|Pika, The First Post|
When I was still playing Majestic, I spent a lot of time lurking on the message boards during the frequent downtimes no Majestic player could avoid. I found the sheer number of complaint posts amusing and astounding. There were many players making quite a number of posts about their dissatisfaction with the Majestic product known to the public. In many instances, the complainers stated that they felt more comfortable making their complaints known on the public message board rather than contacting the game developer via e-mail.
Majestic isn't a MMOG, but the aspect of using a public space to converse with the developer about the product is quite common in MMOGs.
Until the 'Net became popular, most companies did not have spaces where consumers could discuss the product. Sure, they might have some mysterious 800 number that no one really uses, but consumers generally don't publicly bitch about a product unless something is really bad with it, like when a gas tank explodes upon impact or something.
Time and again game consumers are given half-baked products that we find ourselves buying over and over again. But, of course, you know that story already. A natural course of action is to complain about what is essentially our choice in continuing to use the product that may be buggy or have other gameplay issues you may not agree with.
When Ultima Online was first released, Origin did not have a forum for players other than through e-mail or the occasional online chat where players could communicate their dissatisfaction with the game. That's where fan sites came in. Fan sites became the original "bitching" hosts. Fan sites such as the Crossroads of Britannia were notorious for the accessibility of game developers to the player base through the use of their public forums. CoB and others became the sole means for players to communicate their issues with the games that they were playing. It was not uncommon for players to detail bugs, state ideas, or just generally complain about the UO product on fan site message boards.
In fact, after a couple of years, Origin did provide players with official forums for them to use and abuse. And, players gravitated to them quite quickly. The official forums have become the number one source for game developers and players to communicate about UO. Gameplay issues and questions are quickly addressed, and the player base finds it much more acceptable to issue complaints and bug reports via a message board than through more "traditional" channels such as e-mail.
The same can be said for any other MMOG out there on the market today. Almost all of them have some sort of official public space where players can communicate with the game developers to some extent. And this is good. As consumers, we need to be able to voice our thoughts and opinions on the products we spend ten or more dollars a month on in a space where the consumer can be sure that their voices are being heard.
Recently, Funcom, makers of Anarchy Online, announced that the official message boards were going to be fully moderated. Meaning, each and every post that is made on their message boards will be screened before they are available to the public. This, according to Funcom, is to last while they work on the best way to communicate with their player base on their forums.
There's nothing wrong with that per se. In fact, it's quite common on mailing lists and UseNet. However, Funcom runs the risk of alienating it's already disgruntled player-base if they do not allow free-flowing discussions on the official board. A player may not agree with the game developer, however, there is a level of trust involved when a player uses a message board to communicate with said developer. Failure to present all sides of a thread, or allowing certain threads to be published while others are not will disrupt the player community and remove much of the faith a player may have in the game developer.
Trust is not an easy thing to come by in the MMOG world. Players, who are used to being lied to about the great game they are (not) playing have a difficult time trusting game companies. Sure, they will flock to a chat, or read their posts with almost a blood-sucking leech passion, however, when it comes time for that patch of all patches to come, do we have faith that it will come off flawlessly? Or when a new title is about to be released, do we really think it will be a finished product? Nope, not at all. So when a game company decides to fully moderate their message boards, they best tread carefully upon the great snake that is the player base, lest they find themselves bitten by the viper. Especially when you have game companies who allegedly hunt down players on message boards, official or not, and ban them for their board activities.
At the same time, as players, as consumers of the product, we must act responsibly and coherently when we are dealing with game developers. Time and time again I see players lashing out at a company or product with little thought as to what they are saying or doing. We post bugs with intent to hurt other players, make vague claims of "I cannot help thee with that" when describing customer support, but how often do we actually give constructive information to the developers so that they may work towards building a better product? Rather than logging onto a developers chat with a "protest" nick, perhaps we should start putting our thoughts and suggestions down in a more constructive manner rather than blanketing it in our disgust. After all, trust works both ways.
Originally published on GameSpy 10/8/01