DrunkenGamer’s Omerta (September 2010)

A lot of work has continued on the new family system over the last month, which means there has been little time for me to do much design work. So for that reason, I’m going to talk a bit about the challenges of Community Management instead.

Until I took over Deathmatch, my interaction with the community of the game was somewhat limited. This was due to the fact that as a developer, the work I was doing did not really allow me the time to get to that closely involved with the players .

This did not mean I was completely detached though, and I made the effort to talk to the players when I was working on anything big. I was also involved with our player focus group (The UserGroup) regularly, however this was mainly to help decide if their ideas and suggestions were plausible from a development standpoint.

When I took over Deathmatch and started getting heavily into the design side of things, it required me to be closer involved with the playerbase. As version manager, one of my duties is to make sure the game is running smoothly and that the majority (trust me you will never please everyone) of the players are enjoying the game.

Polling player opinion to the current state of the game, listening to their suggestions, passing their concerns on to the designers and making sure they understand any incoming changes to the game are keys roles for a community manager.
Now, after spending so long hidden in the background of the game, it took me a little while to warm to this new front of house role. I’ll admit to the fact that when I started, my reactions to the players was blunt to say the least.

One area where I was particularly bad was listening to player concerns. This primarily manifested in the occasions where a player’s concern was routed in a misunderstanding of how the game worked. Having built half of the systems and knowing how they worked intimately, I naturally assumed that everyone had my insight into them.

After realising that wasn’t the case, I made a concerted effort to change my responses. Rather than be blunt, I now take the time to carefully talk them through where they were making incorrect assumptions, giving them the benefit of my insider view of how things work & stripping away myths.

Aside from altering the way I respond to the players, I have also expanded the methods I use to talk to them in the first place. When I started Deathmatch, my only real method of communication with the players was via the in-game forums. While this Is an incredibly useful tool, by their very nature they can make conversations slow and cumbersome.

Luckily, Omerta has always run its own IRC servers. Players use this server on a daily basis to play the game, keep in contact with other members of their family, etc. I have made sure that I am now more regularly available on the IRC servers as a CM tool, as the discussions that are held in there are more natural and flowing than on forums.

Being able to have a natural ebb and flow to a conversation makes things better for both myself and the players. For me, I get faster feedback from a wider audience – for the players, when they ask a question they know they will be getting an answer in minutes, where on the forums (depending on the number of live threads) the response could take longer.

While I would still say I have a lot to learn about community management, I have really come to enjoy my interactions with the players. They are strong willed and sometimes a little stubborn, but that is only due to a love of the game, and that is something to be admired.

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