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.


At 12:23 AM, Blogger Garthilk said...

You are absolutely right about community sites being better. By letting 3rd parties handle the forums you decrease the tension. No longer is it developer vs customer when it comes to moderation issues. Also, 3rd party specialty sites can often provide clearer more focused feedback. Going to a site that specializes on X in game class and illicting feedback will be far better than going to the whole forum and asking. Lastly, developers are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by letting 3rd parties handle their forums.

What happens however to the independant fansites that grow beyond their means? They took on the responsibility that the developers no longer wanted. They now have the same issues the developers do. Finding good moderators, what about servers, redundancy, etc, costs to manage large forum communities. However, developers have neglected for the most part to incentivze or reward the independant sites that pick up this huge responsibility.

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Tisirin said...

I don't believe that a company not understanding the resources necessary to operate effective official forums, and their value, is a good reason for tossing the concept out altogether.

Official forums are an extremely valuable way for companies to control their message, build their community (both pre and post beta) and to effectively inform their customers on a variety of issues.

There are many successful examples of official forums, even those being managed by under-staffed OCR departments.

Independent community sites, which are always a VERY important part of any community effort, are just too unpredictable, have too unstable a resource base of personnel and are potentially inflammatory situations. We've seen examples of that, too.

Now, I do agree that game companies have not been nearly innovative enough in providing incentives and rewards for strong indedependent community sites and networks. Sounds like a good subject for a blog post. :)

At 12:52 PM, Blogger dyerbrookME said...

I think what you mean to say is that technical oppressiveness doesn't scale.

If you don't overmoderate the forums, they scale fine.

What's needed to keep forums from descending into cesspools is moderation of the kind that is an editorial voice, and a unilateral closing of threads, rather than a police-informants' abuse reporting system by anonymous scores-settlers, and private warnings/levels of banning, etc.

Moderators should post, and make comments. They should close threads, without discussion -- if they want to have a moderated board. Of course, this isn't absolutely vital if you get a community of intellectuals who are capable of free speech without fussing about MMORPEG and Internet forums culture run by the early geeks of the Internet, which insist on tribal conformism, ostracism of people viewed as "trolls," biased enforcement, etc.

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