MMO community managers have an ugly job. Public relations is never the cakewalk that it seems from the outside, but dealing with the teeming internet hordes is not always as pleasant as eating bees.
I have never had the job, but let us pause a moment to consider some of the things we put our poor community managers, board mods, and developers through. Anyone can feel free to add horrors that I have missed in the comments (or via e-mail). (If this is your job, we understand if you feel the need to use a pseudonym and censor specifics, but we will not be releasing IP addresses and we understand that any example does not relate to specific people, but rather is a statement of general tendencies or extreme cases, probably exaggerated for effect. Or maybe you want to make an example of someone.)
You are the first point of contact for the company. You are the first line of defense. If there is a problem, you will be its public face. If someone disagrees with a balance decision, you get the e-mail. If there is an unhappy announcement, you get to say it.
On the other hand, if there is a positive announcement, someone else might want that one. The company president gets to announce “free respecs for all!” in the anniversary newsletter, while you get to explain that characters created after the anniversary do not get a respec banked, even if they made them during the anniversary month. (You also get to deal with the “this is a slap in the face” post that accompanies most positive announcements.)
Those non-PR trained developers can be a problem in general. They say things that will take you two months to clean up, and people will still bring up beta comments from a developer who does not work there anymore. Yes, it is helpful to have someone who can explain technical details, who knows the system intimately and can explain it rather than your needing to re-explain it after they explain to you. And then he makes a joke about elves that comes off as an ethnic slur to your Korean players.
Thousands of players feel free to call on you personally to answer every question and complaint. Every single thing. You personally. When you get back from lunch, you have a full screen of e-mails, including ones from 12:49pm asking why you haven’t responded to the 12:01pm messages. The tide of private messages on the boards is unrelenting, and two-thirds of them are asking things in the FAQ. At least one front-page thread on every board will have your name in the title.
Innocent statements get taken out of context or distorted by wishful thinking or malice. “What did he mean by ‘we don’t plan anything like that’? Is he saying that they have no plan for the game and are just doing things randomly? Or do the devs just not tell the PR people what is going on? Hello, people, we need information here!” “So when you said, ‘we don’t plan anything like that,’ you were basically lying because changing enemy resistances is practically the same thing as changing player accuracy. They both slow down how quickly we level. Why are the devs always nerfing everything and then lying about it?” And then there are the fine details that really are hard for people to get, such as the separate accuracy and to-hit bonuses in City of Heroes.
Idiots attack you. They attack your game and your company, but they attack you personally. We all have seen enough examples of these.
Idiots defend you. Stupid fanboys and groupies can be rather counter-productive, especially if they are defending one thing by impugning another. “Don’t blame her! It’s not her fault that the game sucks and the devs have sold out to the carebears. She’s on our side.” Great, that post helped the public relations campaign so much, thanks. Also, stop stalking her; the board mod is not turned on by level 60s or poor grammar.
Moderation is not the same thing as censorship. Deleting a post about how elvish necrophiles are corrupting the game, with lurid detail, does not make you a jackbooted thug. This point is non-obvious to a surprising number of people. Shouting “What about free speech?!” does not make anyone’s statements important or even coherent. Yes, geniuses are never appreciated in their own times, but neither are jackasses. How many irony points do you get for being called a nazi after deleting someone’s screed about how all the game’s problems are caused by a Jewish cabal that is controlling the company (along with all the oil companies and OPEC)?
You cannot say anything because it might not be true twenty minutes later. An unexpected bug delays a patch for a week: “OMFG LAIRS! ur so dishonest!! I planed my hole life around that new quset goign live on Tues and i took off work and everything. u owe me a free month and a days pay from my job.” Yes, you took their jerbs. Someone down the hall from you changed something and forgot to note it. The guy next to him reported a bug fixed, but there is still a problem he does not know about. As you are explaining that there are no plans to do X, there is a meeting elsewhere in the building where they are deciding to do 2*X. You are the microphone for a hydra that is joined at the backside to four or five hydrae of other MMOs, parent companies, and unrelated things that will be attributed to you.
That point may bear a bit of drawing out. Cryptic and NCSoft are not the same thing, nor were Turbine and Microsoft, nor are Turbine and Wizards of the Coast. Bringing your game to market involved a bunch of companies, possibly with conflicting long-term goals, and people will blame you for things other companies did, possibly for things they did that have no relationship to your game at all. Or maybe “to your company at all,” since you the community manager might work for the publisher in a different state from the developers who made the game, and it is an entirely different group of people running the game than the ones who made it, while another company hosts your servers, and someone else’s cable break is the reason why no one west of Utah can connect today (“but y can i get on the boards if the servers r down”). All your community knows is that something is wrong, FIX IT NOW.
You do have something definite to say, but you cannot tell anyone until the official announcement next month. Until then, players will complain that X does not exist. Once you can announce the expansion/update/patch/whatever, half the complainers will think it was their idea and decide that complaining in thousand-post threads really works. We need more thousand-post complaint threads! Title them all “Official thread: X is Overpowered”!
Of course, the players know best. Just ask them, they’ll tell you. They know what is broken with the game, where the fundamental design decisions went wrong, and how easy it would be to fix them all before next Thursday if only you guys didn’t just care about money. Yup.
Did I mention that players will extensively make mutually exclusive complaints? This can be funny when the same person is making both, but you really can never make everyone happy about even one issue. “Tanks are too weak, I keep getting killed in PvP.” “Tanks are too strong, it takes forever to kill them in PvP.” “Tanks are too boring, all they do is soak up damage.” “Tanks are too essential in PvE, we shouldn’t be forced to have them in the group.” “Tanks are so borked in this game, I am going to go play WoW.”
What are we to say about people who make protective whines? That is, if a class is perfectly balanced, the only complaints will be from underpowered classes that are comparing themselves to it; people playing the forum game will then attempt to balance the whining by placing complaints on the other side of the scale, for fear of nerfs if the boards are filled with one-sided complaints about who is overpowered.
Players who are actually happy and playing the game may never appear on the boards. Remember, we the blog and board readers are the severe minority, the obsessed fans who are probably more trouble than we are worth. A casual player visiting the official boards might become less satisfied with the game, discovering dozens of potential problems he had never considered. “I thought I liked my paladin, but if I am that underpowered…”
And what about those annoying bloggers? Mouthy self-important jerks.
[/edit] Many community managers have chimed in to say that we are not more trouble than we are worth. I thought you should know.