The internet can be a scary place at times. It can take just one person to moan about an issue they've had, and suddenly thousands of voices pile on top, allowing the entire outcry to snowball without a single shred of evidence ever offered.
The community team at ArenaNet knows this all too well. Earlier this week as its flagship title Guild Wars 2
launched, reports began appearing all over the internet from users saying they had been banned from the game unfairly, usually claiming that they had done absolutely nothing wrong and pointing the finger at ArenaNet's trigger-happy admins.
"The community team at ArenaNet monitors social media networks constantly," notes Regina Buenaobra, ArenaNet's community manager. "We noticed that a few people were increasingly vocal about their account suspensions, accusing us for suspending them for 'no reason.' These posts surfaced on fan forums and sites like Reddit, but readers were only seeing one side of the story."
Buenaobra decided enough was enough, and her community team took to Reddit
to provide an example to the community of how these supposed unfair bans were far from the truth. It was after seeing the positive reaction to this interactions between developer and community that ArenaNet realized that a full post on Reddit may be the best way to deal with the issue.
As part of the full post
, the team responded to angry players who believed they had been banned for no good reason. "I would love
to know what I was banned for," says one Redditor, after which the ArenaNet representative pastes the exact crude chat which led to the ban, complete with vulgar, racist and sexist terms.
Having a scroll through the comments of the Reddit post is quite the eye-opener. Here's just one example of an offending comment from the game's in-game chat: "the worm IS fucking hard if you're a fucking mentalpatient no we fucking dont you can take a keep with 5 people if you're not a fucking dickhead."
"We wanted to set the record straight in a more visible way," notes Buenaobra. "We've done this before on a small-scale, one-off basis on fansite forums for the original Guild Wars
. However, this is the first time we've done this in a more visible space such as Reddit. It's also the first time we've broadly solicited information from players and quoted the actual chat that caused those account suspensions."
Any indie developer will read this and simply reply "I've been doing this sort of community interaction for years." Indeed, you can catch multitudes of gamers commenting daily on internet forums and message boards about how brilliant it is being able to talk directly to an indie game developer, and how you'd never get that kind of reaction from a bigger name studio or publisher.
You have to question why all the triple-A companies don't typically follow suit -- it's not like there aren't the tools in place to allow them to do so. Imagine if, next time some awful rumor began circulating around the internet about Electronic Arts, instead of hiding behind "no comments" and official press releases, a down-to-earth EA spokesperson jumped on Reddit or the like and began dispelling the rumor, talking to its community on a one-to-one basis as ArenaNet has done. It's a lot harder to call someone evil when they aren't such a faceless corporation.
[Editor's note: Jessica Merizan, community manager for Bioware, got in touch with me after reading this piece to note that she has in fact participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything
, which at least partially calls me out on the EA comment. Apologies EA, and good job!]
The fact that so many people were posting about the Reddit thread on Twitter and Facebook yesterday shows just how surprised we are when a bigger brand does make a move like this -- a simple tweet from myself
received over 100 retweets, with people bemused and delighted in equal measures.
The move didn't just dispell the rubbish people were talking about the game either -- it also appears to have brought both the game and the development studio a great deal of good PR. I lost count of how many people said on Twitter that they are now considering purchasing the game following this debacle, especially after seeing the level of commitment from the studio and its stance of having a zero tolerance attitude to homophobia, racial slurs and sexual harassment.
"That kind of negative behavior pushes away players who contribute positively to the health of our community -- players that we want in our game," notes Buenaobra. "It's awesome that people are now interested in our game because they see that we're trying to keep the environment friendly. We welcome players who want to help us build a great online game community."
ArenaNet is now definitely considering similar one-on-one community interactions in the future following the success of this -- other triple-A studios should be taking note.