For a few years, I had been a forum moderator for a forum with a few hundred members (at peak times… not online at the same time, though!). We had members from all over the world, aged 13 to 50-something. We allowed all sorts of discussions to happen on the forum. We did have heated debates about politics and religion (fascinating to watch at times with people being so different like us and at a post 9-11 time). Being a moderator taught me a lot and hearing from others now, years after the forum had its prime time, how they saw me back then taught me even more. Some of the younger members were intimidated by me because I was always so reasonable and level-headed. But what I took away from this experience – and the point of this whole rant – is that explaining and communicating is quite often the best way to handle a problem.
There were rules on the forum. When somebody broke a rule, I sent them a private message informing them about the fact. I always pointed them to the rules and added an explanation why we have this rule. Did I have to? Nope. I could’ve just told them off. But I wanted them to understand why we did something in a certain way. “No, you cannot write in 1337″ often led to people feeling provoked to do exactly that and go against what I had said. When I added the explanation that we have people from all over the world whose native tongue isn’t English and that writing like this makes reading and understanding what they want to tell us difficult or even impossible for some usually led them to understand and respect the rule. Later on, I even saw some of the “early troublemakers” turn towards new members and explain to them the rules and why we have them. Always brought a little tear to my eye seeing how they had ‘grown up’ to be responsible community members and how my behaviour (and that of the other moderators) could influence others and, consequently, our whole community.
Now, on to something less happy. I guess lots of us have been there when ArenaNet announced the Collector’s Edition and their game’s prices. We’ve seen it a lot of times before: The dollar sign just gets exchanged with the Euro sign et voilà, the European price. The Collector’s Edition costs $150 and €150. The latter translates to $200. ArenaNet isn’t the first nor the only company to do the pricing this way and as always, there was an outcry. The only reason I’ve ever seen mentioned when companies explained their pricing was “it’s European taxes. They’re higher!” – but how much higher do the taxes have to be for such a difference? We only have 19% VAT so that never made any sense to me.
And then I saw a link to a post on Steam by Double Fine Productions. After having read the posting, it became much clearer. I never knew that in the US you don’t have to pay VAT for online purchases. Nobody ever explained that to me. It still doesn’t explain the whole difference but it gets a lot closer, at least! And it did calm me down and stop me from sulking so much. ;) – By the way, in case anybody is wondering: Yes, I want the Collector’s Edition. But that’s not difficult to decide because I’ll get it as a present. ;)
Back to the topic of educating the masses… Another rather good example is Star Trek Online. Ever since they went free to play, their server (you only have one big server and aren’t divided like you are in games like World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic etc.) has had problems and kept crashing every few days. Naturally, players don’t like this behaviour. So they explained what the issue is. Now I don’t understand too much about all this stuff. But I get the part with “trying to find where the bug is” and adding code to get logs (had to do that with my thesis where I had a web-based training and when the students watched an animation, I was supposed to get time stamps on when they do what – pause, play etc. – and that had worked during all tests I’d done but when it went live, it sometimes didn’t work. Turned out that simply uploading the whole course fixed the issue. We still don’t know what it was but at least, it was fixed! ^^). I wasn’t among those flaming or even ranting when STO’s server crashed again. But I, too, was wondering why it took them so long to “upgrade the server” or do whatever necessary, so it could handle the load.
Oh, and because this just came in and fits rather well: ArenaNet released another blog entry on a rather controversial topic – Mike O’Brien on Microtransactions in Guild Wars 2. So far, they have positively surprised me with the way they have communicated about their design decisions and I hope we will always get such in-depth postings even after the game’s release. ;) In today’s post, there are explanations in there for why they’ve made the decision to allow the sale of gems which are bought with real money and I can only hope it works. Namely: The goal would be to reduce the incentive for gold farmers. You all do know that gold farmers are the ones responsible for hacking your friends’ accounts and stealing all the items they had? Making them jump through a few hoops before they get their account restored (depending on the game and quality of support)? Blizzard actually wrote a nice article about this issue some time ago: Purchased gold comes at every player’s expense. Sorry for only linking to it indirectly. I can’t find the original website anymore. So Waybackmachine has to do. But I remember telling a friend about this after she had told me that she sees no harm in spending money on gold so she could get things faster in game when she doesn’t have as much time as others to actually play the game because she has to go work in order to earn money. I told her about hackers and that this is where the gold she bought could have come from. She hadn’t known until then!
I know that those games aren’t made for a few hundred people like our community was. It is much more difficult and time-consuming. You can’t send every forum poster a private message with details and explanations about what they did wrong and why it’s wrong. Also, our forum wasn’t there to earn money for its owner. Those gaming companies, however, need to earn money in order to afford their staff, offices, etc. ;) And with that probably come lawyers, marketing, PR who all want to have a say in what the company can or can’t talk about in detail or even mention to its customers. Although I really wish they could be a bit more open especially when it comes to decisions that cause outrages (like the US-EU pricing usually does). Educate us, please! Explain to us why you’re doing things the way you do them. It might not stop all people from hating, flaming, trolling. But it might make a few understand.