Communicating with the community
Recently a discussion on the topic of whether MMORPGs should have official forums or not have popped up again, for example at Common Sense Gamer and The Ancient Gaming Noob and triggered by posts related to Stargate Worlds and Warhammer Online.
In my opinion, the question is a bit larger than whether a game forum has some kind of “offocial” tag to it or not. It is about communication and interaction between the players and the game companies and their people involved in creating these MMORPGs (not just developers in my mind). That may include game forums, but does not have to.
There are two primary goals involved in this community communication:
- The game development representatives would ideally like a representative view from the player base about good and bad things in their game, presented in a coherent and to the point manner.
- The players want their concerns, pet peeves, hopes and wished addressed by the game development representatives and also be pleasantly surprised.
Neither is going to happen and co-exist completly. What one may wish and strive for is some approximation of these goals that may give either side at least some sense of benefit.
A problem with forums, regardless of their status, is that it is likely to not be a representative view of the player base. It is a vocal minority. A lot of people will not expose their views and opinions to the scutiny of their gaming peers. A larger, silent minority/majority may read forums to try to get useful information that may help with #2 above. Another big group just play the game, maybe check some web sites related to the game.
In order to achieve an approximation of goal #2 for a lot of players, a reasonably good approximation of goal #1 is needed. Official game forums and web sites have been the closest so far and at least something that has worked in the past. As player demographic and market size and type changes, this may no longer be true.
Tabula Rasa took a step here to try to change this; they do not have any single official forum (but still an official web site). Their development representatives are visible in a number of community-driven forums though, it seems a few of them each have taken on some of the major community forums to some extent at least. And also importantly, they have included other alternate means of communication through feedback forms on their official web site – another way to communicate from players to the game representatives. They also have a weekly Feedback Friday entry on their web site where various items are addressed every week, which is also available as a link in the game launcher.
I think the latter is a good feature and is something that easily can reach pretty much every player of the game. Their feedback forms is also a good idea I think, but would be nicer if it were available in-game also in an easily accessible manner. It would also be good to provide some feedback on how it is used back to the players and perhaps presetn some statistics. All to show that is used and can make a difference – assuming that is the case.
I’d love to see the Tabula Rasa people comment on how their approach have worked out for them. Personally I like the type of info they present and the rate of change and updates they do to the game; have their community communication approach helped or hindrered them? For some people (in particular forum players) it may be worse than what they hoped for, but possibly for a number of other players it may be better.
The fact that a number of to-be-released games are considering alternative options do indicate that there is not just happiness and joyfulness for the current norm and there are concerns if they can do better.