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Game Community Management - Star Wars: The Neglected Republic
by Ryan Neal on 04/25/13 03:34:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

There are a few things in life that you can’t go wrong with: pizza, beer, and Star Wars. Yet somehow, Electronic Arts and Lucas Arts, the creators of the popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Star Wars: The Old Republic, have managed to get it all wrong.

Released in 2011, the game itself has been a massive success, achieving consistently high review scores across the board. At its peak it had over 1.6 million players and in 2011 received GameSpy’s Best MMO of the Year award. Clearly they’re doing something right. But it’s their lackluster community management service that’s causing them problems. Game community management involves online customer service support and engagement, allowing companies to manage and monitor their online communities while expanding their networks and maintaining their brand name. One of the most popular channels for this is Facebook.

Let’s take a look at Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Facebook page…

Star Wars The Old Republic Cover Image

This is a fantastic example of a good Facebook page. We’ve got a nice, attractive header image that provides relevant information alongside the game’s instantly recognizable logo. There are a number of different applications, 2.1 million fans, and parents can instantly see whether this game would be suitable for their children. Great, but let’s take a look at where they’re falling short of the mark.

1. Lack of Copywriting – “Boring Conversation Anyway. Luke, We’re Gonna Have Company!”

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Copywriting
Not bad. There are no glaring grammatical errors and it contains a call to action, which is good, but where’s the copywriting? Working with such a fun medium as a Star Wars game on a Facebook channel, there’s plenty of room to be creative and generate excitement, rather than just using the same old stodgy call to actions. Showing excitement and pride in your product will produce the same kind of reaction from your fans and followers. How about:

 

‘Attention troops! Put away your lightsabers and unman your flight crafts for two minutes in order to check out this awesome exclusive preview of Rise of the Hutt Cartel from MMORPG.com! May the force be with you!’

Not only is this example much more attention grabbing and interesting to read, it also makes the reader want to click the link. Which is the entire point of this exercise. The screenshot above is a perfect example of well written content targeted toward the wrong audience. A concise, informative call to action such as this would be ideal for, perhaps, a b2c software company, but not for gamers who have a strong, loyal attachment to your game. Even the best content will prove ineffective if it is not presented in the appropriate manner.  

2. Lack of Moderation – “You Underestimate the Power of the Dark Side”

One of the main jobs for a community manager is to ensure that all channels maintain a pleasant atmosphere and that everyone is having a good time. Internet forums and social media channels are infamous sources of flame wars and trolling, and it’s important that community managers moderate such content, lest it escalate into online bullying and create a negative experience for everyone involved. Take a look at the exchange below, just one example on this page, which is full of negative interaction between fans:

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Flame War
Let’s just pause for a second to take a look at the gravity of this comment. This is a serious form of Internet abuse but it also creates a negative brand image for the entire Star Wars franchise. As a popular brand, you need to remember that the way that you present yourself on social media represents your entire spectrum of products, online and offline. This includes the people that you are associated with and how they interact with you and others. Like it or not, the fans of your Facebook page are representing you.

Now take a look at the time stamp on that post. The abusive comment in question was left over a week ago and yet it has still not been dealt with. Part of the problem here may be that the page is receiving an overwhelming amount of interaction and the community managers simply don’t have the time to monitor everything. At its core, this is a good thing, as it demonstrates that they are clearly doing something right by producing engaging content.

 

However, as with any international community management project, it’s essential to have a fully dedicated team – people who can monitor all channels on a daily basis, regardless of the language. This can help to curb negative interaction and boost positive interaction, making the experience more enjoyable for everyone and preventing you from losing fans or customers. Comments such as this should be removed and the perpetrators should receive official warnings and eventually a ban if they refuse to comply with the page guidelines, which should be set out somewhere for all users to see. As Han Solo would say, “Watch your mouth kid, or you’ll find yourself floating home.”

One more thing; note how the third user was left to answer the initial question. This brings us onto our next point.

3. Lack of Interaction – “If This is a Consular Ship, Where is the Ambassador?”

Posting awesome, engaging content is great, but it’s only half of the battle; interacting with your fans is paramount. This doesn’t just mean presenting them with cool content, it means answering their questions and engaging with them on a personal level. Community management is all about bridging the gap between you and your fans and if you can’t interact with them on a personal level, then you’re only pushing them further and further away.

There are generally three types of interaction on this page: questions, complaints, and compliments. Let’s start with the questions…

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Questions
Questions are one of the most important forms of interaction you can encounter and in order to maintain your fanbase, answering these is imperative. It shows that you appreciate and value your customers but it also allows them to get the most out of your product – if you can’t give them the support they need, then they are going to look elsewhere for alternative products, services, or games. Sure, it’s great if the other fans on your page can pitch in and help out, but even if they answer the question perfectly, it’s always worth confirming such, as an official answer is much more reliable than an unofficial one. It’s important to respond to every question on your page, even if the question has been asked before.

 

 

Now let’s move on to the complaints...

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Complaints
Here we have people directly stating that they are considering cancelling their subscriptions, which reinforces the point made in the previous paragraph. Remember, even the greatest games can fail with poor community management. When there are inconveniences or disruptions to a service, an apology should always be issued to your customers – some of the more consciencous companies might even offer compensation. It’s good practice to implement a three step process in these kind of situations: apologise, liaise, and respond. First and foremost, it’s important to apologise to the customer and ask for any additional information that may help to rectify the situation. The community managers should then liaise with the developers and finally come back to the affected customer with a solution. This three step process ensures that the customer knows that their complaint is being delt with and it keeps them satisfied with the service.

Finally, the compliments…

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Compliments
These are less important than the other types of interaction mentioned above, but still deserve attention. Common social practice dictates that when someone pays you a compliment, you respond with at least a ‘Thank you’ and the same goes for community management. With its ‘like’ button, Facebook makes this even easier. ‘This could very well be the greatest mmo of all time’ is certainly deserving of a ‘like’. Neglecting to do so implies a lack of appreciation, even if this is not the intention. Showing your fans the same appreciation that they show you only creates greater positive interaction and feedback – it’s a two way street and it makes the experience much more enjoyable for everyone involved, including you.

And finally, the number one blunder…

4. Duplicate Content – “Into the Garbage Chute, Flyboy!”

 

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make when it comes to community management – the last thing you want to do is annoy your community by sending them the same message over and over again. But what you can’t see from these screenshots is that many of these posts were also published multiple times within the same day – whether this is due to a technical difficulty or an over-enthusiastic community manager is unclear. Either way, it still constitutes spam. This will only drive your followers away.

An interesting solution for when you don’t have an abundance of new material is to re-use old content from the archives. This can be very interesting for fans both old and new. However, publishing the same posts on nearly consecutive days is overkill. It’s important to keep your content fresh and exciting otherwise your community will stagnate and you will fail to attract new members. The golden rule: Fresh content equals new fans.

Community Management: A New Hope

When we look at the other regional Facebook communities of Star Wars: The Old Republic we find similar problems across the board, but the smaller communities at least once received a greater degree of attention:

Star Wars: The Old Republic - International Pages
Part of the reason for the recent neglect that these pages have been receiving is likely due to an influx of fans and internal changes following the game’s move to the free-to-play business model in November, 2012. And, to be fair to the Star Wars: The Old Republic team, many of the problems that they are experiencing stem from the game’s phenomenal success and are most likely a result of the team simply not having enough resources to deal with its popularity.

Star Wars: The Old Republic had one million subscribers within three days of its launch, making it the fastest growing MMO of all time. This number rose to in excess of 1.6 million, but dramatically plummeted to less than one million by July 2012. There are surely a number of reasons for this decline, but one of them, no doubt, is the lack of attention to community management and customer support. Let’s hope that the developers soon catch on and do something to turn that around and provide the game with the success that it deserves.

Before we go, let’s leave you with this little exchange, which sums up the community management issues on this page nicely:

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Wrap-Up

Ryan Neal is a Copywriter and Project Coordinator at MO Group International, which provides professional multilingual game community management services in over 40 different languages.


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Comments


Francois Verret
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Interesting community management tips, but I think they have their hands full trying to manage their own forums.

I also could not help but notice that you painted a lovely picture of SW:TOR, but neglected to mention the fact that it lost most of the players it had attracted to begin with, a problem caused by poor management of game content, leading to a barren end-game, and that it had to switch business model in the process.

While they may have a Facebook-page management problem, I think the most serious one is that they are trying to squeeze as much money from their players as possible with as little content creation as possible.

Jeremy Reaban
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When you are a copywriter, I think all problems look like a problem with copywriting.

While SWTOR (and EA in general) is terrible at community management, I think the problem with SWTOR is they tried to make a MMORPG out of the KOTOR games by simply making 8 different KOTOR games with some common assets and making it online, then calling it a MMORPG. Once you've gone through the story content, there's nothing else to do.

John Flush
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Which is funny... throw away the online part of that, release 8 different KOTOR games instead and it would have been a hit - sure people would have played it and been done with it, but that is what Single player is about. Some people would sell their games to a used outlet, others would have kept the games close to their heart to replay over the years.

In the end, most people would probably have liked this alternative. I know I didn't bother with the online world because there isn't a single online game I have ever cared about / enjoyed.

This whole game took the negative perception of an MMORPG and applied it to a single player game, while at the same time, taking all the MMORPG fans and not giving them an end-game... in the end everyone lost.

Yeah, and their facebook page doesn't look good either - if that actually matters in an industry that should be focusing on the games.

Jonathan Hanna
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Agreed with the above comments. As a former Community Manager (Ultima Online, SWG, DDO, LOTRO) I think the author is putting way too much blame for SWTOR's struggles on Community Management. Especially it's early struggles.

He's not really even looking at the whole picture for Community Management. While he does bring up some very good points regarding the FB page, the FB page is a tiny fraction of what good Community Management is about. Most importantly, SWTOR steep decline from it's early peak really had nothing to do with Community Management and almost everything to do with the content problems and the fact that they launched with a subscription model. The latter being something they addressed and by all accounts very successfully so far. The article doesn't really talk about SWTOR current situation (which again, by all accounts they are doing much better now), only it's launch problems.

So I think the feedback on the FB page is well thought out. Definitely good stuff there. But unfortunately it's wrapped around a conclusion (that Community Management is a large part of the reason for the decline, especially the steep early decline) that feels a little self-serving and a bit too much connecting dots with imaginary lines.

John Trauger
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I'm agreed with Mr. Neal that one wants more engaaing copy than a bland MMORPG.com plug. But...

"Attention troops! Put away your lightsabers and unman your flight crafts for two minutes in order to check out this awesome exclusive preview of Rise of the Hutt Cartel from MMORPG.com! May the force be with you!"

There's something about this type of super-puppy-upper copy that I always found off-putting. I'm not sure exactly how, but my first guess is condescension. It's like I'm being treated like an 8-year old. If your MMO is toontown, that's OK, but SWTOR aims at a more mature audience than Toontown so its copy should be tuned to match.

Tom Aram
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I can't help feeling that blaming TORtanic's problems on a lack of Facebook roleplaying is like complaining about the layout of cutlery while the ship takes on water. I'm aquainted with scores of people who played and then dropped the title and couldn't name anyone who had actually visited that Facebook page untill your blog came along, despite their page apparently having more followers than the game has ever had subscribers at its peak, how strange.

The interesting points you raise would probably have been better received if you had presented TOR as simply an example of bad community management, rather than an example of a game that struggled due to bad community management. The game struggled because it was a so-so single player story campaign with minimal/poor multiplayer elements and was sold as a premium subscription MMO.

That's not to say there isn't a community relations story to be told here, there most certainly is, (i'm frankly amazed that you don't even mention the disaster story that was their official forums and associated moderation) but you've opened a can of worms with the way you've worded your blog. Admittedly i'm not exactly helping the situation.

(--End of Line--)

Jorge Ramos
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My problem(s) are rather simple.

I was fine with the game during the level-limited free trial that they had going. It gave me a taste of what was there, and the game itself had good production values. My main characters were a Miraluka and Sith blood jedi knight/sith marauder. I especially enjoyed the irony to playing my sith with light-side decisions. And as an MMO it did a lot to try to answer many of the gripes I had with the genre, such as actually trying to ensure decisions matter. It really takes away from the immersion and the desire to keep playing when you bust your ass to survive/thrive against some epic boss fight and then see the same character reappear on the map not 10 minutes later.

Up until then, it had 8... then 12 character slots, which was nice, because I could then experience each of the classes as best I can to find which one(s) I liked best.

Then free to play was made official, and...
- I couldn't play until I deleted all my characters, because
- None of my race choices were "allowed" without some kind of payment to unlock/keep playing them
- TWO character slots? I could have dealt with it if it was four and you could opt to buy more, but TWO and that's it? F*ck that!
- Arbitrary gimping of items and exp just for being f2p in order to induce subscriber-ship?

I uninstalled the game and never looked back. This game was the last chance I was set to give the MMO genre after having been burned by every single other I played, WoW being included in that.

It's especially distressing because the level-limited trial at least allowed me to see that there was some good in there, and that I could very consistently hold my own in missions. At least it would have been a way to play the KotOR 3 that Bioware should have been allowed to make all this time.

Ryan Neal
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SWTOR’s biggest problems certainly lie in the game architecture itself and the way that the developers have chosen to address the issues, but there’s enough to talk about there to fill an entire novel, hence why the article is focused purely on the Facebook community management.

That said, it’s impossible to overlook the community management and customer support services as a factor in the game’s decline. The problems reach far beyond the Facebook page, but what their Facebook page clearly demonstrates is a lack of communication between the community managers and the fans. If the community managers are unable to properly communicate with the fans, then they are going to be unable to effectively relay problems and suggestions to the developers. If SWTOR had a stronger community management service then the developers would have a clearer idea of what the fans want and how they could best improve the game. Community managers are the essential link between developers and fans. Of course, the main issue with their service is a lack of resources.


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