Greedy Goblin

Monday, September 15, 2014

The proper handling of official forums

I'd like to give an advice not just to CCP games but to all gaming companies how to properly moderate and handle their official forums in order to both meet their interest of having a positive relationship with customers and also foster constructive discussions for the betterment of their product: shut the damn thing off and leave it that way!

An unmoderated forum is obviously unbearable experience to anyone with braincells and serves absolutely no purpose. However moderation isn't a trivial issue for any site operator, even if he has no financial interest in the issue. Before addressing the issues of subjectivity, we must address a problem arising from the "4 fun ppl" theory. Even a bot could moderated useless comments as "i lolled" or "waddafukk iz thiz" or "ground floor". But such commenters are people and their comments are genuine expression of their inner self. Yes, their inner self is a bit shallow, but they are classified as "4 fun ppl" for a reason. The problem is that cruel rejection of the expression of their hearts in the form of moderation will make them mad. They are unable to understand that their contribution is worthless (otherwise they wouldn't make them) and see their moderation as an act of injustice and oppression.

While a blogger or fansite operator has absolutely no reason to care if a "4 fun peep" is mad at him, a profit-oriented gaming company cannot permaban them without cutting deep into their bottom line. So the hide-and-seek game of moderators and trolls takes place where the topic is filled by 10 pages of crap, then it get deleted with inhuman moderator effort and then refilled by the very same "trolls". Having no official forum solves this problem: the "4 fun ppl" are banned by evil bloggers and not by the developer.

Even if a game company would be ready to make the financial sacrifice to alienate those who can't form a coherent opinion and have moderators who respect differing opinions, they still face the problem of out-of-the box criticism. The "in-box critic" accepts your general context and argues over a technicality. For example you outline a plan of limiting force projection in EVE and someone claims it won't help, you need mechanics to break up large alliances. While you disagree, you both seek solutions of the same problem (blue doughnut) in the same way (mechanics change). Now some guy arrives and claims that the superpowers of the blue doughnut are weak, their apex force is irrelevant and EVE PvP is dominated by small-gang engagements. Both parties of the previous argument would agree that this third guy is either a pants on head retard or a purposeful troll and his opinion brings no value to the discussion so they'd agree to ban him and then continue to respectfully argue over the proper mechanics changes. Well, the problem is that the third guy is me and I'm right: CFC suffers most of its losses from "irrelevant NPC trash" and in small-gang engagements. Of course I have proper statistics to prove it and no one even attempted to argue their valitity. But I didn't start with them. I started with stupid titan fits. If the "reasonable people with experience on the field" could silence me then, the CFC loss graphs couldn't be created or published.

The problem is obviously that you can't determine if an out-of-the-box idea is genius or just retarded until it has enough evidence, which is never the case when it first appears. To not silence the rare gems, you must not silence all the dumb ideas, returning to the "unmoderated crap" problem. Damned if you moderate, damned if you don't. What is the solution?

The solution is that the internet is big. I kept on posting my ideas on my blog, despite receiving barely any links, references or any form of support from the EVE community (there is no EVE site in my top 10 referrers. Only Sugar in the top 20). If you just read lot of EVE-related sites, you'd never figure out that I exist. Yet my blog continued to have 4-5000 visitors per day, thanks to search engines that lead people to my ISK making posts and mostly to this page. My EVE audience was formed either from people who followed me from my WoW and WoT times, from people looking for ISK tips and from people who got my link from a friend. Despite the "boycott" of the EVE community, by creating interesting content, I lived on and could survive until I understood the game enough to know what kind of data to analyze.

The solution that you can't moderate someone out of the internet if he is creating interesting things, but you can completely ignore anyone. If l33townzor has a blog where he posts random idiocy, it doesn't hurt you, as no one (or just fellow morons) read it. On the other hand people with valuable opinions will create sites with large audience. These content creators can be considered a focus group, like the CSM, with their viewer count being their voters. Whenever the developer needs input, he doesn't have to look further than these third-party sites. He can participate in the discussion without revealing his developer status, avoiding people trying to manipulate him.

The countless sites doesn't solve, but circumvent the "out of the box criticism" problem. I'm not some oracle who was right all the way. I surely banned lot of people from my blog who were right (not Lucas Kell, he is always wrong). But it did nothing to them, as I only banned them from my blog and not from the internet. If their ideas were worthy, they could form their own audience.


Arrendis said...

Well, the problem is that the third guy is me and I'm right: CFC suffers most of its losses from "irrelevant NPC trash" and in small-gang engagements.

We do suffer most of our losses from irrelevant NPC trash and small-gang engagements. Nobody would think of arguing that - the numbers are irrefutable.

What we argue is whether or not those losses amount to any significant hardship, or if they're pretty much rolled into 'Cost of Doing Business'. From where we stand, they're just an occupational hazard, and don't amount to much of a hiccup at all for the average pilot. Yes, during your example month, we lost 3.3T isk, a respectable number. But during that same month, what were the total ratting bounties paid out across the CFC? How much money was made through industry (my small group runs fuel block production, reaction towers, and subcapital production. I know that just among our little knot, we make a few billion a week each, relatively relaxed - and that's without counting ratting income.

So, 3.3T across people is ~1.1b/mo, each. If I'm making 10x that... then yeah, it's not amounting to a hardship.

maxim said...

Game forums are, first and foremost, a form of damage control.

The cost of not engaging with customers at all ends up being higher than the cost of playing the game of hide-and-seek.

If you don't have the main forums for people to vent their frustrations in, then this venting happens in other places outside of your immediate visibility and control. And thus ends up even more damaging.

Also, you seriously overestimate the "personal cost" of shutting down a forum thread. Usually this is not some moderator's willful assertion, but rather an almost automatic procedure of carrying out the rules of the forum. This comes at no personal cost to the moderator involved.

Gevlon said...

@Arrendis: with this logic, B-R is and irrelevant cost of business for PL.

@Maxim: venting happens only because the whiner believes that devs will listen. No one, ever came to my blog to vent about to some random CCP decision. They come to my blog to tell how much they hate me. On the other hand they don't go to other blogs to vent about me either. Without official forums, such venting wouldn't even exist.

Arrendis said...


Usually, yes. But part of the problem comes when Community Managers over-reach. The incident this past week w/PGI is a clear incident of that: Niko, the CM, has a history of treating every infraction on the MWO forums as a major offense, and not tolerating dissent or criticism very well at all. Break the rules, the hammer comes down, hard.

PGI's launching a new game, Transverse (which is drawing some fire from the LGBT community because they're reading 'Trans' as 'Transsexual', when in this instance, it's referring to transcendence of the human state via artificial augmentation... but that's another issue entirely).

So because PGI is launching a new game, and had bad experiences w/fan-run subreddits, Niko went and started the subreddit for the new game, and proceeded to moderate it like he would the official MWO forums.

Only problem: This is a MAJOR violation of Reddit's rules. You can't run the subreddit for a product or service if you're an employee of the company that provides it. You can't use the subreddit to disseminate advertising (which they were). You can't use the subreddit to censor dissent (which they were).

So all of PGI's corporate accounts were shadow-banned on Reddit. This means they need any comments they post to be approved before they'll appear. It also means some massive bad press over at Reddit, and most gaming news sites. I mean, Reddit's a wretched hive of scum and villany™, and PGI got kicked out of there.

This is not the kind of press a company wants when they're launching the crowdsourcing for their new game. Crowdsourcing, I might add, that with 24 of 30 days to go, hasn't even hit 2% of the baseline funding goal required to just say 'yay, we don't have to give the money back' ($500,000). Promising to deliver an actual 'you can fly in space' game doesn't even start until $1,000,000.

Niko's pretty much singlehandedly sunk their new game. Other causes likely would have, if he hadn't, but while the game had a slim chance before, he's pretty much put two bullets in the back of its head. And the apologies he's issued have been of the standard 'I'm sorry if anyone was offended' non-apology variety, where the onus is on the person taking offense, not on the professional public relations guy to produce the desired reaction from observers.

A good CM engages with the community, instead of fighting engagements against them. For all the comments he doesn't approve, Gevlon's far better at managing what community there is here at his blog than the 'professional' over there at PGI - Gevlon engages. He talks with people. Even folks like me, where we don't agree on a lot, we go back and forth and discuss things, rather than just ensuring the critical posts never appear. Sure, eventually he gets fed up and stops approving posts for a while, but it takes a while for him to get there.

So, yeah, you're right - forums, and the Community Moderation that comes with them, are a necessary evil at this stage of the game. But at the same time, Gevlon's right, too - a game studio that has to choose between no forums at all, and ones that actively harm their bottom line... might be better served just pointing people to reddit.

Arrendis said...

@Arrendis: with this logic, B-R is and irrelevant cost of business for PL.

I'd posit that the functional cost of B-R5RB wasn't monetary. Titans take longer to replace than the money to make them does - especially when you're the guys building them. So a large chunk of the cost there was in the time to restore the strategic supply.

The other big cost to PL was rep. Everyone knew the CFC couldn't match PL/N3 in terms of a supercapital brawl. It was an accepted part of the common wisdom: if the CFC and N3/PL were to have the big brawl, PL would win it. PL/N3 have the most firepower. The CFC might have the numbers, but N3/PL are the ones who can really drop the hammer when they have to. HED-GP showed how bad the CFC is at caps. They wouldn't even dare try anything like that for a while.

And then N3/PL lost a supercapital fight. Lost it decisively. Lost it by a wide margin. Lost it so bad, PL cut a deal to extract their belongings from the station, and withdrew from the war entirely.

That's a huge loss of prestige, and completely punctured the image of supercapital invincibility.

And that, I think, is what the real cost of B-R5RB was to PL. I think that hurt them more than the money did. After all, Grath just had to pull back the bloody stump and give the alliance time to recover, and the money and ships would be replaced.

Replacing the 'there's no way we'd lose a supercapital fight'... that's going to take a lot longer, especially when the CFC's using supers more commonly now (like when BL's Doombunny managed to dunk 15 of his own dreads this week by breaking them on a supercarrier fleet of ours).

Monetarily... yeah, both sides were probably back in fighting shape inside 30 days. Cost of doing business.

After all, the first rule of EVE applies to supercarriers and titans, too:

If you can't afford to lose it, you can't afford to fly it.

Arrendis said...

Without official forums, such venting wouldn't even exist.

Have to disagree there. Back in the ancient days of the Interwebz, Prodigy, AOL, Compuserve, and GEnie all had exactly those same 'venting' communities - people would come and bitch and moan about games, just to connect with other people and hear 'yeah, I have the same problem' or 'here's how you work around it'.

Even without official forums, Reddit exists. The same subreddits would exist. CCP's got the EVE-O forums. There's news sites, corp and alliance forums, more forums for EVE than you can swing a dead squirrel at... and yet /r/EVE still exists.

People complain. People bitch. It's pretty much the defining trait of humanity: we love having something to rail against and oppose.

Case in point: GRR Goons.

Anonymous said...

@Arrendis: with this logic, B-R is and irrelevant cost of business for PL.

No it's not. B-R resulted in a measurable impact on the military ability of the CFC's enemies. It is of course unlikely that it will be a lasting impact but it essentially headshotted the war and saw their enemies run back into their holes.

Your 3.3T isk killing in a month has had no demonstrable impact on the CFC's ability to make war. That is the problem with your initiative. Not the numbers, not the analysis. The fact that despite it all you haven't actually proven you have made a difference to the number of people logging in or the amount of systems held or the ability of the CFC to absorb losses or their ability to make war with whomever they please.

You may dismiss this as a troll but these are the facts. For all your bluster the CFC is still here months after your crusade commenced and you have had barely an impact on their operations.

maxim said...


The belief that "without official forums, such venting wouldn't even exist" is false.

People would still find ways to tell each other that the game sucks. The consequences of this word-of-mouth can be as (if not more) ruinous as when it happens on official forums, but on official forums you at least have means to monitor and interfere.

Consumer relations are always a headache, but shutting down consumer interaction is not a good way to go about it.

Gevlon said...

N3PL Won the war despite B-R as they clearly captured all the Rus land. So B-R was irrelevant by your logic.

Actually B-R was a huge defeat, it's just that N3PL could recover. They would still very much prefer not to have this defeat. Just like CFC can recover from the trillions of damage coming from NPC dwellers, but it doesn't mean they wouldn't prefer not having it.

Calling everything short of total destruction "irrelevant"is silly.

@Maxim: of course people would vent in some obscure forum, but who cares? Not like prospective customers would see that.

Anonymous said...

The more I learn about EVE and I'm learning something new every day in EVE despite plaing it for over two years now, the more I am convinced that, although CFC is suffering undeniable losses in the hisec wars, these losses do not matter to them. They are a Nulsec powerblock.
All that matters to them is sov, structures and their JB chains.
As long as these stay untouched and that they do as MoA lackk the ability to make a difference there.

It is no big deal creating tons of KMs of Nulsec alliances.
"Whores in Space", Forsaken Asylum" or "sacred trolls" and other entities have been Jita camping for years.
They can even fund their wars, ships and subs by ganking freighters coming from nul to hisec.
Sacred trolls managed to kill a dozen freighters of Solar Fleet within a day, wihtout a single loss. The droploot was worth 30B+ ISK.
As long as no supercaps or Sov is destroyed, nothing will happen to nul powerblocks...

Basil said...

I read you because even though we don't share a game any more, I find the way you approach analytic questions interesting.

Moderating forums is a cost for game companies, but it allows them the ability to attempt to manipulate the perception of their players' communications. They can delete complaints, for example. I suspect that this is the only reason they keep using them- giving control up of the medium in which players talk out of game means they can't directly influence the conversation.

maxim said...

In this situation the optimum course of action is to replace the incompetent CM, not to axe the forums.
Don't blame the tool for being used in the wrong way.

Forums are not something most buyers deliberately check before purchase. You don't implement them to drive purchases.

To begin with, forums are primarily a means of optimization of tech support. Imagine the workload if every gameplay / tech concern on WoW or Eve forums had to be mailed / phoned in. For a PC game - even a somewhat small one - there is no getting away from having some sort of tech support forum.

The CM function comes naturally on top of that, and has proven to be beneficial to sales in a roundabotu way (people like your support -> good PR climate -> more people want to buy game). Of course, you can screw it up and lose sales, but that's not a valid argument for closing down all the forums.

Anonymous said...

@Gevlon: "of course people would vent in some obscure forum, but who cares? Not like prospective customers would see that."

Who said that the non-official forum would be obscure? It might be obscure now that an official forum is available, but without it one of the unofficials would easily become more and more popular until it becomes the "de-facto" forum of choice for all users.

Not to mention that these forums don't exist for prospective customers at all: in some of them you cannot even participate without already having a game account.

nightgerbil said...

The proper approach to forums is to have an offical one, with a csm who deletes all complaints, some tech support guys and to keep your game designers and class balancers away from it. The worst mistake a game developer can make is listening to the forum warriors and forum trolls. All forums quickly become an echo chamber where dissenting voices are drowned out and thus have no value except as a propaganda tool.

Fidtz said...

Games with official forums always feel better. The problem is that you have to be prepared to pay experienced and good community people who know what they are doing. Those people must have the power to control the message. No developers posting unsupervised etc.

Sanya Weathers, a CM for many games, posted loads about this kind of thing:

Gevlon said...

@Nightgerbil: banning/deleting trolls/idiots is losing customers. They must vent somewhere. It's just better if they do it out of sight.

daniel said...

excuse me but:
"If you just read lot of EVE-related sites, you'd never figure out that I exist."

your blog has been reposted by en24 from almost the very beginning of your eve-venture.
your 5k visitors do not come from wow and google alone, but to a very large amount from en24 readers who clicked the link provided below the "articles".

it's argumentations like that, with the total denial of the totally obvious and known, that make ppl agree that your other contributions might not be worth too much as well.

to the large vs small scale warfare thing...
while some obscure islamic and or terrorist groups in remote regions of the world do cause a significant amount of damage to the us of a troops, it would indeed take another military superpower to threaten the american peoples homeland.
or in other words, the amount of damage done to americans by pocketthieves totally outclasses the amount of damage done to americans by russian soldiers, yet, even if all the pocketthieves of the world unite, they couldn't take down the us government - the former soviet.union, united and dedicated, and least could get close.

anyway, you should check from time to time, it's reposting your blog, from time to time. maybe you could ask them for some isk-compensation as they obviously generate income with content that you created.

Gevlon said...

@daniel: I don't get significant traffic from EN24. People read the post there and that's it.

pocketthieves aren't even attempting to fight the government. They steal and not focus on targets. They are like the profitable gankers on Uedama. The guerillas in CFC often AFK cloak, which gives them nothing, but harm CFC.

daniel said...

so, how do you measure if i read your blog because i once saw a repost on en24, or because i googled for it?

"If you just read lot of EVE-related sites, you'd never figure out that I exist."

why did you write this, if you very well know that you are being published on en24?

CFC Grunt said...

"N3PL Won the war despite B-R as they clearly captured all the Rus land. So B-R was irrelevant by your logic."

It all depends on the scope. It's better to say that they won the battle, but the war is yet to be decided.

The battle of B-R was a major morale boost to the CFC and morale is very important when it comes to alliances and coalitions.

The collapse of RUS and N3's reclaiming of the east means they're still in the game, backed up by mountains of cash.

In the end, the outcome favors the CFC. They bested the "invincible" supercapital force and proved they can take N3 on. N3 merely reclaimed what they lost.

However, the war itself - which, with N3 directly, started during the Fountain conflict and if we just look at the people involved - predates even this one, is still ongoing. Granted, it had a pause - with a minor rumble in the last month of this summer - but it's far from over.

And, as a grunt, I'm looking forward to anything - from politics to sov changes - that shakes it up and throws it into chaos again. Win or lose, if it's epic - both sides will have a blast.

Anonymous said...

Unofficial forums are often more "well known" than the official ones, and lets face it, it is not like that many players actually go to forums anyway.

How do I know this?

Players complete ignorance of the fact there is a patch coming up, Burn Jita etc, despite GD being full of threads for weeks beforehand.

Unofficial forums like Failheap etc are more often referenced, this happens in many games, EQ2 had EQ2Flames for example, which was THE place to go for class information for srs pandas, WoW had Elitist Jerks for the same purpose.

For general mouthing off about games? These exist in those places too.

TTC said...

Hey, you're the cause/subject of some of more longer lasting threadnauts on the official eve forums, so they have that going for them.

Just to add another data point for this debate: PlanetSide 2 has official forums, but the devs almost exclusively interact with the players on reddit and twitter.

"So, 3.3T across people is ~1.1b/mo, each. If I'm making 10x that... then yeah, it's not amounting to a hardship."
I'd love to live in a place were 10% off the top is not significant.

Anonymous said...

N3PL Won the war despite B-R as they clearly captured all the Rus land. So B-R was irrelevant by your logic.

You are putting words in my mouth. B-R was far from irrelevant, and history will show that the Halloween war (CFC-RUS vs N3PL) was won by the CFC. That subsequent to that war the Russians did their usual implode-and-get-taken-over thing doesn't diminish the victory.

Actually B-R was a huge defeat, it's just that N3PL could recover.

It really depends on what you mean by recover. Recover isk? sure, that happened in pretty short order. Recover their titan fleet? over time this happened. Recover their reputation for the most feared supercapital blob in the game? That has suffered irreparable damage.

They would still very much prefer not to have this defeat. Just like CFC can recover from the trillions of damage coming from NPC dwellers, but it doesn't mean they wouldn't prefer not having it.

Sure, having less strain on the bottom line is always good, but victory in eve is not measured in isk. It is measured in sov, and whether or not your guys keep logging in. As far as I can tell your actions have had no impact whatsoever on goons logging in and that is why your actions are insignificant - not because of the isk you've (although it is dubious to give you credit for it) spent. That you still fail to understand this is an immense failing on your part.

Calling everything short of total destruction "irrelevant"is silly.

The only person calling for total destruction of the CFC is you. And now you are calling it silly. Glad we are now on the same page. Of course destroying everything is silly, but you need to have an impact and as yet you have shown little or no evidence that you are having an impact.