Crosby on Community
An Interview with SOE’s Alan Crosby
I had an opportunity
to sit down with Alan "Brenlo" Crosby, the Director of Global Community
Relations for Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), for a chat about gaming
communities. We were joined by Craig Dalrymple, SOE’s
EverQuest II community manager. The gentlemen shared their thoughts on
managing expectations, dealing honestly with players, and fansite communities. We also discussed Vanguard: Saga of
Heroes--the MMORPG that SOE co-published and launched in partnership
with its developers, Sigil Games Online--and the stories and rumors
circulating around claims that SOE is about to become “more
involved” with the forward progress of the game.
First impressions of Alan Crosby suggest a good-natured, genuine and
funny man; Crosby is one of those people easily classified as a
“nice guy.” But speaking with him reveals this nice
guy knows his stuff when it comes to building and wrangling gaming
Facing the Vanguard
Naturally, with my attachments to the Vanguard community, my first
question to Crosby was regarding the future of Vanguard given the
impending increased SOE presence. As you might expect, Crosby was
unable to discuss the details. Still, he offered that some information
could be heading our way the week of May 14th.
I asked Crosby about the challenges SOE would face in confronting a
restless Vanguard community. After all, there’s a potential
for significant new developments in a game about which players already
have many opinions and expectations.
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Alan Crosby, Director of Global Community Relations,
Sony Online Entertainment
“When people become attached to an idea it’s
actually worse than becoming attached to an IP,” said Crosby.
“People might get upset about red squirrels versus grey
squirrels in a game like Lord of the Rings Online, but
they’re usually willing to be somewhat forgiving. But when
people are attached to a vision, they’re a lot less
forgiving. It’s the ideas and not so much the content
they’re attached to, and when those ideas change,
that’s very upsetting.”
And we talked a bit about those changing ideas and ideals and their
effect on the community. It’s obvious that Crosby still feels
the weight of the much maligned Star Wars Galaxies NGE (“New
Game Experience”) hanging over his head. He mentioned, after
a discussion panel just prior to our interview, that he’d
been waiting for the NGE to come up during the roundtable.
“It always does,” he quipped.
So how does a community manager deal with an increasingly hostile
crowd, particularly one, like the Vanguard community, harboring fears
that their game is about to be messed with, not to mention some gamers
who are still carrying a grudge over SWG and the NGE?
“If I was going to manage that situation,” Crosby
said, “I would be honest with the players. I would open up
discourse and stop talking about names and visions and start talking
“Are you going to be able to sell that?” I asked.
“I think it’s going to be a tough
challenge,” Crosby replied, his expression resolute.
“But games, as much as our fans want them to be [something
else], are still a business. The audience at large is a different
audience than there was 8 years ago, and you have to acknowledge that
and make the best decisions for the good of the game while still
keeping its integrity.” He went on to clarify,
“That doesn’t mean that you go in and you remove
the death penalty or something…you stick with the
game’s core…but you improve upon it.”
At this point, EQ2 community manager Craig Dalrymple jumped into the
conversation. “Even if it’s not
‘somewhere over the rainbow’ type news, if
you’re being forthright and honest [with your community], I
think people respect you more,” he said. “When it
comes to EQ2, and I have to make some announcement I know
isn’t going to be popular, I never lie. Or if I
don’t have an answer, I’m honest about that, even
if it makes me look foolish to say, ‘I don’t know,
but I’ll find out.’”
On EverQuest II
This gave us an opportunity to talk more in-depth about EQ2. Through
community chatter, I’ve had the feeling a good many people
left EverQuest II to play Vanguard. I asked Crosby if there was an
exodus from one game to the other.
“There was not,” he answered.
“The EQ2 forums quieted for a little while,” added
Dalrymple, “but that’s normal when anything new
comes out, whether it’s a game or a new expansion. People are
I put forth my opinion that EverQuest II is a much better game now than
it was at launch, but that the improvements came only after a good many
of EQ2’s players had unsubscribed. “How do you get
those people back?” I asked. “Can you?”
“It’s a challenge,” said Crosby.
“In my opinion, it’s not marketing, it’s
word of mouth that brings players back. You have to get people talking.
Get guilds talking. When you have a game like EQ2--which I think is the
best MMO out there right now--word gets around. We can’t go
out there and say, ‘Hey, this is the best MMO out
there,’ because people won’t believe it, but when
you can get the players talking they’ll get people
“It’s not about slick marketing and buzz
words,” added Dalrymple. “You’re a gamer,
so you love games, and you go out and you talk to people.
‘Hey, we’ve got this coming down the line. I think
it’s really cool.’ It’s about
communicating as a gamer to other gamers. If you’re
enthusiastic, that shows.”
Fansites (Huh!) What are
They Good For?
During the panel on community earlier in the day, Crosby had remarked
that doling exclusives out to fansites might not be the best way to for
developers to go when it comes to building community. “That
doesn’t bring players to [a game’s official]
site,” he said. Other panelists disagreed, so Crosby
clarified. “It’s not that I don’t like
fansites; I love fansites.”
Later, during our interview, I decided to get a better take on
Crosby’s stance. “Doesn’t traffic to a
fansite ultimately result in players to a game?” I asked.
“Don’t we have similar goals; to provide
information to players about an MMO?”
“Absolutely,” answered Crosby.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship. But community deals
with retention. And when I give you an exclusive like an interview,
that’s going to reach current players and increase retention,
but it’s not going to bring new players to the
“That doesn’t mean you won’t get
exclusives and interviews and dev diaries and such,” he
quickly added. “There’s a mountain of content
waiting to be shared with the fansites. Even with a game like Toon
Town, which is the simplest of games, aimed at kids, there’s
a huge amount of content to talk about.”
“And in a game as big as EQ2 or Vanguard,” added
Dalrymple, “you’ve got things like game mechanics
and quests and character development and on and on. There’s
really no end to it.”
The Future of Vanguard
While Crosby was unable to enlighten us as to how SOE will become more
involved with Vanguard, he did offer reassurances.
“Vanguard isn’t going anywhere,” he said.
“The game will go on. And there will be no NGE, or NVGE, or
whatever. Vanguard will still be Vanguard, only, we hope,
The next few weeks should prove to be interesting as news of
SOE’s increased involvement with Vanguard becomes official.
In uncertain times, one thing seems clear: Alan Crosby is a voice of
reason and knowledge when it comes to community matters.