Transparency: Five Rules For Making a Great Gaming Community
Communities are complicated. People are complicated. Running a community can be one of the most difficult, but also one of the most rewarding, things to do in gaming. And the truth of the matter is that a community can make or break a game.
Don’t get me wrong - a great game will be great despite its community, just as a bad game will be bad no matter what. But there is opportunity for a game that is average to really shine if the community is wonderful. But I’ve also run into situations, especially in MMOs, where the community can really drag the game into the mud.
For example, I don’t think that EVE Online is a bad game, and the community in the game really isn’t bad either. However, the outward perception of the game is that it’s terrible. The community has a reputation for being hard-ass and unforgiving. That’s not exactly true from my personal experience in the game, but I know people who refuse to play because of it. Unfortunately, CCP, the creators of EVE, all but supported the bullying behavior.
On the other side of the coin, League of Legends is attempting to clean up its reputation. How often had you heard your friends say that they don’t queue for randoms in LoL because they don’t want to be cussed out by 12-year-olds? I know I've heard it many times. I believe that Riot developers saw that this image was hurting the brand for LoL and began to enforce rules for a better behaved community.
Whether you are a community manager or a community leader running a fan site, it’s up to you to create an environment of constructive conversation and ultimately growth for the game. As a previous community leader for a highly successful MMO fan forum, I have learned a few things about how communities work. Let me give you my five tips on how to see continued growth for your community.
1. Have a Vision
I am the last person to give out advice on corporate team-building, but I did spend some time studying how to do it. One interesting thing I learned from my short time in the corporate world came from Steven Covey’s book Seven Habits for Highly Effective People. I’m not normally a self-help guru, and you won’t find me spouting the platitudes of how to win friends and influence people. But habit two of this book asks its readers to make a personal mission statement. This advice is good for your community.
Having a focus will ultimately make the community better.
You should have a vision for the community. What do you want the community to look like? What are the people doing? What kinds of people are in your community? The more concise you can be with you vision, the better you will be at directing people toward it. At the same time, you want to be able to express your vision for the community in a sentence or two. If your vision is more complicated than that, then perhaps you need to rethink your goals.
I also believe that having a vision helps community leaders admit that their communities might not be for everyone. It’s hard to turn visitors away when you’re attempting to grow a site, especially when the people you’re turning off aren’t necessarily bad people. But having a focus will ultimately make the community better.
2. Build a Core
Building up a core group of members on your community is crucial to its success. These people have to be on board with the vision you created in the earlier step. And the number of people in this core will likely grow or change as your community matures.
Although you want these people to be on board with your vision, it is distinctly possible that these people will disagree with some of the ideas that you have. In fact, I encourage this disagreement. In the five-man-band trope, there is always the lancer, who is contrary to the leader. The A-Team had Face, the Beatles had Paul, The Muppets had Fozzie Bear, and the list goes on. If finding your lancer is difficult for you, and I completely understand. Then your goal should be to have a team that is not afraid to speak its mind.
3. Be flexible
Many people when they hear the term “be flexible,” they think it means to bend over backward to give the community everything the community wants. Although it’s true that you want the community to be happy, it doesn’t mean that you give it everything. In fact, giving the community everything that it wants will likely turn into a thankless situation where you try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.
So how does a community leader remain flexible? The Vision. And no, I don’t mean the Avenger. I mean the mission statement you made. If someone comes to you dead-set on doing something for the site, check the idea against the vision. If there are complaints about how a particular thing is handled and another way is presented, check it against the vision. If the vision for the site will not be compromised by that thing, or better yet, if the vision for the site will be enhanced, then go for it. Why not? In fact, if you ask the question, “Why not?” and the answer isn’t “It doesn’t fit the vision,” then maybe you should do it.
4. Admit when you’re wrong
Community leaders are human, and we all make mistakes. The difference between the everyday community member and the community leader is that many mistakes the community leaders make are extremely public. Therefore, the admission of wrongdoing and the subsequent reconciliation need to be public, too. It sucks, and you shouldn’t have to do it too often. But when it does happen, it’s better to be transparent than to let it fester to save your pride.
5. Weed out troublemakers
You can’t stop troublemakers. There will be people who, for whatever reason, just dislike everything that your community is about and how it operates. And I don’t mean the trolls. Trolls are easy. Ban them immediately. The harder people to spot are those who walk the line between saying hateful things and breaking the rules of the site. I am all about diversity in a community - don’t ban someone just because they disagree with you.
Your community will be better off in the long run without toxic members, even if that means you might lose some people when the toxic person is removed.
However, there are some people who are toxic, dragging the community or its leaders through the mud anytime they can. My guild leader calls this the come-to-Jesus moment. Basically, you have to talk to them. Calmly, let them know that the behavior cannot continue, and if they do it again, they will have to deal with the consequences.
Wow. I ended that on a downer, but it’s true. Your community will be better off in the long run without toxic members, even if that means you might lose some people when the toxic person is removed. But you will lose even more people because of their poor behavior, and you'll likely be forced to kick them out later anyway.
What do you think? Have you run into a great gaming community? How was that run? Did it follow the guidelines I mentioned above? Let me hear your stories in the comments below.