For many MMO fans, a large part of the hobby comes from communication outside of the actual game. Fansites and their forums are one of the best places to get the latest news, interact with devs, and discuss the game down to its base mechanics. Inde is the site administrator of Guild Wars Guru, which has one of the most active Guild Wars forums. She, along with a cadre of other moderators, keeps the site and community in good condition. Inde agreed to let me ask her a few questions on running an MMO fansite with an active community.
How did you get started running Guild Wars Guru?
I have been running both independent and corporate MMO fan and websites for 9 years now, I’ve been playing MMO’s though longer than most have known the industry existed. I’ve gone by a variety of handles over the years and headed up websites for 5 different titles. MMO’s are my passion which is why running fansites are a fantastic opportunity for my obsessive personality. I started out as addicted as any gamer out there, literally spending 7-8 hours a day playing MMO’s. When the industry was smaller it was much easier to meet other gamers, developers, producers and volunteers. I’ve had many friends and acquaintances since then start out on a fansite and are now part of this industry working for gaming companies and publishers. These early interactions and opportunities led me to the community/fan side and I have chosen to stay on this side rather than jumping to a development or publishing company for a variety of reasons.
Besides forum moderation, what are some of your heavy tasks involved with the site?
The majority of running a fansite is behind-the-scenes. The hardest one for most users, other website owners, and even volunteers to accomplish is new ideas. Ideas for contests, content, interviews, exposure, events and more. Implementation is the next hurdle. Fansites work with a limited amount of resources and even a more restricted amount of time. We are in school, have full-time jobs, have families and take time out of our gaming as well to provide a central meeting place for the fans. While daily we spend many hours moderating and browsing the forums there is the constant barrage of emails, IM’s and PM’s, I can be gone a week and come back to literally hundreds of messages. It’s a labor of love.
What is the most overlooked feature on Guild Wars Guru?
There are so many gems and undiscovered niches that a lot of the community overlooks I think. From the fan art and fiction, our Q&A section, finding guilds or members, simple price checks, to just showing off your latest armor getup. Our Technician’s Corner is filled with people who are debating the latest video cards, helping users out with general computer problems, highlighting new technologies coming down the road, recommending new hardware and more. While a lot of focus and exposure is given to our popular areas of general discussion you can honestly, as a fan, completely bypass all of that and just wander into great and unexpected finds.
ArenaNet has always maintained the stance of “no official forums.” What are your thoughts on the importance of unofficial forums over official forums? How does Guild Wars Guru differ from some of the other online Guild Wars communities?
Unofficial forums for any game are important. Developers want to see the fans take an interest and develop their own communities, it’s why they provide items like fansite kits and in the beginning really encourage you to stay in contact with the Community Managers. There are niches out there that within an official forum can be drowned out. Whether you play this game for role-playing, PvP vs. PvE, fan video/art/fiction, exploration, lore, trading and so forth. Guild Wars Guru is not the end-all for the Guild Wars community. Some want the most popular forum and others want a closer knit community where they can pop in and everyone knows who is posting. Guild Wars Guru has always encouraged competition and the spreading of ideas because a bigger fan community can only help instead of hinder.
What is the most important thing for the health of the Guild Wars Guru community, especially dealing with an older MMO and an upcoming one that we know little about?
There are so many great ways to answer this question actually. I’m reminded of a great analogy of Sesame Street and MMO’s in an article titled “Will You Outgrow Your MMO” that covers this. There’s also Raph Koster’s book “Theory of Fun for Game Design” mentioned in the same article that gives insight into why an MMO community eventually turns on its beloved game. I can summarize it shortly by saying that once a good portion of an MMO’s user base has figured out the game, the mechanics, and the mystery is gone we grow bored. We don’t want to move on, we want the gaming developers to recapture the initial adrenaline and excitement as we eagerly anticipated the game and initially began exploring a new world. Our criticism’s were few and far between because we were involved with a new experience, with learning. Once that begins to fade we now begin to see nuances and annoyances from game bugs, or a missed deadline, or a feature promised that we realize was never delivered. Over time, more and more players lose that feeling and the community outside the game grows. The noise factor multiplies and if the gaming company can’t meet the expectations it begins to spiral. Now this is actually all a very natural course for a game to take. But as players, we grow attached to those things that we have spent so much time and put so much energy into and it becomes personal. The problem only compounds when you have a persistent and constant world such as an MMO that is supposed to continue on for years. There’s really no solution except a bit of tolerance, patience and seeing through the noise to try to learn where any major problems are, it also helps to kind in mind that if the community is still talking about a game, then they care enough about it to express that view.
Guild Wars Guru has some censoring that seems heavier than other games’ official forums. What are some benefits and detriments to holding the reins on the community a little tighter?
I have to laugh really at this question, because I am told by an even number of people that we have light to no moderation. This is always a matter of perspective, no matter the forum. If you frequently hit the controversial topics, if you venture into areas that are going to be populated by more experienced players such as matters of professions, skills or PvP the moderation is going to be heavy. Gamers are passionate about their opinion, especially on something they feel they are well versed in. If you are a player looking for just basic answers or tend to the “fan” side of a game such as screenshots and user created content you’ll find the moderation is very light. Our Sell Forums are unique and really a different topic but they do have a very heavy no tolerance policy that has evolved over the course of 4 years.
A user’s personality affect this as well. We have many forum users who believe that any type of moderation is heavy-handed. We have others who believe the word “fansite” should define a website and would like to see only positive posts about the game they are playing. We try very hard to make sure that all viewpoints can be expressed on our forums but again, user personality and their expectations play heavily into this.
I have tried to keep Guild Wars Guru an accurate voice of the community and their feelings. Guild Wars is an older game and a more concentrated audience. We don’t have the typical 20+ different server worlds separating us as in other MMO’s, at any time we can join into another district. The community is going to feel more comfortable to older players and more hostile to the newer players. Stereotypes, clichés, acronyms, and majority views have all ready been established. It’s an intimidating arena to venture into as a new forum user and even player. I encourage new forum users to tread slowly and take time to browse around initially, the same advice can stand in any older game forum that you venture into.
What are your favorite topics that appear on the forums? What are some of the worst?
I love to see an active and engaging discussion regardless of topic. One that draws in new users and the older ones alike. Where ideas and perspective are tossed around. It’s usually a thread with walls-of-text but the sharing of ideas is near and dear. The worst are ones I can anticipate the flames before even opening a thread based on the title. These do include updates! As I said, gamers are a passionate bunch.
ArenaNet community managers and developers use Guild Wars Guru pretty extensively. How closely have you worked with ArenaNet? Have there been any mutually beneficial interactions in the past that you can discuss?
The Guild Wars community is still diverse but it has concentrated considerably. As a game becomes older the community congregates at sites that they feel are more popular and where they feel they can be heard and seen. ArenaNet’s community managers still visit, post and stay on top of community developments across all mediums from blogs, forums, wiki’s, and websites but yes they do post a bit on Guild Wars Guru. While I, as a fan, track them and stay on top of what they do the same can be said of them.
Our interaction has actually been very limited. We may have snagged an interview over the course of the years, or an exclusive screenshot here and there but honestly we are really on our own. This is normal though. The Guild Wars Guru staff and myself don’t get anything above and beyond what the normal player does. While we naturally see and are exposed to the rumor mill more frequently in regards to ArenaNet and Guild Wars development it actually stops there. We did work closely with ArenaNet last year on our GvG Championship, which was a huge success. Dev time was needed to ensure it ran smoothly in game. This would have been handed down to anyone though pulling together an event like this that met their criteria.
How will Guild Wars Guru change when Guild Wars 2 is released?
A lot actually. I really don’t want to give away our new direction but I will suffice it to a history that I frequently spout off on the changing direction of websites and community interaction for MMO gaming specifically. In the beginning, setting up a splash page and a forum for a game was enough to draw in traffic for developers and fansites. You can see this in the beginning with IGN and nearly every early MMO. When these became a dime-a-dozen it changed to databases as the means to draw in the community as the players were looking for resources to help their gaming experience. You can see this with Thottbot and Allakahzam. All of this has eventually made it up to the official gaming websites now. It’s actually really heart-warming to see gaming companies take these ideas that were started by the fans, develop them and are successfully doing themselves now for their own communities. This includes everything from databases, to wiki’s, blogs and more. These all started out with us, the fans, doing them first and then they were adapted into gaming websites. The next big step for fansites is to come up with the new big idea. The one that in a few years will also be part of the standard official gaming websites.
Thank you for your time!