grab that question and say, hey, that’s a rendering question. Then they can go to our rendering engineers and get the answer and can feed that back out to the community, and the community says we are being listened to. And that encourages them to say to other people, hey this is a responsive community, you should come here.
Not being distant faces, not being corporate faces, we have actual individuals who answer those question and that develops that trust as well. And that’s the core of it on the online side. And then we went our to our community as well with different development teams around the world and we brought them to GDC and said let’s show the world what you are doing with our engine. And they could not afford a booth at GDC, and probably could not afford the travel as well. We bring them here, we show them to the world, we include the in our press release and our discussions. And other developers see that respect and support, and that you are not just for AAA developers but also the indies. And that becomes a feedback cycle. Hey look, I want to be the developer they bring in next year.
How do you say no to developers and their ideas for your product?
So, we create this backlog of ideas, and then we rank them, and then we display that to people. And you do this all the time in development with bugs or features, you constantly say this is what will make this product better. And we do the same thing as a community and we say this is what we are taking about, and these are the issues our customers are talking about, and let’s compare them. So we had lots of people talking about documentation so we said let’s put that higher in our queue because that is what our community is saying. And then they see that hey, the documentation is improving. And then they say that we want video tutorials. OK, that is pushing up, so guys hire the teams and start doing video tutorials. So once they start seeing that there are a cause and effect and a consistency then people start building respect and they feel listened to.
If someone was going to start a developer community, what would be your advice?
Don’t try to be cool. If you are a larger company and you have had success, don’t pretend you understand at an emotional level what an independent group of people is struggling with at that moment. You might be able to relate, but don’t try to act like you are there.
“We are one of you!” No, what you provide is structure that they don’t have because they couldn’t do that but you can provide that for them. Do don’t try to be part of that group. But you can help them reach what they want to achieve and the best way to do that is to understand and have a dialog, but we have a very different set of experiences. Don’t try to do events or try to create artificial systems of incentives or rewards that are based on your corporate structure. And instead, ask what they need and want to succeed.