by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
Calling like a Roman arena, internet forums bring some of us to forums cheering wildly as Gladiators tear each other to pieces. Almost addictive in nature many can spend hours reading and responding to various threads of interest. Beyond the "pwning" and mama jokes, there exists the main purpose of their creation which is to educate players and solicit feedback pertinent to the game.
While history has shown an evolution in forum use, many veterans to MMO gaming will remember the detailed forums of SOE's EverQuest 1, Ultima Online, etc. It was here players gathered to talk, debate, and complain whlie many seemed to be standing at a rock concert hoping to get a glimpse of the elusive developers. While we all may go for different reasons, the fact remained we all feel what we have to say is important and should be heard. What of Warhammer Online?
Marc Jacobs, GM/VP of EA Mythic posted last week regarding the possibility of official forums bringing a very dim view of what he believes they can evolve into. Using the "a few bad apples" debate he explains how just a few troublemakers can drag down and eliminate the effectiveness of forums even with very successful MMORPG's. For this reason he does not feel that Warhammer Online needs thenm. He did point to Dark Age of Camelot which has run successfully without them, but some would argue it's not the size anticipated for Warhammer Online. So is he right? Can a community really thrive without an official forums? There are a number of benefits to not running an official forum in the traditional sense.
The most obvious is lower overhead to the development company. Forums require servers and software meaning a choice must be made between a pricey 3rd party solution or the painstaking work of a homegrown one. And even worse, switching after a game has launched as we saw with SOE is enough to give both players and employees heartburn. Just the additional technical support hours you'll use alone per year maintaining these forums seems a little silly in light of what you see on forums at times.
Beyond the technical aspect you also have to provide staff to monitor and interact with your customers. While it's a known fact everyone loves forum moderators they are usually either paid or given some type of incentive to do it. Frequently what happens is the forums become part of the Community Managers job requiring them to focus on keeping rule breakers in line. Unofficial forums place all these burdens on the owners and off the back of the development company. From a business perspective it's hard to argue.
It's difficult to hear the cry of one over the voice of thousands. The single intelligent post of an individual can easily be lost on page 56 of thread #12 entitled "Devs Plz Fix Loot Itemization." No one would dare argue everyones opinion isn't just as important as anyone elses. However, can we expect developers and community team members to weed through threads and posts most of us wouldn't bother reading ourselves?
Spreading the community out over different forums, while not ideal to many, is a way to reduce the noise. You've probably seen on the TV show COPS how they break up large crowds at Madri Gras with horse police and sometimes riot shields. While not a perfect example (EA/Mythic doesn't view the community like this), the point is, when the crowd is smaller it's a lot more manageable and easier to see what is going on. The community may have to move around a little to see everything that goes on, but the developers and community team can find that one voice among thousands easier.
Finally, it provides the community with a number of forum options. Maybe you don't like the forums at one website because you drew the ire of the moderators or poster X irritates you. There are other options available to you. Perhaps a flames site for the more hardcore/complaint driven or roleplaying site for the roleplayers. This limits the moderation power of the development company (they still have a little) and puts it in the hands of people who want you to post what you think.
As you can see there are some benefits to what EA/Mythic proposes and while there might be a few drawbacks we didn't cover they seem to be very confident it will work. Will they be able to break the mold and succeed where others have failed? We'll have to just watch and see to find out.
Speaking of forums, are you looking for some? Be sure to stop by the Ten Ton Hammer forums for more information about Warhammer Online!
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Warhammer 40,000: Storm of Vengeance Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Game Page.