Game talkPlayers who post, posters who play

 Posted by (Visited 28853 times)  Game talk
Oct 052006
 

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.

As you may know, I have fairly firm opinions on this. But that’s 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 isn’t about SWG or Chris Cao’s 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 don’t hijack the discussion to debate a given game’s management.

The question is really about constituencies. There’s folks on the forum who play the game first and foremost, and post only occasionally. There’s folks who live with a foot in both worlds. There’s folks who are far more interested in the forums than in the games proper. There’s the stats that show most people just play and never visit the forums. There’s the marketing data showing that loud voices indelibly shape the public perception of a game.

The first thing that I think we need to realize is that we’re misperceiving the issue when we frame it that way. The question isn’t whether 80% of people don’t read forums, or whether vocal minorities are also influencers, or any of that. The fact is that by putting this software out there, we’ve created something a community accretes around. 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.

In other words, “posters who play” and “players who post” is a false dichotomy. They are both in your product’s orbit even if they aren’t paying you. They just “play” your product in different ways. People who watch Smallville, people who hoard old Lois & Clark DVDs, people who admire the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, people who read the comic, people who saw one or other of the movies, people who buy the lunchbox, people who read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, people who have a vinyl figure of Supes on their desk or a big red S on their underwear… they are all in the orbit. The guy with the briefs may well never consider picking up the comic. He is still, in a weird way, a Superman customer, a possible Superman community member. (Possibly, his member is a member. Ooh, did I just write that?)

Of course, they will have varying levels of quality of input for your purposes. The folk who just want to make machinima using your client will have a radically different agenda from those who want to run powerlevelling services. And as operators, we have goals of our own for the service that may say that machinima makers are pretty far down on the list of people we feel the need to cater to (you can’t make everyone happy, after all, and you have to choose what need your product is designed to satisfy).

Just don’t ever forget that the quality of the content these subcommunities provide is only variable from your perspective as an operator. From their own perspective, it’s all top-notch. Yes, even that of the folks who do nothing but flame — they are playing their game using your toys, and they probably feel quite good about it as they do it. In their mind, they are just as important as any other constituency, and they won’t let you forget it.

And of course, at some point, you may find that it’s those machinima dudes that land you on South Park or something. You never know when your will get added value from a constituency you devalued.

If you choose to ignore “posters who play” who value the forum game more than the game itself, you’ll get just as much bad word of mouth as if you ignored any other constituency of that size. The key lesson here, common to all forms of design, is that you are probably wrong about the end uses to which your product is put. It is almost certainly used in ways you nver imagined, and for every new use, there’s a new audience whose needs you are meeting. To put it in business terms, a new group of customers who feel happy with your product.

It may be true that having forums is just a big money sink that provides a hellish pit of whining and contradictory drivel. But you should have them anyway, because it is evidence that you are actually listening. It is the equivalent of posting your phone number, directly comparable to meeting someone’s gaze across a table. It’s inviting people to come over to your place to catch up on what’s going on in their lives. Telling people you’ll plant bugs in their houses instead (aka “monitor the fansites”) is not really an acceptable substitute, though you should of course feel free to go visit from time to time.

If the issue is that you would really rather not listen, then, well, it’s just a matter of time before you aren’t around anymore, so you’re irrelevant. Companies who refuse to take note of customer needs eventually fail to meet those needs. (Edit: FWIW, I think none of the current VW operators have this mindset. Several of the social networking sites seem to, however, and my comments apply equally to them).

All the other debates are mostly gravy. In some ways it is actually astonishing that we still have these discussions, because there have been several extremely successful community relations programs run and the positive effect on the bottom line has been easy to see. They all shared a whole host of common characteristics. Industry best practice, at least to date, isn’t that hard to ascertain. What is needed is refinement of methods. For example, we know that part of best practice is to be sure to gather data from all the constituencies you can. The open questions should be about the how, not about the why or whether.

In the end, when you create a product — any product, really — you are tossing a bit of dust into the atmosphere. Infinitely varied snowflakes form around that bit of dust, and you don’t get to pick what they look like. You just deal with the aftermath, and in many ways, the grain of dust is the least important — certainly the least beautiful — part of what gets created. You bust your ass to make the best grain of dust you can, but point is the snowflake, because you design for users’ needs, and the snowflake is what they want to do. And sometimes, their need is to have a good reason to bitch on boards.

  114 Responses to “Players who post, posters who play”

  1. A few comments from my friend Chris Cao have ignited a bit of controversy, with Lum and Raph chiming in, among others. Though I moved from community management to design a while ago, being involved in the goings-on of communities isn’t something you can ever really walk away from. Just ask the two guys to whom I linked.

  2. Last week, the big discussion digesting across the blogointestinal tract was drama on the SWG official boards. Tide’s Horizon kicked it off here, Lum responds here, Raph responds here, and Abalieno (who I thought had quit but apparently hasn’t, not that I’m complaining!) throws in his 2 eurocents here. I already ranted about how official boards are a bad idea back in March, here, and

  3. good idea. As a matter of fact, if you’re aren’t doing this, you’re losing out on a big resource. More on this later. You’d also do good to keep in mind that the posters that visit your forums often consider that as much a part of the game as the quests: Just don’t ever forget that the quality of the content these subcommunities provide is only variable from your perspective as an operator. From their own perspective, it’s all top-notch. Yes, even that of the folks who do nothing

  4. Broken Toys Eating Bees Freddy’s House Na Fianna Dragun Persistent Illusionist Prydwen.net Ralph’s Website The Daedalus Project Zora’s Corner

  5. I’ve always been a “player who posts” – I don’t normally visit forums unless I have something on my minds that really wants or needs to be said. I think a good chunk of MMORPG players are this way. At the same time though, the people who spend a lot of time posting are important, because in many ways, what they say is representative of what everyone who’s busy playing thinks. It’s not always true, but if your forum posters are screaming with a unified voice about something, it’s a fairly safe bet that it is bothering everyone in the game, too.

    I find that the games that seem to be better to me as a player are also the ones that have forums where the development team has a high level of engagement – when you can look at a dev tracker and see dozens of posts every day, even the dev team just out there being part of the community, you tend to find that players in the game are overall very happy with it. Likewise, if you look at a game forum, and the development team posts at most in a few threads a week, and doesn’t say much, you tend to find that players in the game have lists of things that really annoy them, and are generally unhappy with the way the game has turned out.

    I realize that’s a generalization, but it’s been my experience. The more open communication and collaboration between the development team and the player community, the better the game or virtual world will be.

  6. How do those guys get people to pay them?

    Their game is still clearly in beta, they treat their customers with complete disrespect and the original vision of the game has long been swept under the carpet in favor of a generic game they can find anywhere else in a lot better playable shape.

  7. […] Here’s something interesting. I was so utterly frustrated with SWG after spending most of the day thinking about the state of crafting that I just couldn’t bring myself to stay logged on tonight. Then I read this: http://tidehorizon.blogspot.com/2006/10/unnecessary-post-soe-swg-dev.html And this: http://www.brokentoys.org/2006/10/05/playing-the-boards/ And this: https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/10/05/players-who-post-posters-who-play/ I have a lot of respect for the people who post these blogs, all for different reasons. It’s very interesting to read these, especially today after my little rant about "meaningful communication". Maybe Chris Cao and the rest of the people at SOE should pay attention to what their colleagues are saying._________________Trace Silverhawk – Weaponsmith, Smuggler Alts: Darice Starshadow – Master Shipwright Varina Llaspe (Apprentice Weaponsmith) Jhaime the Wanderer “Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…” “There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain…” […]

  8. Thing is, outside of understanding the “foruming game” — that it is an extension of the magic circle (the ecology like you said) — providers don’t need to overly control *directly* bad forum behavior. Afterall, they can just as easily reward/punish people in the background without inciting more drama.

    Someone from NCSoft in Gordon Walton’s session on rethinking customer service at the AGC described how they have extra rewards and service for high-ranking veterans. They and uber-guild leaders get rapid responses. Now the deal is those individuals are told they are getting special treatment, but if they ever publicize it, the deal was forfeit. The NCSoft rep claimed it really did wonders for their titles. Gordon et. al. seemed to believe them. Point is, direct confrontation is another tactic in the foruming game, since the whole thing is a personalized extension of the drama individuals feel inside the title. The game has to stop momentarily for school or work, but the intensity and narratives can continue on the boards. And feeding more drama into the community only heightens this out-of-band plan and gives other like minded players a taste for it as well.

    Also, it’s really worth noting that the SWG forums are not even close to what they used to be. There were several times I remember even while you were in residence they came close periodically to a community “heat death” of drama and negativity, only to rise and fall again. Whatever professionals on site now think they are like, they are positively collegiate to what they used to be. All BS aside, I’ve been on them for the last week and change and I didn’t see with the latest Chapter anything close to what used to happen earlier. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some bad behaviors, but it’s realistically not even close to say the Vanguard Beta boards or Lum’s example. Perspective or experience may have been needed here.

  9. Long ago playing SWG I commented that the forums, if nothing else, seemed to be a product in and of themselves that attraced a certain number of paying customers.

    However, I’m not sure that looking at forums as just one of the services that part of your potential audience wants means that you have to offer it. There is a demographic of Superman fans that would love to buy Superman-themed porn. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be damaging, to the brand as a whole, to offer a product for that demographic. And so I still think it makes sense to pay attention to the possible loss of value involved with creating public forums.

    The argument that matters, IMO, is not just whether flamers are customers but:

    In some ways it is actually astonishing that we still have these discussions, because there have been several extremely successful community relations programs run and the positive effect on the bottom line has been easy to see. They all shared a whole host of common characteristics.

    I think there is some truth to this but others would disagree. And it is on the actual proven value or proven loss of value of public forums that the argument rests. Recognizing that forum users are really just a different subset of your audience is good, but that doesn’t mean that they are automatically an audience you want to sell to.

  10. It seems dead obvious to me when I look at a forum that it is not for the developers to communicate with the players.

    It is for the players to communicate with each other.

    Ideally, your developers are also players, and they will visit the forum. But nobody should ever be of the opinion that the forum is anything more than a place for the players to hang out and be comfortable. If benefits fall out of that, great, but don’t expect them – and never, EVER try to squeeze out more of them.

  11. […] Comments […]

  12. Raph, I really appreciate this post.

    We SWG players today got a complete and utter “F you” flame post on the forums from your successor (in name only) the SWG creative director.

    Basically he is angry that people still post more about how they hate the NGE than play that game. That alone should indicate a problem with the game, not with the players.

    The players are never the problem because the customer is always right, even when he isn’t.

    You will NEVER win a pissing match with your customers.

    ChrisCao just started one today. And he likely lost more subs today in monetary value than his annual salary.

  13. In the Spring 2002 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, there is a good editorial on customer communities written by Mohanbir Sawhney. The article is titled Don’t Just Relate—Collaborate.

    Here’s the abstract:

    Collaboration has become an established way of doing business with suppliers, channel partners and complementors. But, with a few notable exceptions, working directly with customers to co-create value remains a radical notion.

    As consumers have become increasingly empowered and demanding, marketing gurus have preached the benefits of customer-relationship management — essentially an inside-out approach to retaining customers based on the misguided notion that the company is the arbiter of the relationship and the customer plays a passive role.

    In today’s connected world, however, collaborative marketing — the valuable process of partnering with the end-user to maximize value — is the goal. Collaboration can span all facets of marketing, sales and support processes. Collaborative innovation occurs when companies tap into user expertise and integrate it into the business’s new-product development process.

    Build technology platforms that allow end-users to connect to your design, marketing communications, sales, order management and support processes. Use design and selling tools that help you to work together easily, as well as community management tools to facilitate integration.

  14. i love how Thunderfart threatens the folks who say they’re going to report ChrisCao for trolling/flaming. which is exactly what he was doing.

    it’s so pathetic watching SWG in its death throes.
    i love Star Wars, but i kinda wish SWG would just die already.
    so much has gone wrong with it, as i’m sure you know all too well, Raph. most of the blame i believe lies with Lucas Arts, but this piss poor community relations, often to the point of guile and confrontation, lays squarely on SOE’s shoulders.

    they need to pull the plug.

  15. Chris shows us they haven’t learned a damn thing in the past year and the game continues to die for a great number of us. I understand that only a very small percentage of SWG players listen to our show, but I’d like to think our listeners include many types of players, including those who flat out disagree with us (I guess they like us in a “I hate Howard Stern, so I listen to him” sort of way). That said, the following is a fairly common comment for us to get:

    “Hi Yivvits & MrBubble – I just wanted to say I like your show. I don’t go to the forums very often so I only recently found your show and I wanted to let you know I agree with you on [insert problem with SOE here].”

    We also hear from people ALL THE TIME who truly want the game to be fun for them again. I’ve asked some of these folks if they post in the forums and the most common answer is either “No” or “I read but don’t post.”

    TBH I’m still pretty shocked at the level of contempt they’ve shown us today.

    Great blog post Raph, thank you!

    -Yivvits

  16. Thank you Raph for having our back somewhat. I’m just tired of being slapped in the face with the “Your a meaningless vocal minority that only brings flames and stupidity” message.

    I know we say a lot of dumb things and we’re fickle… but if it wasn’t for that community, then I would not have played/paid; I had some real good times in game and on the boards.

    I no longer pay for SWG, the game is not the one I bought and dreamed in anymore. I miss SWG and the friends who left it.

    –I’m sorry we (The SWG fans) keep hounding you like this. The game you were involved with creating brought us much happyness and you remind us of those better days. I know you would rather move on and forget this but to some of us, SWG was the best MMORPG ever made.

  17. Oh dear… Now Helios has some comments on this.

    I’m sorry, but we’ve heard this before… at least 2 other times. Many people want to help make the game great, but after the past two years most folks don’t trust the developers. Right or wrong, that’s the way it is.

    I am curious as to what Raph thinks about Helios’ comments though. Is this just damage control? Do you think he helped to clarify Cao’s comments?

    It’s one thing to tell people you’re listening and then confirm this by giving feedback on things like bug posts and concerns. It’s something very different to tell folks you want to listen, they give you good data, tell you what they liked / disliked about changes, and then completley ignore them.

    This feels a lot like the story about the boy who cried wolf.

  18. Looking back on the whole ordeal, I’m pretty amazed at what a mess this has created. It’s not so much ChrisCao’s post that bothers me, infact the words alone I support, it’s the lie that it’s telling that bothers me. Also the other devs following up with threats, spin, and other lies.

    Yes, trolls, whiners, and the rest of the trouble makers are disruptive, but how much effort have they made to put a stop to it or actually stop and listen to what’s going on around them? The feedback is there, they don’t have to mine for it.

    I just fail to see where SOE expects this to go. Do they think this will really advance things? Where’s smedley? Where’s Julio Torrez? Where’s some authority over the developers? It screams run-away train. And it also appears that it was made for no apparent reason.

  19. *sigh* I hate to disappoint, but I really was not talking about SWG in particular here, as I tried to make clear in the post itself. Really, easily half the motive for the post was actually the Terra Nova discussions. Most of the whole Cao thing has little to do with this post, as you can tell when you read the whole post he wrote… after all, he was actually actively soliciting involvement, and commenting that it needed to be of a particular caliber in order to be useful to him. Aside from whether he worded it correctly, I can definitely relate to what he was saying… so don’t go dragging me into fights I wasn’t trying to be a part of! 🙂

    Recognizing that forum users are really just a different subset of your audience is good, but that doesn’t mean that they are automatically an audience you want to sell to.

    I very much agree — that’s the point I was trying to make about choosing who the product is for. The thing you need to take into account with something like forums is that the sheer volume of people who participate makes them a constituency you likely cannot ignore (IMHO, anything that accounts for a double-digit percentage of your userbase has got to be considered a primary audience). And unlike the porno case, there’s not a default cast to the community there; you can shape it to a degree. If you want a more roleplay-oriented community, or a community about governance, or a community about purely social stuff, you can structure the forums to achieve that end.

    It seems dead obvious to me when I look at a forum that it is not for the developers to communicate with the players.

    It is for the players to communicate with each other.

    Excellent observation. That’s absolutely right.

  20. […] Posted: Friday, 06 October 2006 04:46AM lol, SOE reminds me of those devs over at Dark & Light. "Its the players fault our game sucks" This brings up a good discussion though. "Forums & Feedback" I liked this editorial,Click HereOf course Raph Koster had some things to say about SOE. Click HereEdited By Vanive on 10/06/06 04:07      […]

  21. I’m an unadulterated forum whore. Let’s just get that up front so we all know where we stand (and of course, I’m saying that becuse I need to feed the ego 😉 )

    When I’m looking at any game, MMO, FPS, board game, whatever, I tend to go have a look at it’s web presence. Is it just a single card “our product is cool, buy it”, is it a full blown Flash enabled extravaganza with Easter Eggs , hints and tips, forums… This gives me a ‘feel’ for the company behind the product, is it a mom and pop organisation or some panglobal conglomerate with massive resources to splurge on *me* *me* *me*?

    Then I’ll check their forums. Are they open access, do I need to register, how complex is their registration process? (I count a crummy / convoluted website registration as an ‘obstacle to play’ so, yeah, I play the forum game).

    What is the content of the forum? Is it neatly laid out with ingame/outgame stuff clearly identifiable? Are there player guides, links to player community sites, is the general ‘tone’ of posts positive or negative? If a game has a forum that’s overloaded with trolling flamefests, has only the lowest level of dev interaction and generally feels like a battleground in itself that doesn’t set me up with a hugely positive expectation of the game or the people (both player and devside) that I might have to interact with.

    Not naming names but two games by one particular company have radically different forum presences and communities. One is, well, it looks and feels like a wasps nest on a thundery day, the other, hey they’ve got similar problems and issues to their sister game but it’s dealt with by communicating with the players openly, keeping an element of good humour, actively policing threads for offensive language, personal attacks etc rather than leaving part of the boards as a troll infested wildlife reserve because “people who play x profession are just like that” or “yeah the population of y shard has always been a bit outspoken”.

    Of course, there may be behind the scenes resource reasons that one gamesite is better managed than another, but, cmn, they surely can learn from examples of ‘good management’ when they see it?

  22. By the way, some developers such as Iron Lore use a third party to operate the communities for their titles. Iron Lore uses IGN exclusively for Titan Quest. The Titan Quest Vault community appears to be thriving with user content and various comments on the forum indicate a positive vibe throughout the community.

    The people at Ritual could also be described as smooth operators. I’m an inactive member of their community and actually purchased their games based on Ritual quality manager Michael Russell’s blogging. [He’s the only blogger working in quality management for games of which I’m aware…] From what I’ve read on Michael’s blog, they work extremely hard for their customers. What do they get in return? Piracy. Half-kidding—they’re sensitive in that area.

  23. I’ll caveat this by saying that I play SWG (though I ask myself every day why I still do that) and so it’s hard for me to voice an objective opinion.

    But Chris (and Kai’s) comments don’t ring true. It is entirely possible to have a meaningful discussion with the community about the game and garner a lot of positive and helpful posts with a very low percentage of hate and flaming. Other people on the SWG team have done this successfully several times now. Two examples (forum handles) are Swede and HanseSOE.

    If they can do it then ChrisCao and Helios should be able to do it as well. But they don’t. The reason that happens, in my opinion, is the attitude that their posting styles convey. For example, a while back Swede was looking at pilot issues and started his discussion by asking the community what they would like to focus on. And then he responded to each concern that the pilots brought up. Over the course of a few days he became the most loved developer on the forums. Hanse did a similar thing talking about smuggler expertise more recently, although it was fairly obvious that his hands were tied and that he wasn’t allowed to talk about some things. Both these guys engaged the SWG community – that same SWG community that ChrisCao and Helios claim is infested with trolls and has a signal to noise ratio too low to be useful – in discussion and used it to better the game.

    Chris and Kai are in the unenviable position of being people the community doesn’t want to see on the forums – because every time they come on the forums, they post things that anger the players, sometimes unintentionally. “So you sat around in camps and you liked it?” is a classic example. Or Chris’s “the only entertainer in the movies got eaten.”. Their posts in the past both show a severe lack of understanding about the noncombat game in particular, and there’s many of us who would love to work with the devs to make the game better, who absolutely dread their posts. To the point where when Kai started a thread about the trader revamp they were thinking of, many of us posted and asked that a different developer to run the discussion.

    My point in posting all this is that if you want to have a good relationship with your forums, you need to recognize that they’re a hornet’s nest and not go intentionally poking them with a stick because you want to play “devil’s advocate”, or because you’re trying to be humorous. The devs that have success on forums are the ones who approach the players there as peers, while the devs that have problems are the ones who come across as if they think they know the game better than the players do.

    That should hold true for any MMORPG dev team.

  24. […]        Eine eigentlich ganz gut auf den Punkt gebrachte Überlegung über das was eigentlich so alles zu einem MMO dazu gehört. Denn das "Spiel" hört nicht auf wenn man auslogd, es geht in den Foren weiter, auf einer anderen Ebene die aber mitlerweile genauso dazu gehört. Auch wenn über 80% der Spieler nicht regelmäßig Foren lesen, werden sie indirekt davon beeinflusst. https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/10/05/players-who-post-posters-who-play/ __________________ ka was ihr habt … ich kann das :p […]

  25. My experience with forums comes mainly from the life-cycle of Ultima Online. That is not to say I haven’t participated in other gaming forums, but it is to say I haven’t been part of a forum community as long as I was with UO.

    Raph feel free to correct me, as you were more involved than I in this product. 🙂

    At first there were fan sites, UO Moongate and UOvault come to mind. These were very positive for the most part. When forums were added there was a lot of good discussion and seems there were some IRC development chats that would lead to more discussion on the fan based forums out there. All in all everything was pretty positive.

    Then there were UO official forums. Moderated and controlled by the company. At first a very heavy presence by people who worked directly with the game, then slowly changed to having a community rep.

    Then the UO Forums closed and a large fansite uo.stratics.com was selected as the official forums. company participation was heavy at first then dwindled til it came in spurts, with new information mainly the cause of posts.

    So we have 3 types of forums:

    1. Fan based – controlled solely by site operator

    2. Company based – controlled by the company

    3. Company sponsored fan based – controlled by site and company (to a degree).

    I’d like to know what you see as the pros and cons of these types. And is a specific type more or less useful during specific times during a products life cycle. i.e. Development, Release, Maintenence (bug fixing), Modification(tweaking or adding new ummm stuff)?

  26. If it hadn’t been for the forums I probably would have spent longer in the original EQ than I did (so that’s probably a good thing). I guess I let the forums draw for me an image of the type of people I was playing with – and I was disgusted. I’m sure that I was guilty of gross generalization, but Caliban Darklock is right, the forums are more of a window to other players than to the dev team.

  27. That was a really unprofessional post by Cao and predicatably pissed off a lot of players. Telling any paying customer that you don’t intend to pay attention to them is very bad customer relations. He does know that these same players pay his salary, right?

    20% is a large minority and many companies have a profit of 10% – which is considered healthy although obviously not huge. So if it is true that “only” 20% of players read/post in the SWG forums, it is not a number that anyone should casually shrug aside.

    In any case you don’t need an account to read SWG forums so where did he get the 80-20% figure? Maybe he is simply using the Pareto principle (wrongly).

  28. […] And Raph’s Response, a MUST read… also color coded on page 12 of this thread… […]

  29. […] https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/10/05/players-who-post-posters-who-play/#more-743a MUST read:but to give an preview:QuoteThe first thing that I think we need to realize is that were misperceiving the issue when we frame it that way. The question isnt whether 80% of people dont read forums, or whether vocal minorities are also influencers, or any of that. The fact is that by putting this software out there, weve created something a community accretes around. 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…Just dont ever forget that the quality of the content these subcommunities provide is only variable from your perspective as an operator. From their own perspective, its all top-notch. Yes, even that of the folks who do nothing but flame they are playing their game using your toys, and they probably feel quite good about it as they do it. In their mind, they are just as important as any other constituency, and they wont let you forget it…Companies who refuse to take note of customer needs eventually fail to meet those needs. […]

  30. Oh the Drama.

  31. That’s right! Don’t hate the playah, hate the game! Yo!

  32. The sad truth is : Every single official forum out there shows their associated game in its most negative light.

    I know the devs need a way to gather feedbacks from their players but not at that price.

    Not to mention that the sound/noise ratio of most forum make the gathering of those feedback unreasonably time intensive.

    – Grinless

  33. You know, if the developers did log in polls, and posted the results, it would shut up both sides.

    I think DAOC does this.

  34. The sad truth is : Every single official forum out there shows their associated game in its most negative light.

    I know the devs need a way to gather feedbacks from their players but not at that price.

    Not to mention that the sound/noise ratio of most forum make the gathering of those feedback unreasonably time intensive.

    – Grinless

    Forums are a necessary evil though when it comes to feedback mechanisms – because often the truth of something isn’t evident in any one person’s viewpoint, but become clear when multiple people begin to compare their experiences and discuss the issues from different perspectives. For identifying problems within a complex virtual world with a lot of moving parts, that’s an invaluable tool.

    Sure, there need to be other feedback mechanisms as well. Ever try to run a poll on a forum? Doesn’t work well, and the results will likely be skewed in some way. Likewise, it can be exceedingly difficult to get first-hand information about a problem from a discussion forum.

    If I were running a game/VW and wanted to make sure that I knew where the problems were that needed to be addressed, I’d want to institute multiple feedback mechanisms, such as:

    – An email address (or several) where players could send feedback.
    – An in-game feedback tool
    – An in-game bug tool
    – CSR/TSR tickets
    – Discussion forums/community team
    – In-game and game-entry polls.
    – Website polls
    – Regular “town hall” Q&A meetings with players – preferably held in-game if possible.

    There’s a lot of ways to gather feedback, and each way has good points and bad points to it. I think that to be successful a team really needs to utilize as many of them as possible.

  35. […] Raph’s Website » Players who post, posters who play | 05-Oct-06 at 9:05 pm | Permalink […]

  36. I’ve always found it interesting that when a game offers “official forums,” the posts seem to be more inflammatory in nature. Posters seem more likely to go after one another, to flame, to name-call. I wonder if it has something to do with the subconcious notion that a) the developers are listening, b) I have an opportunity to change the game to benefit ME, c) I need to prove to the developers that my suggestions are worth taking seriously, so d) it’s time to flame some skill-less, non-factor, no-talent, easy-mode noobs.

    I also wonder if there’s a single-player vs. multi-player distinction that could be drawn. I don’t frequent many forums for strictly single-player games, but I have a feeling people are less likely to go for the jugular when direct competition is not possible and comparison of abilities is not easily demonstrable.

    Finally, I wonder how many game companies who host official forums actually bother to track a player’s posts against his or her in-game participation. I would think a suggestion thread with posts from currently active veteran players would be more valuable to devs than a suggestion thread with posts from people who played for 3 nights 12 months ago. Then again, maybe not if they’re flaming each other.

  37. The external parts of these games actually sort of frustrate me.

    I don’t remember there being any message boards or fansites for The Realm, the first MMOG I played.

    I participated in rec.games.computer.ultima-online so long ago, but not because I felt like I needed to get any game hints or tips or whatever. I participated in it as sort of a way to meet people, as I was a newbie and didn’t have anybody to play with except Davian. I met people there that I still talk to on an almost daily basis, 8 years (holy crap!) later. It did

    I know there was UO Stratics, and other fansites… but I didn’t feel like I needed to read them in order to keep up with what was going on in the game. Lake Superior was Lake Superior, I knew where the spawns were, I knew I didn’t like to go into dungeons, and that was about all there was to it.

    The next step was EQ, and the Arbiters forum took the place of RCGUO for me. However, the fansites became much more important in EQ. If you didn’t keep up with Allakhazams, etc., you were screwed. You were pretty much required to in order to be a contributing member of society — err, guild. You’d type in your favorite Item in the Box and hit Search… read how to get said Item, either with or without your group of six (or sixty) closest friends, and go get it. Forget the feedback forums at Sony – too full of noise, and I’m pretty sure nobody was really listening anyway.

    I don’t ever remember participating in the DAOC forums/fansites, but then again, I played with the Stonecutters, and they weren’t really in it for the fame and glory (and phat lewt). I think our RCGUO equivalent at that time was a thread on Sun’s boards though I could be remembering that wrong. Our stint in DAOC was pretty short-lived.

    Then SWG comes along, and the game is so darn big with so many pieces to the puzzle that Stratics becomes a necessity again in order to help figure it all out for you. I think I posted a few times on the Official Boards, but the community was so big that it was hard to be heard, even by the person standing next to you. But still, even the non-posters really did need to at least read, to figure out what changes were coming or had already come.

    If I have 10 hours/week to play a game, and two of them need to be spent reading message boards or fansites about said game, that’s 2 hours that I don’t get to actually play. 20% of my time sunk to game research is just Not Okay. I submit that if I feel I must spend time outside of your game researching your game in order to play your game… there’s something wrong with your game.

    Have the message boards, that’s fine, and even good. But don’t make me feel like I have to use them in order to play.

  38. […] Players who post, posters who play – o kontaktach z klientami i tym, co powinno znajdować się na forum gry. […]

  39. A very interesting article. I especially like the point about sub groups which are not always interacting directly in the game (poster’s that play, other forums or fan sites) being part of a same community and participating to the end result of a product. It reminds me of many single player games that were successful thanks to communities that sprung around them such as fan sites, story sites or mod groups. Such games evolved in ways that the original programmers had never anticipated.

    Now that I think about it however, it seems to me that the effect of those sub cultures has steadily increased through the years in numbers, speed and impact on the final product (affecting it’s popularity, rating, etc). These days the games are not even on the shelves that you have a dozen sites with up to date news, forum discussions, mods and the latest developer quote. The spotlight seems to be focused on specific games these days as if they were Hollywood stars with the consumers either hoping for a success or juicy gossip 😉

  40. Sawney (from Ramsay’s post) wrote: “As consumers have become increasingly empowered and demanding, marketing gurus have preached the benefits of customer-relationship management”

    When I think of game forums, I’m reminded of my hometown, where a Home Depot and Lowes were bulit facing each other, their parking lots hardly separated, in a secluded lot (no other stores adjoining either)…a real showdown. The Home Depot was the first to be built, and everyone and their mother was a Home Depot customer for many years. They were heavy on customer service. Then the Lowes opened up, offered far less customer service and stole roughly half of Home Depot’s customerbase anyway. The general consensus among people in my hometown was that you’d get more service at Home Depot, but Lowes had the more inviting environment.

    Again, “consumers have become increasingly empowered and demanding”. Increased consumer power creates an uninviting environment. It’s the perception (be it real or illusory) of power that makes flaming a viable customer option. Customers don’t ask for service anymore, they demand it. Afterall, they’re always right, as the saying goes (that saying dehumanizes customers and portrays them as commodities, by the way). Dramatic and selfish demands are generally rewarded, and so such behavior becomes more common among customers. Little “Mom and Pap” shops are more inviting, not just because they’re small and you can develop a personal relationship with the store owner, but also because the owners of such shops demand reasonable behavior and expectations from their customerbase. Yes, they lose some customers this way, but they gain more and have stronger customer loyalty. American consumers in general have been cultured to become selfish brats, but it’s not impossible to reculture them with the obvious appeal of a civil atmosphere.

    Listening to your customers should be done privately, not among a crowd of people who should have been accosted for their vile behavior and perhaps even kicked out of the “store” long ago anyway. Have an easily noticeable and inviting feedback form on your game’s website. Inviting means more than just nicely rounded letters and a big “howdy!”; it means not asking for the player’s blood-type just to submit some simple feedback. In fact, you don’t even need to verify that the feedback is coming from a player, because you can likely tell where it’s coming from and anyone who shapes your reputation is a concern, customer or not, as Raph said (though playing defense against unreasonable accusations is often not productive).

    If you don’t respond, then at least there’s not a flurry of flamers getting the customer riled up and disallowing that feedback from sinking into history; and the customer is encouraged to practice faith in the company. If you do respond (with something other than the typical robotic garbage most CS reps and systems churn out), then you’ve established a personal relationship…an impression that’s infinitely more difficult to create through a forum, because forums aren’t one-on-one dialogue.

    A smart CS program would even keep a Gmail-type record system of previous conversations, allowing CS reps to quickly search for and review feedback from persons of the same email address. If you can create the illusion that you actually remember your customer from a previous engagement, then you’ve taken a large leap into a rewarding CS relationship.

    In short, I think game companies should not sponsor regular forums of their own. They’re unnecessary to a strong CS program, they’re difficult to enculture; and, most importantly, they encourage players to think of themselves as part of something like a union, set distant from and often against the company, rather than a valued customer with a one-on-one relationship.

  41. Raph I feel for you. SWG has touched everyone at this point, and even mentioning it in passing is like drawing flies to a bug light.

    In any case, I completely respect Chris Cao’s post, and why he made it. I think it was the perfect tone and told the essential truth. If people want to believe they matter more in the grand scheme of things, that’s up to them. However, they are just one part. Some can’t accept that, preferring to elevate themselves (or allow choice others to elevate them) to some position of manufactured and entirely unsubstantiated power.

    He told them what was. Too bad if they can’t take it.

    And for those who may see this as bad PR: separate an MMO from a company selling a bank product or some consumer electronic. MMOGs are one part society one part economy and one part despotic governance, with a public forum that spans everyone from Creator do to single-cell Amoeba. Tell ME what YOU think is better? Do you really think this Lord of the Flies process of community discourse is better?

  42. 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.

    Bingo. We need community managers who facilitate, not kill off, these parts of the ecology; killing them off, or straining them through too fine a filter of moderation and punishment for speech kills the game eventually. The problem is that realistically, the ecology produces flora and fauna that run counter to the interests of the Gardeners, or game gods and they itch to prune and also to grow hothouse orchids for their own benefit and pour weed-killer on kudzu.

    That’s why you could get posters in the Terra Nova threads about community management yearning for a special experts-only board where only programmers/designers wannabee junior game devs get to talk to the game gods, and the hoi polloi and the blingards are shunted off to third-party social sites where they may even be expected never to dis the company, which may overreach into the sphere even of third-party cites (as Project Entropia and EA.com have done via Stratics).

    That’s why you get this curious hacking and slashing of the forums by Linden Lab, which leaves “building tips” or creates the rubric “resident answers” to slough off their own workload of endless game explanations on to the cultivator-type players, but their removal of basic free-expression — but controversial — forums like “polysci” and “land and economy”.

    The marketing image the companies want to project, and the reality of their flawed worlds that the players want to discuss are just too hard a clash.

    Even a more enlightened concept of “collaborative marketing” that envisions more sophisticated or resourced prosumers is still going to run up against a real tide of rising expectations — sophisticated prosumers tend not to want to be easily bought even by little collaborative marketing strategems and buzz-y mantras like “don’t sell to me, play with me”. They want the company to perform fairly, even like an elected government, or even to feel itself a hired service at the beck of the consumers who pay the bills.

    I’m fine with that, as you know, because we don’t have enough of it. But I can see companies are not, and that they will lurch back into circling the wagons if they feel threatened.

    The Linden Official Blog experiment has many disastrous consequences — huge long threads with 200 answers on a blog intended for a smattering of claps and WOOTS of approval for fanboyz, where the players indeed talk to each other and have huge, very heated and argumentative debates because none of them ever entered the virtual world with a shared concept of how they should be governed. And not a Linden in sight to moderate or express some sort of federal wisdom to moderate or mediate among the wild opposing factions — leaving a vaccum for whoever shouts the loudest or gets the biggest flash mob on the threat to win.

    Another disastrous consequence is the wierd uneveness of having 100 separate Lindens all blogifying on their chosen topic in their chosen style with chosen moderation rules, creating a cacophony regarding what official policy is.

    Before, 2-3 Lindens moderated the boards against a TOS and CS. Today, one Linden might immediately delete a post and relegate you to a black hole in cyberspace; another might delete you but then feel he has to answer you defensively in the absence even of your own post, just to win hearts and minds that might have seen your post; yet another leaves your post and hundreds of others to fester in endless definition-haggling, gotcha and back-biting games such as forums are known for — and never steps in to say even a bland, corporate phrase.

    I can’t help thinking that prospective customers and investors can’t possible get a coherent — and good — picture navigating an unwielding and wordy blog than they could get from forums crisply arranged by topic and expertly and professionally moderated.

    As you know, Raph, developing countries and even the U.S. sometimes call in election monitors from international institutions like the UN or the OSCE in order to be able to monitor conditions against a set of universal criteria. In some countries there are so many factions and so many people being jailed for looking cross-eyed at the regime rulers rigging the elections, or there’s the problem of the president’s daughter who runs the TV station not letting some candidates on air, etc. that outsiders are called in, in the hope they are able to sort through all the factions and manipulations both at non-risk to themselves but also to persuade all parties at hand that they are an honest broker. Those factions may not trust each other or those in power to be fair; they might trust the UN monitoring against a set of criteria.

    I think there are three rules that forums need to be happier:

    1. Never let current or former residents (residents turned staff) moderate forums. They are too biased with too many friends and networks and preconceptions of guilt or innocence. Paid, benefited staff with credentials as seasoned community managers and a neutral stance should be moderators and where possible, the job should even be outsourced to companies that only do forums.

    2. No one should ever be punished inworld, ingame, for what they do on forums. Trying to gain compliance with such draconian measures just reveals a weak and incompetent hand. No one should ever be deprived of life (log-in) or property (inventory) merely for speech. Speech offenses of this nature should not be characterized as “seditious libel” warranting “imprisonment” (banishment from the game itself); they should merely lead to banning or moderation within the realm of the forums. There’s a school of thought that says, as you’re saying, that the whole ambit of game features includes the forums, and that therefore people should “take responsibility” for their forums behaviour by being scared with the invocation of inworld consequences.

    I disagree, as all that does is pose huge problems for fickle and biased moderators who can’t bring themselves to ban from the world completely their foul-mouthed friends. People often blow off steam more and are nastier to each other on forums than inworld — that’s a reason given for eradicating forums. It’s rather a reason to leave them alone as a safety valve for inworld disputes.

    3. While it makes sense not to permit threads and polls started just for flaming and trolling, there should not be a strict ban against naming names or naming groups. EA.com and Stratics went through that route; Linden Lab was lax about it and then wavered back and forth, sometimes allowing “the community” to name and shame all the names of people they didn’t like, but banishment them if they named names of people they did like. The answer to the problem of libel is to enable the free press to investigate the charges and for people to print rebuttals and refutations, not suppress free speech, especially of public malfeasance by officials and those in power.

  43. I used to think that official forums served a purpose in an official capacity. After 10 years of dealing with MMOs from both sides of the war, I can honestly state that they have no reason for existing. Any information that the Development Team wants to tell the players can be posted on a read only forum or included in the launcher. You’ve already given your players a place where they can communicate with each other, and that’s inside your game. If they want to engage in discourse outside of the game, let them go to an actual fan site.

    If you insist on having forums, then be sure that you have staff capable of managing and moderating them. “Excellent Communication Skills” is not something you put on the job listing to fill up a line of text. Work with the fan sites, and let them feel like they have a purpose outside of posting press releases and patch notes.

    Did I mention you needed a *good* community manager yet? The only way to make sure that people are playing your game and not your forums, is to remove forums from the equation.

  44. […] Raph Koster’s Website has an article up called “Players Who Post, Posters Who Play” that makes the case that gaming companies should have online forums for the user base, even for the user base that is primarily about posting in the forums versus playing the game.  […]

  45. Hmmm… Yes, my apologies if I appeared to miss the point of your comments and focused on SWG. No hijacking was intended. FWIW I do understand the underlying issue here and have to agree with your thoughts on the importance of these forums, regardless of the which game they are for.

  46. You’ve already given your players a place where they can communicate with each other, and that’s inside your game. If they want to engage in discourse outside of the game, let them go to an actual fan site.

    In practice, people do NOT communicate effectively with each other within the game on the sorts of topics that tend to appear on forums. We’ve all seen that. When’s the last time that an in-depth dissection of a game system happened over public chat?

    Whether or not you “outsource” operation of the site, to deny the value of having a site where the operators are known to be members of the community seems foolish to me. A broadcast-news-and-comment-form system does not equate to participation. In fact, it encourages an “us vs them” mentality within the company.

    What you need is an “us and us” mentality from top to bottom, both on the operator and the customer side. This is very hard to achieve, but it can be done via forums as well as by other means.

    The only way to make sure that people are playing your game and not your forums, is to remove forums from the equation.

    I’ll say it again, bluntly: there’s nothing wrong with “playing the forums.” It is not a second-class activity. It is not somehow inferior engagement with the product, any more than chatting about music on a forum is “less real” a form of fandom than listening to the music is.

    By removing them from the equation (and you aren’t, really, all you are doing is pushing this form of engagement off to some other location) you are not removing players from “playing the forums.” You are removing yourself, as an operator, from playing the forums. The forum game will continue — you just won’t be in it.

  47. I’m one of the vocal forum posters. (yes, the level 1 ‘Wanderer’ of the WoW forums until I finally got fed up with Blizzard and wandered away) To take my little guild for example, we had about a dozen members in WoW. (we were never very large, and a bunch of members didn’t make the move to WoW with us) I was the only one who was active on the WoW boards. But every single member of our guild has quit WoW, and each and every one of them quit because of the same kind of issues that I had been ranting about on the forums. They didn’t bother with the forums. They didn’t rant. They didn’t complain. They just quietly took their money elsewhere.

    Some forum posters are out of sync with the rest of the game community. They’re usually fairly easy to identify: Look for the “STFU u stupid wanker” replies. Some are useless fanbois. They’re also easy to identify: Look for the “STFU u stupid fanboi” replies. Once you’ve filtered out those two extremes, you’re left with a group of people like me, people who represent to a significant extent the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of their friends and peers in the game. The other 80% might not be screaming about the same things on your forums, but you can be certain they’re talking about the same concerns in the game or at the water cooler. Like my guild, they will fold their tents and quietly slip away. And you won’t have any idea why they left.

    Customers are like any other business asset: You have to spend money to acquire them, and when you break them, you have to go buy more. They cost more every time, though, and the supply is finite. You can’t send the gopher over to Staples to pick up a case of new gamers. So it’s a really bad business decision to throw out the ones you’ve already got.

  48. I think people are forgetting how amazingly useful official forums can be if you get away from the main “general discussion” or whatever it is called forum. I have always found class-specific or tradeskill-specific forums to be full of really useful information about those classes or tradeskills, even if there is some whining and flaming there.

    A specific example is WoW. The general forum IS a cesspool, but the class-specific forums are excellent and have helped me figure out what I am doing every time I try a new class. I’ve seen similar things in other games.

    So don’t throw the baby (useful sub-forums) out with the bathwater (crappy general forums).

    Someone is going to say that fan sites could handle this stuff — if they emerge and if players can find them. I don’t want to have to search all of the internet to find the best “WoW rogues” or “WoW druids” forum if I can find a really good one right on the official site.

  49. Obviously, forum discussion has its advantages over live discussion in-game. But the developer benefits from forum discussions equally on a fansite forum as on a company-operated one…and without needing to identify himself or herself as a developer, which may seem beneficial at times.

    An “us and us” mentality is not beneficial. It does not help to essentially approach the player for design help, rather than simply listening and responding on an individual basis when approached (email and phone).

    For one thing, this discourages players from enjoying the game as it is. When a player feels empowered to change the game, that player is no longer free to simply “play” and instead adopts a critical mentality, which diminishes both the degree and longevity of enjoyment. When I played EQ (my first MMO) and was still ignorant of the degree of interaction between developers and players, I was far less critical of my gameplay experience than I was later with SWG. This had a significant impact on my ability to lose myself in the game and my overall perception of the game’s appeal. Players should feel separate from designers.

    An absence of a clear border between them also encourages developers to lose sight of their game’s core concept and philosophies, to undermine its essential definition (what makes it “this” game, as opposed to “that” game). It encourages the “customer is always right” attitude, by which can customers sneak into some measure of control and corrupt “The Vision”. What people ask for and what actually makes them happy are quite often not the same. An “us and us” mentality discourages recognition of that basic fact, and the repercussions can be great.

    Which is not to suggest that the company must think of itself as entirely separate from the players…a sense of community is definitley important. But official forums are the wrong way to go about ratifying that community.

  50. the developer benefits from forum discussions equally on a fansite forum as on a company-operated one…and without needing to identify himself or herself as a developer, which may seem beneficial at times.

    Having been there and done that, they do not benefit “equally” unless the measure of their participation is pretty much equivalent. In other words, they need to spend as much time and effort on the substitute forum. This is what I meant by “outsourcing” the forum.

    The nature of discussions most certainly does alter when developers are present. It gets both worse and better at the same time.

    An “us and us” mentality is not beneficial. It does not help to essentially approach the player for design help, rather than simply listening and responding on an individual basis when approached (email and phone).

    I can tell you that this is categorically false. Very few people approach you, as a percentage of the userbase, and most of those who do, do not have practical concrete advice to give. You get good feedback by shaping the discussion to the feedback you need. Relying solely on those who approach you will not hit all segments of the audience; will not direct the conversation to the areas where you need further information; and reduces the caliber of the data you do get.

    If it were useless to approach the customer, the entire field of market research would hit some rather severe stumbling blocks.

    this discourages players from enjoying the game as it is.

    This is an oddly self-defeating statement. It assumes that the game as it is is enjoyable, for one. This is a dangerous assumption. You’re essentially saying “we should never think about what potential there is because it will only make us unhappy with what we’ve got.” That’s a terrible attitude for all forms of product development, and also a bad place to be in as a consumer.

    Players should feel separate from designers.

    I think this approach is increasingly under question in modern participatory culture. Increasingly, there is no difference, in all forms of media.

    An absence of a clear border between them also encourages developers to lose sight of their game’s core concept and philosophies, to undermine its essential definition (what makes it “this” game, as opposed to “that” game). It encourages the “customer is always right” attitude, by which can customers sneak into some measure of control and corrupt “The Vision”. What people ask for and what actually makes them happy are quite often not the same. An “us and us” mentality discourages recognition of that basic fact, and the repercussions can be great.

    I agree that this is a risk, but it’s a risk entirely on the developer’s side. They need to not pander, certainly. But you can pander just as much by not having forums, and instead relying on what the marketing dept. tells you, or the money people. In the end, it’s certainly wiser to listen to what the customers as a whole want, than listen to single individuals.

  51. well… I had total 10 accounts for my wife daughters and myself, after nge 4 of them stayed active, my wife quit and i was only paying for forum post and a hope for they give us what we want (a classic server) . After reading this mans post i won the fastest account canceller award of SWG history. All my remaining accounts canceled in 2 minutes. I hope God punishes them.

  52. It saddens me when organizations do not learn from thier past mistakes.

    Theres so much here to comment on, I’ll leave it alone though, flogging the same dead dog to the video game industry is tiring, and I have my own dust particle to create and throw in the air

    Theres a metric in politics, it goes like this, for every person who phones thier congressmen about an issue, there are 1,000 other people who dont call but feel the same way.

    Thus, for every forum troll who posts a complaint, that game companies disregard, ignore and discount there are likely houndreds of others if not thousands who dont post that feel the same way.

    Devs and other organizational people should avoid at all costs getting into flame wars or posting anything but the most professional comments on thier boards forums. The brief industry history there is teaches that players ALWAYS, and I do mean ALWAYS have the last word, and that last word can take to form of cancelations. Weather its sanctioned or unsanctioned forums/blogs/sites/cancel buttons.

    The question is not, will players have more of a voice, and if game companies will listen. The market dictates that the game companies NO LONGER have the convieniance of debating these things.

    The question is how and what form it will take (my dust particle concerns this) and how much the industry will buy-in to the premise of “collaboration” with its consumers. Failure to adapt to this simple premise, means failure in the marketplace.

    Stakeholders do not like failure, and Stockholders are even less forgiving.

    FWIW to SWG players and SONY:
    The Game IS the Boards, the its time to remove the VS from the equation

  53. No, choosing to not directly invite customers into design discussions does not assume that the game is just fine. Instead, it encourages clearer distinction between petty and major customer concerns. If you have developed a semi-personal relationship with your customers, they will not wait until disaster to point out problems or refrain from providing creative and constructive feedback.

    How do you create a personal relationship with customers without design discussions, before the customer has a concern (and, in a sense, it’s too late)? You do it the way business owners have done it since the dawn of history: you don’t limit your discussions to business. Modern economic theory has a bad habit of approaching business as separate from social life (which is why “it’s just business” is a common…and false..moral distinction in modern society). Though I have mixed opinions about Vanguard’s pre-beta forums, one certain and significant benefit of Sigil’s CS approach is that the devs’ many friendly (non-business) discussions created and strengthened customer loyalties.

    Anyway, when one is encouraged to think of potentials and ideals only occasionally and naturally, then that person can typically enjoy what already is. But when potentials and ideals are considered constantly and responsively, that type of thinking commonly leads to dissatisfaction with the present. Without direct encouragement like official forums, players will continue to help developers improve, but they will do so with moderation, with temperance…without spoiling their enjoyment of the game.

    You’re correct that the border between consumers and producers is increasingly questioned in many industries, but that doesn’t qualify it as progress. Really, one might argue that this trend is more about culture than profit; that it’s merely the economic application of a cultural attitude which disfavors concepts of roles and absolutes.

  54. Having been there and done that, they do not benefit “equally” unless the measure of their participation is pretty much equivalent. In other words, they need to spend as much time and effort on the substitute forum. This is what I meant by “outsourcing” the forum.

    The nature of discussions most certainly does alter when developers are present. It gets both worse and better at the same time.

    I appreciate that you have a better perspective on this than I do. Could you go into more detail on that, with some specific examples, please?

  55. And of course, at some point, you may find that it’s those machinima dudes that land you on South Park or something. You never know when your will get added value from a constituency you devalued.

    True story. I dabble in machinima and was recently contacted by the video director of a well-known rock band. He had seen my videos and wondered if some stills could be worked up to add as background to concert video. Unfortunately, he needed a very quick turnaround time and I knew that getting permission to do this from the powers-that-be would be difficult to get in a short time I was unable to help him. This happened completely out of the blue. Made my year, though.

    Too bad entertainers are only good for eating! 😉

  56. I think that forums can be done well. And I do agree that forum readers (and those who “play” on the forum) are such a sizable audience that you do have to deal with them somehow.

    But there are some conflicts of interest going on.

    #1 — Over-the-top negative posters present a PR problem. If your point of contact with consumers and potential consumers is overflowing with negativity (and consumers aren’t savvy as to whether this is “play” posting or actually represents the product) then this can be bad.

    #2 — Those “playing” the forum kill its value as a communication tool to the developers. If you wanted the forums to be a source of feedback then you DO need to remove the metagame a bit if you want to get good feedback.

    So you’re balancing these two issues whenever you make forums. I don’t think these mean that you don’t want forums. I think that #1 is an issue that comes up mostly because corporate entities all too often fail to focus on their core audience and get greedy about the audience they don’t have (arguably the same mistake that leads to stuff like SWG’s NGE). Generally I think that having such a rabid audience is going to help more than hurt, that the passion is an asset to be cultivated not stomped on, but I can see where companies go the other way. Maybe the solution here is, as SWG did a for a while, to close the forums to non-subscribers?

    For #2, I guess the argument is (as mentioned) that the forums are for the players to talk to other players (and “flame” and “play” with other players). If that’s what you want to accomplish then I think that’s ok. I do think that a lot of companies honestly want forums to be a form of feedback on their efforts and get frustrated when they fail. Focus testing is really important but when performing testing you can have a sample of opinions ruined just by having one very vocal person overly influence the reactions of other people (and such people may be removed or the groups they are in may be discounted just so that one person doesn’t disproportionately affect the results). It’s hard to watch what could be a really great focus test over a potentially large sample get ruined by the creation of an attention-grabbing metagame and I can understand why developers want to try and get rid of this metagame.

    There’s a desire for cleaner communication with respect to #2 coming from both sides, players and developers. Players also want to be able to provide focus testing. They do want developers to hear them and react to their desires. However, if the metagame of attention-grabbing is too strong then that’s all the developers can hear. This is why the replies to the SWG dev are split between, “how dare you discount us like that” and “yes, stop paying attention to all those drama queens and listen to me instead”.

    And if you want your forums to just be a place for players to play then you have to be aware that you’ll not be making them happy with your silence. They DO want to feel that you are listening. That’s what makes the game fun. But as the game gets going it also becomes less important/valuable to actually listen. It’s a catch-22.

  57. They took 30 some proffessions and made it 9. They dis-enfranchised thier core audience. We gave up on being vocal about it because they never listened. Now they start listening a little bit and say were not being constructive. We tried and tried and tried. They failed and will continue to fail.

    Thank you Raph for dreaming, envisioning, and creating the best MMO I have ever played. The Sandbox forever (SWG pre-cu)!

  58. I’ll say it again, bluntly: there’s nothing wrong with “playing the forums.” It is not a second-class activity. It is not somehow inferior engagement with the product, any more than chatting about music on a forum is “less real” a form of fandom than listening to the music is.

    Thanks for saying this Raph. I was getting a real case of cognitive dissonance…reading a blog oriented towards gaming where people are dissing online discussion of gaming.

  59. Raph……why did you leave us with these’s traders… they nor not what they do. the game you made.gone it is.. consumed by SOE/LA

    SWG is not fun any more. im sad you left us!, i guess when you leave everyone leaves and its pretty much over (
    where you got Raph i follow !! i dont trust any one else besides you!

  60. […] 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 […]

  61. It encourages the “customer is always right” attitude, by which can customers sneak into some measure of control and corrupt “The Vision”.

    And that, right there, is the problem in a nutshell. Way too many developers think exactly like that.

    If what you care about is your pure, uncorrupted “Vision” then go make art. Or a MUD.

    If what you care about is manufacturing the products that your customers want to buy, then you’d damn well better let your customers “sneak into some measure of control” or you’ll find yourself with no buyers for what you’re trying to sell.

    “The Vision” is great, but the grocery store doesn’t accept it as legal tender. Art and business are two different things.

  62. The film industry is both art and business, and it operates in the way I suggested. The production company judges its target audience’s interests based on feedback from past products. They’ll often use small internal showings to discover what about their product in development needs to be tweaked (not unlike MMO betas). Then they place the product on the market and let consumers take it or leave it, with the help of PR influence.

    The major difference with MMOs is that content directly related to that product continues to be developed past the initial release. Because the MMO industry is still in its infancy, views vary widely about how best to approach that further development. My own approach would be to treat the initial release as a finished product, focusing on bug fixes and content expansion. Why should it be different than Dell selling you a computer, then only supplying you with mild software updates and optional purchases to expand your product experience?

  63. It has been impossible, for quite some time, to control the discussion. Trying to do so makes you look foolish. The only thing you can do, from a corporate marketing standpoint, in any industry, is decide to participate or not, and then decide how.

    Some companies really just stay out of the fray as much as possible. Many law firms have very, very strict rules about allowing their lawyers to do any kind of online comms. Because it is very, very difficult to monitor and to control the effects, and you owe your clients control. Same with companies that are doing R&D. You just shut up. If you shut up enough, there won’t be lots of chatter about you, because nobody will no much about what you’re doing. Hard, but not impossible.

    For an online service like an MMO, though? Impossible. And dumb. The folks that are attracted to communicating online through an MMO/VW are going to be (go figure) attracted to communicating online through other, similar media like forums, BBSs, blogs, wikis, etc.

    The trick from a corporate marketing standpoint is to channel and control the *flow* — never the message. That is what is different about the current media. Everyone with a blog or a MySpace page has the ability to post a message. Raph, here, can generate as much content and link-love as can an offical press release. So… if you can’t control the messages… if people will say what they will… if the content is out of your hands… what do you do?

    Manage the flow. Make the place(s) where the messaging happens as convivial and easy to use as possible. Make the metadata there really helpful; ie, don’t make me wander through 3,026 pages of a forum boards to find the answer to a tech question; use good taggging or search methodology. Separate out the “official” stuff from the community stuff. Have clear rules about what is allowed and what ain’t; and make the rules about what ain’t very, very clear and based on something that you can stand behind; like the law. If you’re not going to provide a particular communication service — like space for rants — point to who does. This is all flow management. If you, as the company don’t do it, somebody else will. Or it will happen randomly. It’s the difference between handing out buckets and handing out surf boards.

    Managing flow also means educating your people on good communication policy, strategy and messaging. If you’re going to let your employees blog or post in any way… put them in a room and tell them: “Saying (X) will get you fired. Saying (Y) is something you check with someone in PR or marketing. Saying (Z) is something you might want to avoid, but if you’ve got big brass ones… give it a whirl. Saying (A-W)… that’s great.” Clarity is very, very helpful.

    There’s a whole school of PR and marketing management that applies to this kind of stuff. It’s having to rejigger itself for a world where people can set up their own soap-boxes in 6 minutes on WordPress… but most of the rules still hold true, even if the applications are different.

    And, yes… even before Everything 2.0, badmouthing your customers in a public forum was always, always, always… a very bad idea.

  64. Andy Havens wrote:

    Managing flow also means educating your people on good communication policy, strategy and messaging.

    On a related note, I just wrote a quickie article on Delivering Messages Effectively.

  65. If the majority of your player base is making angry postings.

    I think that means something is wrong.

    I have been on a few forums where games were entirely broken… but the forums were not in flames. Why?

    1. The developers posted, and posted as if hey ,while separate, were also players of the game.
    2. They don’t post things that demean parts of there player base, or categorize them in any fashion other than maybe factions that are in the game.
    3. They ask, without giving a shopping list of “Talking point” questions of there players.
    4. They post jokes, and own mistakes.
    5. They act human, not god like.

  66. […] Raph Koster: “All in the Orbit”Posted Oct 6th 2006 3:15PM by Akela TalamascaFiled under: Odds and EndsRaph Koster, game designer and writer of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, has posted on his blog about the continued debate over the usefulness of forums. What he’s talking about here is not strictly about forums, but rather about the communication that forums (or fora, to use the correct term) engender, and how important that is.He also ties that notion in to the larger issue of perceived value. In this open letter to game/world developers, Raph insists that the uses to which users will put your worlds are not always in line with your intentions as designers, but that you’d better pay attention to them anyway. The key word here is community. People, even those who complain most bitterly about the game, are still your users, and they’re using your product because they choose to. You need to support that as much as you can.It’s a good article, and worth reading (it’s fairly short), as well as following the embedded links, which lead to related posts.(Via Raph’s Website)Permalink […]

  67. […] Raph’s Website » Players who post, posters who play In talking about the different constituencies of a game, I see another view of how virtual worlds merge into the real world. (tags: mmog social) […]

  68. I manage a fairly large board and have done so for about 5 years. If there is one thing I know it is that you will never have a successful board if you limit or restrict how it is used.
    The users establish that.

    A game board gives context to the game. While you are playing you can be completely oblivious to most of the social structure, but on the board it is right there, plain as day and it is persistant.

    Many game boards do not know what a moderator is. These boards will become unmanagable quite quickly. A moderators job should be to moderate.
    Not debate or argue or to tow the party line, but to step in and make posts that have the result of moderating things. Keeping subjects from getting too enflamed or livening up subjects so they are not too dull.
    A moderator’s job should not be policeman.
    I could go on and on about how many boards, particularly game boards simply do not understand this concept.
    By the way, I found Raph’s site while trying to become a better moderator. It has been invaluable!

  69. […] This topic got out quick hehe They even got burnt by Raph Koster for this unprofessional act. https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/10/0…sters-who-play/ […]

  70. Up to this day I still cannnot believe what was done to the players of SWG. I bought SWG for 49.99 + tax and started to play SWG in January 2004 and to be honest I was amazed on how diverse and Entertaining the game was. It blew my mind that you had players dancing, Making Armor, PVping, Making Buildings, and even people who where Chefs. When the CU “Combat Upgrade” was put in I was shocked, I just coundlnt believe that a Development team would basically slap all of its loyal paying customers. I can understand patches coming out doing minor things but the CU completely changed the game. Alot of the people i had met left the game when the CU was implemented and I dont blame them, but I decided to stay and maybe hope that SOE/ LA would someday listen to its loyal customers and players and give us what we all wanted. I stuck around during the CU and continued to try and make the best of it, then months later the NGE was implemented. This really made me feel like an idiot because I had bought SWg for 49.99 and given SOE/ La so much money, and instead of learning from there mistake, they implemented another huge patch to the game, it turns out that this one completely ruined the game. Jedi was given to everyone, over 20 Professions where instantly deleted and the entire player base that was playing at that time was basically slapped and spit. I didnt quite SWG, I was basically forced to leave because the game that i had purchased was no longer available to play. I have decided not to buy or play anything related to SOE and LA and i advise everyone else to do the same. I still do not understand why SOE/La had to punish all of its loyal customers/players. I do beleive in forgiveness though, If SOE/La released SWG PreCu and Cu I would know that they are sorry and I would give them 1 more chance. I was never interested in WoW, but when the NGE came out I had to go to the next best game. WoW isnt as fun as SWG but at least Blizzard knows how to treat there customers/players. I will always remember the greatest game ever made and the good times I had, and the people who treated its loyal customers and players like trash.

  71. […] [Delete this Post] I thought this was very timely;https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/10/05/players-who-post-posters-who-play/I note that Second Life is abolishing their forums and moving all debate to the blog format. I think that this has some legs, actually.We are going to roll out a ooo and PP blog soon, and may be able to fairly easily support players creating their own blogs. This would be awesome. I don’t think we’ll be able to kill the forums, but it sure is tempting sometimes! […]

  72. I really dont get SOE, I been watching all interactions about 1 1/2 years And watched them lie about a lie about a lie. SERIOUSLY. I can uderstand a lie hear and there from a corporation but my god. And what do they want exactly? ( please only post confirming we are correct in a worshiping fashion please.

    Well on a lighter note…..Raph I like your vision, took SOE blunders to see why it worked, somethings I never considered as most dont, I guess even now there arnet many calls for the core stuff just cosmetic..

    Maybe SOE can grow a brain and look at WOW as a MMO training ground producing MMO’ers who evolved past the watered down MMO…

    Wish you could give us a honest complete breakdown on it….god I do

  73. I disagree with Raph today =)

    I’ll say it again, bluntly: there’s nothing wrong with “playing the forums.” It is not a second-class activity. It is not somehow inferior engagement with the product, any more than chatting about music on a forum is “less real” a form of fandom than listening to the music is.

    I dispute your statement that “playing the forums” is not a second-class activity. It most definitely IS a second class activity. You’re selling me an MMORPG here, not an MMORPG plus forums. When I think of the amount of effort companies waste on trying to run official forums, I shudder. They should leave that to fansites that are more likely to do a decent job of it, and concentrate on the part we’re paying them for–the GAME.

    “Extras” like official forums are a good idea only if they help the game community more than they hurt it. And I have yet to see an official forum for a mainstream MMORPG that wasn’t a cesspool of hate and flames. That negativity causes some customers to simply ignore it, but it causes others to quit. When I used to maintain a suite of AddOns for WoW, the negativity of the forums was *depressing*. And the General forum moved so fast that by the time you skimmed one thread, an entire page of new threads would get created–most of them trolls or flames and not worth reading.

    How about this: if you insist on having an official forums, identify every user’s posts with their REAL NAME and the city they live in. Maybe having it tied to their real-world identity would make them think before flaming.

    (I know, I’m a hypocrite for not posting this under my real name…)

  74. You’re selling me an MMORPG here, not an MMORPG plus forums.

    I am selling YOU an MMORPG. Someone else might be buying a community for when they are lonely, a place to hang out with their boyfriend, a single-player RPG, or a UI system to learn how to customize.

    You guys all realize, we’re not that far away from the day when web access from within the game is taken for granted, forums are in the game and out of them and are the same forums…

  75. You guys all realize, we’re not that far away from the day when web access from within the game is taken for granted, forums are in the game and out of them and are the same forums…

    It’s already here EVE Online does it’s ticketing system using an in-game browser, the same in-game browser to browse websites on the internet, view FAQs and other information, etc, all from within the game. They now have in-game Teamspeak as well….

  76. Raph said:

    I very much agree — that’s the point I was trying to make about choosing who the product is for. The thing you need to take into account with something like forums is that the sheer volume of people who participate makes them a constituency you likely cannot ignore (IMHO, anything that accounts for a double-digit percentage of your userbase has got to be considered a primary audience). And unlike the porno case, there’s not a default cast to the community there; you can shape it to a degree. If you want a more roleplay-oriented community, or a community about governance, or a community about purely social stuff, you can structure the forums to achieve that end.

    And like every other activity in the genre, the quality and quantity of the resources you choose to address this with shows through and has great significance to the result, not unlike other areas of these titles.

  77. Raph said:

    You guys all realize, we’re not that far away from the day when web access from within the game is taken for granted, forums are in the game and out of them and are the same forums.

    When the forums become accessible from inside a game it stands to reason they are going to be viewed as part of the game (pretty obvious actually). How could they not be? I also have to agree that many folks don’t draw a mental boundary between their activites inside of an MMORPG and on sites or forums related to that game.

    Many who play the non-combat/social part of these games don’t distinguish in-game friends from out-of-game friends. They are one in the same. So, when they are offline, at work for example, the forums are how they keep in touch. It’s no different than chatting with a friend at another office during the day via MSN.

    As so many other folks have already pointed out, there may be other reasons players aren’t in the game. If companies would actually listen to what people are really saying – even the trolling – they might just figure out why Bobby or Suzy is not playing. Heck, maybe they’d even be able to resolve the problem and get them back into the game! Imagine that!

    That’s the real trick though, isn’t it.

    Poster = Players
    Players = Posters

    I dunno, seems pretty simple to me.

  78. You guys all realize, we’re not that far away from the day when web access from within the game is taken for granted, forums are in the game and out of them and are the same forums.

    I’m surprised we’re not there now. Gametap has browsers and AOL and MSN and all that already, and it adds to the experience. Anarchy Online begs to have browser capability at all those computer terminals around the towns; ESPECIALLY clickable links to all those advertisements. Holy crap. What are their salespeople thinking? “For another $50 a month, players can click your ad and be taken to your website.” DUH people!

    Okay, I’m probably going to get lynched for saying that….

    Many who play the non-combat/social part of these games don’t distinguish in-game friends from out-of-game friends. They are one in the same.

    That reminds me of one of those crazy surveys passed around among my MySpace friends. One of the questions was “How many of your friends do you know in real life?” My friend responded “You mean MySpace doesn’t exist in real life?”

    I play WoW almost constantly with my brother. Does he stop existing in real life as soon as we’re playing together?

  79. By removing [players who game the forum] from the equation (and you aren’t, really, all you are doing is pushing this form of engagement off to some other location) you are not removing players from “playing the forums.” You are removing yourself, as an operator, from playing the forums. The forum game will continue — you just won’t be in it.

    This is demonstrably true in the case of several subcommunities within SWG (sorry to go back to it but it’s the game I know best). In one instance a profession was being removed from the game entirely and they formed a ‘lifeboat’ board where members of that profession still hang out but are now free to discuss the game as it is, the merits and demerits of other games, etc. We’d be only to happy to have a SWG dev or two pop in and be members, but in this instance they would have to acknowledge that they were guests on *our* boards.

    Another instance is of members of a community who found they were regularly being swamped by spammers and trolls from the community at large. They were also restricted by the terms of the board as to what could or could not be discussed, so they formed an offsite forum which at times had the result of removing information which would have been of use to casual visitors to their galaxy out to a ‘secret’ location.

    If the board mechanic, the community or the devs and mods remove players or player communities, or make it more sensible for players to remove themselves, from the boards they simply give up control of the content that those communities generated.

    This would apply in any other game with boards or for tha matter in any real world environment where people are (or feel) excluded, marginalised or silenced by authority.

  80. Yivvits said on October 7th, 2006 at 7:48 pm:

    Raph said:

    You guys all realize, we’re not that far away from the day when web access from within the game is taken for granted, forums are in the game and out of them and are the same forums.

    When the forums become accessible from inside a game it stands to reason they are going to be viewed as part of the game (pretty obvious actually). How could they not be? I also have to agree that many folks don’t draw a mental boundary between their activites inside of an MMORPG and on sites or forums related to that game.

    Many who play the non-combat/social part of these games don’t distinguish in-game friends from out-of-game friends. They are one in the same. So, when they are offline, at work for example, the forums are how they keep in touch. It’s no different than chatting with a friend at another office during the day via MSN.

    As so many other folks have already pointed out, there may be other reasons players aren’t in the game. If companies would actually listen to what people are really saying – even the trolling – they might just figure out why Bobby or Suzy is not playing. Heck, maybe they’d even be able to resolve the problem and get them back into the game! Imagine that!

    That’s the real trick though, isn’t it.

    Poster = Players
    Players = Posters

    I dunno, seems pretty simple to me.

    I’ve got to agree on that point. The point where ‘game + forums + messenger’ all merge into just ‘game’ is rapidly approaching (see the ingame browser in SL as an example, or the spawning of an external browser window in some games when you access their ‘in game’ help, or the spread of systems like X-Fire, TeamSpeak etc)

    There are only players, not players who this or players who that, just players. Sometimes we’re one type, at other times under different circumstances we’re another type. This is really very, very basic social psychology (roles, ascribed roles, etc.)

    First and foremost players want to play. We all have our own definition of ‘fun’ and we all have our own preferred ways of acquiring it. Players are also social beings. We read forums, reviews, hear word of mouth, spot coverage on the news and we form our own (often mistaken) opinions about what a game and by inference it’s community are like. (qv the South Park episode or any abysmal cop drama that mentions ‘yeah, of course he was a bit strange, he played Dwarves and Dragons most weeknights with his geek friends..’)

    But the forums (official and unofficial), blogs, chatrooms, fansites, they are all part of our way of finding the ‘fun’ and of extending it beyond the game.

  81. Two absolutely irrelevant points:

    1) You can nest blockquotes inside each other.

    2) The webmistress can use the CSS rule, “#centercontent blockquote blockquote” to change what the background color of nested blockquotes is.

  82. Michael ChuiYou can nest blockquotes inside each other.
    You might be able to use the fieldset and legend tags too. 🙂

  83. Was I the only one who thought from the topic name it was going to be about having the forums be in-character vs. out-of-character?

    Odd thought: You can play the socializer game easily enough in forums instead of just in game, and the killer game too, many people seem to think. Those who play explorer types can’t do that out-of-game, but peers with the same interests and knowledge can be few and far between, it’s useful to have a meeting place. It’s really achivers that get the short end of the stick, but they can certainly settle in near the fire and talk up a good story.

    Other odd thought: I’m giving a lot of thought to paying for my Second Life Account, and one of the main reasons to do so would be the forums.

  84. Now I want to see if I can apply the style attribute…

    Like that.

    Heh.

  85. Note to self: install WordPress and find a way to extract this damn algorithm. I could use it.

  86. Thanks for the level headed and well written post on this topic. Being a player who posts :), I have already commented in the thread that originated this topic.

    Since I am essentially in customer service myself, both in person and via web responses, I feel that it is important, and the originator of the Players who Post thread doesn’t ever *get* the fact that you can and should always consider what you say and write before you speak or write because you represent something larger than yourself.

    It is in fact infinetely easier to control the tone and effect of what you write because you can hide your tone of voice and your facial response and body language. You can and should, especially if you are the community service representitive or some higher eschelon person, come across as intelligent, knowledgeable and professional. No matter how hot the topic, no matter how provocative the customer might be, you have to stop, think, write with more in mind than your own personal response.

    You, Raph are a great example of how this can be done. You do it here with panache. The first time I was aware of you was on the SWG forums in the “Theory of Fun” thread. Your answers were exactly what they should be. Your attitude appeared to be very very reasonable, no matter the flame ridden responses.

    There has to be and should be a give and take between players and game staff. It should be respectful coming from the company selling the product. The out of line customer just needs to be handled as smoothly as possible, because the world is always watching.

  87. When I read that post I could not believe that someone would actually have wrote that to the player base. I do understand to a degree that Chris and other developers do get tired of answering the same posts over and over ( server rollback etc…) they also have to understand that the community’s trust in them is in a almost non-existant position. The entire issue of the NGE and the way that SOE handled it should be required case study in poor customer relations. SOE abused their customer’s trust and to regain that trust takes time and also through action. I can understand that the job of a developer of a online game must be a real thankless position and in the end developers are humans too. I am sure that they get fustrated with things, BUT with the tone of his post it was almost defamatory. That should never be allowed to happen and with that one post again the community that does play and post felt like they got slapped in the face. In times where you already have a upset player base, posts like that tend to move the person towards the I cancel button very quickly.

  88. You guys all realize, we’re not that far away from the day when web access from within the game is taken for granted, forums are in the game and out of them and are the same forums…

    Thinking about my old P+P days with D+D, the way players would chat around the table, around the game and during it, this just seems like a natural extension.

    In my mind, the real question becomes how it’s done. If you have a “roleplaying” game, you might want to build in some kind of feeling in the system to adhere to the feeling of the game. So, in a sci-fi game it would be easy to add in a communication device that links to the forums, and feels “right” (I actually expected this from SWG). It gets a little trickier in a medieval fantasy game, but still can be done very nicely, I think. Suppose that the player “uses” something in game to link to the forums?
    A fireplace in a tavern.
    A tome in a library.
    (giving that “use” to these structures)
    A campfire in a campsite. (perhaps player created, for ease, as well as keeping those wondering MOBs at bay while “away/asleep”)

  89. […] 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." […]

  90. […] favourite Dev.. yeah Ekic http://mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm?thread=97699&bhcp=1 i don’t really want to talk about it much, i only posted this here to add something to that “we are going to hav a brighter future” picture be sure to read Raphs comment on it: https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/10/05…ters-who-play/ […]

  91. Raph said:

    You guys all realize, we’re not that far away from the day when web access from within the game is taken for granted, forums are in the game and out of them and are the same forums…

    Yep. And I realize that I can take my cell phone into the movies, and use my laptop in meetings, and exchange notes with friends during a class and, heck, even talk out loud with my buddies throughout a movie.

    Just because something *can be done does not mean that it *should* be done. I’m not saying I’m against forum or web access being embedded in a game; if there’s a dang point for having them in a game. Same for any other system or function or feature. If having a HUD makes the game better, have a HUD. If a mini-map is a distraction and doesn’t help, get rid of it. Same for forums/web access. If you can show that they add to the value of the game, go for it.

    But Raph also makes the good point that an MMO might be a great solo game for some people, and some might want to play it in small groups and not have to be on the forums, etc. etc. So… do you want to really build in a somewhat extra-environmental feature that may not be core to gameplay if it is going to be something that separates out classes of users? IE, “posters” vs. “players?” I’m not sure.

  92. One way to look at this is just as follows:

    While I used to say that the SWG forums were another product for SOE, I always commented that they usually degenerated into what was basically a very aggressive form of PvP. Instead of ganking an opponent you flame them (or post devastating arguments, or have your friends make fun of them, or whatever). As long as you don’t put profanity in your posts you can get away with a lot of ego bashing.

    And yet, I think that we could agree that wide open, no-holds-barred PvP generally isn’t that great and that it was only after PvP had some limitations and rules slapped on it ala DAoC and WoW that it actually started to work (modulo a small minority of players who will always pine for UO’s wide open PvP).

    Is it really a good thing to more seamlessly integrate this into the game? Can you really say that this won’t hurt other demographics?

    While I can go either way on the overall question of having forums, I see both sides, I don’t think you can ignore the affects that a wild, nasty, flame-filled forum can have on players who aren’t in its target demographic. And just as PvP has to come with limitations and rules in order to make it accessible for a larger audience, I think you need to focus on the need to throw a lot of rules, limitations and attention onto your forums. It’s not just a matter of: “some audience of players wants this, so let’s give it to them”. It’s actually a lot more complicated and difficult than all that.

    That the demographic is large DOES mean that it needs to be given due consideration. But considering that demographic does not mean, “give them exactly what they want.”

  93. It does occasionally happen: StGabe and I are in agreement!

    I’ve of course written and spoken at length about managing forums and communities in general — and I do mean managing here, not just relating — and in general I have advocated fairly Machiavellian tactics for keeping the peace, while still permitting full freedom of speech and total honesty.

    At some point here, I should write down my current prescriptions for community management…

  94. […] Ale nie to jest głównym problemem. Ostatnio rozgorzała dyskusja na temat feedbacku jaki otrzymują developerzy gier poprzez swoje fora internetowe. Jednym z pierwszych artykułów w  tym temacie były Players who post, posters who play oraz artykuł z Gamasutry które prezentowałem już wcześniej. W połączeniu ze statystykami zaprezentowanymi przez SOE można by dojść do wniosku, że rzeczywiście to co pojawia się na forach może być bardzo daleko od tego co sądzi większość graczy. Dyskusja ta toczy się na wielu stronach i blogach na całym świecie. Jednym ze świeższych i ciekawszych artykułów jest Playing The Boards. […]

  95. The benefit of an official forum in terms of exchange of ideas is significant but is also limited by the development work schedule and assigned tasks. Talking about the potential changes to game balance will not yield good results if a large part of the development team is assigned to another task that will last months like let’s say creating an expansion. After all that time of course the many concepts involved in game balance might change (especially if new gear is provided in the expansion, heh). At best making an official thread about a subject that will not be addressed makes it so that users will feel ignored.

    As a user I can grow very irritated when I am officially asked my opinion on a subject if I discover later that there was no plan to address it. Why make an official thread about smuggling if a smuggler’s revamp is at the bottom of the pile? Why make a thread for us to log bugs from test center if it will be pushed to live anyway? I do not mind speaking of points that will not be addressed with other users as that can be rewarding in itself but an official thread is another matter entirely.

    As a developer in real life I encourage my users to have a list of their needs and to speak with each other and I’m willing to give them an ear to rant but I won’t officially ask them to go in detail about it until after the task is assigned to me. I will show them how to push their needs to my supervisor in order for the task to be officially assigned to me (a luxury that is not possible on MMOs). I will not however make a thread for them to give me all their suggestion while I know fully well that I might not be able to address them before 8 months.

  96. […]   SWGStraticsVoice – 9:16 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. […]

  97. […] Why, therefore, is the question of what forums are good for such a perennial issue? Why, in particular, do many developers seem to exhibit varying degrees of hostility to forums as a source of information, and cast them instead as a tool for "community management"?I’m thinking about this question again because of an outbreak of cross-blog conversation between some of the usual suspects in response to SWG developer Chris Cao’s irritated response to the SWG forums. […]

  98. […] I’m thinking about this question again because of an outbreak of cross-blog conversation between some of the usual suspects in response to SWG developer Chris Cao’s irritated response to the SWG forums. […]

  99. […] A few comments from my friend Chris Cao have ignited a bit of controversy, with Lum and Raph chiming in, among others. Though I moved from community management to design a while ago, being involved in the goings-on of communities isn’t something you can ever really walk away from. Just ask the two guys to whom I linked. […]

  100. […] Prince for Whatever (emprint) wrote,@ 2006-10-12 10:51:00      Go play? On RPG forums, you see a lot of arguments about people who play games versus those who “just” read them. They go like this:A: “This game sucks! The magic system is broken and the setting has holes in it you could drive a Mage Revised thread through.”B: “Whatever. If you’d actually played it, you’d know your mother sucks cocks in hell.”C: “I play it, and it makes my group want to hold hands and have singalongs! My players and I ignore the magic system, because I’m too dumb to figure out how it works.”D: “These games are about fun! By which I mean playing D&D!”B: “C, shut up about that Forgite bullshit.”D: “This game encourages railroading, anyway. I like the freedom of deciding whether or not to check for traps.”B: “D, your conceptions of what an RPG can be are too narrow. Something that can’t be said about your mother.”MOD: “B, this is your warning: do not violate Rule 6: ‘Respect other posters’ mothers.'”(For what it’s worth, I’m usually C.) All of these people are trying to define each other out of the argument.But aren’t they all actually involved in the game? Yeah, they are. Which brings me to some interesting comments from Raph Koster, former designer for UO and SWG. He was talking about MMOGs, but they apply to us, too:In other words, “posters who play” and “players who post” is a false dichotomy. They are both in your product’s orbit even if they aren’t paying you. They just “play” your product in different ways. People who watch Smallville, people who hoard old Lois & Clark DVDs, people who admire the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, people who read the comic, people who saw one or other of the movies, people who buy the lunchbox, people who read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, people who have a vinyl figure of Supes on their desk or a big red S on their underwear… they are all in the orbit. The guy with the briefs may well never consider picking up the comic. He is still, in a weird way, a Superman customer, a possible Superman community member. (Possibly, his member is a member. Ooh, did I just write that?)Thoughts?(Read comments)Post a comment in response: From:Anonymous OpenID Identity URL:  Log in?  LiveJournal user Username:Password:Log in?  Subject: […]

  101. Raph I hope you don’t take your ideas on keeping the peace from either of these fine articles.(Which it would seem a lot of Developers use as guidelines.)

    Confessions of an Arch-Wizard

    Any SWG players might find the first link interesting as I found this little paragraph on a draft version still up on the site.

    “In 1991, I wrote an article called “Confessions of an Arch-Wizard” which has become the seminal guide for Arch-Wizards and multi user game managers ever since. I didn’t think people still took much notice of it until I was asked by Sony if they could use it in their new game, Star Wars Universes.”

    and

    A Machiavellian Wizard Lecture

  102. Lorry is misremembering. I used a few paragraphs from his “Confessions” in my presentation on Small Worlds. The bit in question is about how dramatic and random-seeming policing events are more effective in reducing the rates of antisocial behavior (in real life and in virtual worlds) than consistent policing. Basically, people behave better when they never know if the lightning will strike.

    I know that Gordon “Tyrant” Walton employs this technique (though probably not from this source). Basically, it’s the approach of having big public bannings from time to time, which then act as a deterrent.

  103. raph, thank you for addressing this issue. it’s great to see that someone gets it. the thought that there are developers who actually put some kind of precedence on their customers based upon them not agreeing with their leisure activites is ludicrous. when someone is providing a service for money, they are smart when they leave their opinions of how that service is used at the door, within obvious reasonable bounds. then again, they are also smart when they listen to their existing customer base i.e. “dance with the ones that brought them”.

    i have to wonder what they teach some of these folks that end up in the decision making positions for some of these companies.

  104. […] Lt. their copying SWG, which made alot of bad choices, and eventual turned into the lifeless shell it is today. Their following the same maximize your return scheme, SOE/LucasArts did. check this blog, about how forums are "bad". http://mythicalblog.com/blog/2006/03/23/forums-are-bad/ then when your done with that if you have the time, read this one from Raph Koster, SWG’s lead designer (before he got fired) continues to watch the MMo scene from a distance fring off rounds of wisdom. it’s a bit of a read… but worth it ! https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/10/05/players-who-post-posters-who-play/ – – – – – Huh.. what.. what… ?!?_________________Some people make things happen. Some people watch things happen. Some people wonder what happened. […]

  105. […] Example B, Raph links it as discussion about whether forums should be run: 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. […]

  106. […] a billion fansites out there. There’s many virtues to having an official forum (and I have written about them before), but there’s also a lot to be said for encouraging a diverse ecosystem of sites. More Google […]

  107. […] you IRL too, and the place they bring the fight is on the message boards. Kinda goes along with the recent debate over whether the forums and chat are part of the […]

  108. […] target! In his honor I will posts link's to statements about his post! […]

  109. […] who visit the forums do so in search of information about the game in question. The forum regulars, those who play the forum game, are a minority of the player […]

  110. […] the opinion that online games out to have official forums.  There a costs, both financial and in political games, but those seem to me to be balanced out by having an area under the company’s control that […]

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