I have always been of the opinion that online games ought to have official forums. There a costs, both financial and in political games, but those seem to me to be balanced out by having an area under the company’s control that services the percentage of the game population that wants a forum.
As we have seen, if you depend on a forum out of your control to support your game, it can quickly go toxic. Your biggest fans, who are the type of people who would set up such a thing, can become your bitterest foes if they feel wronged. Even Mark Jacobs, who was dead set against having official forums for Warhammer Online eventually relented. And there was certainly no similar question when it came to Camelot Unchained, the forums were a given.
Of course, once a company has forums and a segment of their user base invested in them, there seems to be a strong temptation to simply use the forums for everything. There is a receptive audience that will comment on anything you post. I gather that it can start to feel like you’re talking to the whole community, rather than what can often be a very small subset of the community, in the official forums, so why not use them for announcements and such.
I sometimes feel like CCP is veering in that direction, though they will then put out a huge and detail Dev Blog or something else on their main site, away from the forums, so that people outside of the forums are at least aware that a discussion is going on.
SOE/Daybreak, on the other hand, has often felt over dependent on its forums over the years. They have favored their forum followers with special insights, dev access, and used them as a primary form of feedback on many occasions. To follow EverQuest II, for example, without spending time in the forums every day, you need a site like The EQ2 Wire. You won’t seem a tenth of what you probably know if you depend on the news feed on the main web page.
SOE has, at various times, attempted to remedy this. They have had dalliances with Facebook and Twitter and every so often they form some sort of partnership with Zam or Wikia or somebody to be an official news source. These ventures have never really played out well, serving as more of a distraction and, of course, pissing off the long time official forum followers. In the end, it has always been “back to the forums.”
Smed started doing Reddit during PlanetSide 2, and when it came time for H1Z1 he and the company went full bore on Reddit, leaving the forums behind. The General Discussion part of the H1Z1 forums points to Reddit and Twitch. The forums are for news and support issues only. If you want to talk about the game, the official place is Reddit.
Which isn’t the end of the world.
Well, until SOE starts pushing other game discussions towards Reddit, and then there is some wailing and gnashing of teeth. It seems like the EverQuest II devs are now headed towards Reddit, The EQ2 subreddit may soon be an official thing.
Never having been a part of the EQII forum community, I must admit to a wee bit of schadenfreude at their privileged position being assailed. And, certainly, anybody who has complained about SOE’s moderation tactics, where the community team loads up the dread SOE MOD 4 to locks threads and delete posts according to some sort of Brownian motions as oppose to a clear pattern, ought to at least see some positive aspect in escaping that aspect of the SOE forums.
The thing is, here we are again at something I mentioned at the top of the post. Here is a game company that has essentially outsourced their forums to a third party that they cannot control.
Yes, Daybreak can depend on the fanboy veto, the Reddit down vote, to hide the cranks and complainers and those who offend the true believers with their impertinence. They were always there in the forums, fawning over every official statement, but now they have some power. They can smite Daybreak’s foes by clicking that down arrow.
If they show up and if they click that down arrow. Otherwise the leading topics might not end up being very Daybreak friendly.
When RadarX said, “What I can tell you is downvoting works most of the time.” I am not sure that is what he meant. That is the site of a company letting go of control and finding out it might not be all that great.
While Daybreak has been trimming back their official forums, I am not sure they are destined for the scrap heap yet. I certainly hope they are not. There are long stretches of game history recorded only in those forums… because of that long SOE dependence on them that I mentioned previously.
What do you think? Official forums? Reddit? Both? Neither?
Addendum: Some of this lead to an open dialog on forum moderation and bans and such.