The Player’s Advocate

A lot of people could be the player’s advocate to the developers in MMOs.  Forumites say a lot of things, but the focus is about as good as a room full of overtired, over-caffeinated toddlers.  Bloggers write with better focus, but we are full of ourselves.  Playtime and sales statistics have extreme focus, but they don’t tell the developers anything human.  The best player advocates, I believe, are the often overlooked, often assaulted community managers.

What does a community manager do?  They don’t really manage the community.  Managing implies a form of control.  They are more like conduits of influence.  Players generate a lot of influence.  Developers have influence.  The problem is that the Great Wall of Marketing and limited developer time makes sure that the two influences will rarely meet.  This is where the community manager steps in.

They are the pulse checkers, the reaction gaugers, the intensity meters.  They digest tons of information and integrate it in to a form that is useful for the other areas of their company.  Then they do the reverse with company information back to the community, as well as they are able to within the confines of marketing strategy and non-disclosure agreements.  That is not to say the only thing community managers do, but in my mind it is the most important.

Sanya Thomas (who writes at Eating Bees), former community manager for Mythic and current community manager for GamerDNA, had an excellent “exit interview” at WarCry where she said:

“Good community is a little marketing, a little [customer service], and a little old-fashioned mud-wrestling on behalf of your players. It’s important to work with the whole team to achieve a consistent message, of course, but at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the community weenie to stand up for players, for player feedback, and for realistic expectations. If that means a few bruises (from all sides), so be it.”

If the conduit closes or becomes too filtered when going from the community to the developers, a lot can be lost.  It would be really easy for the developers to go on the defensive with sterilized feedback, and developers don’t have the time to read all the ‘powerful’ posts.  A good community manager will know how to deliver a punch and keep the ground free of blood.

Regina Buenaobra (who writes at Acid for Blood), former community manager for X-Fire and one of the current community managers for ArenaNet, echoed this sentiment in one of the daily threads on Guild Wars forums asking about the whereabouts of Guild Wars 2, where she wrote:

“I and the other community managers have asked them regularly to give players GW2 information, and we continue to let them know how anxious you are. Every time I read a thread on the forums about wanting GW2 information, I tell them. This goes the same for our other community managers. Even with four community people bugging them constantly to release GW2 information, we as a company are sticking by this strategy.”

The forum thread was titled “call for transparency,” and that is where I believe the breakdown occurs.  The community does not see the community manager’s actions on their behalf.  I think it is rarely understood that the community managers are indeed advocating player wishes to the developers.  It’s just that we can’t see the look on the developer’s faces.  And, this is further compounded by the fact that MMO companies must have secrets from both their players and their competitors.

While I should finish this post with a “so be nice to your community manager,” I won’t.  Instead, be mindful of their responsibilities, position, and that they do, more than any other entity, have our back.

–Ravious
and what I am is a man in a mask

6 thoughts on “The Player’s Advocate”

  1. ArenaNet’s Marketing strategy for GW2 certainly seems to be a strange one. It seems that they are building an A-bomb of information that will drop shortly before the game goes either into beta, or live. The only two reasons I can think for this are:

    * Avoid early judgment caused by inaccurate media coverage.
    * They have something ground breaking that they don’t want the competition to know about.

    I’d like to think that it’s mostly the second reason ;)

    Harsh question: Why does ArenaNet need GW2 community managers if their strategy is to avoid talking to the community?

  2. For Guild Wars 1. :)

    The Guild Wars Live Team only has limited resources, and so they need CM help to get the full picture. They don’t have time to read 9 page long threads about balancing three skills (they might make time though). Plus there are still Guild Wars 1 developer updates and announcements.

    The past year ArenaNet has been expanding their CM department, for some reason. ;)

  3. Yeah I already new the answer, I just felt like pointing out the fact that they have an awesome team of community managers that are told to keep their lips sealed? Go figure…

    Unfortunately their annoying marketing strategy is working… ;)

  4. It has been brought to my attention that ArenaNet has not been expanding the CM department… quite the opposite within the past year and a half. So the ArenaNet CM’s are pulling double duty.

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