The Guild Counsel: A chat with Linda "The Brasse" Carlson

By night, she's the impeccably-dressed, bearded dwarf that MCs Fan Faires and never turns down a good pint of ale. But by day, she's the Community Relations Director for SOE, and she dons several different caps as part of her job with the company.

At Fan Faire, she took the time to speak with Massively about a variety of topics, including forum wars, social media, the future of SOE's Facebook games, and even a revamp of the popular Guide program in EQ and EQII.

Read below the cut for highlights from the interview.

The first area that Carlson discussed was SOE's recent effort to make use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. She said the important thing about using socia media is making sure to use it regularly and communicate with those players that follow it. If you set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account, and then don't use it, people go away, and you won't get them back. Facebook has worked out well for them, although the forums are still the primary means of collecting feedback from the playerbase. Forums provide the venue for more lengthy discussion about various game topics, while Facebook is more limited in terms of back and forth feedback. It makes up for that in convenience and the ability to quickly pass along important information to fans.

She said that Twitter is a bit more difficult because it's very immediate. For SOE, it seems that it's working better for them to use one central Twitter account to cover all games. Because it's so up-to-the-minute, they can use it to relay quick information to fans, and fans can also use it to report important in-game issues like crashes or bugs that need immediate attention. Social media is fairly new, so they're still experimenting in ways to best use it, and she added that they're always seeking new ideas, even from players.

Discussion next turned to Facebook. Carlson explained that they have closed down Fortune League and The Agency: Covert Ops and sold back the rights to Dungeon Overlord, essentially removing SOE's presence in Facebook games. Part of it was the monetization process on Facebook, but part of it was that they felt it wasn't successful enough to warrant further development. They have decided to return to their roots and focus on making MMOs, rather than diluting the staff and having them work on lots of small projects.

We asked about forums and whether Carlson has seen any change in the tone of forum posting through the years. She said that it comes and goes, and that when there's an announcement that's problematic, there will always be a spike in forum posts, and they can get pretty emotional. The negative feedback is fine with them, because it's been an important part of design decisions. The problem comes when people use abusive language or break the forum posting guidelines, and it's only then that a Moderator steps in to give a warning or a temporary ban.

She added that when you look at forums from 1999, it was a very mean, hostile place. Their role as Moderators is to make the forums a place where people can feel comfortable posting feedback without being attacked. Even in a bar, she said, "you can be thrown out for being a jerk, and that's a place where they serve alcohol and people get surly on purpose!" Furthermore, she explained that SOE's demographics have changed over the years and today, people are older, more mature, and are bringing their families into their games. As a result, SOE wants to make sure that the forums are a place that is welcoming to all of the playerbase. They are constantly revising their forum guidelines, and they're always careful to stay dispassionate when responding to players, to keep the line of communication open with both the players and the company. As she put it, "we like you, but we don't like the way you have just behaved. It's not just about the trolls, it's about everybody on those forums and making them all comfortable, because it's a really cool place to hang out. There's a ton of information there."

Discussion shifted to the topic of how the team communicates with the players and the developers. She explained that they collect, collate, sort, and analyze the information from the forums, Facebook, and Twitter. If there's a discussion about changes to a particular class, for example, they'll collect all the feedback, sort it with links, give some analysis, and provide a recommendation on how to proceed. They have daily reports that list one or two hot topic discussions, and it's sent to the Executives, Customer Service, PR, and all of the Producers. Then they have weekly reports, which are much more in depth and provide a list of the top five or six important topics for each game. She added that the Producers of each game are actually reading about each others' games, and it's helped them see how other teams address certain issues. Finally, each month, they have business meetings, and the Community Team gives a presentation on important game issues with very detailed description of player reaction to it. They have to back up their analysis with data, so they compile feedback and show what percentage was in favor, what percentage was against, and what percentage was somewhat neutral. So the community's responses come up in daily, weekly, and even monthly reports.

Next, Carlson talked a bit about the Guide program. There are hundreds of volunteers that work on setting up live-events and in-game quests, and they've been a presence in SOE's games from very early on. As Carlson said in the Community Address, "if you haven't seen a guide in game, you're not doing it right." They're currently in the process of reviewing and revamping the program, and are talking with the Elder Guides to get ideas on what they'd like to see in the future. She stressed that this is something they're working on with the Guides, rather than imposing changes on them. The main focus is to give them better tools and also to report back to the development team on what the Guides do in game. Guides are an amazingly engaged group of people in EverQuest and EverQuest II, and SOE wants to continue to do more with the program down the road.

Lastly, we asked what she considers the hardest part of the job, as well as the best part. She said that the answer is the same -- the people. It can be very difficult when players personally attack you, and the only way to get past it is with a good sense of humor. At the same time, the best part of her job is meeting and talking to the players. She enjoys hearing their feedback and listening to their opinions, because they've provided some fantastic ideas over the years.

Thanks to Linda Carlson for taking the time to speak with Massively!

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.
This article was originally published on Massively.