Whether it’s Discord, r/gaming on Reddit, Fandom, Twitter, or simply the comment section of their favourite games site, most gamers are part of a community in one way or another.
Despite common belief, gaming is a fundamentally social hobby, whether you’re sharing the controller, posting your favourite screenshot online, or telling your friends about your latest raid.
But online gaming communities are fragmented, and one man has the ambition to unite them all: Maxwell Logan. A couple of years ago, he started working on the idea for Ember, a social network for gamers.
Many games companies have attempted similar endeavours. In 2012, Green Man Gaming acquired gaming social network Playfire, initially created in 2007 by serial entrepreneur Kieran O'Neill. It was eventually closed in 2017.
Raptr was also big for the games community, reaching 22 million registered users in March 2014. It also closed in 2017.
But if the unbelievable success of Discord -- which stands at 250 million users in 2020, just five years after launch -- proves one thing, it is that gamers have an appetite for more platforms to gather on and share their passion. And that’s exactly what Ember wants to provide.
“Ember started out as a community I managed while playing games such as Minecraft, Ark Survival Evolved and Destiny,” director Maxwell Logan says. “Originally, Ember was conceived as a tool for the community to grow and play together in many different formats. We used services such as Enjin but eventually moved away from them.
“While Ember initially began development for a single community, it became clear that there was a market gap in the space between traditional social media platforms such as Facebook and dedicated gaming websites such as Enjin.”
Currently in closed alpha, Ember will feature everything you’d expect from a gaming social network -- a personal profile page, friends you can add, communities you can join -- but it also has a strong focus on content creation, whether your interest is in livestreaming, cosplay or art.
“Ember wants to create a space for all avenues of gaming; whether you’re a creator or a consumer, we want to be your place for gaming content,” Logan continues. “We want to attract indie content creators and artists more than anything. The level of innovation that we see from the indie scene, time and time again, is exactly the kind of thing we're all about.
“We want to take those big-brain ideas that they have and give them a fun, no-pressure environment in which to showcase them. After all, they're basically our peers. We're an indie crew ourselves. Just a different flavour of indie crew. We hope to attract our audience by being an inclusive platform that is focused on supporting the industry as a whole, from the small studios, the small streamer and the vibrant communities that surround all aspects of gaming.”
And Ember doesn’t want to only attract creative consumers, it’s also targeting games industry professionals, and is hoping to be a place for potential employment opportunities.
“Ember is developing tools for the games industry to advertise vacancies without breaking the bank,” Logan says. “We are also going to be working with Barclays to create other support mechanisms so games developers can gain access to the same kind of professional mentorship and resources we ourselves received. These features are early in development but we hope to create a comprehensive support package to help developers break into the games industry and make their mark.”
Ember is based at Eagle Labs in the centre of Sheffield, and it’s in the Northern city that Logan found an opportunity that was instrumental in getting his start-up off the ground, demonstrating the power of networking and how significant it is when launching your own company.
He attended a Friday networking club at Kollider, an incubator powered by Barclays Eagle Labs. It’s also a coworking and event space for tech and creative businesses that hosts the National Videogame Museum, among others.
“They’re a great informal way to professionally network and meet people from every background you can possibly think of,” he explains. “I was introduced to Katie [Taylor, Kollider’s general manager] there and showcased Ember a little. [She] introduced me to Ian [Holland], Barclays ecosystem manager for Sheffield. We began to work together soon after.
“Barclays has been integral to the development of Ember itself and my own development as a founder. I came into Ember with little to no business experience and Barclays has been fundamental in guiding me through some of the most challenging aspects of that world -- I even wore a suit once!”
Creating something as ambitious as Ember has been no easy task, especially for a small indie team aiming to build a large, industry-scale product.
“One of the biggest challenges is just knowing where to begin,” Logan continues. “I learned a few things very quickly that help keep me focused on the end goal.
“Keeping motivated is difficult in any startup -- you’re thrown a million challenges and you’ve very limited resources to deal with them. I find that taking a moment to engage with your community and look back at what you’ve achieved so far will help to keep you focused on your end goal and motivated enough to see it through. Your community is a vital resource - utilise, listen and involve them.”
The challenge will now be for Ember to carve itself a space in the crowded social network market. But Logan feels it will naturally fill a gap, as well as appeal to users who may have grown weary of huge, faceless social networks.
“Casual gaming communities tend to gravitate towards Facebook because it’s easy to use and doesn’t require any knowledge of code, whereas the more hardcore communities gravitate towards products such as Enjin or Zenforo where knowledge of code is a requirement. Ember wants to bridge that gap and grow from both casual and hardcore gamers. We’re developing features so that, no matter what kind of gamer you are, Ember will have tools you can make use of. [It] will create a space that encompasses the whole gaming sphere in a positive and accessible way.
“I’m a firm believer in decentralised social media platforms. Massive platforms hold huge sway over how we consume content on the web. I’d like to see more decentralised networks appearing based on specific interests.”
Ember is working on native streaming capabilities and a myriad of other features targeted at tech-savvy and creative users. But, in that process, Logan is very conscious of user privacy concerns that have been plaguing some social networks for years.
“At Ember, our philosophy is simple: we collect as little as possible and the data we do collect stays on Ember to be used only to provide our services. We’re also doing everything in our power to ensure any data we do hold is secure. Users will be able to make use of comprehensive privacy settings to better their experience within Ember.”
Another issue that most social networks have difficulty tackling is toxicity. But with Ember, Logan is hoping to not only nip such behaviour in the bud, but also encourage positivity with a promising system of reciprocity -- something other social networks could learn from.
“We have a zero tolerance policy towards toxicity on Ember,” Logan says. “We have a moderator team set up to tackle this problem and our shard system encourages only positive content generation: users are rewarded with ‘Shards’ that can be spent on our upcoming avatar editor game and an achievement progression system designed to encourage positive reciprocation throughout Ember.
“We’re making sure we develop robust reporting and enforcing features. We are also going to be exploring AI content moderation options. We want to try and create a platform that welcomes all gamers no matter who they are, how they identify or what they believe.”
Ember is still in its very early days -- it has raised income through Patreon and recently received some small investment. The team is currently working on its e-commerce models and is in talks regarding investment opportunities with third-parties. But Logan has great hopes for the future.
“In the short term, we’re working towards our public beta,” he says. “We hope to form more partnerships in the games industry and continue to work closely with Barclays to create support resources for our industry, We also have event plans to further put Sheffield on the map as the place for gaming in the UK.
“Ember’s long term ambition is to become THE social network for gamers, by gamers, providing a positive space for all kinds of gaming content, whether that be your friends, communities, blogging, arts, streaming or finding that next indie gem. Ultimately, we just want to share this awesome platform with the world, so that they can share their awesomeness back with us. Ember is and always has been a labour of love for me.”
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