I'm only making this point because I talk to enough studios who aren't willing to invest in their community management - and that scares me. Sure, the big studios do it, sure some small games achieve a good social following, but we're right now trying to answer the generalized question for everyone - should you invest in your community management?
Video Game Community Management
Let's first set the expectations of what professional community management for a video game studio looks like. It's more than creating a Facebook page. It's really about leading and growing a group of intention-based individuals through discussion and action in regard to a specific subject. It balances a role between loyalty to the player-base and the studio and helps information freely flow between the two. You shouldn't be the figure head celebrity of the game, but instead the facilitator of the studio's identity and personality.
If you agree with my understanding of above, then consider the outcomes of proper Community Management that I've noticed over the years.
People are always looking for interesting stuff to share with their like-minded friends. The entire concept of viral marketing is centered around the assumption that people will want to share what they find. One of my last articles was about urging developers to create viral assets that can easily be shared (videos, pictures, art etc..) and I'd strongly recommend implementing the concepts. There is honestly nothing more rewarding than creating these assets and watching them be shared by the community - and it's really not as complicated as you think. From a financial standpoint, you will never find a cheaper CPA for users than when you push for a high social referral.
The entire idea of a k-factor being "how many new players will one player invite" emerged because a significant number of users were attributed to existing users' referral.
I prefer practical to theoretical, but there's a concept in marketing theory which speaks about how the "fully actualized" customer will have your product (or game) as a part of their identity and naturally represent your game and actively promote it to their peers. You'll always find whales who really take on this role so consider enabling them with viral intent-based content.
In recent years the average lifespan of a player has plummeted, in my opinion, due to all the other affordable games they have access to. For some titles it makes sense, I can only play BioShock so many times, but for non-linear or narrative genres like MOBAS, MMO's and casual/puzzle games there needs to be more than just a game for players to stick around. Starcraft BroodWar wasn't being played by a large active player base more than 15 years after game launch because its content stayed fresh - instead, organic communities sprang up which gave new life to an old title. Community is essential to creating any staying power for your title, and people are masters at finding new goals or ideas for games. If you look at games which have the highest video game LTV they commonly have the greatest attention to their community. Examples?
The Battlefield series which even won a social strategy award
World of WarCraft
League of Legends - which I think has one of the largest social platform communities ever?
Basically, if your game relies on continual APRU, then it appears the best in the business rely on community management to further create value with their players.
I can speak for certain that this function is the most neglected in all of community management, especially for video games. The concept of "co-creation" has many proponents and still many opponents but what I'm referring to is a stable user base who wants to give you detailed feedback on their user experience. I've worked on QA, and unless you have a team who really is motivated, getting good information on user experience is like pulling teeth - so instead draw answers from your players who will give you endless feedback and even ideas on how to improve your offering.
In this function a community manager is able to fulfill the role of an intermediary as an advocate of the player community to the development team. Is there a mechanic or gameplay issue that the community in general isn't a fan of? A community manager should be the role who is continually giving feedback to the development team on what players think and want. Look at how the Diablo 3 Auction House was shut down because the community insisted it wasn't giving a positive user experience. I'm a huge fan of feedback and in a stance of humility, developers can get fantastic feedback from their players on what would improve their experience.
So What Does Investment Look Like?
It does not mean you hire someone to get you more Facebook likes. What it does mean is making the shift to consider your social platforms (social media, forums, sub-reddit pages) as a source for communication to your players and committing to building their integrated role. Here's my checklist.
What's your offering? (example; share in-game rewards with any users who join your social platforms)
Offer unique interesting content for your users - (League of Legends posts cartoons every Sunday. They understand their demographic enough to know comics are a perfect fit)
Promise real-time news updates on important game information. This is so important! Your users should be coming to you for updates on your game.
Having interesting contests run through your social platforms! Be creative - it's not hard (if it is for you, ask me and we'll come up with something)
Is your game complex? Consider building and promoting a forum which allows for topic specific discussion.
Development blogs help a community know how a game is changing and that it is continually being improved.
The Paradigm Shift
I really want to encourage you to see that community management isn't another "job", it's a function that connects to so many parts of a studio. Doing Alpha or Beta testing? You probably want a medium for users to report bugs. You probably want a medium or voice to even give them early access in the first place! I could go on for pages about why community management is an essential part of a game's marketing mix.
What has been your experience with community management and tangible growth of your game? Do you too see the reward?