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Thursday, December 8, 2005

Ouch! My Community Hurts

I'll start with a disclaimer. The author of this article is not young. As a matter of fact, I'm old. I'm one of the 5 or 6 oldest gamers I've met. If you have ever been in the gaming store, and there is a soccer mom there with her little rugrat buying a game, and she asks you; "You getting these for your kids?" Then you feel me. No, I'm getting these for me. Thanks for playing, now move along. Sorry it's been since childhood that YOU have done anything fun or intellectually stimulating. Now, don't you have some oranges to cut into little slices?

That aside...

I'm noticing that more and more of the posts one community boards are just garbage. No one is talking about what game is great or how to get to this encounter. No one seems to care which guild is full of assholes or where the best place to get more information.

Instead, here are some of the subjects that have been broached; Bush is an idiot (Bush went to an Ivy League School. He may not be inspired or a great communicator but he's no idiot.), homosexuality, drugs, hate for the middle class, hate for the upper class, hate for the lower class, suicide, race, and a few others I'd rather not revisit. These aren't high-level intellectual discussions, but flame-fests and baiting of people with sensibilities.

It's one thing when it happens on the forums. Everyone who has been around the internet any period of time understands that a certain portion of the of the population exists only to make themselves feel superior by "cleverly" berating or cutting down everything that they can't understand or that they irrationally hate. This element has always existed on the FPS boards, and trolling the MMO boards on the fringes. With the second generation of MMOs started to ship, some of this element started to migrate to them.

Jump forward, and it's 2003. Sigil is announcing their new MMO. Hundreds of eager fans are waiting for what's next from the old EQ creative team. The Official Vanguard Forums (OVF) are filled with people discussing what they like and didn't like about different games, playing "wouldn't it be cool if...", and suggesting features or ideas for the upcoming MMO. It seemed so far off, and yet so tangible. The creative team regularly engages the public. This went on for quite a while. Like anything else, over time the forums have changed. Talk to most of the fansite operators or long-time posters and they will tell you that they don't spend much time on the OVF any more.

I guess what I'm asking is why does it have to be this way? Why do the boards start off with the fans and end up with the bans? Why do they start off constructive or excited, and end up like the SWG forums did after launch or the World of Warcraft forums? Why does a community seem to degenerate the larger it gets? Why is it that any person who represents the company eventually gets crucified as a schill for the company (they were doing their job) or lionized as a champion of the people (they weren't.)

As a developer, I'd stop chasing the community about 6 months before launch. When I say chasing, I don't mean trying to attract, but trying to satisfy and answer every question. Just from a cost standpoint, it's ridiculous to put an ever-increasing number of moderators after the task of keeping the noise down so you can recognize the needles in the haystacks.

One of the things that I have noticed is that a lot of the people are there just for the sport of it. I won't name names, because I won't give them that one thing they seem to crave; recognition. Some are malcontents who can't be satisfied. More and more of them are people who come to the boards with a sense of entitlement. They deserve to be catered to because they spent X dollars a month, dammit, and they are gonna bitch and bellyache and wail until they get it.

But I miss the old community. I miss the fun, constructive, interesting conversations with the whole community involved. Sure, I still get that on, but that is a much smaller group. It's obviously by design that Sigil has decided to basically shut down the OVF for comments after the launch of the game. They don't want to have to deal with the nonsense, and the diminishing returns for trying to filter the good from the noise.

I'm thankful for the time we had as a new community. I'm hopeful for the community of Vanguard post-launch. For now, I'm disappointed that there can't be a decent level of discourse overall.