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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Why A MMO Without an Official Forum is Like a Zoo With No Fences

Posted by UnSub Tuesday September 2 2008 at 1:23AM
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There's been, and probably will continue to be, quite a bit of debate about whether or not MMOs should have centralised official forums or should let fansites take the burden of operating forums for community members. On the "we don't need no official forums" side is NCsoft's Tabula Rasa, which uses fansites directly, and Mark Jacobs of Mythic, who doesn't hold official forums in particularly high regard.

On the "we have official forums; come to them" are pretty much every other MMO on the market. Quality of the official forums varies wildly from game to game, with some MMOs having more popular fansite forums than official forums and visa versa. In general though, most players probably start off in the offical forums since that's the logical place to begin.

With due respect, any MMO that thinks they can operate without official forums (or something that is so close to a forum-style communication structure) is deluding itself. Jacobs is technically correct about what official forums contain, but he misses the point - that these are his customers talking to each other and sometimes to him. Most of the time, what these customers say is pretty high on noise, but that's how the internet works - you have to plow though the noise to find the signal, and sometimes the signal comes from surprising places. Having a centralised forum allows a MMO to develop a community - which is, compared to just offering a gaming experience, probably more important to the long-term health of a MMO. Communities can be sticky things. They hold players to the game long after they would have quit if they were only considering how much they were enjoying the game.

Of course, fansites can do the same thing with their forums; fansites can certainly build communities. But, in my opinion, fansites work better at creating common-interest communities (e.g. a guild, or the role-players, or the PvPers), not large sprawling all-in communities you see on arise on official forums. Having 100 splintered fansite communities doesn't make it easier to communicate to them or listen to them; it makes it harder. If there is a fire to fight, the community manager staff have to (or: should - sometimes they think releasing a PR statement on one site is enough, but it doesn't work if different fansites run off on different tangents) deal with it in numerous places at one time, rather than dealing with everything in a central forum.

Also, it might not take much for the operator of an officially-sanctioned (or close enough, if they've been favoured with interviews and exclusive content) fansite to turn against the MMO it follows. It might not be much - a mail-out that they don't get, a rude PM from someone on the MMO staff following some fansite forum comments, a nerf to the operator's favourite class or item - but suddenly you have an uncontrolled (and uncontrollable) rant site that has in the past been given a lot of official credibility. You can look at the EQ2Flames drama for an example of this.

Forum drama does create epic lulz, but like most clowns it isn't really that funny.

Forum drama does create epic lulz, but like most clowns it isn't really that funny.

So, not only does the MMO team lose face as the operator rants their little heart out (sometimes spilling privileged information they know) but a relationship has to be built up with at least one other fansite so that players will start hearing the 'correct' dev message again.

Having a MMO without an official forum is like having a zoo with no fences - you can't control where things wander and feeding time can turn very messy indeed. An official forum at least keeps the majority in one place and lets communication occur more easily. There will always be some fans who prefer fansites - that's fine. But those fansites tend to closely follow the information on official forums and, if those players want to get heard, they know they need to comment on the main site.

If official forums suck, it is because they have been allowed to suck by the community managers (CMs). CMs have to draw a line in the sand and say, "This is too far," then act when players cross that line. If the WoW official forums suck, it is because Blizzard doesn't care enough for them not to suck.

There have been cases where official forums have been criticism-shy, deleting every negative word that might appear. This is stupid behaviour. Some criticism of the MMO is necessary, even desirable, because it will point out what players feel is important. Who knows, the group consensus of the players might be right? Fansites might not be nearly as well managed and discussions are likely to be between smaller groups of people who already mostly agree with some key issues (e.g. PvPers tend not to care what the RPers think, and visa versa), so their criticism is likely to be slanted heavily and not examined objectively.

If MMO CMs / devs want to stop the majority of negative behaviour that goes on in a forum, all they need to do is remove the anonimity. Make people post under their real names, even if it is just a first name and initial. Well-run official forums actually require CM and dev interaction too - if you leave a zoo as breeding grounds for the bored and restless because you give them little to do, you shouldn't be surprised when it produces only manure.

As more people start playing MMOs - and as the MMO category expands to include more people playing different types of games - I'm sure the debate over whether or not the effort of officially managing communities is worth it will increase. In my opinion, it is, and the cost of running official forums is well worth it for what it returns in information and customer involvement in a MMO title.

trozyxxx writes:

"No fences" I liked that :)

I dont like Jacobs decision not to have forums, I always thought it was 100% based on saving money and while im happy for them to make a profit I agree that no offical place to go is a bit sad.

I'll not miss the haters hating, the whiners whining or the fanboys fanning but I will miss the occasional post that holds some gem of info.

Tue Sep 02 2008 2:22AM Report
UncertaintyP writes:

I've only ever posted on one "official" forum, and it was for a private shard. Personally I don't see the reason for posting on any either, if it's just for info... fan sites have and always will have better and more in-depth info. Then again I don't use MMO's to try and make friends, just to make a character and play against people.


 

 

Tue Sep 02 2008 3:55AM Report
acidblood writes:

You seem to be under a few (I think, wrong) impressions:


A: The only way to dispense official information is through a forum. It’s not.


WAR (like DAOC before it) has the herald, which from what I have seen does quite a fine job of dispensing official information. So players still know where to go to get info... and just because you post something in an official forum does not make you any more likely to get an official reply than if you posted it on a fan site (Official WoW forum compared to Warhammer Allience forum for example).


B: That MMOs (or even games in general) should be designed by committee. They should not.


Should everyone’s ideas be put forward and possibly considered, sure, but at the end of the day you need one person (or a small core team all reading from the same book) to make the decisions, and everyone needs to accept those decisions or your just going to end up with a jumbled mess that while it may promise everything to everybody, I can guarantee you, will not deliver.


C: That open planes zoos cannot work. Go to Africa.


Hell, just go to any large wilderness reserve. Yes, jamming 2 lions, a zebra and an elephant into a mini will lead to chaos, but give them enough room to roam and a natural balance and order is created. The same could be said of official forums, jam a million MMO players on to one forum and you get chaos, let them roam free among the fan sites and a natural balance and order will be created.

 

This is not to say that all official forums are as bad as WoW’s, but I applaud Mark Jacobs for standing up and saying they will not have official forums (and sticking to that decision) as I think WAR will be more popular than your average MMO, with a subscriber base similar to WoWs (in personality / age / etc. if not size) and while, yes, the WoW team could do more the make their forums a better place, would you want to put in all that effort? Because clearly Mark Jacobs doesn’t, and personally I don’t blame him, because I wouldn’t want to either. Also, lets not forget, it’s often the vocal minority that post on the forums anyway, everyone else will either be too busy playing, too busy having a life, or simply knows that it is not worth the effort.

Tue Sep 02 2008 4:14AM Report
LeGray writes:

with a forum you have a centralised communication plattform. honestly, the last thing I want to do is register on 4 different forums just to answer in a thread. not to mention digging through all the different forum "mentalities" - there you have the forum of the pvpers, the rpers etc. no way I'll take the time to read into it if I just want to communicate. also, ever tried to voice your criticism on a FANforum? theres a difference between a company's forum and a forum where the host is a sworn in fanboy (or simply the mod having a bad day or doing it in their free time without any responsebilities etc.).

another example: I just came back to TR, and wanted to see what has changed, ask around etc. usually I would just check the forums, but no, I have to dig around to find anything remotely useful, not to mention finding the right guide updated in the right forum might be difficult.

oh, and btw: open forum means ppl who stopped playing long ago can still hang around and trash the game without even playing (and knowing what they're talking about) just for kicks. yeah, I definitely want to communicate with these ppl...

It may work for guild wars or any other f2p game, but if they want my money, even monthly, they better provide a forum "service". problem is: forum moderation costs money (if they care, which they should do), usually the ppl in charge for the money don't see the benefit in hard numbers having a bunch of CMs/moderators around.

so, in the end, it's all about the money again. nice to see what's most important to the company.

Tue Sep 02 2008 1:30PM Report
streea writes:

Zoos without fences... hmm sounds like nature.

I have to disagree though that main forums bring a sense of community. Unless they're small, they don't. Everyone is shoved into one little place and you never have anything in common.

I personally like being able to have a few choices. Don't like the atmosphere on one site? You can pick another. Don't like being censored for saying bad things about a company? Pick a different forum. And in the case of Mythic, these sites ARE read and interact with the dev team. Honestly, a post from a dev in a forum is a LOT more personal than a post made on a front page. Anyone can stay hidden away behind the walls of their own site, but to venture out a bit means you appreciate the community and want to interact with them, not toss them behind a fence and point and take pictures when they try to get angry with a decision made in the game.

Tue Sep 02 2008 1:38PM Report
BlackWatch writes:

I agree with LeGray's comments.  I think that having a central source of information and exchange with other players and developers is great.   It's when a single source is flooded with meaningless info OR if it's sensored to within an inch of its life that I turn to other sources.  I think most of us already read multiple gaming sites for their information, but 1 of those sources is typically the game companies official forums. 

Tue Sep 02 2008 3:24PM Report
Benezetta writes:

I would much rather dig through several fansites for information than have every word I post be censored by an "official" forum.  Official forums exist for two reasons:  to help players with technical problems and to promote a positive image of the game.  Those with valid criticisms aren't welcome to publicize them.

Tue Sep 02 2008 5:43PM Report
mackdawg19 writes:

Sadly you can't have a forum and it be a good forum anymore. A forum is used to be a place to seek information or advice about a certain topic. But since the internet has expanded and forums have become safe havens for people who want to voice their opinion, things have changed. The reason why developers now see forums at an interference, is the same reason you wouldn't want an angry customer sitting inside your store yelling cusswords at the top of his voice. It's detours customers and make you look bad.

But on the flipside you could contend that you will moderate. But then you put moderation under the scope. You will get the people who either think you moderate to much or don't moderate enough. Rarely do you get everyone to agree, and this is why forums have gone bad. When forums became an independent place to vent frustration or glee, state an opinion regardless of nature, or purely pray on peoples anger, it became obsolete.

I would say, in this day in age, developers have gotten smart and let fansites deal with the issues.

Wed Sep 03 2008 4:47AM Report
mackdawg19 writes:

^^ bleh spellcheck failed me :(, I should start re-reading what I type heh :)

Wed Sep 03 2008 4:48AM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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