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.

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