Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Where’s P.T. Barnum When You Need Him?

I haven’t heard much news lately about the reincarnation of E3. I’m kind of curious to see what news comes out about that in the near future. I would think that there’d have to be some kind of concrete indication soon what is planned for the “big show”.

But it’s not only E3 that is due for some changes. As has been posted elsewhere (and in a more timely fashion than this post, God knows), the Austin Game Conference has been acquired by the GDC folks, aka CMP. Additionally, a new conference has been kick-started, going by the name of the Online Game Development Conference, to be held in Seattle.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve volunteered to serve as an advisor to the OGDC, though that’s neither here nor there for the purpose of this post. What I’m curious about is where these various shows are going and what the attendees of them want to see. Is there room for another conference covering online games, given that AGC pretty much went for that theme? Will CMP’s acquisition of AGC change how they run GDC? Can I fit some more acronyms in here?

In any case, I certainly hope that we see some changes in the tracks at these conferences like GDC / AGC / OGDC. Certainly GDC has typically managed to pull down some big names for lectures and seminars and such, but looking over past programs and comparing it with what AGC was doing, it seems rather repetitive. Granted, it’s a personal bias, but I’d like to see more HR content and more variety in the communication tracks, for starters.

I think that it’s not only E3 that needed an overhaul (and it’s questionable that they’re overhauling E3 in the right way, but that’s another story), but also these other shows could use some serious tweaking. And in the case of OGDC, there’s an interesting opportunity there, in a blank canvas kind of way.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Why I'm blogging

Since Tisirin introduced the blog, and Greypawn introduced himself, it's my turn to hog the spotlight. I'm not going to talk about myself - much - but I do want to talk about why I'm doing this, here, in public.

In many of the links we've posted in the last two weeks, there has been a common thread - they just don't get it. "They" meaning developers, producers, publishers - whoever appears to be stifling the glorious efforts of the wise and brilliant community team. My compatriots have gone so far as to suggest, darkly, that "they" will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. I don't necessarily disagree with them, but I'm also not waiting for the revolution.

Designers have blogs, producers have blogs, programmers have blogs - they talk about the issues relevant to their positions, and in doing so, help make those issues more widely understood. They also become part of the larger community of publicly visible game professionals. Why should community be different?

What we do is not a secret - even less so than some other aspects of the industry. An hour alone with Google, and I can find out how all of my competitors handle their boards, their patch notes, their contests... it's all public. How we talk to our players is very seldom secret - I can search anyone's boards for the CM's post history in minutes. Why we do things the way we do... well, I think the industry as a whole would benefit from more discussion about this, rather than less. That's why I'm here.

I'm emphatically not here to talk trash, to air dirty laundry, or even to make a name for myself. I have a job in the industry - I'd like to keep it. And I don't really have the personality to be a "personality" - but I spend a lot of time thinking about why I do what I do, and I like to talk it out. It's a young profession, and we can't grow it if we're reinventing the wheel with every game, with every company, with every segment of the market. Let's talk about how to do it right - then we can really compete.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I'll post something original soon, I promise:

Moorgard looks to his roots

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Allow me to introduce myself - I’m GreyPawn… and I’m a Community Manager. Admitting it is the first step to recovery, I’m told.

Kidding aside, I’m different from my colleagues here, in that while my pedigree certainly contains a heavily MMO-centric theme, the community I manage is based in the real-time strategy genre. This brings me to the very first subject I’d like to touch briefly on - the proliferation of community management in the games industry.

It is interesting to note that since the advent of the very first video games, communities have naturally formed around them, as they are apt to do with any entertaining pastime. Until the widespread adoption of the internet in the 90’s the scope of these communities tended to be limited by technological and geographical constraints. With the relative freedom of exchange provided by the net, communities that were relegated to the arcade or BBS were suddenly given room to grow. A lot more room.

In that iteration came some of the early communities built around the more popular releases. As the first genre-defining titles were released, the communities that naturally coalesced around them took on their own unique flavor and demeanor. As developers were further pushed by their public for more and more information and interaction, community management was born. Only until the recent advent of the MMO genre has the profession reached any kind of maturity. MMOs and to a lesser extent any game with a multiplayer aspect have much higher demand for communicating with communities.

The bulk of players in these games are no longer playing in the worlds we create, but rather living in them. The demand for assurance and interaction from those responsible for the well-being of these part-time lives of players has increased as a result, and we are seeing the effects across the board as more and more developers and publishers bring on Community Managers. Well, the smart ones, I should say. The unfortunate industry hardliners who refuse to engage their public in meaningful discourse with a unified voice will predictably soon find even their die-hard loyalists gravitating towards the more cohesive social structures of the competition.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

More Commentary on Forums

From What Would Matt Do?

We Get Pwned

Timothy Burke writes the post we should have written

This is an excellent description of what I do every day when reading the forums - I'm embarrassed that I haven't been able to articulate it this clearly.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Same old argument, different days coming

“Many can argue; not many converse”

--Amos Bronson Alcott

As seen below, there has been quite a bit of talk about the value of forum feedback in the MMO bloginati world last week. Rather than recap all of it, I’ll just point out that it is pretty much the same discussion that’s been going on for the last 8 years or so: given that only a small percentage of a game’s players post on the official message boards, how important is that feedback?

I would like to point out one thing that Raph has said before and that bears repeating, because some folks don’t seem to be paying attention. That is, and I quote: The in-game experience and the forums and the guilds and the fan art and the rant sites — they are all “part of the game.” You ignore any given aspect of this ecology at your peril.

That being said, let me just say how tired I am of this subject and of having this same argument over and over again. Many game companies (especially MMO companies) have a built-in, real-time customer feedback mechanism – the message boards and similar direct feedback tools (Mythic’s, for example). As archaic as these systems are becoming, it is ridiculous that the argument of “do they matter?” is still being had. With other companies outside the gaming space working hard to build brand-loyal communities, gaming companies are, on a senior-manager and executive-level, still trying to decide if they even really want to deal with them. Instead of figuring out new ways to engage customers who are passionate about a company’s products, time and energy is being wasted by having this same argument over and over again. Every day.

MMO companies, in particular, are blessed by having a customer base that is accustomed to providing loads of information to the company about their product. And they pay for the privilege of doing so. That such a resource and opportunity is, for the most part, being treated so cavalierly is hubristic at the very least.

While I have something of a Luddite’s disdain for new technical tags, such as “Web 2.0”, the fact of the matter is that there have been many advancements over the last few years in the development of tools in the community-building space: MySpace, Friendster, Yahoo 360, etc. etc. Anyone reading this knows all about those. Meanwhile, the game companies hardly embrace anything that even comes up to the standards of the old Yahoo or MSN profiles.

Instead of trying to figure out new ways to engage their customers, many game companies are, in effect, trying to figure out if they really want customers who know how to talk to them. The pointless debate sputters and staggers on. And the competition in the game industry ratchets up all the time. I can give some level of comfort to the “vocal minority” advocates, though. You won’t be around much longer to have to worry about customers who want to talk to you.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Other Folks Talking about Community

There's been quite a bit of this lately. Actual commentary to follow, no doubt:

Ron Meiners on Community Managers, on Terra Nova

Raph Koster follows up

Scott Jennings talks about forums

Raph Koster, on the same subject