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?


At 5:01 PM, Blogger Garthilk said...

It seems like the majory of developers are leaning towards Disney World. Whereby they offer everything up in their own parks and can completely control the spin factor.

Contrast this with community design. Fansites, portals, networks. Are they going the way of the Dodo? I'm not sure completely, though I'm leaning that way.

Anyone with a brain cell of marketing and two sticks can rub together a closed Dineyesque community site, forums, etc.

Manaing and growing an organic community outside of your own garden takes real talent and planning IMO.

The next 3-5 years will be pretty telling as the market ages to support more and more closed communities.

At 10:47 PM, Blogger driph said...

I think there's a happy medium to be found somewhere in the middle. Sure, establish the local communication and information channels on the official site, but also give benefits to those who wish to expand and build on the community, perhaps by offering assets and info packages for fansites to make use of, perks for fansite owners, and so on.

I think either side of the fence can work... the key is communication and allowing the fanbase to feel like they are a part of something, and that you as a company care about them, whether its on your own pages or a fansite.

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