Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

9 December, 2014

Bloggy XMAS 9: How to grow a community
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 10:00 AM

This post is part of Bloggy XMAS with the theme of “gaming and community”. #bloggyxmas

“Gaming and community”, there’s a topic to cover. Perhaps one of the most vitally important topics in our modern lives; community is the foundation of the internet as we know it. The internet has given us connections with other people far beyond what we could imagine, bringing together people who want to share with each other. So, yeah, community is pretty important.

Since I’m a developer, let’s make this post practical, as my holiday gift to you. What does it take to turn a bunch of unruly people into a community?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a full blog post, so forgive me if I’m a little rusty here.

What a community needs

At the core, a community needs some reason to exist. The MMO blogging community exists because a bunch of people who really like MMOs and like writing about them all started reading and linking to each other. We talked on blogs, in email, on chat, and sometimes even in person. It was our love of MMOs, as players and developers, that brought us together.

But, more than that, there was a steady core of people. In the early days, a lot of us developers were very active in the online community. This was a natural extension of the interactions we had while running our games. Some other bloggers were really eloquent making it a treat to just read their words. Others were the place to go if you wanted information about a specific game. People wrote a lot, frequently, and very well. This great core of people is not to be underestimated as the foundation of the community. They can help keep the focus, keep the reason going, even when everything else seems to go wrong.

But, what about running your own community? The best advice I can give is that you need to be part of the community without being simply a member of a community. Say you write a blog about an MMO. Obviously, you have to love the MMO, but to really build the community you need to be more than just a member in the crowd. Don’t be afraid to lead.

Nurturing the community

Okay, you’ve got some people interested. What now?

The first thing you want to do is encourage the behavior you want to see. Think about this carefully, because there is some subtlety here. If you want people to post a lot, you might include a little counter tracking how many posts that person has. But, if you want people to post great content a lot, you have to reward something more than just post counts. It might seem obvious when I put it that way, but you might be surprised how often people really don’t grasp this lesson.

Of course, sometimes your community adds extra complications. While running Meridian 59, I was well aware that the audience was a rough-and-tumble group of fans of a hard-core PvP game. I always had to maintain a careful balance between keeping the community reasonably welcoming, and letting people express themselves in the context of the game. “I’m going to kill you tomorrow,” might just be an in-context way of saying “see you tomorrow”, but if a conversation became actual threats, it was sometimes hard to tell.

The next thing to keep in mind is to keep people engaged. On this blog, I try to keep people engaged by giving high quality content, and trying to participate in the comments as much as possible. I could probably try to post a little more regularly, though. (*cough*) Of course, you need to find the right balance that works for you and your goals and the time you have available.

The other big thing to do is to look at your influencers, the people who are listened to when they post. Take extra care with them. You don’t have to lavish attention on them, but you do have to be mindful of the good or harm they can do with their words. Losing an influential person can hurt your community, so if there seems to be trouble brewing, then make sure it gets resolved in a friendly manner.

An extra word of advice if you want to build a community for business reasons: try to think beyond your business goals. I’ll admit, I kept this blog going mostly as a way for me to keep my name in circulation, but I always tried to make sure I gave people something interesting to read. Yes, you should keep your business goals in mind, but people will probably want to do more than worship the glory that is your company or your brand. Give them content they will enjoy. Give them something they can’t get anywhere else, and you’ll have dedicated followers.

Finally, a word of warning: don’t pay too much attention to the assholes. Yes, you will have disruptive people who come along and try to hurt the community because these people are still human. Especially if your community is focused on you or your creative effort, it can be tempting to try to convert the assholes who slam your work. But, you know what? People will see that as you paying attention to the assholes. Attention is a form of encouragement, which means that by focusing attention on the assholes you’re really encouraging assholish behavior. Your friendly contributors might take this poorly if you don’t give them attention as well.

Taking care of troublemakers

So, let’s talk about those disruptive assholes. This is where you really want to have a good plan in place. You’ll want to consider community policies. Sometimes you can be pretty light on rules and enforce things that fall obviously outside of the rules of common decency. In other cases, you might want to have a lot of rules with written rules for warnings, suspension, bannings, account deletions, and all the structure that is needed to punish disruptive elements. Of course, you’ll still have to interpret the rules, and you will get people complaining, “but it’s so unfair!” when you enforce a rule they don’t like. But, just remember that if the assholes run rampant then your whole community is harmed.

The second major rule is to be wary of trolls. Assholes are just people who rude, but trolls are people who say outrageous things to get attention. And, boy do those trolls thrive on attention. A good rule in a community is “never post angry”. Not only do you run the risk of alienating part of your community if you lash out, you also feed the trolls and give them exactly what they want. Once they know they can provoke you, they will continue to push your buttons frequently and viciously. Assholes are annoying, but Trolls ruin your well-being. And, if you are running a community of any note, you will get your fair share of both.

How do you deal with trolls? The best way is to follow those rules I talked about above. Issue a warning, and if that isn’t listened to escalate the punishments. Don’t be afraid to ban an account that is causing harm, especially if that account has very little post history before the trolling. The big question is if you should make the bannings public or private. Public bannings let your community know you are looking out for the community, but it also can be the attention the trolls crave. Plus, let’s be honest, it feels so good to ban someone and leave their carcass hanging as a warning to others. But, this can also make the community seem more antagonistic. In the end, it depends on what your community needs, and I’m not sure there’s any hard and fast rules here.

But, there are some things you really should do in private. Sometimes one of your regular post might engage in asshole or troll behavior. Hey, we all have bad days. A quick private message can help resolve the issue before it blows up. Sometimes even a pillar of the community needs a little cool down period. But, if you make a public example of them, it can cause a loss of face that may make it harder for them to rejoin the community.

Being the disciplinarian is perhaps the least fun part of running a community. But, it really is vital if you want to keep the community healthy.

Enjoy your community!

If you’re trying to build a community, you should enjoy being with the community. You should enjoy talking with them. But, just as you should treat trolls carefully, also be wary of people who agree with you too much. Suck-ups can make you feel good, but sometimes you still need a reality check. And absolutely do not excuse someone’s bad behavior because they’ve said nice things about you in the past.

So, hopefully you have some idea about how to run your own community now. The next step is either learn by doing, or if you want the longer but easier route, go find a community to join. Pay attention to how the community acts. How do people treat each other? What works and what doesn’t? Even as a member, you can exert some influence and test some ideas.

But, realize that this is going to be a lot of work to run a community well. But, it can certainly be worth it; I’m proud to be part of the MMO blogging community and to contribute to events like the Bloggy XMAS. So, here’s to a hopefully renewed interest in posting on this blog! :)

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  1. I enjoyed the post. One of the points you touched on was one that always baffled me. Tools. There are certain ways you can encourage GOOD community. For example; the like-dislike buttons on reddit. I like that good posts float to the top and bad posts can be penalized. What would be better, however, is if they only allowed likes in the formula.

    Likewise tools in an MMO have suffered lately. Things like a group finder, across realms, rarely promote any sort of community. Nor do mechanics like “public quests” we saw in Guild Wars 2; people just end up zerging then running off without saying a word.

    Community can be promoted both in-game and offline with the right approach to tools and the mindset that a positive community will grow and that a bad or mismanaged one will attract the trolls.

    I’m curious what your new job and its philosophy is on community building tools. Far to often I see game developers include “guilds” as a feature and call the game there when it comes to an emphasis on “community”. Its laughable. Likewise some focus on roleplaying tools like emotes and costumes. Neither I feel really encourage a good community.

    To give you an idea of what does? Raids? Challenges that organizations must overcome. Rewarding players for being in groups. Rewarding players for being in groups that take on challenges (even if that challenge can be overcome by a single person).

    As someone who works in the gaming industry, both previously and now currently (congrats again!), I’m hoping your blog dives more into this behind the scenes approach.

    Have a great holiday season, and thanks for using #hashtags for my project! ;)

    Comment by Craig Schupp — 9 December, 2014 @ 12:48 PM

  2. Craig Schupp wrote:
    One of the points you touched on was one that always baffled me. Tools.

    Tools are tricky, because there’s simply no “one size fits all” situation. There are certain tools that can help depending on the situation. For example, if you want to post to a lot of social media you might want an application that makes it easy to post to various social media. In this case, tools are a multiplier to your efforts, they won’t replace your efforts. I think running a community simply takes a lot of human time investment to keep things running smoothly.

    In-game, you are right that tools have seemed to promote efficiency and ease-of-use rather than encouraging community. I think this has been to the detriment of the game, however, as without community an MMO has no advantages over a more streamlined single-player experience.

    In Camelot Unchained specifically, one of the foundational principles is that there won’t be automated auction houses in order to promote social interaction. I think this is likely to be a good decision for the health of the game, but I’m sure that some players are going to really hate the inconvenience that will result.

    I’m curious what your new job and its philosophy is on community building tools.

    I’ve written about the importance of the “social fabric” in game. I think this is what CU is specifically focusing on. Again, the reason for not having auction houses, while couched in terms of not “holding players’ hands”, is more about building social connections between players. Having to find and get to know a crafter to keep you regularly supplied is useful because it creates a bond between two players in the same realm. This social connection will make the player happier, and also give the player a connection to the game.

    …thanks for using #hashtags for my project!

    Sure thing. Speaking of community tools, eh? :) Thanks for the comment.

    Comment by Psychochild — 11 December, 2014 @ 8:39 AM

  3. I’d be interested in bouncing around a few other followups specifically about Camelot Unchained. Its an intuiguing product to me, because clearly Mr Jacobs has a history with successful MMOs (to an extent). He clearly seems convinced that a RvRvR game with little to no PVE elements will be successful. Despite the fact that we’ve had numerous games come out with a similar emphasis; Warhammer Online (which was forced to abandon the third realm, Chaos, as I understand it, before launch), Guild Wars 2 (similar even though they substituted servers for the realms), and more recently the rather odd choice by Elder Scrolls Online. None of these games were really as committed to the PVP experience as Camelot Unchained is.

    All of the above sentiments made your comment about tradeskills and no auction house a bit odd to me. One doesn’t necessarily associate trading and crafting (typical PvE fare) with a PVP emphasized game.

    If you have some time, and not to derail the original point of your post. I had originally considered posting about this topic, but decided on the wife-story because… well its more holiday-ish :P

    I also realize you might not be involved in the areas specifically I’m asking about, so its okay to ignore them or say “pass”. If you’d prefer to email and not talk about these here, I’d understand as well.

    1.) How does realm balancing potentially impact communities in a game that is hoping to have three balanced factions for each server? We frequently see players overloading a particular faction because they don’t want to be on a losing side/realm. Almost at the outset of your game is going to be the biggest challenge in ensuring a healthy community forms, not once, but three times per server. Any one failure will have potentially devastating ramifications on the server as a whole. Afterall if one faction fails to show up, the remaining two factions may be too imbalanced (or too evenly balanced) for the game to have any “fun” to it.

    2.) Zerg’ing seems to be of particular problem in most of the more recent game launches (mentioned above). The idea of whoever brings the largest group will win, seems to dominate popular strategies on most servers. Since its difficult to form bonds with a group of 100 random people, do you see or have any ideas how they intend to lean players towards small groups? Or do they actually hope people will just form up zergs to do 100v100v100 ?

    I suppose the reason I’m asking is none of the above developers have had much success in turning their PVP game aspects into a particularly noteworthy community generating tool. Do you see any possible ideas specifically related to PVP that could help with this? Is this something that even comes up on a radar this early in development (And if not, why not?).

    Sorry if these are more in depth then you have time for, I know you mentioned how busy you were ;) Probably would have been best served by posting a blog entry on my end.

    Comment by Craig Schupp — 11 December, 2014 @ 2:40 PM

  4. Craig Schupp wrote:
    One doesn’t necessarily associate trading and crafting (typical PvE fare) with a PVP emphasized game.

    Well, it’s the difference between having an arena-based game and an MMO. In an MMO, a sense of place in the world is important. Having people who can trade and craft to support the warriors helps give the game that “spark of life” that keeps you interested in the game as more than just a place to pop on and stick your sword in some enemies. That keep on the borderlands holding back the hordes needs a crafter to make the building have more significance.

    How does realm balancing potentially impact communities in a game that is hoping to have three balanced factions for each server?

    I can’t go into gory detail, but this is something that isn’t overlooked. In fact, Mark and I talked about this when I was interviewing for the job.

    One benefit of three realms instead of two is that if one does get stronger, the other two can gang up on the stronger one. I saw this repeated in DAoC, but also in Meridian 59 with its three factions that players could join. Having two factions able to gang up on the third kept things more interesting. Of course, things can still go off the rails, but it’s an issue being addressed through design.

    Since its difficult to form bonds with a group of 100 random people, do you see or have any ideas how they intend to lean players towards small groups?

    A lot of the fans of CU were old DAoC fans. One thing a lot of them really appreciated about the game was how a smart group of people could use skills to bust up a zerg. So, there’s some precedence for dealing with “numbers always win”. The other thing is that one explicit goal of CU is to have “hundreds of players fighting hundreds of players”. We recently did a server upgrade where we went from supporting 200-300 players in a small area to support nearly 2000. And, there’s plenty of room to expand from there.

    Anyway, the goal is to allow people to fight the size of battle they want. Want to solo? You can go pick off stragglers. Want small groups? You can prowl the countryside. Want massive clashes with hundreds of people on each side? We can do that too. Want to siege a keep with a mage as a siege weapon? Yep, you can do that, too.

    I think there are some great ideas in store. One big advantage of having a bunch of experienced developers is that we’ve all done this before, and we have a good idea of the pitfalls. So, I hope you can expect some great things out of the game in the future. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 16 December, 2014 @ 6:28 PM

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