Critiquing Valve’s Communication Strategy: “Let Updates Do the Talking”

How Valve’s Communication Strategy is the Opposite of What the Community Wants.

Valve posted a video on Youtube one week ago that has been met with very poor reception by their fans. The video is called “Let Updates Do the Talking” and it’s put on by one of their developers of CS: GO who has been working there for 9 years. 

Gautam goes into detail about how the CS: GO team uses content and game changes to communicate with such a broad audience. He also shares some perspective on how a game team can manage the tradeoffs between when to talk, and when to listen.

Unfortunately, Valve seems to be blinded by something because their communication strategy is operating on the opposite spectrum from what the CS: GO Community wants (Integrity, Transparency, Honest Communication, and Accountability). 

The Community’s Initial Reaction

As of May 11, 2021, the video has 636 likes (34%), but 1,200 dislikes (66%), showcasing that their fans clearly do not agree with their communication strategy. 

Valve's communication strategy gets downvoted

Gautum begins by saying that the main way the CS: GO developer communicates with their 20M players is through updates to the game. One of his initial points is that “bad communication is worse than none, and that they avoid making promises to players so that it doesn’t constrain what their team can fix.

This philosophy has made them notorious for not communicating with their fans about ongoing issues or future plans. 

If we promised a feature or solution to a problem, we’d constrain what the team could ship and be less responsive to when our priorities or the community’s priorities change. In those cases, if we broke our promise or ship a different solution…we would start to erode the trust and possibly lose the opportunity to provide customers with more value,” Valve developer Gautum Babbar said.

Transparency is Key for Communication Between the Community and the Developers

At GamerSpeak we’ve noticed that players crave transparency. Transparency correlates to trust, and players want to have trust in the developers of their favorite games. Players spend a lot of time and money on their favorite game and they want to have confidence it is being taken care of. 

It’s easy for developers to take Valve’s defensive approach to communication in order to protect themselves, but best-in-class developers, who have a great reputation with their community, take a more open approach to communication. 

For example, Fall Guys has an awesome Public Issue Tracker on Trello. The Seven Deadly Sins: Grand Cross has communicated with players very openly about their faults and what they will do to resolve them. Many games also have a beta testing realm where a select few Superusers get to try out upcoming features. In fact, one of the biggest gaming successes of 2020, Genshin Impact, has a beta testing realm.

Additionally, Riot’s popular Online Competitive Card Game, Legends of Runeterra, frequently releases Development Roadmaps of features, updates, and patches to look forward to in the future. By clearly showcasing some of the new features to come out in the future, Legends of Runeterra’s gaming community can be confident of their investment and time in the game, knowing that there’s more content to come and look forward to.

Riot's Legends of Runeterra roadmap is incredible

Communicating Accountability for Mistakes and Broken Promises to the Community

It’s not easy to communicate openly, and developers need to be careful about the promises they make, but it doesn’t mean they can’t make any promises in order to give players a reason to keep playing the game. After all, don’t you want to know what features and fixes are coming in the future for your favorite games? 

When we make promises about the future, players start thinking about the future of the game and not about the game now,” says Babbar.

Well, if players are considering quitting the game now due to a lack of confidence about the future of the game, it might help to give them hope for a brighter future. I understand not wanting to tell players of certain features ahead of time in order to prevent cannibalizing current spend behavior, but to be completely silent to your player base is not the answer.  

In Valve’s case, they have a major issue with players cheating in their game. It’s causing major frustration in the community but Valve has been very silent about their plans to resolve it. Players don’t seem to appreciate that approach at all, as shown by the top  #1, #3, #4 most upvoted comments on the video:

Valve's communication strategy for CSGO's VAC issues is not good

When players aren’t happy, we can’t solve the problem by talking to them, we have to fix the issues,” says Babbar.

Is this what you would say to your friend, boss, or wife if they brought up an issue they have with you? “Sorry, I’m not going to talk about this, I’m just going to fix it.” This dismissive answer won’t cut it with your player base. 

Instead, open the floor for discussion with your player base in order to understand:

  1. What the issues are
  2. How players are experiencing them
  3. When they are experiencing them
  4. What ideas they have to resolve the problem

Then follow up by repeating what you heard from them and what your intended plans are to fix things.

Honest Communication of Why the Developers Are Switching Directions is Key (This Shows Integrity to Your Community)

Mistakes happen, and things change. Sometimes there’s a major setback due to a technical issue(s) or the direction of the game changes altogether. Guess what? That’s okay! But it’s imperative that game developers express why those changes, delays, and setbacks are occurring and what they plan to do about it.

For example, Among Us shared that instead of creating Among Us 2, they would launch a new map as soon as they could. They also expressed they would love to improve the game [Among Us] as a whole and bring new features, updates, and content for their community to enjoy.

This was off the heels of Among Us’ popularity in 2020, but the development team realized that it was better to improve the current game and incorporate all the new features they wanted to include from the sequel so they can ensure Among Us’ relevancy.

It’s not terribly surprising how Valve’s CS: GO community reacted to their Communication Strategy video (well, it might be surprising for Valve). 

At the end of the day, game communities (humans in general), want to be heard, want to feel appreciated, and want to be kept in the loop. By not openly communicating with them, they end up feeling left in the dark.

This will eventually cause them to leave the game. The best games that developers can create are the ones that cultivate, celebrate, and respect the game community.

If you want to make sure you have the right communication strategy, make sure to read through our free blog posts that demonstrate how to get incredible feedback from your community. Also, make sure to schedule an appointment with our CEO, Chad Kihm for a free 30 minute consultation on how we can increase your game’s retention rate and increase your overall revenue by up to 30% in six months or less.

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