It probably isn't a new thing in terms of MMO community management, but I've seen a number of gimmick developer accounts pop up in games that otherwise want to be taken seriously. By 'gimmick dev accounts' I mean devs who create a personality and stay 'in-character' when they post in forums. (For the most part they appear to be forum moderator accounts, but there may be exceptions so I'll push the definition out to include all devs.)
I don't follow every MMO so can't comment on every single one of these, but the ones I'm aware of are:
- SuperModerator of City of Heroes / City of Villains. He was created to be have a more 'golden age' personality (i.e. more formal speech, uses words like 'swell', saves kittens from trees, that sort of thing) and didn't appear in the Community Digest so that threads he posted in didn't draw extra attention from players. It looks like this account has been informally retired, perhaps since a few new mods have started to managed the CoH/V boards.
- Son of Landshark and Captain Pouches of Fallen Earth. Captain Pouches started out as an FE joke - a wombat assassin dev, or something - but has since become a formal account of someone within FE LLC / Icarus Studios. Son of Landshark premiered in this thread, which left even long-term FE community members (who found Captain Pouches funny as an in-joke) with a solid case of the WTFs.
- Foxbat of Champions Online. Foxbat is a "humourous" character within the Chamions Universe - think Batman if Bruce Wayne had no tragedy in his life, was a selfish git raised on comics and was into world domination - and this account uses that personality style in their posts. Weapon of preference is a super powered ping pong ball gun.
It might just be me, I admit, but I don't find any of the above funny. I really think having someone in position of authority pretending to be a clown doesn't make them appear friendlier, it just makes them look like a clown. I'm all for more dev intereaction with the community, but hiding behind a joke account isn't the way to go. At best it is a weak joke that can wear out its welcome and / or confuse people; at worst it is outright insulting to the player community that the dev doesn't even bother posting as who they are.
If a dev wants to be funny, they need to do it under their own name or a consistent non-gimmick account. If they fall flat on their face, so be it, but that's the risk you take in trying to be funny - hiding behind a gimmick account isn't clever, but is insulting. Heck, if JLove, lead costume designer for CoH/V can post stuff like this under his own name, there really isn't a reason for gimmick dev accounts at all:
Player: "I am definitely buying the Pack to support the game. One of the reasons we were able to get the VEATs in I12 was due to the sales of the Wedding Packs. If buying cyborg packs will allow more resources to be put into the release of I13."
JLove: "What are you talking about? We all bought solid gold football helmets hand crafted by the moon pope and hired a bunch of Welsh Oxford educated super models to have a kobe steak fight. We lost 3 weeks worth of work time because of the E coli outbreak. It was worth every dirty penny. Now we're all jones'in for another round, so please help us chase the dragon. Daddy needs another hit."
Player: "Does it have leg armor?"
JLove: "No, Yes, Maybe, I don't know. I haven't even seen anything yet. Beep Beep Beep, what that sound? It's the sound of a truck load of your rent money going into my already to fat pockets. No, ready ask the team of Guatemalan children that I now outsource to because of the massive boat loads of money I now make from the micro packs."