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.
“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.
and what I am is a man in a mask