Sep 292006
 

These four words mean different things, and frequently call for different talents and skillsets used by different people. And yet, they seem to get used interchangeably, and lumped into one person’s job. We should stop that.

“Management” means control. Yes, there’s degrees and degrees of control, there’s soft touches, and so on. But management, fundamentally, is about directing a group of people towards a stated goal. In the case of online services of all sorts, it means “keep them as customers.”

“Relations” means conversation. It’s about the relationship. Yes, there are “relationships” when you manage someone, and the enlightened manager knows her people. But the stated goal of a relationship is the other person — it’s about getting to know them for their own sake. It’s not about getting them to do what you want.

“Design” is about intended use. It’s a discipline about shaping constructs so that users of those constructs can get done what they want to do while having the experience that the designer wants them to. It’s therefore a medium and a form of communication, close cousin to architecture. It’s about users doing what they want, and the elements of management are aimed at that goal.

“Governance” is about gardening. Yeah, I’m serious. It’s about tending a population. It’s about keeping self-destructive elements from harming the whole, about preventing outside elements from causing harm, and about working to keep the population thriving. Your motives for this may be varied — to extract dollars, or to permit the pursuit of happiness.

There’s also the specter of two more jobs here: “customer service” and “marketing” are lurking around all of this. Customer service is primarily a management thing; it’s about making sure the experience is smooth. CS is the “fix-it” team that pops up when something else has failed — either a problem in the system (e.g., a bug in the code, my reservation is missing, etc) or a total failure of the relationship (“I quit.”). Marketing is about persuasion at its core, though marketing professionals more and more understand that some of what they do involves these other approaches.

Clearly there is overlap between these, but they are not all the same thing. In the real world, governance encompasses all of the other three to one degree or another (though obviously they manifest outside of governments proper as well). The process of legislation is a design process. The process of policing is a form of management. And, sadly, we tend to see the attempt at a relationship only when it’s election time, and it’s a thin veneer most of the time.

That’s really the problem; of the three, it’s having a relationship with a community that doesn’t scale very well, as I have written about before in my series “On Trust” (1, 2, side note, 3, 3.5).

These comments are prompted in large part by the thread entitled We need community managers over on TerraNova. The thread there was bugging me, particularly given that Disney parks were being used as an example of a model. I think Disney does a superb job at design and management. I think they don’t particularly care about community relations.

The presumptions of several of the MMOG designers and operators in that thread can be summarized as follows:

  • Virtual worlds are businesses, therefore everything is subservient to how we extract dollars.
  • Virtual worlds are entertainment products and therefore theme parks are an excellent model.
  • Therefore, governance always flows from the operators.

A flip side is the argument made by Prokofy Neva, standing in for all the players who ever felt that a space was theirs.

  • Players invest sweat equity and emotion.
  • In spaces like Second Life, actual dollars and IP are essentially held in escrow.
  • Therefore, governance is something that should arise from the population as a whole.

I’m not writing this post to take sides (though I have them!). Rather, I write it to say that we need to be clear about which of these things we are talking about, and to say that our positions on the above are going to very much shape how we approach our users. A business like Amazon and a business like Disneyland are going to have different emphases based on how they interact with customers, and yet both design for community (community features versus literal layout), both have governance issues (review spam or squabbles versus disruptive visitors), both have the opportunity to engage in a relationship with the customer, both have customer service, both need to market, and so on.

Lastly, I think that if we are concerned with the overall structure of community industry-wide, that we need to avoid thinking solely in terms of customers, entertainment, and so on. Even two sorts of parks — Disneyland versus a state park, for example — will have very different models here. In the end, virtual worlds are going to be their own thing, and I strongly believe they will in the process pick up a lot of characteristics that are not just those of controlled entertainment experiences. The examples are all around us in the Web, and the Web and Internet are significant parts of the the virtual world DNA at this point — and rather underrepresented in our current practices.

  38 Responses to “Community relations, management, design, and governance”

  1. […] Comments […]

  2. It’s hard to see the collective Disney guests as a “community” in the same sense that we look at MMO/VW communities. Amusement parks (in the real world) are one of the best examples of “alone together” you can get. From the customer perspective, the Disneyworld experience is about satisfying the expectations of one guest(family). It’s not as though guests have to interact with one another in order to accomplish their goal of having fun. Yes, there’s interaction, but largely incidental.

    I guess the same could be said for MMOs, however players cannot enter the “park” as their own self. They must arrive at the park, and navigate the park, in one of a finite number of “vehicles” (avatars). Particularly in the game-VWs these vehicles have very specific and limited characteristics, and because there are a limited number of vehicles there will be large numbers of “guests” experiencing the “park” in largely the same way. So now the interests of one are shared by many. Even if we choose to experience our VWs in solitude, there is a much more substantive common ground for the community in a VW than there is at Disneyworld.

    If nothing else, the bad experience of one customer (family) at Disneyworld is far less likely, I think, to mushroom into a community revolt than the bad experience of one customer in a VW – if only for the reason that other customers with similar bad experieces are more likely to hear about their woes in common.

    Community Managers are definitely needed, and perhaps in greater quantity per MMO/VW (recognizing that that could lead to a less unified “voice” for the developers).

  3. The problem with UTism is that we are them and they are us.

    Anyway, I’d like to nitpick…

    Raph wrote:

    “Design” is about intended use. It’s a discipline about shaping constructs so that users of those constructs can get done what they want to do while having the experience that the designer wants them to. It’s therefore a medium and a form of communication, close cousin to architecture. It’s about users doing what they want, and the elements of management are aimed at that goal.

    Why Design? by Peter Lawrence is an excellent article, but his definition sounds like a mission statement.

    Design is a user-focused, prototype-based development process that simplifies complexity and achieves success through collaboration.

    Design is not a relative of architecture. Design is architecture. Note that designer and architect are synonyms. Designers create channels through which people can interact. Architects succeed in the same way by manipulating variables of cognition — shape, color, and content — to create environments in which people can interact.

    Design is not a form of a communication because the channel through which people communicate is not the message. Design is therefore not a medium because the medium is not the message. A message is that which is exchanged by people to effect meaning, such as a slogan, jingle, or even a goal for tomorrow. Creating messages, not design, is the art form.

    An objective of design is then to foster acceptance and/or dissemination of a certain message by manipulating the variables of cognition. We cannot control what messages are exchanged because we cannot control how messages are exchanged; however, we can guide people toward the message or messages we want exchanged.

    A message can evolve. When a message evolves, design is again needed to either guide people back to the message we want exchanged or to determine whether the radical or incremental evolution of the message is positive and worth developing.

    Design is a cycle of continuous development that managers, marketers, and everyone else engages to simplify complex patterns and achieve success, which may not be the success that was originally sought. The difference between someone who designs as a profession and someone who does not is simply the formality of the approach to design.

  4. “Web and Internet are significant parts of the the virtual world DNA at this point — and rather underrepresented in our current practices.”

    Spot on Raph.

    Reading that thread over on TN made me realize just how rough the road ahead is for the people in the Gaming Industry & Gamers.

  5. Design is not a relative of architecture. Design is architecture. Note that designer and architect are synonyms.

    Sure, but I meant the actual discipline of architecture, and I meant the entire field of design, which encompasses architecture. 🙂 So say rather than architecture is one form of design.

    Design is not a form of a communication because the channel through which people communicate is not the message.

    Consider one of the canonical examples of industrial design: the door handle. Its functionality is heavily dependent on communicating a message, particularly which direction the door opens, whether to push or pull. The design of a door handle is almost all about giving a signal to the user. cf Don Norman, of course.

    We cannot control what messages are exchanged because we cannot control how messages are exchanged; however, we can guide people toward the message or messages we want exchanged.

    At that point, we are engaging in second-order design; the design lies in giving people the ability to exchange messages, the conditions under which they can exchange them, etc. We thus pressure people (gently) to behave in particular ways — the ways that the space/system is designed to encourage.

    Some music venues have seats facing all forward; some have tables and face people towards one another. These are designed differently because the intent of the venue is different. However, people come to the venue because of a particular objective of theirs — listen to music or hang out. So the venue is designed to facilitate this objective.

  6. Raph wrote:

    Consider one of the canonical examples of industrial design: the door handle. Its functionality is heavily dependent on communicating a message, particularly which direction the door opens, whether to push or pull. The design of a door handle is almost all about giving a signal to the user.

    Door handles don’t communicate with people. People communicate with people.

    People exchange messages with themselves and other people. In the case of a door handle, the message we exchange is a reference to a function we attribute to data within our environment that enables us to identify the areas of our environment that are interactive. Like artwork, door handles are data to which we attribute meaning. We learn to perceive the door handle as a channel for effecting change in our environment. A door handle, like any tool, is not inherently meaningful. The phrase “the world is what you make of it” holds true. We cognitively design our world in accordance with our perception of reality.

    cf Don Norman, of course.

    That said, I read the The Design of Everyday Things. I thought the book, premise, and author were ridiculous. I’ve never seen so much nonsense compiled into a neat little package. After I read that book, I promised that was the last time I would ever purchase a product recommended on a bulletin board.

    At that point … So the venue is designed to facilitate this objective.

    I’m not sure if you were agreeing, disagreeing, or just extending what I wrote. To me, we appear to be saying the same thing. Our main disagreement, as evidenced by the previous topic of art as communication, stems from our different approaches to characterizing communication.

    By the way, just so we’re clear, I’m only describing my approach to understanding and using design. Both of our approaches to design are clearly effective, so there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to think about design.

  7. Oof, if you discount Norman, then we have nothing to say to one another.

    Heh. More seriously — the reason I say it is a medium is because a designer encodes (well or poorly) a message in the way the handle and door are shaped, just as an architect encodes whether a space is meant for chatting or for walking, or a game designer encodes whether a gameworld is for paying attention to a story or for exploration, and so on. These are messages from architect to user.

  8. Raph wrote:

    Heh. More seriously — the reason I say it is a medium is because a designer encodes (well or poorly) a message in the way the handle and door are shaped, just as an architect encodes whether a space is meant for chatting or for walking, or a game designer encodes whether a gameworld is for paying attention to a story or for exploration, and so on. These are messages from architect to user.

    Instead of a product of the design cycle, I understand the message as the medium. Creating provocative and substantial meaning is the art. The design cycle involves the use of shapes, colors, and content to produce a channel for creating and exchanging messages and to manage the channel to influence the selection of messages.

    If we are discussing design as a medium in the art medium sense, then you can view shapes, colors, and content as the designer’s palette. I don’t think that perspective is particularly useful to engaging in design though. That view seems more idealistic and poetic than practical and scientific.

    The designer is not always the creator of the shapes, colors, and content. Shapes, colors, and content are often defined, and then a designer is called upon to creatively manage those assets to “to produce a channel for creating and exchanging messages and to manage the channel to influence the selection of messages.” Even if you are the top dog creative who develops the shapes, colors, and content and designs the channel using those assets, I would still separate design from art. Distinguishing design and art provides more options with which to experiment at fundamental and executive levels.

    I also don’t know if I understand what you mean by encoding. To me, encoding means converting the understandable into the incomprehensible for security or dastardly purposes. The channel produced by design should facilitate communication and/or interaction rather than obfuscate the messages created and exchanged… unless, of course, the channel encrypts competing messages while enabling your messages to be clearly perceived, understood, and selected!

  9. I didn’t mean the art medium sense, I meant the communications medium sense. That said, any industrial designer who concedes control of things like color or shapes on key interface elements is in real trouble. Those are critical TO the message.

    You seem to be separating something that I view as intrinsically connected. When you design a teapot a particular way, you are sending messages to the user of the teapot. It’s not a channel for other messages, it IS a message.

    Encoding doesn’t necessarily mean cryptography. It just means putting information into some sort of symbolic form. Language is a form of encoding meaning. So are icons, camera angles, and many more.

  10. I think Disney does a superb job at design and management. I think they don’t particularly care about community relations.

    I would argue that Disney expects “relations” to be handled at the big picture level, that is that the relationship you form is with their IP and the characters within, not the guy selling the T-shirts.

  11. Raph wrote:

    That said, any industrial designer who concedes control of things like color or shapes on key interface elements is in real trouble. Those are critical to the message.

    There are a variety of practical issues in the workplace with retaining creative control, and using assets in which a business has previously invested, but I think you are probably familiar with many of them.

    You seem to be separating something that I view as intrinsically connected. When you design a teapot a particular way, you are sending messages to the user of the teapot. It’s not a channel for other messages, it IS a message.

    I don’t think the teapot is a message. The teapot is a thing. It’s just a thing that only has meaning when we attribute meaning to the thing. The teapot isn’t a channel either. The channel is actually the environment in which the teapot exists; therefore, the teapot represents a shape, color, and/or content within the channel. Developing a teapot to handle and/or look a certain way means altering a shape, color, and/or content within the channel.

    When the assets processed through the sequence of cognition are altered, the messages exchanged within the channel evolve or radically transform the end-user experience. That’s why some teapots are fancy. The experience of using a decorative teapot feels "fancy". The experience of using a teapot of Swedish design does not.

    Similarly, the experience of using a decorative teapot on a drafting table of Swedish design in an underground parking garage would feel "silly" as the channel would not be compatible with the expected experience and the messages exchanged within the channel would either provoke adaptation to the environment or provoke rejection.

    Conflicting messages that provoke rejection would be followed by the user’s decision to remove the decorative teapot and/or Swedish drafting table to an appropriate location and therefore solve a design problem.

    Language is a form of encoding meaning.

    In more than one way! While language is the result of "encoding" meaning, language is also often guilty of "encoding" meaning. "The teapot is fancy" is really not the proper way to describe a "fancy teapot". Those phrases are shorthand for describing the experience of interacting with an ornate teapot. The ornateness of a teapot, by the way, are flavorful additions that are meaningless to a person who has never learned to perceive epicurean decoration as "fancy" or of high society.

  12. Morgan,

    I don’t think the teapot is a message. The teapot is a thing. It’s just a thing that only has meaning when we attribute meaning to the thing. The teapot isn’t a channel either. The channel is actually the environment in which the teapot exists; therefore, the teapot represents a shape, color, and/or content within the channel. Developing a teapot to handle and/or look a certain way means altering a shape, color, and/or content within the channel.

    To validate your viewpoint requires that one drop down a notch and question what exactly constitutes and defines a ‘message’. I believe we can all agree that, using the teapot example; shape, color, layout, etc cause a psychological impact to the user which ripples through the subconscious poking at inhibitions, kick starting urges, and therefore changing mood.

    You claim that the teapot is not the message or the channel. However, it is a symbolism of the message, which requires backtracking through the entire process, questioning every leg of the journey.

    If the teapot is not the message, is the design process itself the message? If the design process is not the message, are the motor skills used to implement the design process the message? Etc.

    My problem with your argument is that it closely resembles saying that spoken word is not a message, and therefore, the tongue is not part of the message, and therefore the electrical current instructing the tongue is not the message, and therefore the neurons firing in the brain are not the message.

    All of these maybe technically true (or not), but where is the line? Where is the threshold where consideration of message is discarded because it is no longer available for contemplation?

    It seems that at this level, the argument breaks down into a form which is so diluted as to become completely unusable in any discussion on the level of this blog entry.

  13. Door handles don’t communicate with people. People communicate with people.

    I don’t think the teapot is a message. The teapot is a thing. It’s just a thing that only has meaning when we attribute meaning to the thing.

    So, to follow this thinking to its logical conclusion, could not the same thing be said of letters arranged into a paragraph? It isn’t a message? It is a thing (an arrangement of letters) that only has meaning when we attribte meaning to it? Paragraphs of letters don’t communicate with people, people communicate with people?

    It’s a fine distinction, but I guess I can see it. I think Marshall McLuhan would insist that the medium itself is also a message, but I suppose I can see the value of understanding messages and communication as something that people do, not things. From this point of view, no medium can be said to communicate anything. They are simply a channel for communication to flow from one person to another. Still, that’s a pretty strict understanding of communication.

    –Phin

  14. There are a variety of practical issues in the workplace with retaining creative control, and using assets in which a business has previously invested, but I think you are probably familiar with many of them.

    I don’t know why you keep coming back to this point. Designers (of all sorts) always work within a framework, and what’s more a framework is actually desirable. But rarely are they completely stuck without creative control. Any business that, say, doesn’t let its web designers design the layout and choose colors, or let its marketing dept select typefaces, or let its teapot designers create a new line of kitchenware, is going to fail spectacularly. There’s a reason you hire people who know what they are doing from a design perspective.

    The teapot is a thing. It’s just a thing that only has meaning when we attribute meaning to the thing. The teapot isn’t a channel either. The channel is actually the environment in which the teapot exists; therefore, the teapot represents a shape, color, and/or content within the channel.

    The channel is nothing more than the aggregate of previous acts of design, each of which also conveyed a message. All you are saying is that a teapot shouting “frilly!” when the rest of the environment is shouting “modern!” is going to clash.

  15. Paul Schwanz wrote:

    So, to follow this thinking to its logical conclusion, could not the same thing be said of letters arranged into a paragraph?

    I think the same could be said letters. Letters are symbols. Words are symbols. Phrases are symbols. Symbols, however, are only meaningful to the people who attribute meaning to them; thus, the messages that we sometimes think are emitted from the symbol are actually representative of how we think about the symbol, and how we communicate those symbols to other people.

    I think the view of design that says that design creates messages, that design creates meaning, stems from the human search for genesis. We want to know our origins. We want to know where meaning is created. I don’t think anyone really knows the origins of Man or the origins of meaning, but my guess is that meaning is concocted by people, exchanged between people, and distributed across entire landscapes from person to person forming what we perceive as a natural world — as what we call reality.

    I think Marshall McLuhan would insist that the medium itself is also a message, but I suppose I can see the value of understanding messages and communication as something that people do, not things.

    Well, I can see the value of understanding messages as media, but I think that value pales in comparison to understanding human communication and interaction from an interactionist perspective. I also don’t think the “message is the medium” is the only way to look at how people interact. That notion seems to ignore the environment, the total experience, as part of what design effects.

    Still, that’s a pretty strict understanding of communication.

    It’s just a series of simple rules, really.

    Raph wrote:

    But rarely are they completely stuck without creative control.

    I can tell you from experience that’s often the case in graphic design. Many customers are less reliant or not reliant on the expertise of graphic designers they contract. These customers provide the shape, colors, and content for the materials they want designed, and they refuse to deviate from what they want. If these customers worked with a designer in the past, they might have a style guide which they will mercilessly use as a restriction on future designers.

    Any business that, say, doesn’t let its web designers design the layout and choose colors, or let its marketing dept select typefaces, or let its teapot designers create a new line of kitchenware, is going to fail spectacularly.

    I agree, but some minds just can’t be changed. When I provided graphic design services as my primary business activity, I encountered a lot of these customers. I eventually reached a point where I would refuse to work without creative control. Yet, undoubtedly, these customers found someone to work under their thumb, such as desperate students.

    The channel is nothing more than the aggregate of previous acts of design, each of which also conveyed a message. All you are saying is that a teapot shouting “frilly!” when the rest of the environment is shouting “modern!” is going to clash.

    The way I work with and understand design could probably be boiled down to "design effects the environment and the environment effects the messages exchanged by the people within the environment." From the designer’s perspective, the art medium is the channel. The communication medium is the flow and interaction of messages exchanged between the people within the channel. This is a perspective that’s far from the traditional view that designers are communicators. I don’t believe that designers are communicators. Designers shape and manage the channel to facilitate communication and interaction within the channel. The message belongs to the people. It’s a distributed look at design, and interestingly, it’s also how branding works.

  16. […] I’m currently working on several articles for this weblog that cover a range of topics. Branding Convergence will discuss four convergent devices in terms of branding and why technology businesses should not be quick to embrace convergence as strategy. Design: A Different Perspective will discuss how I think about and apply design to branding. This article is really a spinoff from a conversation with Raph Koster. Following a conversation with Terri Perkins, Beyond In-game Advertising will discuss the current state of in-game advertising and what I think the future holds for participants in this business. […]

  17. Hello Raph,

    I’ve been so swamped learning the little bit I’ve learned about creating my own blog(s) that I’ve hardly had the time to visit anyone else’s, these days. Finally I’m settling into a wee bit of understanding about what I’m doing, and visited your site again.

    I wish I knew more of the context of these conversations because they are very very interesting to me. Especially as “relations” is my bag. And what you say:

    “But the stated goal of a relationship is the other person — it’s about getting to know them for their own sake.”

    That is what my work is all about.

    I could say a great deal about that. But will just leave it at . . . this, so many of our “relations, management, design, and governance” issues/problems would go away if we did just that, got to know each other, really did that, for it’s own sake.”

    I was going to just e-mail this to you, but I’ll post it on your site, as well.

    Thanks for the GREAT website.

    José Angel Santana

    “The final frontier may be human relationshiops, one person to another” — Buzz Aldrin, Astronaut

  18. Any business that, say, doesn’t let its web designers design the layout and choose colors, or let its marketing dept select typefaces, or let its teapot designers create a new line of kitchenware, is going to fail spectacularly.

    I’ve seen a ton of research on business failures over the years and don’t recall ‘didn’t listen to the designers’ showing up as a systematic factor. Is this one of those ‘internet statistics’ I always read about?

    There’s a reason you hire people who know what they are doing from a design perspective.

    Presumably it’s the same reason you hire other people who know what they’re doing. Running a business involves dealing with lots of perspectives; the design perspective is sacrosanct only to designers.

  19. I’ve seen a ton of research on business failures over the years and don’t recall ‘didn’t listen to the designers’ showing up as a systematic factor. Is this one of those ‘internet statistics’ I always read about?

    It’s not a statistic, it’s my opinion. 🙂

    That said, I doubt that anyone has ever done a systematic study of failures of companies using “whether products sucked” as the main area of interest. But that’s really what we’re talking about.

    Presumably it’s the same reason you hire other people who know what they’re doing.

    Exactly; no more and no less.

  20. That said, I doubt that anyone has ever done a systematic study of failures of companies using “whether products sucked” as the main area of interest. But that’s really what we’re talking about.

    I must admit that getting an article based on a ‘suckage index’ would be tough in the ivory tower 🙂 Nonetheless there is stuff that looks at product characteristics in an, umm, more abstract way. I might suggest that products can suck as a result of designers as well as not listening to them but I won’t go there.

    Given what I’ve seen, I’d say it’s much more perilous to ignore accountants than designers…although I think I could back it up with statistics lets just leave it as my opinion. 🙂

  21. I wasn’t saying designers were MORE important; and I agree that designers can also be the problem. I myself have personally been said problem. 😉

  22. “There’s a reason you hire people who know what they are doing from a design perspective”

    Indeed, its so a manager can be successful from a managerial perspective. And this is how an organization achieves its goals ultimately.

    It seems to me that part of management is providing targeted directional guidance, after which it seems best to let the creative/designers go do thier creative/design thing. I’ve observed that micro-managing people who work in creative spaces typically does not work out well for managers that do this. Management style and successful project management skills are equally important as having high quality creative/designers who you can trust to meet the objectives of the project.

    For most people this revolves around issues of control, trust and allowing people to take responsibility. These are things most people are not good at, which is why organizations fail to meet thier objectives.

  23. Customer service is often a dialogue or is perceived as such by consumers. Consumers don’t expect to be able to tell Disney what rides they should add but they still want to talk to someone about their trip and feel like they are “special” and “listened to”. So they tell someone what they thought of their room, the lines they’d like to get into, they take a picture with Goofy, etc., and they walk away feeling like there is a relationship there (whether it is the kind of relationship you think they should want or not).

    It is just a dialogue with restrictions. Look at casinos and their frequent player clubs. They form relationships with players. When my friend goes to Vegas, he calls HIS guy at the club and get him a room, recommendations for some shows, etc. That is “just” customer service (and not that different from Disney’s), but to my friend its a relationship that entices him and keeps him in the system (losing stupid amounts of money gambling and justifying it all based on the “comps” and his relationship to the casino, but hey whatever).

    I think we’re finding, more and more, that it’s not necessary or even necessarily possible to really make each and every player special. Instead, you have to fake it well. Make them feel that they are a leader in some small community, if not in the actual, overall community. Make them feel that they have accomplished something difficult, even if you have made a game that is beatable by the lowest common denominator. And, of course, make them feel listened to, even if its unrealistic to really act on that dialogue except for specific instances where you can solicit feedback.

  24. I do think the example you cite is customer relations, actually. But I have never seen it happen; most customers at the end of a day at Disney want to find their car as quickly as possible and hope the traffic isn’t terrible, right? 🙂

    In any business, there’s going to be a percentage who seek out the operators and tell them what they thought, but it’s usually a very small percentage.

    Now, what the casinos do — that’s definitely a richer example. The way in which they maintain histories of customer transactions is a GREAT example of a scalable way to build a relationship with a customer.

  25. “I think we’re finding, more and more, that it’s not necessary or even necessarily possible to really make each and every player special.”

    Hmmm well I think you actually DO have to go out of your way to make players feel good about buying your product. Well perhaps before that maybe wasnt the case, but now and going forward? I’m fairly certain that’ll be critical.

  26. Hmmm well I think you actually DO have to go out of your way to make players feel good about buying your product.

    I wasn’t trying to disagree with that statement. I was trying to draw a distinction between actually making every player special (i.e. personally answsering their complaints about the game, allowing them to be heroic in a way that is exceptional, etc.) and only putting up a good show to make them merely feel special.

    To a casino, really, you are just an account # with some data about your playing habits tacked on. There is no sense in which YOU are special as opposed to any other of a thousands of customers. But they put on a good song and dance, answering you by name, giving you a personal contact, giving you comps (which of course aren’t actually free, they are merely part of the gambling transaction), etc. In this way, they make a lot of people feel special even if they aren’t.

    It’s cynical, but I think that it is simply not economical to make players truly special. It doesn’t scale. So we are stuck with faking it well. Each player wants to be a Hero but by definition that’s impossible, Heroes are exceptions, not commonplace. Making them feel heroic anyway is a key challenge for MMO’s just as making them feel listened to is important even when it is economically infeasible to have conversations with all your players.

  27. You’re confusing two things, StGabe.

    it is simply not economical to make players truly special.

    That’s true.

    they make a lot of people feel special even if they aren’t.

    That’s also true.

    The principle is to make them feel special. Their perception is essentially what you’re dealing with. Actualities are irrelevant, and in fact, the “I’m unique, just like everyone else” concept applies: why the heck should they BE special? If they feel special, they’ll reciprocate the feel-good mojo, which translates eventually into dollars. You don’t need more than that.

  28. “I wasn’t trying to disagree with that statement. I was trying to draw a distinction between actually making every player special (i.e. personally answsering their complaints about the game, allowing them to be heroic in a way that is exceptional, etc.) and only putting up a good show to make them merely feel special.”

    Got ya, I understood you meant that actually, and I completely agree. My observation is there is a differance between (Im sure Raphs laid this out re: community if I recall):
    Involvment
    Community
    Communication
    Impact of Playerbase opinion on (I’ll use catchall: for Design/development/features etc.) the Organization.

    Involvment to me is where you have game related attendant websites/portals for players of the game.

    Community is the playerbase as a whole, are they reactive/proactive, are the relations positive/negative with the game devs.

    Communication is a channel to the playerbase, this is the governance/gardening, management, relations etc comes in, the community managers promote involvment, encourage community, and tell the playerbase why/why not the following is possible:

    Impact of playerbase opinion/ideas on the organization. Sometimes there are excellent ideas propogated by the playerbase, sometimes thier total crapola. They should have a channel and a filter to the organization or method of getting these good ideas to the organizations they support.

    These have been my observations of what community management/community building is all about over the years as it relates to the game space, (significantly different in PR and Politics btw) from a gamer perspective.
    And Im not trying to write a thesis here all Im saying is this:

    Players going forward are going to be demanding more, not less of this, because much of the demographic has been connected, communicative and places a high value on socialization (the similarities to a previous generation from the 60’s are relavent no?).

    You can’t make them feel special, and you cant listen to every player complaint, and moreover you cant buy them off either. What can be done is promotion of involvement, community, and good communication.

    Players just want to know there is a channel in place, this begets loyalty to your game (“brand”) it should be personable, well thought out, informative, authoritative, and most important of all a community manager has to have credibility with the playerbase.

    A community manager with no playerbase credibility is useless to a game company, really seriously just a waste of resources.

    Credibility is lost when the company uses the CM as a fall guy/girl, flak, constant bearer of bad news, and mistakes are never copped to. Which really means a company has to be commited to keeping a CM credibile enough to ensure the channel to the playerbase is kept intact.

    Community Management of a playerbase has got to be a seriously hard position, I wish these people got more respect from players and the companies they work for, I would hope they would get a little more commitment from the companies they work for, in the future than they have in the past…

  29. The principle is to make them feel special. Their perception is essentially what you’re dealing with.

    This is exactly what I have been saying. 🙂 Or trying to say anyway. You can’t really make everyone special so you have to try, instead, to fake it well. And this is what I think that Disney and Casino customer service are doing, creating a dialogue with the customer and playing up the relationship between customer and company even though customers.

  30. … even though customers really are just customers and have very few “rights” or things that make them truly special.

  31. […] http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/RaphsWebsite/~3/29585342/https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/09/29/community-relations-management-design-and-governance/These four words mean different things, and frequently call for different talents and skillsets used by different people. And yet, they seem to get used interchangeably, and lumped into one person’s job. We should stop that. […]

  32. […] Tide’s Horizon and Lum are both talking about this, but I am frankly a little loath to. I don’t want to come across as criticizing, since that’s not really my intent. But lately there’s been a spate of discussion about what community relations is, whether forums should be run, etc. […]

  33. […] There’s been quite a bit of this lately. Actual commentary to follow, no doubt:Ron Meiners on Community Managers, on Terra NovaRaph Koster follows upScott Jennings talks about forumsRaph Koster, on the same subject […]

  34. […] Roughly 80% of the people who play (SOE Game) never read these boards. We know this from our own internal metrics and it poses an interesting question. Are we talking to people who play the game or posters who play the boards? I don’t mean to imply that the people who post here don’t play the game. Far from it. There are thousands of well-constructed, thoughtful, and insightful posts from people who obviously know the game very well. Just read a few lines of these gems and you’ll realize that, first and foremost, these people care about the game. Their focus is the game. I think the lion’s share of the profession feedback in the last couple publishes is a fantastic example of these players who post. But, at the same time, these boards are constantly cluttered by the reverse. Posters who play. They use these forums to lash out at others, criticize wantonly, and generally feed their own egos. They regularly attack devs and moderators, clinging to past wrongs and imagined slights. They focus on themselves instead of the game. To them, the boards are the real game. As devs, we arent here to play the board game. An interesting claim to lay to a consumer base. So how do you make a forum comprised of "Players who Post"? I mean 3rd part and community run sites lack many of the tools developers have in which to enlicited the type of behavior modled by "Players who Post", and already we’ve seen and I’ve very quickly said goodbye to a few of the "Posters who Play". For those of you whom are into this sort of thing, here’s a few links of the MMO Dev Blogsphere. Ralph Koster Scott Jennings Rob Meiners Ralph Again I think I’ll add to the rules, "If you feel the need to throw another stone, indulge a rant, whine, pick apart another poster, argue a dead point, rules lawyer, quote ancient history, or engage in any of the other classic board game moves, you can expect to get frowned upon here at WHA." __________________ Garthilk Site Manager Warhammer Alliance "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." […]

  35. […]   SWGStraticsVoice – 7:16 AM PDT | Posted By: RainStar   We’ll start off with quotes from the Austin Game Conference that were found on Gamasutra.comGordon Walton of Bioware Austin::… You’re all a bunch of whiny little b—-es. We’re all victims of the guys with the money! No. Guess who signs up to make the game. Guess who along the way decides to change things. … Guess who won’t stand up and lose their job rather than ship s–t. I put myself in there. I’ve done that. I’ve made bad decisions … many more times than most people here in this room … I think the challenge here is, are we agents of our lives, or are we victims? We’re talking about, oh, it’s going to come from the top down. Well guess what, if nobody will work for those schmucks, it’ll come from the bottom up. … What are they going to do? They don’t know how to put it on a disc. …The other thing is, we’re not holding up our end. Somewhere along the way we caved and promised something we couldn’t deliver. So you can’t say it’s the other guy, it’s some other motherf—er. No, it’s not. Everybody in this thing is responsible for what happens. Every single person on the team had a opportunity to do better. And I’d like to see more people think about how they’re going to make it happen rather than sit up and rant and b—- about it.Rich Vogel of Bioware Austin:Looking out at E3 this year, there is nothing innovative coming out in the next three years, and that’s pretty sad.Scott Jennings, senior designer at NCSoft:Players are like “ravenous locusts,” and while Blizzard releases patches with updates to the game regularly, they’re not as accessible as they ought to be. The system “is best described as, ‘Let’s make something so frustrating, people will just post the damned patches for me,’adding that he had a FilePlanet account just to download new WoW patches.Part of our primary service of an MMO provider is providing the damned MMO. The second part is just being there letting customers play when they want, as expected, instead of waiting in line something else WoW doesn’t always provide. Further, MMO services should provide respect in the form of competent relations with its players, treating them as people rather than piggy banks. Raph Koster, formerly of SOE/SWG:Content isn’t worth a damn. What is of value is the relationship between the consumer and the producer. Being good is no longer an exclusive. In a hit-driven business, the epitome of success is to be the Beatles or Elton John, which means having a consistent record of making blockbusters, or almost never screwing up, of always earning out reliably and of doing this over the course of decades. Those people are so rare they are the dodo, and their share of the audience as a percentage of the population is shrinking.The goal instead should be to be the Grateful Dead. You don’t want to be the number one hit, you want a relationship so that you can ding them over and over and over again. The band’s t-shirts may make more than their recordings.SOE’s John Blakely and Todd Fiala: Don’t make our mistakes.John Blakely: …..But what I would have done differently was be more sensitive to the target audience. The audience you launch with is the one you’ve got.Chris Kramer, Director of Corporate Communications at SOEIn late winter through early spring, SWG was one of SOE’s biggest gainers in terms of new players to a live game, coming through both the trials and through new software purchases.Jason Ryan, the Events Manager for SWG:Weve had great responses from the players. The last two patches were player initiated bug fixes and lingering issues. The Expertise system is going in and has been well received.Alan Crosby, Director of Community Relations at SOE:Players have been very upbeat on the forums and the questions are mostly about the future and what the game is about moving forward. Now we go to the SOE/SWG site where Chris Cao made the boards light up….. The Game vs. the Boards by Dev Chris CaoRoughly 80% of the people who play SWG never read these boards. We know this from our own internal metrics and it poses an interesting question. Are we talking to people who play the game or posters who play the boards? I don’t mean to imply that the people who post here don’t play the game. Far from it. There are thousands of well-constructed, thoughtful, and insightful posts from people who obviously know the game very well. Just read a few lines of these gems and you’ll realize that, first and foremost, these people care about the game. Their focus is the game. I think the lion’s share of the profession feedback in the last couple publishes is a fantastic example of these players who post.But, at the same time, these boards are constantly cluttered by the reverse. Posters who play. They use these forums to lash out at others, criticize wantonly, and generally feed their own egos. They regularly attack devs and moderators, clinging to past wrongs and imagined slights. They focus on themselves instead of the game. To them, the boards are the real game. As devs, we arent here to play the board game. Were here to play, and to make, SWG.The upcoming chapters will see the remainder of the profession expertise systems implemented. We have a lot of work to do and the feedback from players who post is going to be invaluable. You arent going to like every decision we make and we understand that. We have a limited resources and time to accomplish all that needs to be done. But, as Ive said before, we will be here (on the boards) and we will be listening. If youre up for a focused discussion of ideas, we welcome you and you can bet youll have our attention.If, however, you feel the need to throw another stone, indulge a rant, whine, pick apart another poster, argue a dead point, rules lawyer, quote ancient history, or engage in any of the other classic board game moves, dont expect us to pay attention. We have better things to do.We have some SWG to make. Chris Cao Editor’s Note: To say The game vs the boards thread got a lot of responses from the community would be an understatement.Raph Koster’s post on his his personal website, part of which says this:Tides Horizon and Lum are both talking about this, but I am frankly a little loath to. I dont want to come across as criticizing, since thats not really my intent. But lately theres been a spate of discussion about what community relations is, whether forums should be run, etc. As you may know, I have fairly firm opinions on this. But thats not what I want to talk about just now and really, what I am saying has little connection to the actual original thread that kickstarted the topic yet again. Edit: since the preceding sentence was apparently not clear enough: this post isnt about SWG or Chris Caos statements. It could just as equally apply to Linden Labs switching to a blog mechanism for communicating to their users, or really any company that sees forums as an adjunct to to the world. Please dont hijack the discussion to debate a given games management.Here is the rest of what Raph had to say on that matter.That’s it for this edition of interesting quotes and posts. […]

  36. […] Community relations, management, design, and governance September 29th, 2006 (Visited 5105 times) Tags: community management, disney, vw design […]

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