Alright, so it's been quite some time since I've had a chance to update this. Let's see where I left off.
IRC. I work for Coldfront, a network of fansites for various games. I run one myself (Kingdom of Loathing), and so I am constantly in IRC all the time. Though, up until PotBS, I didn't really remain active in chat for social reasons. IRC is where I feel Flying Lab has gained the most ground and publicity.
I spoke before about how the developers are active in the growing community around them. This is especially clear in IRC channels. #burningsea usually has within it between 50-75 members, a large portion of whom are actively chatting. (I consider a "large portion" to be higher than 10-15) In addition to that, there are always 3 or 4 Flying Lab staff present in the channel, who also actively chat during their work day. I'm sure it's a nice break from their work to turn around and talk with real people outside the company about stuff (even if it is just complaining about the fact that we haven't received our beta invites yet). Even at this very moment, as I write this, Troy Hewitt, the community manager, is asking someone to ship him a marmoset in a box. And I'm fairly sure he's serious.
IRC has also been the location of multiple developer chats, giving the community a chance to speak with the developers head-on, asking those burning questions and getting legitimate answers. They have been considered huge successes, and we (the community) always look forward to the next one, in order to ask those questions that we didn't get answered yet.
Now, for my least favorite part of the community: The Beta. The word "beta", in the PotBS community, evokes images of lush pastures, sheep, and sometimes even a freshly baked pizza (that one's probably unique to me). It is the Holy Grail of the community. The beta for Pirates has been going on for two years now, I believe, and some people have been waiting that long to get in. Basically, you apply, and wait. And you may never hear anything back, or you may get invited the next day. The communication between the developers and the community breaks down, to a certain extent, at the beta line. Michelle Williams, who is in charge of beta entry (amongst other things), is the woman to which we all must suck up to if we wish to help test the game.
Because a large portion of how the beta works is still unknown (and there are conflicting opinions as to whether entry is random or on a first-come, first-served basis), the community has this raging obsession with the beta. Up until rules were established in IRC, the channel was solely populated with people hoping to make friends with the Flying Lab staff in order to get a beta invite. The "New Member" forum was full of questions like "Did my app go through? Am I accepted?" or "Misha, why can't I be in the beta?". I tried my best to quell this annoyingness by writing an FAQ, explaining how beta entry "supposedly" worked, and it did seem to cut down on the random posts about beta. But you can still feel the driving focus of the community is on getting into the beta. Which is fine, believe me. And there's definitely enough information being fed to us to keep us busy in the meantime. But why not use the example of some other upcoming MMO's (The Chronicles of Spellborn comes to mind), and allow the more active members of the community a chance to join the beta? There are plenty of users I can name off the top of my head who are so knowledgeable about the game, without even being in beta (I'm guessing on this point, since beta testers aren't permitted to admit that they're in the game), that would be so valuable to the testing process. Why state to the community "activity on the forum has nothing to do with your entry into the beta"? Because there is no well-defined process for entry into the beta, people just complain and beg and plead, thinking that will help. I mean, I assume that's what they're thinking. Why else would they do it?
So, to sum up my two long posts, Flying Lab has created a burgeoning community, one that I'm unusually proud to be a part of. The developers keep open communication with the community (for the most part), and do their best to stay as in-touch as possible with us. If only the beta process wasn't the focus of the community, we could have one of the coolest communities online. Maybe once the beta opens up to all, we'll see an actual community formed on the basis of the love of the game (and its developers), and not on the hopes of getting into beta.
PS. Come join us in IRC chat! Connect to irc.coldfront.net, channel #burningsea. See you there!