Games are more fun when there are other people to play them with. Design quality, however, doesn’t guarantee that a game will attract a large enough audience to give players the best possible experience. Thus, it’s worth setting aside time as part of your design process to build your game’s community.
I’m not necessarily talking about a major marketing push. Large expenditures don’t need to be a component of your plan. Just assembling a self-sustaining group of players can be a tremendous forward step for your game; do that a few times, and you’ve got yourself a phenomenon.
Killer Queen, one of my professors pointed out earlier this week, is a great example of this strategy in action. At PRACTICE 2015 Killer Queen’s designers expressed that the game is meant to be played in an arcade environment. To help create that experience, they have divided their time between making technical changes to the game and getting machines into new cities. That effort invested in expanding Killer Queen’s community has paid off; today the game has large tournaments to keep competitive players engaged, and enough access to support casual play as well.
Releasing a game without giving thought to building an audience for it is like sending up a flare; maybe people will be looking in the right direction, and maybe they won’t. If you make sure that even a small audience sees your flare, though, you’ve immediately got some help in getting the word out. Put energy into community-building before, and immediately after, your game releases; it will be well-spent.