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.


At 12:04 AM, Blogger Garthilk said...

What I hear you saying is that the debate as to whether the mechanisms matter is ridiculous and I agree the argument if limited to such a narrow scope is a poor one.

I think the argument or focus should instead turn to how to now create just communities, but how to create a Grateful dead like following.

As you hit on, the advances in web development have allowed people and social networks to blossom, while MMO companies on the other hand have wilted in the face of potential. I mean here we are debating about "forums", when the next evolution of a massive MMO community will be not just forums, but an extension of the game. A service that allows players to voice themselves, but more importantly allows developers a way to extract specific focused information and receive specific feedback.

All those group based tools social networks are using to create bonds between people, aren't being tapped as sources to elicited feedback from. Imagine if given the tools casual players of X class had the ability to cluster. Well if they did have those tools, then developers would also have the ability to poll that specific group.

But I digress. Hey as long as developers focus on whether or not to have forums, or focus on giving their CM's a hard time, essentially asking them in meetings, prove to us why we need you, 3rd party fansite developers will begin tapping your customer base with more interesting and innovative tools.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger jo said...

I too am tired of the "vocal minority" arguement, as I am tired of the "canary in the coal mine" rebuttal. I think we are all looking in the wrong place for the community and trying to be good at something that is not our core competency or where we make our money.
We are good at games and at in-game spaces. Why aren't we focusing our community effort there? We have so many games that encourage players to team up to enjoy the game the most, but we don't provide players the in game tools to encourage their socialization.
We toss in some paltry meeting spaces, some character customization if we are lucky and if we have a decent dev team they also toss in some decent chatting tools or items to help players socialize and find each other but that's about it. Then we wonder why people ask what else is there to do in the game after they reach top level.
Why can't the in-game space be as socially nurturing as some of these web-based social networks? Why aren't they integrated in and out of game to feed both the in-game and out of game socializer?
Chat tools that work in and out of game. Friends lists that tell you what server/character your friends are on and systems that allow your character to meet up with them and play? Searchable profile pages of other players with friends lists? Web integration of these profiles?

Are these games multiplayer or aren't they?

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Nomad said...

I think the question of inadequate social tools is actually a different one - this question is largely one of how you get feedback from your community. Here's a question - are those actually different competencies? As it is now, the feedback side of things gets run by community, and the social networking tends to be in the hands of developers. Neither side is expert in the other's skills. I wonder if there is a better way to integrate the two...


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