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Runes of Magic Interviews: Community Interview

By Richard Aihoshi on July 12, 2010

MMORPG.com:

In overview, what's the Runes of Magic community like in terms of its composition and personality?

Jon Virtes:

Since Runes of Magic is a successful and high-profile free to play game, it attracts an interesting combination of people. We have a lot trying it who may be completely new to MMORPGs, and also many veteran MMO players who have come here as refugees from other games for an assortment of reasons. By and large, that's a great mix because new players need the guidance of more experienced ones, and we see a great deal of communal help both in-game and in our forums.

Veterans also enjoy having new people to play with. It keeps the game fresh and interesting long after you've seen a majority of it. Those refugees tend to be very happy here because RoM is a good alternative to other fantasy MMOs, and our feature set is unique enough to be distinctive. So, it's a familiar but new experience.

 

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MMORPG.com:

What are your main goals with respect to helping the community and its personality to continue developing?

Jon Virtes:

My main goal is to foster a fun, entertaining atmosphere for the community. Games are meant to be enjoyable; MMOs need to be enjoyable and social. However, since they are also cutting edge technology, it can be very easy, both for the community and for companies running them, to lose sight of this essential element of entertainment, and instead get bogged down in technical issues, bugs, changes in policy and so on. While these kinds of concerns are important to discuss, they should not overshadow the bigger picture of what is fun and enjoyable.

The same can be said for daily life, too. It's all too easy to get down and depressed about the day to day problems that, in hindsight, will either be forgotten entirely or seen as very small compared to the happy, wonderful moments of being alive. A good friend of mine recently said, "90 percent of what we worry about never happens." But we waste so much time and physical energy when we should address the problems with the necessary level of concern, then get on with having fun being alive, and playing games with our friends!

MMORPG.com:

How important is it to address the entire community, including the large proportion that isn't really active aside from actually playing?

Jon Virtes:

Certainly there are a lot of players who are very content just to play the game and that's perfectly fine, of course. The game is the "main event" when you get right down to it. While it is important to us and we would like to see as many people engaged in as many different ways as possible. You can only lead a horse to water, so it's a matter of giving people different opportunities to express themselves and to get involved.

When putting together contests, I am always trying to keep the entry point as simple and as accessible as possible. For example, if you do a video submission-type of event, then only the people with the ability, the knowledge, and the motivation to create them will participate. It's fine do to something like this, but the next one needs to use a different medium or a combination. I like screenshots because everyone who plays can take them, and it's easy to teach people how to post them, when necessary.

We're also looking to expand the functionality of our website to include a lot more ways to interact, which will help generate more user involvement and to begin to build that behavior in our community. Up to this point, we have lacked some of the social media tools, which is why I have been focusing on Facebook, which is really a topic unto itself.

MMORPG.com:

What kinds of things are you doing on Facebook, and how do those activities differ from the ones on the game's website?

Jon Virtes:

The current incarnation of the Runes of Magic website was not built with a lot of social / community functionality, so I am using Facebook as our social tool to complement it. Our forums are very active and useful for in-depth conversations, while Facebook is a better avenue for connecting people to each other as well as broadcasting news and announcements to the community. It's a much more immediate and personal form of communication than e-mail newsletters, for example.

We've been doing frequent item giveaways, usually once or twice a week. For the release of our latest expansion, I ran some for a few days leading up to a bunch on launch day. We had to take all our servers down for the upgrade, including our websites, so Facebook filled in that gap in time for our community. In just five days, we added over 3,000 new fans. We had over 1,500 interactions on each post, which is remarkably active. The grand prize included a package of in-game items, a Zeevex card, and a statue of our Demon Lord character.

What is very interesting and different about Facebook is that it is based on your personal identity, rather than the anonymity we're used to from the Internet. While this has recently led to some concerns about privacy, this really is Facebook's secret sauce. People behave differently when they are doing so personally with their own name made public. We've all seen the classic flame wars on game forums; that is a by-product of anonymity. So the kind of interaction you have on Facebook tends to be more polite because people have to be themselves and act accordingly. The difference really is profound. There can still be disagreement and negativity, but it tends to be done in a nicer tone.

MMORPG.com:

How does this presence and focus benefit the community, you as the manager and the game as a whole?

Jon Virtes:

There are a lot of shared benefits here. The giveaways are fun to do and offer players a lot of chances to win some swag. Personally, I love doing them; it's one of the best parts of the job. People have a lot of fun responding to them, which I enjoy reading, and it's a pleasure to play Santa Claus and give our presents. Of course, the promotions are very effective in spreading the word about our game and attracting new players, which is very important for us.

The upside is that with a growing community, the game is healthier; there are more opportunities to meet new people to play with, guilds can increase their memberships, and so on. Furthermore, there is a real chance to make new friends due to the open, personal nature of Facebook. Friendship is the heart of any true community.

MMORPG.com:

How does your volunteer program work? What is the range of duties, and what kinds of benefits are involved?

Jon Virtes:

Originally, the volunteer program was started by Marcus Diemer , our project director, back around Oct. 2008. It first consisted of just a small group of extremely dedicated players who had well-known reputations within the Runes of Magic community. It has now grown to include not only volunteer Game Masters but also forum moderators (GTMs), in-game Greeters and Event Masters.

Our volunteers work closely with our in-house GM staff to help enhance the overall experience. Some of their duties include but are not limited to removing gold spammers, moderating the forums, collecting player feedback, bug hunting, hosting and creating in-game events, and educating the general community in the finer points of the game. A major benefit to volunteer team members is the behind the scenes look at how Runes of Magic operates. Many gamers would love a peek behind the curtain, but few ever have the chance. Volunteering is a great way to have that experience. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that there is also a nice amount of free diamonds plus other gifts along the way.

MMORPG.com:

Have you had any standouts who distinguished themselves by going above and beyond the call of duty?

Jon Virtes:

A few of the volunteers from the past that really stood out are our very own Lead Game Master, Chris "Icarii" DuCrest, and team leader / Event Master Brittany "Eres" Watson. Like many others in the program, they dedicated themselves to improving Runes of Magic any way that they could. From handling customer service issues and just keeping the overall GM interaction with the community fun. Eventually, they were hired and moved out to California to become full time members of the team. They are proof that being a volunteer can lead to getting the gamer's dream job as an in house GM. A few others who always go beyond the call of duty are GTM Aquila, GTM Hathore, GTM Tenmei and GM Cihuaton.

MMORPG.com:

When did you take on your position, and has anything about it or the community surprised you, either pleasantly or unpleasantly?

Jon Virtes:

I've been in the games business for 14 years now, and started this job back in February. While my background has been more from the boxed PC and console side, I've been an avid MMO player for many years. I knew what I was getting into. It's a transition I've wanted to make for a long time, so I spent a great deal of time considering it and preparing for such a role. There are unique challenges to managing a live service 24/7. I was looking forward to facing them, so while the job can be hard work, nothing has really surprised me.

MMORPG.com:

Compared to your prior background in the industry, what are the major differences and changes you've experienced working in the MMOG space?

Jon Virtes:

The community consumes content far more quickly than it can be produced and expects results quickly. It can be difficult to balance the expectations with the reality of how long it takes to implement changes. This is a complex kind of service to run and we are coordinating several offices, multiple companies, coding takes time, testing takes time, decisions take time to evaluate, and so on.

It can be tough on a daily basis to look at a community that desperately wants answers and not be able to give them until such a time as the necessary information is fully prepared, even though I want to be able to reply. But I'm also well aware of the challenges from the business side of the equation. Learning to serve these two masters has been the number one change for me. I am still striving for the Zen balance of the middle way.

MMORPG.com:

For those who haven't tried Runes of Magic yet, what kinds of players are most likely to fit into the community?

Jon Virtes:

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of players have had reason to leave other fantasy MMOs are finding a very happy home here due to the familiar, yet different feel of RoM. The free to play aspect is also very appealing, considering that we're all still struggling through a recession. It also gives you more control over how you play, which appeals to certain gamers, too.

If you like more character customization, customizable player housing, and cool guild features like guild castles and guild sieges, then this is the MMOG for you. There's also a tight-knit community that has a lot of fun playing together, plus a GM and community team that is constantly working to be more engaged with you in and out of the game.

MMORPG.com:

Is there anything more you'd like to say?

Jon Virtes:

Thank you for the insightful questions. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.

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