Friday, May 25, 2007

Why Forums Don't Scale

It's a math problem.

The number of potential interactions between users goes up exponentially with the number of users. The interactions are what need moderation, of course. Therefore, the number of moderators needed to keep a constant level of oversight goes up exponentially too.

The income per user, of course, does NOT go up exponentially. (Although that would be a neat business model, if someone made it work.) There is definitely a level at which you can make forums work with a single mod per shift - or even one real mod and a bare minimum of oversight. A bit higher, you can do with 2-3 people during the bulk of your posting hours. That's still a pretty reasonable budget for a (pre-WoW) successful MMO. Beyond that level, though, it is either too expensive to do at all, or it just gets done badly - and badly moderated official forums are, in my experience, worse than none at all.

It's not that I don't think official forums are valuable, although, having tried both sides, there is a definite advantage for the community manager to being completely divorced from the moderation side of things (and, by extension, for the company - the players can't complain that we're censoring them when WE aren't even involved.) It's that I think that for games past a certain size, the expense of having official forums is not offset by the value. I can get many more valuable things done when I'm not moderating, and if someone offered to pay for a staff of moderators, I could honestly find other work for them that I think would benefit the game and the community much more.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Eating Bees

If you're interested in the sort of stuff we talk about but want to see it done better, check out - Sanya Weathers, formerly known as the infamous Tweety, covers community management in her inimitable style.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Information Dissemination

It's been awhile since my last long-winded post, so I thought I'd whip up a little ditty on the differences between the centralized and decentralized form of game information release in terms that relate to Community Management.

Centralized Control

Accessible. Official. Definitive.

Official forums, WoW’s Armory, LOTRO’s Lorebook

Bringing forums and game content under direct control, more power can be exercised in the release of information and it’s tonality. Additionally, accessibility to the information will increase for both casual and hardcore players as an officially sanctioned resource offers the definitive word on a topic relating to the game. The information is also lent more credence as being factual if it comes from the mouth of a Community Manager or Designer appearing in official forums or posting quest information to the website than if it came instead from a player at a fansite.

Internalizing the release of information means that a greater burden is placed on the community relations and web team to provide frequent and consistent updates. This shifts the CM focus further into the “Maintenance” area of the Online Community Focus triangle. Centralizing control also removes some of the impetus for fansites to form, as they usually occur as the result of making information available that the developer can’t or won’t.

The Mystery Factor:
Information provided out of game reduces the amount of discovery needed in-game. Laying bare all the monsters, gear, items, and levels to the players could potentially damage the game experience, and concurrently the amount of time spent playing the game by negating the elements of discovery.

Decentralized Control

Low Maintenance. Evangelist Empowerment.

UO Stratics Forums, Allakhazam

By providing a vacuum of official information, or rather segmenting it via limited release, decentralized control limits the amount of time and energy required by the community relations and web team. It also decreases the amount of time required in the “Maintenance” area of Online Community Focus, freeing up hours that can be spent directly growing the community or expanding supporting infrastructure. Evangelists in a decentralized system tend to find greater purpose in presenting information that has been discovered through in-game means. Learning and sharing that one secret about how to complete the end-level quest or what the greatest build order might be garners the revealing player a measure of prestige and respect amongst his peers.

By limiting control over where and how information is reported to the public, risk of unwanted or downright damaging information from speedily reaching the public. Being at the mercy of fansite and gaming news portal owners means that deteriorating interest and general player attrition on the part of evangelists can fragment an online community. Sculpting perceptions is also more difficult to do as well, as the tonality of the message is changed from source to source. Accessibility and dependability are factors, as casual or new players may not bother to browse through the official “Links” or “Community Sites” section to find the answers they are looking for.

The Mystery Factor:
A lessening of both the availability and definitive quality of information about game content lends towards fewer players being aware of that content. Less awareness can mean less interest, but can conversely spark feelings of exploration and discovery. That feeling that comes in the beginning of playing any new game is like the first day of school. An intimidating, yet refreshing feeling of a whole new world to explore, with its rich tapestry of intricacies and mechanics unraveled before you as a holistic part of the gaming experience. Everyone knows how to get the warp whistle in level 1-3, but envision how it felt to be the first one to find that wonderful little secret?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I'm Back!

After a long hiatus, I've rejoined my comrades here, and plan to terrorize them into posting more often.