Suggestion Box
Apr 21, 2008 19:54:00

suggestion boxIt was just recently that Mark Jacobs, GM/VP of EA Mythic announced that there would be no official forums for Warhammer Online, citing among the reason the abuse to which it would subject developers. Is this a bad move on behalf of EA Mythic? At first even I thought so "" but not any more. Now I not only applaud the decision but I believe it should serve as a warning sign to anyone who has ever fired up an MMO, especially considering the market in which MMOs must now compete.

Why?

Simple "" on Wednesday, April 9, 2008 the Associated Press carried an article entitled "Suggestions for Starbucks". The article was in the business section of the paper and touted an online website that Starbucks had launched, in the face of having to close many of it's stores. The website is an online suggestion box; a way for consumers to tell the company what they really want when they go to buy a cup of coffee. What, you might ask yourself, does a company that sells coffee have to do with companies that sell video games? The answer is this...

Nothing.

But that's not the way it should be. In fact it should be just the opposite. I say that because of the reaction the web site received from the customers. The Chief Information Officer for Starbucks, Chris Bruzzo, said he was hoping a few hundred ideas would come trickling in. What he got instead was far different "" there were 300 suggestions in the first hour with 100,000 by the end of the week. Here is a quote from the article:
"Though users can't link up over e-mail or post profiles of themselves, the comments they post often read like friendly conversations "" with people complimenting one another on their ideas or elaborating when comments about their posts make them feel misunderstood." "" Suggestions for Starbucks, by Elizabeth M. Gillespie, Associated Press

What I find amazing is that while consumers of coffee can interact with each other in a civilized and friendly manner, the abusive behavior of gamers has reached such a zenith that one of the largest video games company in the country has decided not to have official forums.
"That's why I don't want to have official forums. Whether it was SOE, Blizzard or us, official or semi-official forums are exactly like I described above for every successful MMORPG that I have played or watched from afar (and that is *most* of them). The unsuccessful ones were even worse. The problem is that most people who read the boards are looking for information and a reasonable number of people want to cause trouble, "grief" the forums or simply get their jollies by saying and doing things that they wouldn't do in real life. As usual, a small percentage of people make life more difficult for everyone else. Back when games had hundreds of people playing, well, no big deal. We ban those guys and life returns to normal. With millions of subs for WoW and hopefully lots and lots for WAR, well, it becomes much more complicated, difficult and soul-sucking for the devs and the community people. I wouldn't want anyone to go through what Sanya and I had to go through (and she had it worse since she is a woman and that brought out the worst in some people) in the early days of DAoC. How she and other community managers put up with the kind of name calling, insults, vulgarity, profanity without losing their minds is amazing." "" Mark Jacobs

At this point it has gone beyond some juvenile (and here let me clarify the word juvenile by attributing it to behavior rather than age) forum troll who seems to feel that abuse of other players and developers is a substitute for male enhancement products. The phrase in the quote above by Mark Jacobs, "...difficult and soul-sucking for the devs and community people" just jumps off the page at me. Why is it that the behavior of gamers has sunk to such lows, even in comparison to consumers of other products, that it would cause someone like Mark Jacobs to utter the words, "How she and other community managers put up with the kind of name calling, insults, vulgarity, profanity without losing their minds is amazing."

But the hand writing is on the wall friends "" consider the following.

On terranova.blogs.com Dr. Richard Bartle recently posted an article entitled "The point of no return." The crux of the article was a discussion of his talk at the Indie MMO Game Developers Conference to find out how much government interference game developers would tolerate before they would just stop developing games. What surprised me was not the reaction to government interference "" that I expected. What surprised me was to discover that there was a point at which a game developer will just not develop a given game any more.

Consider that the average triple A mmo takes tens of millions of dollars to develop and ask yourself if there is a point at which a developer or an investor would just throw up their hands and say "oh the hell with it." Consider the difficult economic times in which we are living. Consider too not just the return on investment that an investor expects but the alternatives. If I am an investor or developer where am I likely to put my money to work "" in the development of a game that will net me a quarter of a million players, where my developers and community managers will have to put up with "name calling, insults, vulgarity and profanity?" Or am I more likely to go for a much younger audience, as Sony Online Entertainment is doing? Think about that, and then consider the fact that a game like "Barbie Online" has attracted over 11 million subscribers.

See you online,

- Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Apr 21, 2008 19:54:00 CST (comments: 5)


Comments:


'We'll see' by Solok
Submitted on 2008-04-22 12:48:58 CST
Phrase and word association

No official forums - Horizons

This line of thinking isn't new. What's amazing to me is that having an official forum isn't viewed as a best practice. If they have some other way of communicating with the community then fine. Whether that be developer blogs with no comments enabled, weekly news letters, etc. If they don't have the infrastructure to continuously communicate with the players outside of the game world then they are starting with one hand tied behind their back (metaphorically). It's not like we don't know about metagames. The forums are a huge meta game.

Maybe the infrastructure surrounding games, with the large gaming websites/blogs, that the infrastructure does exist and EA/Mythic is basically outsourcing the forums for free. I guess time will tell.

I think they'll have official forums within 6 months or that WAR won't be as successful as they think and they'll wonder why. If they don't have offical forums then one of the reasons is interdependent systems. I think Raph just wrote an entry on that :)



'Thought Provoking.. ' by Luper
Submitted on 2008-04-22 21:46:54 CST
Great analogies by the way. I always love listening to any podcast you are in and reading your blogs, Julie. You inspire me. =P

I understand the reasoning behind not allowing their developers to be subject to open flame wars, but it is also depriving the gamer of the inside view. Perhaps, this is just another "one rotten apple spoiled it for the rest of us" moments in gaming history.

Are all gamers "juvenile" in behavior? Probably not. So what is the correlation between people and video games that makes them act so? Certainly, coffee is another realm within itself. But.. Why can't gamers be as passionate and friendly toward one another as coffee fanatics!? Maybe you could answer that for me. I try to be friendly to my fellow gamers, and understand their perspectives.

I still think that game developers should seek ways to listen to their game communities. I think it's important to know what the gamer seeks from the game, as well as what the developers have in mind for the game. As a gamer myself, I seek games that are going in the direction I want. I dont want to sink money and time into a game that is going for a different vision. I think gamers these days dont realize how lucky they are to have the game developers at the click of a button!

Quite a generation we've got going.

~Luper (Voyages of Vanguard Co-Host)



'Well...' by Wilhelm2451
Submitted on 2008-04-23 01:07:48 CST
The comparison between the Starbucks idea site and an MMO game forum is something of a stretch. Starbucks has their site locked down tight and heavily moderated. There is a lot of Starbucks hate in the world, more than a company like SOE could ever hope/fear to generate, but their site is sunny in its disposition. Somebody might say and idea is "dumb," but that seems to be about the peak of incivility.

But maybe that its the only way for gaming companies to run forums the average player would want to use. (And I hope nobody believes that what goes on in the forums in anyway represents the average player.) Lock it down, moderate it heavily, and enforce a code of behavior.



'Hey Wilhelm2451' by Luper
Submitted on 2008-04-23 01:18:33 CST
Wilhelm2451, I think that... sure we "hope" that the forums for games are a representation of the "average" player of that game, but I have seen many times.. where there are people posting on a game forum that dont even play the game! Or they quit, and all they bring is negativity with out offering helpful suggestions. Many gamers that play.. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes for instance.. might not even know that there is a VG Forum, or they just never visit it.

Most of the games I've played have heavily moderated forums. I do think that is an important aspect to have on a forum. As well as on my own forums (www.vgbloodmages.com), I try to make sure everyone is following the forum rules. Any gaming site can easily find a few players, or people to help moderate their forums. I think the problem that many game developers/forums are having is that people are negative, but not creative. They'll give you negative feedback with no suggestions.

Just thought I'd mention that...

~Luper (Voyages of Vanguard Co-Host)



'I hate this title maker' by AlikSteel
Submitted on 2008-04-26 06:28:40 CST
Wilhelm2451 said "Lock it down, moderate it heavily, and enforce a code of behavior"

you know I think I could work with that. better to have that than nothing. I know there are player made fan sites ,but it's never as good as the official forum.

I pray to GOD that it never gets to the point that we only have DEV BLOGS for our games.

I am one of them people that only hit the official forums every now and then ,but dang it when I want to know some thing the official forums is where to find it. oh fan sites may have it. thay may have it wrong who knows.

bottom line the official forum sucks ,thay are full of bad shit ,and people hating on each other ,but its still the best place to find what you are looking for.




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