Here’s an interesting post: everything you know about community management is wrong.
This relationship is readily apparent in World of Warcraft. Every time there is a new patch, the users complain on the forums, and the Community Managers get fed up with the users, and the users think that therefore the devs don’t care about the users, etc. etc. The World of Warcraft forums are a good place to go if you’re feeling pretty good about life, and you decide you need that attitude adjusted.
Stardock and Penny Arcade (huh? When was Tycho’s last patch?) are held up as paragons of successful community management, mainly from getting rid of the middle man.
Putting aside for the moment that Blizzard’s community management isn’t exactly what I would hold up as the gold standard of MMO online community relations, this is a lot like the difference between Catholics and Protestants. Protestants believe that you should be able to talk to God without a lot of that froo-froo intercession mumbo-jumbo. Catholics, on the other hand, believe in a priesthood, and that priesthood can interpret between the divine mystery of faith and the mundane concerns of life.
Despite being a lapsed Catholic in real life, I tend to be a Catholic in terms of this discussion. Mainly because most MMO developers should never, ever, EVER talk to players directly. Good lord. You think community people piss off the player base? Never let them near the bitter programmer who’s been on a live team for over three years and views his subscriber base as a pack of ravenous mongoloid zombie hordes with attention deficit disorder. People who may be excellent programmers, artists, or designers may have really lousy people skills.
Even if the developer isn’t a frothy blend of ennui and hatred, the alternative is in many ways worse. Picture the guy who’s been plucked from the community of gamers and is LIVING HIS DREAM! He gets to WORK ON GAMES! WOOOH! And MMOS! HOOAH! It’s the big show, and every day… every FREAKING DAY he’s sitting in on a meeting planning out incredibly cool stuff that is going to ROCK YOUR WORLD OFF, and he just has to tell SOMEONE… and then the producer gets to deal with the community seeing yesterday’s brainstormed three bagger as a promise with the weight of Holy Writ.
And let’s not even talk about the coder who eats his own dog food and then talks to players, letting them know what side of a PVP game he plays on. Because it’s common knowledge that the ONLY REASON developers publish MMOs is so they can play favorites and win the game. That whole “money” thing is just a ruse.
MMOs are special. MMO communities are special. They require a special, deft hybrid form of public relations, rapid response, and disinterested ombudsman. That is what an online community relations team SHOULD be. Whether or not it is in practice can be an issue. But if you feel that your game isn’t giving you enough feedback on what you find important, it isn’t because community relations is an inherently bad idea; it’s because that team specifically is falling down on its job.
Or alternately, because you’re a whining git. It could go either way, really.