It’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.
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.
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 😀