GDC 2012: The Tattered Notebook attends Brasse's community panel

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What do dwarves and Monty Python have in common? They both feature prominently in Linda "The Brasse" Carlson's GDC 2012 talk about the front lines of the SOE community relations team. Given the recent roller coaster ride of the ProSiebenSat.1 deal and the turmoil on the forums that followed, I found it interesting to hear what it's like to be a member of the community management folks as they try to handle being in the middle of it all. While her talk was mainly aimed at community managers in other games, there were a few tidbits that players would probably find interesting and maybe even surprising. Read on for the highlights!

It's a complicated process

SOE has done a nice job expanding its presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Fans might remember the promotions the devs did a while back to reward players for signing on to their favorite game's Facebook page. That's continued to grow, and it's been a useful outlet for quick updates and status reports. Twitter and YouTube have also had a growing role in helping SOE get the word out about its games (and Carlson coined the term "Smedleaks" for SOE President John Smedley's newsworthy tweets). But any time you have multiple channels of communication, things become much more complex and harder to moderate.

It's a matter of perspective, but they're still in the middle

As Carlson said, this is the best and the worst job she's ever had in her entire life. But she added that she wouldn't trade it for anything. She said that there's a natural tendency for people to be combative, not only because it's in our nature but because when you're anonymous and on the internet, it's easy to be argumentative.

Having said that, she went on to show a picture of the knights and peasants from Monty Python's films, and she said that it's hard to tell apart the combatants. As someone who's in the middle, Carlson said there are times that the players are the peasants, fighting the developer knights, and there are other days when the players are the knights and the developers are the peasants. The community team's job is to be mindful that they're the same people.

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What we say does matter

As Carlson has mentioned in previous talks, the community team submits daily, weekly, and also monthly reports in which it consolidates player feedback from forums and social media and reports back to the developers and producers of all of SOE's games.

What players might not realize, however, is that in those reports, the team includes quotes from player posts to help provide more specifics about a particular issue. One example Brasse used was an issue of a second round of housing blocks' being put on the Marketplace shortly after the dev post saying that crafted blocks would be put in game soon. Understandably, crafters felt betrayed, but the second wave of blocks was just a mistake and had inadvertently been put in the Marketplace. She mentioned how Emily "Domino" Taylor immediately went to the forums to explain things, and in the reports that the team put together, several quotes from the forums were used to show the sentiment. In another example, Brasse talked about a recent DC Universe Online speed-hacking ban, noting that while some SOE reps were concerned about player backlash, the resonse on the forums was actually very positive, with several players posting that they wanted to see longer bans. By quantifying player feedback and using quotes from posts, the CM team has been able to present an objective assessment to the team in order to come up with the best solution possible.

Carlson added that the community team is getting a great tool from Clara Insights, one that will automatically tally up posts and quantify things that until now had to be done by hand. I don't know about you, but just the thought of someone's having to read every single post of some of those 200+ page threads, and then tally them up, gives me nightmares.

Even banned posts are counted

If you've ever crossed the line on the forums, you might think your voice is being silenced, but that's actually not true. Every post, even banned posts, is counted in the feedback totals that are included in the report. Carlson explained that the team members rarely ban, but when they do, the main reason is that they simply want to preserve an atmosphere in which people can feel comfortable going to the forums and posting their thoughts in a reasonable setting.

Context matters

Those who run guilds or have been knee deep in forum flames can attest to the fact that it's easy to misinterpret the typed word. She used the example "I did not say she stole the money" to prove that emphasizing different words in the sentence changes the entire message. Later, she spoke about the recent confusion over whether Fan Faire is still being held and player worries that the redirect to the main SOE site was a sign that it was canceled. In reply, Community Manager Tiffany "Amnerys" Spence posted that everything was still on, finishing her post with the phrase "Don't fret." Now, EverQuest II fans know Amnerys well and know that she's a friendly presence on the forums, but when her post was cross-posted to the other SOE game forums, it was met with replies like "this is very condescending" and "I don't like being talked down to" and characterized as "snotty." Carlson's point was that the community team has to constantly be vigilant of what its members post to avoid being misinterpreted or taken out of context. (It would probably also be nice to see players cut them a little slack too!)

There is another

One sidenote is that Carlson made mention of another SOE title in the works, and it isn't EverQuest Next or PlanetSide 2. She wouldn't give any details beyond that but said that since it had already been "Smedleaked," she could announce it too. Sounds like if you haven't already, you might want to follow John Smedley!

In the same boat

Lastly, Carlson added that the "players are us," meaning that even though there can be some very contentious moments between the players and the developers, they all want what's best for the game, and both groups are extremely passionate about it. She showed slides of players and developers at Fan Faires and said that no matter how tense and combative things get, both sides end up sharing drinks and having fun when they are together. Much of her advice during the discussion was aimed at community managers in other games, but there were definitely some tidbits of discussion that apply to the fans. The war may wage on, and new fronts are sure to open, but it's nice to know that Linda Carlson and crew are channeling their inner Monty Python to stay neutral and keep things calm.

From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to karen@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.