Back in Norman Rockwell’s America, kids weren’t afraid to take a chance on going into business for themselves. Rockwell’s iconic “Lemonade Stand” image showed a whole generation of children that to succeed in business, all they had to do was hang out a sign, and a whole community of lemonade lovers (or sympathetic neighbors) would gather round, happily paying a nickel for a cold cup of lemonade on a hot summer day.

Unfortunately for kids in the lemonade business – or the gaming business, for that matter – things are a lot more complicated today. Mobile game developers may find themselves among the thousands whose apps barely get played, or are never even downloaded. Let’s face it; if you go according to the odds, the chances of success in the mobile game marketplace (which grows by hundreds of titles a day) are not good. Is there anything developers can do to improve their chances?

The good news is that there is. Actually, the solution is rather simple; to get a lot of people to play a game, all you have to do is develop a community around a title, brand, or series, to create a group that will grow organically (provided, of course, the game is appropriately challenging and exciting) Here are some ideas on how to get “there” from “here.”

Get to the core

You have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is a core community, a small group of insiders that can act as a base for further “expansion.” To entice that initial group, game marketers (or their community managers) can build up a following by nurturing followers on social media, offering them an insider link to a new game or other benefits. For example, many new users will be willing to try out a new game as part of an alpha or beta test, members of an exclusive club whose opinion matters.  And, of course, it’s important to reach out to everyone you have ever met online and in person and notify them that you have a new venture.

Chances are that most of those who respond will back out, but a small group – one that the game appeals to – will remain. That’s the core group that managers should get to know, communicating with them personally, taking their suggestions and integrating them in the game – in short, giving them a stake in the community, as founding members.

‘Tis better to give than …

This core group now becomes the front-line shock troop squadron with which managers can build a true following. Social media, blogs, special gaming events, press releases, etc. — a good PR firm or marketing person will get the word out that a) there’s a new, great, fun, and interesting game, and b) it’s already got a loyal group of followers who will welcome newcomers into the fold.

As new members come in, it’s important to groom them as well, with “treats” and positive reinforcement – communications, notifications, personal contact, etc., to make them feel a part of something.

Growing strong and healthy

It’s here that the true mettle of the fledgling community is tested. As more players join the community – it grows from infancy to childhood through its “teen phase.“ No longer a child, a game in its teenage years is when a gaming community is solidified, and gets ready to move on to “adulthood,” with the establishment of the game as a true influence and a major brand in the gaming world.

To accomplish this, it’s important to keep growing the community – coming up with new methods to bring in even more users. The key is to keep things exciting and new; for example, developing related spin off games based on existing characters, sequel games that offer more challenge and status, and cross-promotions across the community of players of different games (whether under the same brand or otherwise) can expose many more people to the charms of your game. It’s just like in the supermarket; the more “shelf space” you have in the App Store, the more engagement you have with potential players, who have a greater range of experiences to choose from.

Most important, though, is keeping players in the loop – making them feel that they count. It’s especially critical as the site and community grows; the more personal contact at this stage the better, because it shows that you really care about the individual, not just the numbers. Soliciting suggestions from players on how to enhance the game is key; players who spend hours a day engaged with your product will have a great sense of where things should be going.

Not all the suggestions will be good ones, but some of them will be; but that is part of the growing process, too. Implementing good ideas suggested by the community will further solidify ties to the game – and help bring your game to full maturity, to the point where it can hopefully become the most popular in its category. With this approach, game developers and managers will be able to build a great, supportive – and large – community around their game, avoiding the fate of the barely played apps.

The lemonade kids? They’re on their own now. …

Yonatan Erez is CEO of Ilyon Dynamics, a mobile gaming company.