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The Empowered Community

Suzie Ford Posted:
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The most recent WildStar Uplink was a particularly interesting one as the question was:

What are your favorite places on the Internet to hang out and chat about games? What attracts you to those communities?

Community has been getting a lot of airtime this year. In 2012 alone, there has been at least a pair of instances where the community, the nation of players, has wrested control of a game’s development from those who physically created it.

In early 2012, BioWare was rocked by the Mass Effect community’s reaction to the ending of the third installment in the series. Many called those who were unhappy “entitled whiners” but, in the end, the negative press forced BioWare to create the ‘Extended Cut’ to explain the ending in more detail. Subsequent downloadable content has further enhanced the original ending to make it more comprehensible.

The community spoke and it was heard.

The second, and more recent, incident is the swirling brouhaha surrounding The War Z. Community members have loudly accused developers of false advertising and have been effective enough to have had the game pulled from Steam. Additionally, Executive Producer Sergey Titov has sent out an open letter to the community basically telling everyone that his head had gotten too big.

Again, the community spoke and it was heard.

I can imagine that developers around the world are looking at both of these instances (and others, I’m sure) and searching for the lessons they teach, namely that community matters. In this day and age, people aren’t going to take ostensible affronts lying down and are willing to be loud and boisterous to get their voices heard.

So we come to Carbine Studios, a game development house with a title releasing after all of the community empowerment lessons of 2012. It seems prudent that they chose to ask their own community the questions listed above, a preemptive ‘strike’ at potential disaster.

Individuals making up the WildStar community had a surprising amount of unity in the way they answered the first question. Most indicated that general gaming sites like MMORPG.com aren’t usually their first choices to discuss their favorite titles. Many cited the trolling by other players who are, shall we say, less than enamored of the same game. (For more on this particular subject, it’s well worth the time to read Victor’s “Teardown Mentality” article.) One quote summed it up quite nicely: Too much trolling, QQ-ing, and general, overall nastiness. I daresay that most of us would agree, at least on some level.

Other players said they like to go to fan sites that are specific to only one game and many others said they simply hang out on Facebook to chat up their favorite games with guildies and friends. Still others said that they prefer to head to the official site to get the most current information and to talk (hopefully) with developers.

Carbine’s Troy “Aether” Hewitt, the company’s Community Director, had the honor of responding to players with what the team has in mind for WildStar. Interestingly, Hewitt started with letting players know that official forums for WildStar are coming but that the community team needs to ensure that the proper software tools are in place to make them both informative and, at the same time, less vitriolic than other stops on the Internet.

Additionally, Carbine seems committed to providing players with information in a wide variety of ways knowing that there is, at least at this point in game development, no one-stop for all players. Hewitt said that the team would be splitting its time between offering new interactions and information via the official forums but, at the same time, making sure that fan sites and general gaming sites are also home to new and interesting information about WildStar.

Hewitt and his team, however, are going one step further than the “known” avenues of communication by creating teams specific to the unique needs of each and every WildStar server. Here’s what he had to say:

“Our team structure is such that we aim to have a clear understanding of who’s who on every server we run. It takes extra work, but I believe that each server is an ecosystem unto itself, and requires special attention to understand concerns unique to those communities. [E]ach server has its own personality and it is our intention to support those social dynamics on a team level.”

This is a refreshing take on community and disaggregates it into smaller pockets of individuals, a sure way to head off potential issues more quickly than by letting them explode all over the official forums or other places around the ‘Net.

Lastly, the WildStar community team is committed to being transparent and by making sure that, when appropriate, an increased level of developer-community interaction takes place. Again, this speaks to an intelligent effort to keep things above-board and to keep the community involved with WildStar’s development.

Game communities in 2013 will only increase in influence, I believe. Game companies need to take the lessons harshly taught by the Mass Effect 3 and The War Z communities to heart and learn from them, adjusting the traditional ways that players and developers interact. It seems that Carbine is on the cutting edge.

What do you think? What should community teams put in place to keep the player base involved in a productive and constructive way? Let us know in the comments. 


Suzie Ford

Suzie is the former Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. Follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom