Saturday Debate: Official Forums
Staff Writers Dan Fortier and Derek Czerkaski take opposite sides of the issue of game official forums. Are they needed, or is it enough to have third party forums?
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
As often is the case, this week's debate was inspired by recent events in the world of MMOs. Many of us take having official game forums hosted by the developers for granted, but several weeks ago Sigil, the developers of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes closed down their forums prior to the launch of the game and moved them under the auspices of their Affiliate Program. This week Derek Czarkaski and I will be taking opposite sides of this issue for your amusement.
I'm not a big forum person and I can't really think of any time I needed to use a forum for any game I have played, but this move just seems like the ultimate cop out to me. If you are going to go through all the trouble of hosting support forums and have them moderated, why not just have regular open forums? While I agree most game forums after release are nothing but a massive whine-fest, these people are paying you as much as I pay for people to take out my trash every month. At the very least they could do is put up with their customers. Pawning them off on your 'official fansites' is really just passing the buck..
While it's true that official forums are valuable central hubs for information, how much purpose do they really serve? It's not like open discussions are ever allowed. I can't think of a single MMO to date that's really allowed their customers to openly discuss controversial gameplay elements without severe restriction. Case and point; SOE loves to over mod their forums. A great example that comes to mind is associated with Star Wars Galaxies, and the backlash they received after the NGE. I found it amusing to see a thread created, locked, and deleted all within the span of a minute. On top of absurd moderation, negative criticism is nearly always censored on official forums. Praise is always welcome, however, to hell with anyone who believes the game is not perfect; they're clearly just trolling and flaming. Ignore the fact that they paid their $50 for the game too.
Besides, what good are official forums? Let's face it, in all honesty, devs never come out and associate with their clients. In the off chance that they do, it's prepared statements and clarifications. They never express their opinions, or come out and honestly bond with their community. Devs post to save face (PR is usually involved) and to deny rumors, but when's the last time a dev logged in and talked about a good group experience they had, or asked their community for some suggestions?
Fan site forums, on the other hand, allow a much broader scope of things. While it can make finding information somewhat more difficult, you're much more likely to find numerous, varied perspectives. Heck, look at MMORPG.com for example. If you ask people on an official forum, they're not going to tell you all the game's flaws and how it could improve, not without getting moderated. However, with the fan sites, you're able to express yourself much more openly and freely. Devs can't hide their mistakes, they can't censor the nay sayers, and they can't ban you for having a different opinion than the majority of the players. Empower the players, not the devs; that's what gaming SHOULD be about.
Wow, you sound bitter and jaded. Despite those admirable qualities you are overlooking some important points. First off, I doubt very seriously that a Guild or Fansite that is popular enough to become an affiliate will be any less rabid than the mods on an official forum. In fact, the folks running it would probably be the first choice for mods if they weren't running their own forums. The Devs can always pull their support of the forum if they don't like the vibe too so it's not like they are given Carte Blanche to say whatever they like either.
Secondly, without a single source for important information, you start running into he said, she said situations where different sites can give conflicting information depending on who you listen to. Sure the idea is to keep all the important information filtered out to all of the Affiliates, but once again I ask: What other reason would you do this other then to avoid dealing with the issues yourself?
As for passing on the buck to other folks, I couldn't disagree more! Forums are a luxury, not a necessity. Your $15 a month covers client access, server maintenance, and technical support. In my opinion, as long as there's phone and email support readily available, as well as GMs in game to provide assistance, then they've provided all of the help that they're required to for their customer. If Devs start to tactically retreat from certain sites due to backlash from their community, I think there are bigger problems at large anyway. It's been my experience that, once the Devs stop caring and interacting with their players, that's when the game dies out significantly. I'm also a firm believer in "If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen", so if Devs lack the professionalism and the fortitude to deal with negative criticism, he shouldn't be posting in the first place.
The he said, she said problem usually remedies itself within a short period of time. In my personal experience, all games tend to centralize their information gradually to a few brief sites over time. Even though they're not official forums, they've become central databases for reliable information pertinent to the game. This is also beneficial to the game itself, as folks become a more tightly knit community in game and out of it as well, as they can become familiar with each other's play styles, help each other solve problems, maybe even meet up and group together through forum planning. Also, you can begin to notice "icons" who tend to be well known for posting good information, being a trolling jackass, etc etc.
The point that I hope I'm bringing across to everyone is that the players need to bond together on their own. Fan based forums provide: valuable opportunities to build tightly knit communities amongst the player base, a more interpersonal relationship between the players and the Devs, and a more open yet dispersed flow of readily available information. I don't care what anyone says, censorship and excessive moderation will always be much more predominant on an official forum than a fansite, and that's not something I care to deal with, period.
Customer support in general is at an all time low as far as I'm concerned and in my experience players tend to find a workaround for various in-game issues much faster than customer support and having a central location to see all the non-technical issues that crop up is invaluable. With the recent trend towards releasing games in Beta shape it's even more critical to have an easy way to chart common problems. If you've ever put in a trouble ticket in a modern MMO you know that it's much simpler to do a quick search on the main forums to see if a lot of folks are having the same problems. Perhaps this won't change much without official forums, but I don't see how dividing up your community is ever a good thing.
Now that we've had our say on the topic, We would like to hear everyone's take on this. Drop us a note in the forum topic.