Alex Birlo on April 24, 2019
I would like to bring up a discussion about how community management is functioning currently. And let me say that there is a definite problem with it, but not a universal one. While you read this article you will begin to connect the dots to various personal or wide known examples in recent times, when a company was simply incapable of carrying out proper management of its community, of its face online and left a bad mark in our memories.
To begin, let us identify what exactly is the function of community management in regards to the video game industry. In simple words, community management functions as the barrier between the players that use the ‘product’ and the organization – with all the people – that stands behind developing managing and distributing the ‘product’.
Community management is not an easy job and it is much more than ‘just posting the game’s news on all social media’. Community management is responsible for maintaining the face of the publisher or developer in front of the audience, release new information to the public in a timely and appropriate manner, based on psychological analysis, based on expectations and based on the realities of the community on one hand and the company on the other. In this day and age, you can also add to it the management of streams and YouTube content related to the game, the schedules, the presentation. All of it has to be tweaked and optimized based on optimal air-time, community priorities and so many other variables that it is just mindboggling!
So, why did I describe community management as a “barrier” earlier? Well, that is the whole point we should pay attention to. We must understand that each game is not only the raw experience presented in the final ‘product’, each game is an intricate balance between three involved parties: the ‘developers’ – that have a certain vision for the game they want to create; the ‘publisher’ the ‘company management’ or whoever is financing the production – that expect a certain return on their investment and all within a certain budget constraint and time frame; and last but not least we have the ‘gamers’, the ‘players’, the consumers building up the community – that have their own expectations, own opinions and requests.
And too often those parties do not take into consideration this ‘chart’ of conflicting interests and realities of game development, which creates clashes and backlashes that are conveyed from developers to the community and from the community to the developers through the community management ‘barrier/link’.
Think of community management as a ‘flexible substance’ that has to adapt and satisfy everyone’s action and reaction needs, harden – becoming a ‘barrier’ – to accept the backlash of the community’s dissatisfaction when the game is flawed. And has to soften – becoming a ‘link’ – to convey feedback and news from the developers to their community and vice versa. And proper quality ‘flexible substance’ like this is in short supply on planet earth.
Now that we god the ‘looong explanation’ part out of the way, we can return to the point I started with – the fact that we all have a bad taste left from one too many games in the past years. That is, of course, a much more complex issue, involving developer studios and publishing companies – not only community management – but about that, you hear and read a lot, while not many voice the issue from the community management perspective.
As I see it, many of those failures in the industry’s recent years were examples, when the development teams were not aware of marketing information for the genre of games they were working on, all the while marketers were not properly aware of their own community’s psychology and did not anticipate certain reactions and their scale, because there was little to no data provided by the community management segment of the chain.
The industry consists of people who KNOW what video games are and what is ‘fun’ and what is ‘not fun’ and we cannot just blame failures like “Mass Effect: Andromeda” or “Fallout 76” simply on the fact that someone important in the decision-making chain is ‘stupid’ or ‘never played a single video game in his/her life’.
The issue is buried deeper than any of us can dig into that private and corporate data. So most of what we can do is speculate based on certain ‘laws of physics’ that the business follow within their structure.
Information and data are key for decision-making in any industry, so it is of the highest importance for us as gamers to voice our community’s desires and expectations. And as far as I know – until yesterday at least – players were doing a pretty damn good job of that, but things like “Anthem-Beyond: The Bob Dylan” are still happening. So there is something wrong in the network registering information for the publishing and developing companies – of course besides other issues regarding internal resource management that are personal for each business.
While it is most likely that the weak link is somewhere at the very top of the executive chain in the industry, community management for those games that will be remembered as ‘the failures of years past’ was lagging behind and could have done so much more to provide information and influence production. Though I presume they did not do that because the development of the game is ‘not their competency’ which is another issue in the industry, but for another article.