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Austin GDC 07: Building Bridges – Next-Generation Community Management

Date: September 6, 2007
Author(s): K. Samwell

We are at the Austin GDC, so you can expect lots of information, lectures and interviews over the next few days. First up, we have a lecture by Richard Vogel, focusing on the current state of social networking and a look at where it’s headed. It’s a long one, so grab a fresh beverage and read on!



Introduction, Web 2.0


Date: Wednesday 05 September 2007
Lecture: Building Bridges: How to Develop Social Networks as Part of Community Management
Speaker: Richard Vogel

Why think of gaming communities in terms of forums and a web presence? We need to think communities as social networks. We need to allow gamers to develop networks (bridges) with themselves as well as with developers and publishers. There are many examples of social network sites like YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace. We need to look at what they are doing and captures the best ideas and put these ideas to work.

Richard Vogel

“So I’m going to talk real quickly, I’m going to be presenting what I visualize as the next generation of community management. I’ve been involved in the development of communities for about 10 years now and every time I start building one of these huge MMORPGs we look at it in different ways.

So one of the things that I am going to be talking about today, is every time I build an MMORPG I try to figure new ways to branch out and develop communities. And a lot of things have changed. This talk is about that.

We need to change the way we think of community management. It’s not just presenting information or managing online community forums but a place where we cultivate social spaces. And we see this now, prevalent on the web with YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook etc. What we’re not going to do is discuss these sites before launch, I’m going to talk about what you need to build at launch, when we go live, basically. And this is not going to be talking about how to build supporting fan sites, it’s talking about from the developer’s point of view what we need to do to develop a good community site for the next generation.

How we’ve evolved.

Basic website management is pretty much; you have your information page and you have your forums and you know, you have the Armory which we’ll talk about next which is evolving into where EQ2 players started where basically you have information being pulled from a database that you allow players to customize. Sometimes players don’t want to see or let you see all the information, and that’s an interesting point we’ll bring up later.

But these pages allow people to get information, and display it in a nice format. And there are different tabs are doing different things. Even with EQ Station / Sony Stations you have the ability to do guild management. But really, how can we evolve? Because frankly that’s pretty much the way it’s been, it’s basically pulling information and presenting it to you, now you manipulate it.

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 has given us a lot of capabilities and power that we’ve never had before. And we should. There’s a lot of sites using Web 2.0 – it’s kind of now an acronym. What does it mean? Well basically it allows you a venue for a community of users to alter, add, and generate new content. This is very scary by the way for a developer, is to allow this kind of freedom on a website. Because it really is something you protect, it is your brand and that’s something you need to protect at all costs.

But now, the problem is I think we really need to let go. We need to actually make our websites like canvases. And also provide useful information, continue doing what we’re doing today, but also altering it and putting it into a new format. I looked at, there’s a great little link on BBC it’s a great news site and they had some really cool things, before I get into the discussion, I thought were really very relevant here, is, you know, some principles, they actually had fifteen I kinda just pulled out three I liked the most.

How to embrace Web 2.0?

I want to talk about a couple of things. One is how to create fun, compelling addictive experiences, which by the way is funny, as I gave this similar speech to this at the GDC and Amy Jo Kim and I are kind of doing this in parallel, and she actually said a lot of things that I actually also had in mind, so I’m going to kind of refer to both hers and mine on the first part, and then create social spaces and developing viral presence on the web. These are three basic things that we need to think about in the next generation of community management.

Creating services that are fun and compelling and addictive.

You know we all know about applying game mechanics, that’s what, as developers, we do. But how about applying them on the web? We all know about cool-dom, we all know that these games are about levelling, collecting, getting feedback, exchanging and customization. These are the 5 basic principles that make up what we develop in an online game. Why not apply it to your communities? That’s really key. That’s what we need to think about these days. Everyone loves to collect, that’s one thing I found out running UO, people love to hoard. One thing I found out playing EQ, I always wanted the best and fastest way to get the coolest stuff. Same thing in World of Warcraft, you always want to get the complete set. Acquiring items is cool. Everyone wants to acquire items.

Acquiring Friends.

This doesn’t necessarily [unintelligible]. You can acquire friends. Social part of socialization.

Acquiring Points

It’s all about points, Points can be used for a lot of things. You can use it for getting positive feedback. It creates brand loyalty. One of the things about a point system you can create, everyone knows the reward system that American Express that you get mileage on your airline use – how do you redeem those for items? You have to think about that you can reward brand or customer loyalty through a redemption system. These are things we need to think about now, that we haven’t thought about before.

It all started by the way with S&H Greenstamps ages ago, and it has come today to the fruition. And a lot of sites by the way, especially some sites don’t use real currency they use this point system or coinage, that’s different than real money, but it translates to real money in the end. And you can also use it for social experience, people are giving rewards like YouTube social points that people give other players.



Feedback, Exchanges, IM, YouTube


Feedback is very important, it’s what make things fun. It’s rewards ie: all your points that you use that you’re collecting, you can return and get something back for it. It’s great for learning, it helps learning it helps policing too. Again you have the feedback that players give or users give in this case, on eBay is a great example of feedback loops. One of the things about having to relinquish some control for your site, you have to police it. And some policing mechanisms are far easier to integrate that having customer service on your site all the time.

Exchanges

Exchanges are a very social part – it’s playing in World of WarCraft and any other online game MMORPG that I know of, including Habbo Hotel and others that is all about getting things you want from other players. This is a very social aspect. And exchanges is something we need to think about on our community site. How can we do exchanges, adding friends is a good example of exchanging.

A great one, if anyone knows LinkedIn, it’s amazing, anybody knows MySpace, anybody knows Friendsters, anybody knows Facebooks. All those are about the game of adding friends and exchanging. Comments are another form of exchange that you can do. Commentary on YouTube, commentary on whatever you want to do, comics, machinama, anything you have that’s going on. That’s also exchanges. Giving little gift cards like digital gift cards to other players is a form of exchange that’s very good to have and easy to implement.

Customization

It’s the key. Customization making players have the ability to customize their place on your site is cool. That they can show off. Customization is another game mechanic that’s been used in online games for years. It’s important, people want to feel different. There are places in like in Habbo, you can create your room, why not create your room or space on your community site, the same idea. Which gets into creating social spaces. It’s important to think about when we talk about the game mechanics I talked about is leveling, with feedback loops, with exchanging and with customization, these are the things you can apply that also help our social spaces.

Now when I talk about developing social spaces, I’m talking about providing a place for people that have similar interests, to meet and talk, and also a presence. And one of the things that can easily be done, in certain respects have been with Guild Hall, guilds was part of the management system but why not make it an isometric 3d space or a Habbo space with really good widgets, that allows people to customize it for their guild or group.

Providing clear homepages. There’s nothing wrong with actually trying to do that now, and have it sorted by interest, either by server, whatever categories you want, you must have private and public spaces in these kinds of things if you do them.

Blogging, blogging is huge. All purpose kit with building with widgets that you can have on your site. It’s important I think to have a MySpace on your website, especially if you’re doing a community for an mmorpg. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it creates brand loyalty. And make sure that when you customize your spaces, that you kinda brand it at the same time, we’ll talk about that a little later. So they understand where they’re coming from.

Sharing ideas like character builders is the best way to spend your points. Lots of things like this, you know it’s funny you see fan sites doing this and you don’t see US doing this and that’s really bad I think because I think this kind of stuff, we know how to build these systems, we actually developed them so why not put this stuff into our websites? Because it’s useful especially for people who don’t know what to play when they start the game, this is a great way to experiment with different characters.

Figure out what’s best. You also can run a whole bunch of blogging off that particular character builder area and have people explain to newbs what is the best way to spend your points on the character selection and class that you picked.

Showing off – again it’s all, I think everyone understands about customization, showing off, making sure that you have a place for people to show off and that’s where we go back to the homepages. The Armory has a little bit of this in there about the characters and a place for them to go and visualize. You know another thing is provide tools like in Facebook, add a game area for players on the server so people can kind of put a face to the characters their building. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not, but it’s kind of interesting to see yanno what your makeup is in your community, people can put a real face to it.

Instant Messaging

Why does instant messaging have to be inside the game only, why can’t it be outside/inside. So players can find out where they are, what other players are playing online at their time and what server they’re playing because I know, playing World of WarCraft for two years across 3 or 4 servers and I have friends on different ones, and why not unite that?

Friends lists anything you can do, locaters are a great idea, like Google Earth, putting Google Earth widget into your site where you can actually use your map and pinpoint where your particular friends are playing at a particular time, that’s kind of cool. Item finders – great one for an auction house. Guild management tools which have already started to come out which is really good to see, anything that promotes places for people to gather with similar interests in important for developing social spaces. Yanno, highlight player contributions, RSS publishing, player ips, machinama, have the top, yanno, rankings of machinama by players bubble up. It’s a great technique, Digg uses it YouTube uses it, it’s all pretty much [unintelligible] done by what players are doing.

YouTube

What’s great about YouTube is they sit there and they do things where the video that’s being watched right now, it rotates. It’s amazing. And you can see what promoter videos are and it’s a great way to highlight things that are going in real time. Anything you can do in real time is pretty cool. If anybody’s been to the Digg and went to there’s a section on Digg that actually has in real time you can watch someone Digg for articles or a whole bunch of group of people Digg articles and it’s amazing to watch.

But how can the player contribute, Fan Fiction, tools to aid the player like Curse. It’s a great site to organize that for you. Yes I mean I know I don’t want to sit there and say lets take away all the fan sites, what I’m saying is why can’t we incorporate this stuff. We should be is the central hub for these and linking to these sites, or providing some of this on our own, this is not hard to do. We can fun it up by having players contribute to it and certify it and then put it on our site, and then you can watch how many people pick and you can get the most popular ones as they’re being picked in real time.

Another important thing is developing a viral presence. This is important because it’s portable content. What I call memes and memes, we’ll go over in a minute what that is, needs to be brand focussed, meaning anybody that has portable content, you kinda know where it comes from, you brand it. That’s very important. And something I picked up over here that I think is very important, is an idea is something you have and ideology is something that has you. It’s really important when you want to think about the buzz, because it is an accelerant.

When you look at World of WarCraft, World of WarCraft keeps on growing because people keep on talking about it. People keep in playing it and talking about it, and suddenly it gets into mainstream, and becomes on South Park, and becomes talked about even louder and louder and suddenly it grows in momentum. Because, again, we’re a very young market.



What are Memes?, The Future


I look at memes as kind of a portable content, basically they are things that you can pull out that you know slogans, music, tunes, melodies, icons, things that people are repetitive. What is a great example of portable content? A great example of portable content is these character sheets, if you’ve ever seen them, that you pull out, that’s kind of like your ranking on Xbox online and you can pull out and hand them to people. This is great, and it links back to this site, but it’s branded to that site so you know where it comes from, you know what site it comes from. And those are the kind of portable things you need to think about and are designed when we talk about community management.

Again, easy to do quizzes that you can pull out and put on your site, and just pass it around. Anybody familiar with Xfire? Xfire has an awesome launcher It has very cool tools, it’s very portable. Tickertapes are a great example, in game honours, launch pads, like Xfire, these are things that are portable and that’s the way we need to think about our content. It’s no longer: do we need to think about content attached to our website, we don’t. We need to think about content that’s portable. And you can pull out and that’s where viral marketing comes in, these small applets, widgets that you can pass on from user to user and connect that way, and that’s something that we should think about.

There are some great examples out there, Rupture which I guess has been out about a year, little over a year, these are fansites by the way, these are not regular sites that developers but they are great sites that have popped up around. Again, MyGamerCard – portable content that can be pulled out that you can give to people. Xfire again their launcher. MySpace is probably one of the classic examples of all the gaming theory that you can think of, put into here is you develop your site, you get ranked, you have friends, you get commentary, you get feedback, you get customization, all these apply to MySpace in a very good way.

This is like, if you can remember, Orkut was way before MySpace but MySpace blew open, so has FaceBook. It’s interesting how you have this big competition between MySpace and FaceBook and it’s really a demographic competition moreso than anything. Kids are on FaceBook, and the adults are on MySpace, but what’s happening is suddenly FaceBook is getting bigger than MySpace because the kids are growing up and they’re staying there and so it’s interesting to watch that migration, that battle between the two. And it’s all about providing spaces for your different audiences and again applying our gaming knowledge to our website since we’re developers is something we should always think about.

Again, MySpace is a great example of a game, in all its abilities and widgets that allow you to customize your site, that’s why it’s very popular. It’s amazing how you can see Flickr, with its sites and how fast that is growing with all its widgets and tools, you know what is cool what they haven’t done yet is: How about making some of that content on Flickr portable like a little album that you can give somebody for their birthday. You just give it to them off the site and here’s this widget album – they can open it up they can put it on their site. It talks about whatever, their vacation, their trip, again, portable content.

The Future

What I see about the future, I think that the web will be the content delivery. I really think that eventually we’re going to probably go off boxed sales. Do I think that’s going to happen now? No I think that’s going to be, for the US, probably 4-5 years before you really start seeing it in a big way. It may accelerate faster, who knows how things are going, because I wouldn’t believe myself that I haven’t bought a CD in five years, I haven’t bought a movie in ages, I just go to iTunes and get it. I think that the most next generation is used to now downloading content, and as it gets more prolific in our society I think you’ll start seeing the packaged business kind of dwindling, and I think the web is going to be our publishing medium.

Social streams are interesting, they’re kind of like ways of connecting individuals as you’re looking through what someone has said, you’re not really interested in where it’s coming from, but who is saying it. It’s an amazing way of gathering in one central location, a whole bunch of links to your friends and other things like that, that you can link to in one area, that’s what they call social streams. And I think that will be very much common place in our community, probably in about 3-4 years. And community management will be how products are marketed.

It’s amazing how marketing has become more interested in community in the past 3-4 years and really want to run that because they realize that you have more power in building the buzz in your community, faster than you can do. It’s the cheapest form of PR, and it goes everywhere, especially if you have a very hot site that people want to see. It is the cheapest form of marketing and it really is marketing the product and again when I talk about the portable content, that’s viral marketing, that is what it is.

Yanno I could really think that you can already start seeing it with Sony’s PS3 the whole thing that they’re doing. I really think that more and more our sites will probably become 3d virtual spaces as we develop more and more technology to make streaming easier, widgets better, faster. We’ve already seen a lot of these widgets form, it’s amazing how just two years ago, you really didn’t have a lot out there and what’s forming today with the power of bandwidth consumption and with the power of how bandwidth has gone down in price considerably and how the web has grown in a sense of how many people have broadband.

The funny thing about it is, if you’ve been to Asia, you look at what we have and you laugh. They’re so far ahead of us, I mean, when I was over there, just my cell phone I never went under 3 bars or ever dropped a call and I was in some remote places. Never dropped a call. Never had anything under 3 bars. I could text message, I had so many capabilities on my small little phone, just a small little phone, it was just amazing. And I was using them all the time. And bandwidth there is about 20 times faster than our bandwidth here. I mean that’s the difference.

It’s amazing how in Asia, that’s the content delivery mechanism anyway, is the internet, and we’re behind, is the way I look at it. I think these 3d virtual spaces will become a reality. When? Probably in about 4-5 years. You’re already starting to see huge strides to virtual worlds, virtual places, there’s a whole new conference dedicated to it, there’s MTV getting involved, Second Life will look like something that’s like an 8track in about 2 years. There’s a lot of very good stuff being worked on.

I even know that Google is working on a MySpace 3d which is very interesting. Yanno memes will be the next generation of branding, I really do, I think portable content on the web will be the next generation of how people can fly them to their phones, can transmit them to other people via phones or internet, is the way that we’ll probably be branding our product.”

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