Choosing the right forum software? Is a forum needed?

Every community has a core somewhere, and it all depends where it would be most ideal. Many will choose a forum or discussion board, others will Use social media mediums, and some may use Discord or some other sort of real-time services as its core community hub. All comes down to the following…

  1. Will your game need a repository of historical information that can be easily indexed by search engines?
  2. Will your game need a central place for the viewing of news, patch notes/changelogs, and other important details?
  3. Does the community lack a common-place that serves as a central hub?
  4. Do you want to achieve (hopefully) a centralized community?

If the answer was yes to two or more of those items, you’re likely going to need a forum ala discussion board.

Now the questions come down to the following:

  1. Do you need a fluffy-forum with it being branded to the T?
  2. Do you want a forum that does it all for forum features?
  3. Do you need a forum where it’s just that, a forum?
  4. Do you need the forum to cover multiple games?
  5. Will the forum be for a single game?
  6. Will the forums possibly see “explosive growth” in the coming six to 12 months?
  7. Do you have a forum/board design in mind?

Keep in mind, it is not wise to choose both a “fluffy-forum” and a “does it all forum”. You will end up overwhelming your web, art, and any other website / online based teams (if you have such teams) with the burden of assets, coding, and other fluff that could be used elsewhere! Unless your company has a massive team to devote to such a task, you’re better off choosing one or the other. This isn’t saying you can’t brand your forum accordingly with a does it all forum, because of course, you can theme it to an extent.

What is “Explosive Growth”?!

Before going further, let’s dabble in the definition of such real quick. Explosive growth, as defined to me is where your Business Intelligence staff/employee gives you a growth chart over time, with 1) a bull estimate (the high end), 2) a median estimate, 3), and the bear estimate (the low end). However, explosive growth would denote exceeding the bull estimate at equal-to or far surpassing the estimate.

So let’s say you have 2000 registered users on the forums, of which in this example, none of them are employees in the count. At this point, we would consider the 90:9:1 rule, on forums for a new game (be it from hype or whatever) it’s closer to 80:15:5. Where you get a ratio of 80% registrations and no posts, 15% make at least one single post, no more than 10 posts, and 5% of your users being your vocal-core with more than 10 posts. Layer that into your community growth estimate, let’s say our forum growth bull after 30 days is another 500 users, but we actually take in 1000 (or more). This is what explosive growth is.

Sometimes this can occur in a single week, sometimes in a couple days. Either way, explosive growth is great for the company, bad for your moderation and community team and its associated growing pains.

Back to forum selection…

So we’ve come this far, and we’re now looking at a forum software options. Below is probably the most basic form of an “I want a…” list from the given options above, and then some.

An X* denotes limited in scope, or limited support.
An X- denotes an addon is required.

I want a forum that…vBulletin 4.xXenForo 2.xIP.BoardDiscourseVanillaLithium
AKA Khoros
is cheap on operating costs249$160$100 – 725$FreeFreemiumUndisclosed
has expansive analyticsXXX
has tons of features (the whole shebang and then some)XXXX
has room for feature expansionXXXX
is fully modular (code it yourself)X
can be expansively design-customizedXXXXX
can be expansively code-customized (direct or addons)XXXXX
has in-depth permission systemsXXX
has an API to connect to internal systemsX*XXX*X
can have subforums(nested) in forumsXXXX
has an up and downvote systemXX-XXX
expansive moderation toolboxXXXX*
expansive administration toolboxXXXXX
has a content management systemX*-X*-XX

Keep in mind, it has been many many years since using/trialing Lithium community, which is now known as Khoros. There may be many more features added since 2016!

So there’s your mostly-quick “I want a forum that…” chart. There is the handy PhpBB forum software, among other forum software platforms, but the age of those discussion boards was not included. Keep in mind that people just want a WYSIWYG editor and simplicity these days!

My Verdict

For me, if a forum is truly needed for your game community (protip: it’s best you did have one!) my forum of choice for 2020 and beyond is XenForo. With every release, they are constantly adding industry-changing features when it comes to forum software related items. While yes, it’s still “just a forum”, it’s a forum with a lot of features, a lot of potentials, a lot of customization (be it theme/branding or addons/custom add-ins and integrations) potential. Lest I forget the fact you can use addons with XenForo to modify, add-in, or completely replace features!