A Treatise for MMO Communities
I’ve talked before about gaming and the communities around games, genres, and gave developers. A community is probably the most important thing to an online game, and unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of games misuse and mistreat this organism and in the end it ruins them. I have some insights from my experiences to share.
What is the community?
First order of business is to define what a community is. It is a hard thing for some to grasp because community does not equal players. Not all of your players are part of the community, and the community is not only active players. The community is the collective voices talking ABOUT your game. It’s what they say and how they say it that loses you players, or gains you players. You can tie one to the other through single sign on, or encouragement to participate but they are two separate things.
But why do I care what forum trolls say? I have players!
In any game the most active players also have the most to gain or lose by being active in a community. They will for the most part be driving forces in growing or degrading the player base through their own actions. They run the alliances, they run the politics, and they create the materials that people read for tactics and how-to’s. Prospective players as well will find the community around the same time they find your game so if the message is caustic from the community they might give the game a pass before even seeing it.
The need for the community is even greater for new games trying to break into the competitive landscape that is online gaming, or trying to survive a beta. Constant feedback helps development and the community will grow itself to gain new players. Knowing this every game should have a dedicated community manager.
But I have moderators!
NO! A moderator’s job is to keep forums clean of things that are against the terms of service of your forum itself. Their job is to remove racism, personal attacks, and generally ninety percent of you-tube caliber posts. The moderator should NEVER remove game criticism and the Community Manager should NEVER act as a moderator. The community must see the CM as a champion for their concerns, and someone who is armed with the responsibilities to grow the community AND get answers for the community at large. This has several side effects. Moderators can be elevated from normal players and are insulated against the charges of ‘not caring’ or ‘being just a tool of the company’ and the CM can effectively join ANY forum based on your game and be a single voice. Games where the moderators are also GMs, and maybe developers, and maybe paying players creates hostile environments.
But if I don’t remove criticism..
Yes, criticism stays on the board. The criticism might range from a real bug that you can fix easily and do fix, to long vitriol filled rants about how “you’ve ruined MY game forever with this change and I’m taking all my friends with me and going home!!” (you can add swear words in wherever you feel they would fit). By not removing them you prove that you aren’t censoring your community. Moderators can easily find those threads, allow the CM to respond, then move those threads to what I’ll call the ‘archive’. The archive is a section on the forum that is open for viewing and easy to find IF you are an active player. Limiting this view to active players doesn’t censor anyone but instead provides a cleaner view to people who are thinking of playing and checking out the community. A new player doesn’t need to know about a flame that x player left a month ago over a change to how currency works, but once they play for awhile they might have a concern about it and can look at what the CM said to x player regarding it.
What about other people’s sites?
It’s true you can’t control the internet and your community SHOULD spread to other sites. Evony did a great job of fostering this by providing perks to sites devoting material to the game. Encourage other forums, wikis, etc through empowering the CM to provide perks to those sites. If the CM is able to spread the good word in a responsible transparent way throughout all the sites it clarifies the message and encourages the community.
Love them or hate them, just don’t ignore your community. Good luck…