Starbreeze: 8 Million Heisters Under One Roof

Almir Listo, a Global Brand Director and Head of Community at Starbreeze Studios, told us how the team works with the community, and discussed what stands behind the success of the iconic PAYDAY.

In 2013, we released PAYDAY 2 for the platforms at the time, including PC, Xbox and PlayStation. Back then, just a few months before launch, Valve and us at Starbreeze worked to set up the Steam store page. When the Store page went live and people could start pre-ordering, they also got access to the Community Hub, the forum of Steam. This meant people could start following us, wishlist the game, share art with each other, post screenshots and talk with each other in the community hub. When we started we had some 30,000 members. Today, ten years later, we have 8,435,231 members - the largest on the platform - who have a great time together, robbing banks and getting paid. How did that happen? To understand that we need to go back in time, down the rabbit hole of previous versions of Steam.

The year is 2013, and Valve have updated the Steam platform again with additional features. Before the Community Hub was added, the SPUF forums preceded them, and we had managed to build up a vibrant community there - the only problem? It got shut down as Valve were looking to replace it with the new Community Hub. This would be a place where you wouldn’t need to leave Steam in order to chat with other players, share art, and all of those things we as gamers do when we’ve found a new game we love to play. 

The beauty of the Community Hub is that it is fully integrated in Steam. We saw this as a great opportunity to utilize the tools offered by Valve in order to create the best experience possible for our players. Now, normally when you join a Community hub you are only asked whether you want to follow or not, and if you press yes, nothing exciting happens. 

The reason the PAYDAY community grew from 30,000 to 8 million is two-fold - that we engaged with our players and gave them reasons to join the Community Hub - not only for the short term, but for years to come, and that they engaged with us and the other players, through the creation of mods, streaming the game online and building communities of their own. We found many different ways to engage with our community in the hub. In the SPUF days, we could only create posts and reply in threads, but in the Community Hub a new world of opportunities opened up for us.

One big thing that generated a lot of engagement was that we constantly updated the players on the status of the game. After the original launch, many hotfixes ensued and we made it our top priority to communicate every single update and exactly what they contained, something a lot of hardcore players appreciated as they want to understand what’s under the hood.

Another thing was that we created and hosted a ton of events, be it a Free-to-Play weekend, a new DLC release, a new free update, or a new in-game event, there was always something going on in the PAYDAY community.

In-game events are a very special thing in the PAYDAY community; some of them are very complex and last for weeks, some are more concise and appear in one update. An example of a long campaign is the Hoxton Housewarming Party, a 10-day event where Hoxton from the PAYDAY gang burns down the old safe house and hires his family butler to help sort it out. The butler was portrayed by none other than John Cleese, who we had written a lot of dialogue for that poked fun at us as developers or at the PAYDAY gang, using his signature humor. Every day during the 10 days of the event we had a new piece of story to share along with an in-game update.

Anyone likes getting something for free if it’s something they’re interested in. That’s why we offered anyone who joined our community group exclusive access to items that you can only get by being a member of the Community. What we have learnt is that those who have only joined to gain access to the items, characters and heists have stayed because they’ve found friends in the community and see a value in it that they didn’t necessarily recognize beforehand. Come for the content - stay for the community.

Making fools out of ourselves is something that the community has always enjoyed. We take great pride in the April Fool events we’ve done over the years in order to pull the leg of our players, including making a Morning Cartoon show or introducing a Comically Large Spoon, which started as an inside joke in the PAYDAY community and ended up as an in-game event where we added a comically large spoon as a melee weapon. It was a great success and serves as another example of why our community has grown so large over the years.

Last but not least, one thing we’ve tried to do well - and not always lived up to - is owning up to our mistakes. With a game like PAYDAY 2 that has received over 200 updates across a decade, a few are bound not to hit home. When we introduced microtransactions the community reacted straight away and let us know that we had screwed up. We made a public apology and remedied the system as best we could, and while everyone wasn’t happy with the solution, they saw that we tried and that we care. As we have come to learn over time is that the community has stuck by us through thick and thin, helping get us where we are today.

There are many more stories from the PAYDAY community that weren’t mentioned that make it what it is today, and if there’s anything we always want to make sure to do, it is to thank our players - our heisters - who every day gather their friends and family around the world to don their masks, rob banks and get paid. Thank you for playing - we salute you!

Almir Listo, Global Brand Director and Head of Community at Starbreeze Studios

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