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Don’t Listen to Your Community

January 30, 2012 2 comments

Community has emerged as one of the most critical aspects to successfully maintaining an online game. Even the most backward box publishers have come to realize the importance of community management and have teams that interact with the players on a daily if not hourly basis. If you get community management right you’re setting yourself up for success, get it wrong and it could ring the death knell for your product. A strong community following can sustain a games longevity, and a weak community can end it quicker than you can say /ragequit.

Image Courtesy of Penny-Arcade.com

MMORPG’s lead the way with community management long before there was a Facebook or a Twitter. By their very nature MMORPG’s are social creations (massively multiplayer) and at some point or another the most anti-social gamer will be forced to group up to complete a quest line or an instance. As such community forums were a natural evolution for players to take discussions, complaints, feedback and flame wars outside of the game world. For some developers they remain a critical tool in managing alpha test feedback to fine tune and improve the game-play experience.

Fast forward 10 years from some of the first MMO forums and even big brands like Nike and Coca Cola now employ whole teams of community specialists to manage their social networks and community initiatives. However community and or social media is not the best way forward for every brand, McDonald’s recently learned this the hard way when a twitter hashtag campaign backfired quite spectacularly.

The trick to successful community management is actually not about listening to your community, it’s about knowing what not to listen to. It’s about being selective about what you hear. For most large MMOs it’s estimated that out of the total player base only about 3% – 10% of players actively participate in forum discussions outside of the game. For social media usage and mentions this % probably skews upwards quite a bit. The point is that a small vocal minority usually represents a much larger silent majority. And usually because they are the most vocal they tend to be the most opinionated, but they may be complaining about things that 80% or more of the silent player base are totally happy with. Therefore it’s about weighing up the feedback carefully and reacting to what makes sense. The instinct is often to react to highly critical messages first rather than to look at the full picture. Game data, and internal QA teams can sometimes corroborate what players are seeing. Also seek other data sources to cross reference feedback where you can. Experienced and talented community managers will understand what player feedback to pay attention to and what to disregard. Reacting to the wrong feedback can be as detrimental as ignoring the valid complaints.  It’s about intelligent filtering of the white noise.

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