9 December, 2014
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! :)