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Online Community Management: Communication Through Gamers
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Online Community Management: Communication Through Gamers

April 1, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 8 Next

Feed the Beast: Inform and Entertain

Like any other social organism, a community has to be fed to go on living. The people have to have something to talk about -- otherwise, what's the purpose of communication tools like boards or even chat systems? There are two ways to feed it: information and entertainment.

Information. The purpose of any fan site or fan forum is to gather information about the fans' favorite game, and it's the community manager's job to dole that information out, in cooperation with PR. Frequent updates and information broadcasts will regularly feed the community, keep the fan sites up to date and give people something to talk about in the forums.

Be aware that everything you say to any media can be relayed directly to your community. If you answer the questions of a Spanish or German fan site, those questions can be translated into any language published on a French or English website.

Be aware of the distance you have from your players. If you maintain a habit of being very close to them, forget about media exclusives -- because if they learn something important in a magazine or a famous website instead of your websites and forums, they'll denounce it as treason.

Entertainment. Special events or contests will also give the community something to talk about for weeks and months, while gathering the players in a unique and common subject -- which is very useful to strengthen the links between them.

Don't forget that players want or need to feel part of something; they want to be important in the community, and contests are good ways to foster that, by rewarding their creative talent. Having a big community is good, but having an active and productive community is much better.

Community and Game Development

Now, it's time to turn our attention to how you can harness the power of your community to affect the way in which your development team can interact with the game's fans.

Community management and customer support

In lots of big companies, the community team is part of the customer support department, and the community managers are also very often involved with support. As we said earlier, community management is located between customer support and communication. By their actions, and their communication, the community managers provide support to the players, and have to work very closely with the support team.

The game can't run any more after the last patch has been installed? Even if the CS will gather the information via e-mail or other support tools, the community managers will be busy communicating on the forums, explaining to the players what information they need to send in order for the devs to find out where the bug comes from, keeping them up-to-date about what the technical team is doing to solve the problem, calming the community down by moderating the forums and keeping them informed.

Can't play on patch day, after you announced servers would be back up at 2 PM? The community managers will ask the devs for technical information and estimations, translate it into language understandable for people with no programming background, estimate their own deadline from all available information, and then inform the players of their conclusions.

Working on a critical issue but can't solve it yet? Again, the community managers will do their best to inform the community, and the players will be much more reassured to know that the devs are working on it -- instead of not knowing anything.

There are too many examples of the use of community management in customer support to write them all here, but the idea is that CMs pave the road to communication for the support staff.

Feedback and Suggestions

When developers create a game, they have their own ideas of what will work and what won't, and they know what they want to put into their game. Most of the time, their plans are also based on experience, marketing studies and polls, and the opinions of many people from the PR, marketing, sales, and QA departments.
But remember that in the end, the only people who will judge your game will be the players, so why not directly ask them what they want? Gathering and directing players' feedback and suggestions can be a very difficult task, but it can also be very rewarding.

First of all, you need to provide your community the tools to usefully communicate their feedback. Many tools exist for this purpose, but two important ones may be website-based customer support ticket software, and of course your official boards. Using the board, the players will not only communicate to you, but also discuss with each other in a big online brainstorm that can be very productive in terms of ideas... but also in terms of useless things.

After you have provided your community with the tools it needs to provide you feedback, you'll have to gather all the ideas and advice of your players. As it can take a very long time, I recommend doing it on a regular basis.

Keep in mind that developers don't have the time to read 1500 suggestions -- even if they are all very good. It's the job of the community manager to pick which suggestions are genuinely relevant and forget the others. Once she's picked the 10 or 20 best suggestions she could find, her job will to translate the ideas of excited players into words that make sense for both the development and the business parts of the company. A good suggestion report should at least include:

  • A short and precise description of the suggestion
  • The target (is this improvement made for hardcore gamers, players that have not yet bought the game, casual gamers, business partners?)
  • The positive impact it could have (on sales, marketing, customer support, community management, or anything relevant)
  • The impact on the development team (what will they have to do?)
  • The impact on the business (will it cost you money?)

After that, the report is sent to a dedicated person within the development team, and is used to improve the current game, prepare the following one, and so on.

As these reports are not always read by the dev team or anyone on the business side, it can be good to regularly merge all the reports you have, make a selection, and then send it to the dev team again. For example, if you sent a report with 10 suggestions every month for the past six month, just select the 20 best suggestions from these six reports and send them again as a digest.

Article Start Previous Page 6 of 8 Next

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