Why Community Managers Need To Use Tough Love

ProfileIt’s early on Sunday morning as I start to write this. Bacon’s sizzling in the pan, a cup of tea is brewing, the smells are floating through the apartment, and I’ve been going through some of my favourite forums and social media to catch up on what’s happening in the world after last night’s fantastic ASUS ROG winter invitational CS:GO tournament.

There’s a couple of things in particular that’ve tweaked my interest around t’internet. Specifically this tweet by Moxie, and this forum over at MWOMercs.com.

Toxicity

Over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of forums, from a user, admin and community manager perspective. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that an unregulated forum will very often become toxic. The BF3 alpha forum over on Battlelog had no admins when it launched. In fact I don’t think it even had the ability to have admins. That forum got to the point where it was totally pointless posting any kind of feedback, which defeated the point of having it in the first place.

More recently the H1Z1 Steam forums on release had very little moderation, and I spent a weekend watching with morbid fascination as that forum went to pieces very rapidly.

This is where strong, active, consistent forum moderation comes in. Either by a volunteer group of mods, or more preferably a dedicated community management team who have a direct link internally to someone who can answer their questions. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if there is no-one active on a forum who is knowledgeable and can answer questions, then answers will be made up by the community.

The community warfare forum over at MWOMercs.com is a classic example of this. It’s a F2P game, which by its definition relies on constant community interaction to ensure the survival of the studio. They rolled out a beta of a major new game component just before Christmas, but since then there has been practically no dev interaction with members discussing this new facet of the game on the forum. Almost since community warfare’s release there’s been a tension between organised groups and PUGs, but I cannot remember once when a dev stepped in and engaged the community in the discussion on the forums.

Tough Love

But that’s only half of the story. Ensuring the community is listened to, have their questions answered and receive pro-active information will hugely help community relations. Unfortunately though there will always be people who are there to troll, harass, cause problems or simply be jerks. This is where tough love is needed.

Your forum rules need to be clear, and need to be enforced, so that people who join and take part in your forum can do so without worry. Clarity is king, and consistency is key. On the Interstellar Marines forums we’ve always had one clear rule: you can be positive or negative towards our game, but you must be constructive. Saying you don’t like the game because of X, Y or Z is fine (even better if you give alternatives which you think would make the game better). But, “you’re all shit devs and I hope you get cancer and die faggots” will result in an immediate permanent ban with no hope of removal.

I genuinely think that some studios, or just individual admins, are simply too worried or scared about public opinion to enforce these kinds of rules. To me it’s common decency. Behind every computer is a human being, and we all deserve to be treated respectfully.

If you set the tone of your forum early and ensure as much as possible that people are fairly treated, you’ll see your community members start to back you up. They’ll become self-moderating, helping new members to enjoy the community and working with the development studio for the benefit of the game. It’s a win-win scenario for both sides, but is only earned at the cost of professional, fair, active and consistent moderation.

Oh, the tea and the bacon sandwiches? They were fab, thank you 😀

The Disastrous Release of H1Z1

h1z1_logoOver the past few days I’ve watched with frank disbelief how the launch of SOE’s H1Z1 has progressed.

The game itself has had a technically poor release, with server problems, balancing problems, the rapid rise of hackers and a lack of servers in the EU.

But that’s not the depressing part, oh no, the depressing part is the abject refusal of a vast swathe of the community to take any responsibility for what they’ve bought..

H1Z1 is an Early Access F2P game which was launched on Jan 15th. The developers, SOE, who are also the developers of Planetside 2 (a game I’ve got a planet-sized soft spot for) stated about 8 months ago there will be no weapons, ammo or similar things sold in the game. That’s good, because selling those things would unbalance the game. It also pleased the community.

SOE later went back on this, and decided to introduce air-drops. The mechanic of how these work has changed, and will undoubtedly change again, but effectively you pay real money for an air-drop to be dropped within the game. The air-drop can include many different things, but often will include a weapon and/or ammo. Anyone can grab what’s in the air-drop, you have to fight for it and the first person to get there grabs the loot. The number of people on the server before an air-drop can be called, the distance it will land from you, the speed of the drop and the speed of the plane are all factors that SOE can/has changed.

SOE have been clear there will be air drops, that they are paid with real cash, and and may also contain weapons and/or ammo. They’ve been clear that is except for one mistake: several nights ago during a live stream a dev was asked if there will be any kinds of purchased weapons and other similar items. He replied no. He later published this apology and retraction of what he’d said. The short version is he’d forgotten about air drops. This is a short video which shows that clip along with some more info:

Having done a fair few live streams myself, I can entirely believe he forgot about air drops during the spur of the moment. Did he make a mistake? Yes, absolutely. Did he do anything out of malice to “scam” players? No, I don’t believe so.

But that’s not been the reaction of a large percentage of the community. I’ve been watching the H1Z1 Steam forums since Jan 15th because H1Z1 is a game I’ve been thinking of getting. A huge number of players have accused SOE of outright lying about air-drops, have posted bad reviews and have hammered the SOE devs, in particular John Smedley, the SOE President.

I’ve a lot of respect for Smedley. He’s put his head above the parapet and is taking the flak from the community – not a lot of President’s will do that, they’ll leave it to the community managers instead. He’s even arranged no-questions-asked refunds for anyone who wants one. That’s beyond what even we at Interstellar Marines have been able to manage – I bet his Steam contact and accounts department love him /sarcasm.

But a lot of people are completely forgetting they’ve bought an Early Access game – it’s not finished, it’ll have bugs, it’ll have downtime and outages, exactly as SOE have said on H1Z1’s store page. If you purchase H1Z1 you’re buying a game that is buggy, will reset, and at some time in the future you’ll be able to play completely free. So why pay for it now if you’re not 100% behind it?

It’s been sad watching the hysteria from many people. SOE may have scored an own goal, but as purchasers and players we have to take responsibility for what we’re buying and check to make sure we have our facts right. Doubly so when it comes to Early Access games that are inherently going to be buggy and have problems.