Saturday, March 29, 2008

Official Forums: Yes or No

Should MMOs have official forums? The question has been debated for years.

This is the most recent incarnation of the question, as posed at the Stargate Worlds forums.

And this is Darren's take on the situation, along with many interesting comments made by his readers.

Also, Jaye writes in defense of official game forums. Given my experience on the development side of Vanguard, and my pro-newbie stance, I generally agree with Jaye.

MMOs are huge, constantly evolving games. As developers, we need to complete the circle of communication with our players. And we can't expect to accomplish that by solely relying on fan sites.

When Vanguard launched, the beta forums were taken down and no official forums came up in their place. Players had been warned, and they were given a list of fansites to visit instead.

Players, now offered a score of potential communities, didn't have an obvious place to give feedback. Because the barrier to player entry increased, the fansite-only system weeded out those less familiar with using forums - people who could have given valuable feedback.

Designers now had a similar barrier. We needed to comb through dozens of fansites to find new feedback. In order to meaningfully respond to players, we had to set up dev accounts in multiple places.

Regardless, without the familiar official channels to post in, players offered less feedback. Players seemed to think that without the official forums, they weren't being heard. Many players posted on fansites as though their only audience was other players.

While 'noise' was reduced, so too was 'signal.'

My argument is this:

Encouraging good player-player and player-developer conversation is so important to the health of an MMO, it's well worth the publisher's effort to have official forums.

Official forums provide players with a familiar, safe and reliable place to find information, give feedback, and receive developer responses. They show that the developer cares, and is listening.

As well, compared with most fansites, game publishers are better equipped to take advantage of modern media and proper information design to avoid losing 'signal.' Also, they can afford responsible moderators (and search technology) to help bypass 'noise.'


APassivePoke said...

I feel like official forums are great and beneficial to the game community if they are executed well. They need to allow the members to build a community.

An example of very badly executed official forums (in my opinion) is Runescape.

I don't want to get any flak for talking about Runescape in general because it always gets a negative reaction, so I'm going to leave the game out of this.

The forums don't allow for any community bonding at all. It starts with just the layout - the pages move by SO fast that it's impossible to keep up on a topic. I guess it's a good thing that they're so popular, but topics can literally drop to the fourth page in 5 minutes. You aren't allowed to post links, or talk about other games, or anything other than strictly discussion about the game.

That being said - the RunescapeCommunity forums are a perfect example of why forums are a good idea. They are a great community for players and clans to get together and discuss things in an open fashion. If only they were official, it would be a great system.

My experience with MMOs has been fairly limited to Runescape and WoW (and I never went to the WoW forums), but I feel like they can be very beneficial if done right. Allow for players to make friends, talk about things in a not-overmoderated fashion, and it can be a big asset to the game.

Steve Williams said...

What's amusing to me is the fact that Khatie (the Community Manager who asked this question) is also fully in support of Official Forums - the thread in question was in the category of "engendering discussion." The flareup of SGW hate that this caused is kind of sad - if ever there was a studio with good community contact and excellent flexibility vis-a-vis their players, it's CME.

That all said, yes, I think Official Forums are pretty darn important as well. As a developer, I enjoy player contact, and enjoy working with players to get to the bottom of various issues. So often, a player will have Problem X, and another player will have Problem Y, and it will turn out that both issues are actually symptoms of the larger disease that is Problem A. Fix Problem A, and a variety of symptoms will be cured. Without a single clearinghouse of data (and patient developers who will sift through the chaff and interpret confusing forum posts), Problem A would not have been identified!

CME has a lot riding on Stargate Worlds, and they wouldn't conceive of letting the community down by going dark, especially with such a strong storyline-driven game.

These postings are mine alone, have not been reviewed or approved by any employer or company, and do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone but me.