I wound up on four panels at AGC. One of them was an accident. On the website, I was on two, and in the program, I was on… a different two. Oh, well. We don’t go to AGC for the rational planning. Hell, community is lumped in with marketing according to the people who nominally run this drunken orgy. (Incidentally, the way marketing and community fight for the same resources – resources they MUST use towards different ends in order to succeed – is how I got the word “cock” into the microphone. I referred to this scenario as a “total cock-up.” And no one would have realized it was part of a bet if the entire panel hadn’t started laughing. Well, that, and if Certain People hadn’t been holding up signs that said things like “SAY COCK! YAY FOR COCK! YOU ROCK AND THAT RHYMES WITH…”) But I digress. The following is taken from my notes for one of the panels (Community 101).
1. Treat your customers like sales units. Don’t hire a community professional. Instead, communicate with potential users in polished, professional marketing-speak, with as many buzzwords as possible. Talk about all the great features the game is going to have without checking to see what has actually been implemented (or checking with the programmers to see what has a prayer of being implemented). Start hyping the game two years or more before it actually goes on sale. Don’t worry your pretty head about long term relationships or the credibility of your representatives – it’s all about first day sales numbers and getting that #1 on the chart for your resume.
EXCEPT NOT. MMO products are services, not products, and first day sales are flashy, but ultimately not that meaningful.
2. Treat your customers like your friends.Don’t get me wrong, now. Many of my customers have become my friends, now that I’m back on the light side of the force. Given all that we have in common – preferences in games, books, TV shows – it’s hard to escape warm feelings towards my customers. Marriages have been built on less than I have in common with the weirdest, most Asbergery guy at a fan fair.
But while I am representing a product, the customers are not my friends. I can tell my friends that they are whining, occasionally. I can have a bad day with my friends, and storm and rage and cry. I can lose my patience with my friends. Customers, however, are paying me good money to not show my ass in public. Terseness, rudeness, and frustration are 100% understandable, but not acceptable.
Oh, and “public” includes the precious NDA-covered, private, password protected internal boards. One can be more casual in that forum – not less patient.
3. Act like the eighteen whiners on the boards are the majority. Sure, you can cater to people with no life and a propensity for calling your mother a three bagger. Design and deliver expansions just for them. See how far that gets you.
Without solid usage data, polls designed by someone who doesn’t have an axe to grind (and by the way, the guy whose idea the poll is testing? NOT THE RIGHT GUY TO WRITE THE POLL), and other (likely proprietary) sources of information, any conclusion you draw from the message boards is representative of the kind of person who writes five paragraph essays about why you suck, as opposed to the kind of person who gives you money.
As a side note, if I never again see someone whine about how Mean and Greedy game companies are for wanting to make money, it will be too soon. I hear this whining from both the customer side and the development side, and I can’t believe I’m still hearing it in 2007. Making games is a business. The idea is to trade “something fun” for “something that I can use to purchase goods and services” without having to barter. I want to shake the people who whine about how it’s all about the money, and send them to run cancer hospitals for orphan porcupines.
4. Ignore the eighteen whiners on the boards. When all eighteen of them are saying the same thing, you are the one who is wrong, not them. (Admittedly, it can be hard to tell #3 and #4 on this list apart… if you’re a developer by trade, as opposed to a professional community weenie hardened by years of battle, with multiple sources of data to cross check.)
5. Mismanage expectations.The fine details of this category would take a lifetime to delineate. The big details could be handled by a semi-retarded hamster if only that gentle rodent could press the buttons on a keyboard without crapping on the wrist rest.
If you aren’t going to show progress on something within three weeks, shut up. Don’t discuss delivery dates until you are within six months or less of that date. Do not discuss features that haven’t been designed. Do not talk about betas unless you’re about to sign people up… and then only if the first round of testers will get in within three weeks of signing up. Do not allow developers who have not been trained to talk on the boards. Do not allow developers to post without commitments from them to post AFTER the launch, not just before when everyone loves them. Do not send private messages to customers. Keep all behavior public and above reproach.
Final, side note, if we’re going to talk about fucking your community: Do not have sex with customers no matter how drunk you are. No good comes of this. She either wants a job, or she’s a developer groupie who will someday start a website. At best, she is telling stories about your lack of manhood to the next developer she catches. And THAT guy told everyone about it at the September trade show.