27 November 2009

Towards another community management feature

I detailed some of the current community management features in one of my previous post. Community management can also be done in an active and «preventive» manner instead of simply being reactive when events happen. For instance, Blizzard has organized its fourth BlizzCon in August 2009. During this, some Developer Panels showed to players how new levels were created. I do not know if there were particularly charismatic developers inside the Developer Panels. But if most of these panelists were unknown of the player audience, either work should be done to improve their visibility to the players or panelists should be people more visible. Also, I think that a close contact of the developers to the players from times to times may boost them because they see the mass of players they are working for and it is really rewarding. Including costumed players from the BlizzCon 2009 in game products like the Diablo III box is a very smart way to get Real-Life UGC and show your players/fans you care about them.

Moreover, I hope there were key players in the audience of the BlizzCon. By key players, I mean Tobold, Ensidia core guild members or Greedy Goblin. As an example, Greedy Goblin writes sarcastically about how to make money in WoW. His blog had 2k subscribers in June 2009 and 3.5k now in November 2009. His latest blog traffic graph shows peaks when he argued with Scott Jennings about layoffs in industry or when he showed his inventory and bank storage. Goblins are not easily one's friends, but if Blizzard manage to bring this Goblin to the BlizzCon in paying for him the flight and the hotel, Blizzard do not only get 1 more friendly player but 3.5k. Of course, each blog subscriber will not be affected the same way. But if the blog owner publishes nice comments concerning Blizzard, they will touch many players.
This point was actually suggested by Nicolas Ducheneaut in a discussion we had some weeks ago. I filled it with examples and included it into my post.

Finally, a crazy idea. Since MMO are attracting more and more people. Real-life player meetings change the way players see the game as they realize that there is someone behind the pixels. Some players even stopped insulting others after they met them IRL. So in a tupperware consultant style, why not organizing metings regularly in big cities? I heard about communities like DS in Paris who organize meetings in Paris Cafés where they play Nintendo DS games together. The Java User Groups (JUG) are monthly meetings where Java developers gather to talk about Java world news, learn new techniques, share knowledge or drink beers. Maybe MMO companies are not wealthy enough at the moment to pay for monthly buffets and refreshments in each of the 188 urban areas of the world counting more than 2 millions inhabitants. However, MMO companies could set up electronic tools on their websites to help their players organize local real-life meetings about their favorite MMO. This sounds like organizing raids, so developing the web app should not be too difficult.
I actually can write about the positive effects such IRL local meetings could provide as this kind of meetings actually happens/happened for some RO French private servers. Some active players or people in the server team sometimes organize real-life meetings called «IRLs» at Asian-culture conferences like the Japan Expo or simply in their home city when there are enough people to meet.

  • The GM team (aka the community management team) knows players faces, discusses IG issues directly and more openly than on a forum
  • The Development Team has direct feedback from players. Also, after the meeting, developers are no longer writing code for the fun of it, they realise that hundreds of people rely on them to have fun.
  • players realise who are the people behind the game, and demystification of the work is sometimes followed by admiration of the people: «they are human, they are doing something fun for me and they spend so much time on it»

So even if no developers can attend the MMO meetings, which is likely to happen very frequently, such events are a good way to promote the MMO company, especially when this company has sponsored/helped organizing the event. This is the way to transform the video of the left into the video on the right. The video on the left was done by an active member of the Alliance-RO French private server community to describe the game and attract new players. This video was done by a fan of the game and the server. The video on the right was taken by an active member of the community in Alger, Algeria. Players say in the video and in the written comment that they have uncovered the secret reason why gentimouton (yes, it was me), a Game Master of the server, does not understand them: he is 70 year old (French quote: nous avons percé le mystere mysterieux du GM:gentimouton ! encore fois °° !!). If you want it, you can ask me for a full translation of the video dialog. This video of a meeting of players in their city brought a precious (but late) feedback to the GM.

Charismatic Game Developers

These guys radiate a kind of aura, they have a stature. Maybe being an actor helps. But John Romero (third photo) is not an actor, he is a game developer who has designed Doom and Quake. Maybe because of Romero's personality or simply for fun, Romero's team decided that in order to finish Doom II, the player had to shoot Romero's head in a secret room of the last level (see screenshot nearby). Currently, he is working on a MMO for Slipgate Ironworks to release in 2010 a groundbreaking MMO. In fact, Romero has such an aura that he has been at the center of a controverse concerning a game called Daikatana. The advertising (see image nearby) was a bit provocative and the game develoment took a very long time. Whatever the gossips about him, Romero definitely has an aura. It is up to Slipgate Ironworks to use it for their MMO launch campaign, but I believe this aura can impact a lot.

In-game famous MMO characters have sometimes been personified by game developers. For instance, Lord British in Ultima Online was played by Richard Gariott. The name became so famous that Richard Gariott retained the trademark rights on it and reused it in Tabula Rasa. But most of the developers stay in the shadow and play the game anonymously, like WoW producer J. Allen Brack who plays anonymously with his father.

26 November 2009

Community Management

Until now, I have heard of 4 kinds of community management. Eric Heimburg explains 2 ways community managers behave with the community:

  • denying the bugs and ignoring the feedbacks of the players: the example of Aion where the American community management team relies on the Korean technical team to do bug fixes. It is actually the same for the WoW European servers which do not benefit from the American development team on their forum.
  • acknowledging their weakness, playing the crowd and feeding the forum trolls to keep them relatively sedated. According to Eric Heimburg, this strategy is followed by Champions Online and WoW on the American community forums.

Eric Heimburg also wrote that developers or support team representing the company to the community can screw up the consistency of the strategy, giving the example of a burning reaction of WoW Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler answering a Nerfs: Ghostcrawler, DIAF thread on wow forums.

Another kind of community management is the one followed by LambdaMOO developers, named wizards IG. Wizards have stopped to intervene in game problems since a LambdaMOO takes another direction publication of Pavel Curtis, aka Haakon IG. Julian Dibbell describes how this decision has impacted the community and how community leaders facing holes in the game case law sometimes act independently and in a non-concerted manner, leading to irreparable actions like the toading of a player. In the end, players are now in charge of their own problems in a participatory system where they only sporadically need wizards to enforce a decision the players' democracy has taken.

And finally, the way some efficient and very productive private servers of RO organize their team is interesting. This ideal structure is rarely entirely followed by private server teams. Even using only parts of this structure improves the productivity in giving each person of the team his/her appropriate place where he/she can play his/her role. On a beta server, developers can test their updates with a bunch of trusted players who are eager to test it. On the beta server, game developers are almighty like the Trainman in Matrix, they can create items, kill monsters, etc. with in-game commands. However, on the production server, they are normal players. The forum is cut into sections that enable the work to be shared among the different parts of the server team. Community managers watch the whole forum and report any valuable entry to the game devs or to the admin in a staff section. When community managers do not know how to answer a question, they post the question in the staff section so that a technical guy can answer it in person. Since community managers organize in-game events and have game master powers on the production server, community managers and developers are on an equal footing for the players. The server leader(s) communicate to everyone in the team, recruit new people and have in-game powers on both beta and production servers. They take important decisions like server policies and directions, future updates or the permanent ban of a player. They do not have to be technical or particularly present in the production server, but they must be aware of everything. Instead of spending hours reading the forum, they know what is going on thanks to the community managers. This hierarchy looks a lot like the scrum process of Agile development where the Scrum Master is the server leader, the Product Owner's feedback comes from the Game Masters/community managers and the Team is naturally the Game Developers.

I think which strategy to adopt depends on the size of the community and the skills of the team. As Eric Heimburg wrote, Aion is big enough to indulge a weak English customer service but less polished MMOG have to take care of their players. The RO private server hierarchy might work well for a community of a few thousands of players, but maybe not for bigger communities.

15 November 2009

[literature] A qualitative study of Ragnarök Online private server in-game sociological issues

Edit: this post does not reflect the latest version of my paper. I will know whether my paper has been accepted in April, and I will update this post accordingly. Feel free to contact me if you have any question :-)

This is the summary of the paper I have written. This paper may not explain entirely why I did not post anything in the last 4 weeks, but it still took me much time...


position of the paper

In the last decade, online games have raised much attention as more and more players gather on game servers. In parallel, communities of illegal private servers have spread and host numbers of players comparable to the official game server. Based on the Korean online game Ragnarök Online, I conducted unstructured interviews to collect qualitative data on different private servers and on the official French server. This paper explains why Ragnarök Online private servers gather so many players and how private servers could help improve official games.


  1. Introduction
  2. Playing Ragnarök Online
  3. Methodology
  4. Fulfilling player expectations
    • Rates
    • Avatar customization
    • In-game events
    • Recapitulation
  5. Private server issues
    • Group level-range
    • The Warpra-Healer combo
    • Player information
    • Virtual economy
    • Recapitulation
  6. Issues shared between official and private servers
    • Double Accounts
    • Lack of monster challenge for guilds
    • Donation and subscription
    • Recapitulation
  7. Conclusion

    The wide panel of private servers answers adequately the wide panel of player expectations. Although small private servers intrinsically lack players, their very concerned administrators find interesting ways to get round their problems. More populated private servers benefit from the same technical features as small private servers, but they also share common problems with official servers. Looking at how the most populated private servers deal with player problems might show enlightening.

  8. Future work