Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Valuing Participation Within Small Fan Communities

Posted by Sean Hull on March 27, 2017

The valuation of users is apparently a difficult prospect for large companies when considering their fandoms; however, a healthy dynamic between content producers and users can be more easily observed within the framework of fandoms themselves. Though perhaps less than relevant to the assigned readings than the larger dynamic between fandoms and corporate systems, the examination of these smaller communities provides an interesting case study of how content creators can value seemingly less engaged users as vital contributors to their projects.

What community am I going to examine? The one situated around modded Minecraft. Yes, mods, my constant refrain.

The community surrounding modded Minecraft is distributed over several sites, from subreddits to forums to Discord channels and Githubs. Only a small number of members within this community could be considered “content creators”: people who take the time to write & update mods of their own, or else collect mods together into large “modpacks” which can offer uniquely configured & balanced gameplay experiences. The rest of the user base mainly consists of mod users, individuals who download and play with said mods without sharing any content of their own. Despite this apparent lack of interaction, these players are understood to be vital participants in the process of both mod & modpack development.

The value of such semi-engaged users can be inferred by how active mod & modpack authors are in responding to questions and criticisms posed by individuals on various forums and subreddits. Furthermore, such semi-engaged users also contribute by submitting bug reports to Github, allowing mod authors to revise their product in response. Even the most “passive” audience members serve the purpose of acting as encouragement to mod authors, as even without giving thanks or criticism, their downloading of a mod is counted, providing feedback on mod popularity.

Though empowering to the members of its community, this accessibility to content creators can also invite excessive criticism. Balance changes to popular mods have caused uproars in the past, as have balance changes in modpacks which seemed to unfairly rebalance the mods of specific mod authors.

Despite such caveats, the modded Minecraft community is an interesting example of how small groups of content creators can engage with and value their audiences despite the majority not contributing in terms of media production.

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