The game producer IO Interactive, which is behind the very popular Hitman games, is part of the innovation consortium Community-Based Innovation with a wish to obtain a closer relation with their passionate fans. It has been studied how the company can communicate with the Hitman community in a manner that creates value for both parties.
|The process: Input - focus and conscious decisions:|
• Strong existing communities
• IO Interactive very deliberately keeps "the engine room closed" and for IPR reasons it does not take in ideas for games from external sources
• But how then can the strong communities be used to create business value?
• Focus on the relationship between development and use of the Hitman game
• Adding a social dimension to the single-player game
Input – focus and conscious decisions
The Hitman game has official as well as unofficial online forums in several different languages. The largest and most active of them is ‘The Hitman Forum’, which is user-driven and was started independent of IO Interactive. The employees follow the fans and discussions in the forum and contribute themselves with inputs - attractively packaged information about upcoming events, new releases, functionalities, etc.
In order to avoid IPR issues the development process in IO Interactive takes place behind closed doors. However, there may still be significant business value in the users’ creation of hype, their feedback and suggestions for improvements.
Obviously, the gaming experience always occurs in the use situation, and it could be interesting to explore the possibilities of developing future versions of the game while playing.
The Hitman games are single-player games, but multi-player games are very popular these years, which makes it interesting for IO Interactive to be able to reach also the players with multi-player preferences.
A tag inserted by a user in the game, marked with a smiley.
Throughput – activities and concepts:
Throughput – activities and concepts
In order to better understand the Hitman community, the researchers in CBI conducted interviews with employees and analyzed the dialogue online. In addition to this, selected members were invited to participate in a sneak preview event associated with the launch of Hitman Absolution. Based on the requests and ideas of IO Interactive, some models of concepts were developed which are thought to engage the Hitman community to an even greater extent. An app to find, select, tag and comment on places in the real world using GPS and camera seemed especially promising, as this makes it possible to connect game elements to locations in an urban context and to play with augmented reality. The idea is that game developers and users together can discover exciting locations which may be integrated in the game and set the frame for a track.
The feedback workshop doubted, however, whether such an app at all would be used.
“I should be really bored in New York to think about what Hitman has been doing in New York, and 'now let me see what has been going on there'. How exciting are people’s tags? What fun are people on the net? Are they fun enough for me to bother about finding them with my phone? I don’t think so, but I can’t say it for certain.” -Workshop participant
However, if IO Interactive specifically asked for pictures of e.g. suspicious-looking boats, then users would be happy to contribute.
Studies of the online forums revealed that community members go through three phases, where they are more or less active:
1) The lurk phase, where they look for information or help to overcome difficulties in the game. Here, most of the traffic is around release dates for new games, where players go through the plot.
2) Active participation, where the individual user shares his experiences and seeks influence in discussions from time to time.
3) Full member, where the user on a regular basis participates in discussions and builds up his identity, status and relations.
“…at a certain point like, I can’t remember exactly when the transition happened. Posting became as much about wanting to continue a discussion and not just ah, it became more and more interesting how people were responding by posts, it felt more social at a certain point.” - Workshop participant
Relations in the community span from being completely superficial and temporary to being friendly and long-term. The tone and the ambience vary from being rather brutal and polarized to being respectful, friendly and helpful. Precisely, helping other players seems to be the primary interaction in the community, but a passion for the game also means that there are pretty strong exchanges of views on what is good and bad in the game, or on how to behave.
Obviously, the users are motivated primarily by overcoming problems, correcting this and that, or by showing off. They seek recognition for their contributions and want to be referred to in others’ comments or being approached by or credited by the employees of IO Interactive who follow the discussions.
|Output - learning and results:|
• Insight into the motivation of community members for participating on different activity levels
• Knowledge of relationships and interactions within the Hitman community, and expectations for what role IO Interactive will take
• Video prototype of in-game feedback function
• Concepts for forum widget, tag collector and greenhouse
Output – learning and results
The relation to the company is like a fan-celebrity relationship, where the parties are dependent on each other, but still an asymmetry exists. IO Interactive is expected to give a piece of itself in terms of interviews, input for discussion and experiences, but if they decide to give special privileges or merchandise to certain users, it may soon become evident that we are talking about a company, because the users who accept such privileges risk losing their credibility in the community.
Instead of further developing the location app, work was continued on an in-game feedback function, where the users can take part in a dialogue while they are playing. The idea is to have an extra element in the game, where Hitman by means of a smartphone can view the surroundings as in augmented reality, whereby different icons or tags left by other players or IO Interactive become visible to the users. The users can create new tags themselves or open existing tags to see what they contain. This could for example be hints, traps, error reports or challenges. The option to record your movements and share them with others make it possible to also show your skills or to leave behind tracks for your friends to follow. The use of these features may create a meta-game that includes a social dimension and provides the perception of playing multi-player.
The tag collector is a platform where you can gather ideas and discussions that occur in this feedback mode in the different online forums. The gathering is done with an embedded widget that connects between the different websites, and in this way it becomes easier to overview and organize dialogues around specific subjects. The ideas and discussions that IO Interactive finds most relevant and interesting can be transferred to the greenhouse, a closed forum where only invited user (black tie club) can participate in the development.
In the feedback mode, the game is potentially always under change, and as one of the users phrased it:
“When I play it again, I can see that now the tags are gone, and now new ones have popped up, I like that, then I feel that someone is at home, and that someone has put milk in the fridge ..... there have been some updates, and I like that, I believe most people love that feeling. That is also why people are on Facebook or Twitter, they want to see what is going on.“
Through this innovation process the knowledge of user behaviour has increased among IO Interactive's community management, and it has become clear that their most passionate users stand ready to provide ideas and feedback and to help in testing and improving the games, if they feel that they will be seen and heard. Since the company prioritizes to keep the development process relatively closed, it is currently only possible to involve users in an indirect way, where the company follows their behavior and dialogue. With a new concept centered around an in-game feedback functionality it is possible to involve the users as co-developers, since they can tell as a group during the game how they prefer the gaming experience. This form of co-design gives input to the innovation process and increases the value of the game for the users, whom IO Interactive is constantly dependent on in relation to creating hype and promoting the game.
The innovation consortium Community-Based Innovation focuses on the ways in which the connection between groups of people and technology may create value for businesses and organizations. Based on this and other cases we work to create a systematic approach for businesses that wish to enhance their approach to communities. If you wish to know more about CBI or have comments and inputs to the work of the innovation consortium, you are more than welcome to contact us.