There’s an old joke that goes “For every time you have sex before you get married, put a jellybean in a jar. For every time you have sex after the wedding, take out a jellybean.” The punch line is that the jar will never be empty. That joke is so old that originally, you were supposed to put the jellybeans in the jar during your first year of marriage. But (as usual) I digress.
You could make the same “joke” with developers and how much they post before and after launch.
This is why my road rules for developing a community include the statement “Don’t post at all unless you are willing to commit to a post-launch posting schedule, and are willing to hold yourself to the same rules that apply to the community team.” That deceptively simple statement is short, but the execution with all its implications is a full time job requiring a professional (or a clever person trained and supported by a consultant).
It is so much a full time job that a certain drop off in posting occurs even with the professional community people, as other elements of the job (feedback, ombudsmanship, customer service problem resolution, patches, design meetings, and events) cut into time that used to be reserved for posting. But the difference between the community person’s drop off, and the rock star dev’s drop off, is the size of the Grand Canyon.
The timeline with amateurs looks like this:
1. John Developer, pure of heart and intention, makes a public “statement of intent” about his game. John is enthusiastic, and his typing is mostly free of spelling mistakes. His grammar is similar to that of Koko the Gorilla, but the enthusiasm makes his occasional incoherence easy to forgive.
2. No community professional is on the team as of yet. The other devs are either busy working, or experienced enough to know that posting in public is a trap, or both. John is also busy, but with no mate, no pets, and no other hobby, he posts before work, after work, and during lunch. John becomes the public voice of the product by default.
3. John generates a thousand paragraph essay on why the new game is awesome.
4. Players (whose current game of choice has gotten to step 25) post their adulation of John, and by extension, John’s project.
5. John is afloat in a sea of warm fuzzies for the first time in his life. He personally feels so good that he gets personal with his fans. He replies publicly, for the most part, but indulges in private messages with his most rabid fans. Particularly the females. At least he thinks they’re females.
6. He releases a barrage of posts responding to every topic related to the game. If anyone has a criticism, he promises (using the phrase “I promise” with abandon) that it will be addressed. He discusses systems not yet implemented.
7. Beta begins. A community manager named Ed is hired. Ed starts making a list of what was promised, and threatens John’s life if any more promises are made. John smiles at Ed, and says that Ed just doesn’t understand how special and unique the community is. John is certain that the players will understand if things don’t quite work out as planned.
8. John continues his prolific posting schedule. He is falling slightly behind in his regular work, but he finds time to address questions on every topic from the death penalty to crafting to armor customizing.
9. John realizes that deadlines are not suggestions, and skips checking the boards for a few hours. Exhausted after a long day, John goes home, hits the beta boards, and has a mild outburst towards the lone naysayer.
10. Ed tells John that this is not acceptable.
11. John is not listening. John’s ears are filled with the kudos from all of the people who have genuinely grown to love John. John is also basking in the light of the million flames directed at the lone naysayer.
12. Now emboldened by his obvious community wrangling GENIUS, John indulges in a stronger outburst towards a handful of people who are negative.
13. Ed and John wind up in the producer’s office. The producer is reluctant to crush John’s spirit. After all, John was there at the beginning! Ed realizes he is probably screwed, here.
14. John throws his first public tantrum at testers who were expressing concern with some unfinished elements of a product that is supposedly going live this quarter.
15. Ed presents the number of moderators he will need to cope with the way things are going. Ed is laughed at. (At this point, Ed’s future diverges – either he has the pull and the sense to get John muzzled, or he’s a wimp and decides to knock himself out working overtime, following the orders of people who don’t understand community, and cleaning up after John. Or he quits. We’ll assume for the rest of this post that Ed doesn’t have enough pull to make the pain stop, but for some reason needs to keep this job at any cost.)
16. John goes on a banning spree. People are removed from the boards simply for disagreeing, because at this point, ALL disagreement is proof of a lack of faith. All negativity, no matter how presented, must be silenced before anyone can agree. He convinces himself that he’s doing the right thing. He doesn’t just lock the threads, he deletes them. Leaving the threads might cause someone to think that the banned guy didn’t say anything terrible.
17. Launch day! John posts a heartfelt thank you to the community for all their efforts, and makes a final promise – he will continue posting at the same rate that he always has. Ed cries on the inside.
18. At the launch party, to which a number of the more ardent beta testers were invited, John meets up with one of the girls he’s been PMing for the last six months. The good news is that she’s an actual girl, with a vagina and everything. The bad news is that she’s built him up in her head to be a real swashbuckling hero capable of bringing her to peaks of ecstasy all night long, and faced with that expectation, John cannot actually perform at all.
19. She puts this bit of information into a PM to someone else. Within an hour it gets back to Ed. Ed laughs. On the outside.
20. In the excitement of launch week, meaning the twenty hour days fixing the bugs and exploits that were not reported, John neglects to post for two entire days.
21. John flames the crap out of the guy who posts “For shame, John, thought you were going to keep posting.”
22. Ed jumps in and explains what things are like behind the scenes, and the drama simmers down.
23. John flames the crap out of the person who lists out all of John’s promises and concludes that the finished game is batting .125 and that only if you count the “broken calendar” as the “robust raid scheduling system.”
24. Ed starts to post that those promises were made before Ed was hired, and were delusional even then. Ed hits the backspace key just in time. Ed gets drunk instead.
25. John responds to one description of a character development bug with “it’s working as intended.”
I will now ring down the curtain on that drama. Even if Ed is desperate to keep his job, so desperate that he will give any number of hairy, hairy people elaborate tongue baths, he will still be looking for an edged weapon after step 25. And even if he lives, John is not likely to post ever again – but he’ll swear until his dying day that he only stopped because Ed was unable to manage the community.
But if you’re still reading, I’d like to develop THE definitive drop off formula. And I need YOU.
Either post here, or email me (sanya AT brokentoys DOT org) the following data points:
- The name of the forum
- The name of the developer and his job/function/role at the company
- The number of posts a developer made to that forum in the six months prior to launch
- The number of posts that same developer (or that developer’s publicly designated replacement, and no, the community person is not the developer’s designated replacement) made in the six months post launch
- If the product is not yet launched, or if six months have not yet elapsed since its launch, be sure to note the beginning and ending dates of the period you’ve observed.
I will remove the names (I only want them for the purpose of verification), and post the results. I’m betting that the drop off rate is dramatic for all but the community pros – and again, some drop off is expected there. This isn’t intended to be a giant game of gotcha. This is just an attempt at working out a formula for gaming jellybeans.