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Developer Perspectives: MMO Underbelly: The Takeaway

Column By Sanya Weathers on September 18, 2009

Years of doing for community for people who are not entirely sure what community is has taught me to end presentations with the things I want people to remember.

Actually, years of doing presentations has taught me to start with those points, so all the people who will get yanked out of the meeting to fix crashed servers or prima donna designers will still know what was really important. That rather raises the question “couldn’t your meetings be five minutes long?” And the answer is yes, but some of my former employers just loved meetings too much. Starting with my bullet points freed up the Blackberry thumbers and the doodlers to blow 55 minutes doing whatever they wanted, so it wasn’t a total waste.

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But, and you are no doubt accustomed to this when it comes to my writing… I digress.

I have had a wonderful time writing these underbelly columns for MMORPG. You all are my favorite kind of reader – already very knowledgeable about MMOs, and curious to hear the nitty gritty details. But this is the end of the line for me for a while.

Many of you know that as much as I enjoy writing and reporting, my heart belongs to community management. And yet for family reasons I’m unable to relocate very far from the DC area. I’ve horribly missed working directly with players on a game that I could believe in, but I had to find a company willing (and ABLE, which was hard) to hire me as a remote employee.

By the time you read this, I will have been the Director of Community for a game called Quick Hit Football for a few weeks. It’s pretty much everything I wanted to do professionally. It’s a fun, addictive, casual, free to play, web-based MMO with no elves. (Don’t get me wrong – RPGs are still my favorite thing to play, but if I’m ever going to be able to go back to fantasy games professionally, I need a break.) I’ve been doing stuff for them for a few months now, and I’m crazy about the game, and more importantly, the team behind the game. So when they made me the offer to go exclusive and full time, I grabbed it.

But that means I’ve got to say goodbye to the full time column.

So, what am I hoping you all will remember?

Server stability is not an on/off thing, even though it is always the most important thing to a game company. The guys who run the servers are the hardest working people you’ve never heard of.

Customer service is performed by people like you, with 50% alcohol and tobacco. No one loves the game more, or does more for the players. Not just in CS, but in terms of proactive design, feature development, and more.

Making one of these games is currently more art than science, and it could use a little more science. The bulk of the content you experience in the game is produced by the most entry level employees. But if you want to be one of those employees, there are some basic things you should know.

Getting the game out the door sounds so simple, but it’s the part most games fail to do. You’ve got to test it, put good processes in place, sell it, and promote it while managing expectations. There are shortcuts when it comes to selling it, of course. And MMOs are in a niche where the consumers do as much if not more of the promotion than any of the employees.

A launched game is where the work really begins for community people, because it’s not a passive thing where fun is transmitted from the company to the customer. We’re all in it together, and ultimately, we’re on the same side.

And when it comes to MMOs, the meta-game of blathering on about the Big Issues is almost as much fun for some of us as the actual game. Everyone’s got an opinion, and the drama that lights up the boards and the chatrooms is better than any soap opera.

MMOs and the people who play them are my life. Thanks for letting me be part of yours with these columns.

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