The recent Games as Community, Not Commodity panel at Game Connection, hosted by Raptr’s Dennis Fong, was another great lesson in why publishers need to keep community engagement top of mind not just post-release, but also throughout the development process.
Jaap Tuinman, EA’s director of social and community, joined Linda Carlson, Sony Online Entertainment’s director of community relations, to discuss the importance of user-generated content, transparency and feedback, past successes, and more — including Carlson’s in-game EverQuest alter-ego, Brasse the Dwarf.
The panelists spoke at length about the rise of diverse communication methods like Facebook, Twitter, and video streaming, the different approaches required by each, and the importance of community managers engaging their audience across all online channels. While forums are still the best place for long, in-depth discussions between players and developers, Carlson says, “We find the people on Facebook aren’t going to the forums, the people on Twitter aren’t going to Facebook…the message we send out there has to be crafted to that audience on their platform of choice.”
Tuinman noted that customers will inevitably find a channel that they like best, and those active users end up being heavily engaged players. But if Tuinman could only devote resources to one channel it would be Facebook, due to the social amplification inherent to that platform.
Both panelists talked about the in-office “Eureka” moments of finding great videos and other content created by fans, and the importance of nurturing those relationships with talented creators. “Make sure you celebrate those people and treat ‘em right,” said Carlson.
Transparency is another area where the thinking has evolved significantly in the last few years. “The players are just as smart as you are…you can’t have the attitude that they don’t want all that background information, that it’s too technical,” said Carlson. “Players love having that information.”
Carlson also noted that SOE’s more open approach to player communication was driven in part by company president John Smedley, who encouraged community reps to jump in wherever conversations were happening online, rather than sticking to only official channels.
Both panelists spoke about how the community can impact and guide game design decisions as well. Tuinman gave the example of the tactical flashlight in Battlefield 3 — players complained that it was blindingly bright, so a designer posted multiple screenshots of a possible solution and based a fix on community feedback.
Tuinman also described how a subtle shift in the way EA looked at sentiment metrics — reclassifying “neutral” conversations as “engaged” — had a big effect. “It’s kind of awesome that you have tens of thousands of people talking about your stuff…people realized that the general everyday conversation was a net benefit to your brand,” he said.
Tuinman pointed to another example of how the company’s approach to community has become more nimble in the last few years. When key art for Battlefield 4 leaked online, “rather than pretend it didn’t happen like we would have years ago, we decided to put forward a ‘tease of a tease’ — we shot a little Vine clip and got it out there,” said Tuinman. “It pulled the conversation back to the Battlefield channel…and then we could do the rest of the teaser campaign as planned.”
Carlson noted a similar shift in philosophy at SOE, and used players remixing official trailers as proof. “Years ago we would have put out cease and desist orders. Now we say, ‘Oh man, we can’t believe it, this is so awesome!'”
“We always consider our players our extended family, no more so than at our convention, which is like one weird extended family gathering, let me tell you,” said Carlson. “I’ve grown to be the crazy aunt.”