Friday, October 09, 2009

Community Management

"Wait a minute," I hear you say, "why did are you talking about community management when that's not your job?"

Actually, the blog title may be deceiving. Since I don't work in community management, I certainly don't actually presume to blog about how or why to do it. However, it's on my mind because Cuppycake does do it, and very well, and she recently linked the following article which I found was a very interesting read:

Although I don't work in community management (unless you count a brief stint as a volunteer moderator on the SOE EQII forums, before I was hired as a designer), as a game designer I do work with our community team and at times I can be affected by the effects of their work on a near daily basis. I therefore know very well that a good community team is hugely helpful to a game's design team, and I have definitely learned to appreciate the rare value of a good community manager.

Not all game companies even allow their developers to post on public forums; in some companies nobody is allowed to post except the community team. SOE is a company that does allow it, and I do appreciate that as I find it really useful to interact directly with the game community. (Scott Hartsman, my former boss and he who hired me into this industry, has talked elsewhere about some common sense guidelines that he gives to dev teams who interact directly with players and potential future customers; there are other suggestions elsewhere too.) However, precisely because I'm allowed to interact directly with our customers, I do have to be careful about what I say and how, even though my posting may be infrequent and very topic focused. As a result, I'm extra interested in reading about how the real community management professionals go about it and what kind of issues they face doing this all day, every day.

While the whole article is interesting (assuming you have the least bit of interest about community management), this bit in particular really rang a bell for me and is something that I am going to take very much to heart:

In fact, I used to have the urge to argue with customers who gave feedback like “hey, idiot, you’re missing feature X.” I used to respond with something like, “I know, but it’s on our road map and we’re already working on it and we don’t really want feedback about that right now and so please get off my back.” You can imagine the field day the trolls had with that.

Eventually, we learned a better way. Feedback that tells you something you already know is still quite valuable. It gives you a hint that you are on the right track, but it also tells you quite a lot about the person giving you the feedback – that they believe in the path that you are on. For an early adopter, having this insight acknowledged and validated is a powerful experience. So we learned to take the time to say “thank you for your suggestion. Thanks to you, we’re going to prioritize feature X.” Then, when feature X finally did come out, every early adopter who suggested it feels an earned sense of ownership over it.

This is such an easy trap to fall into; in fact, I know I've fallen into it myself in the past when I didn't know better. Like most of my co-workers, I have an enormous list of things that I want to do, things I plan to do, things that are even already in progress, that will improve this game I love and work on.

Yet, when I know something is a good idea and really needs doing, and particularly when I'm already in the process of fixing it, there's nothing more annoying than someone coming up and telling you how stupid you are for not fixing it. The kneejerk reaction is of course "yes I know it needs fixing, in fact, I already fixed it this week, just calm down and it'll reach live servers with the next update" or something similar. Or even a new feature suggestion: "OMG, the one thing this game absolutely needs is flying fish mounts, I can't believe you haven't done this, it's so obvious!" when you know that you have, in fact, already thought of flying fish mounts long ago and are just waiting on art assets to implement them. It's so tempting to say "Duh, I know, already in the plan and half done."

But no. What do I win by proving how smart I am, or the team is? Nothing. Besides, just because I've thought of something already, doesn't mean the customer isn't still equally right when they think of the same thing. Whether we had already planned to implement the customer's suggestion months ago or whether it really was something we hadn't thought of isn't really important; the most important thing is that it's a good suggestion, and the game will be better for adding it. This is a great piece of advice (and a great article in general) and I suspect I will be rereading it again in the future.