Why Does It Take So Long To Answer Simple Questions?

Disclaimer: This is, believe it or not, pure fiction: an amalgam of anecdotes taken from more than a dozen community managers. I heard them over the course of five years at a series of loud and usually somewhat intoxicated industry events. However, the essential timeline is not at all falsified.

Other community weenies are invited to pipe up and let us all know if they have had a different experience, and in fact, I hope they do.


FRIDAY:

8:30 AM. Bob the Community Builder for FunFactory, Inc, is not actually at work yet. This is not because Bob is lazy, but because Bob lives in the Eastern United States, and he has a conference call that evening with the Oregon office that someone scheduled for 8 PM EST. While he suspects this is someone in Oregon being passive aggressive, he cannot say anything about it. His boss could say something about it, but his boss doesn’t want to go home tonight because the twins are colicky, and it’s the nanny’s day off.

Bob couldn’t afford a nanny if he could crap twenty dollar bills, and is starting to resent hearing about nannies and private planes and Caribbean cocaine parties.

At any rate, Bob is at home and off the clock, but he’s addicted to email and his job, so he’s riffing through the in box looking for trends. There hasn’t been a patch recently, so nothing jumps out.

A terrific system question appears; a player wants to know how failure rates for a special ability are determined, and if the current rate of 20% is a bug. Bob thinks, hell, I always wondered that myself, and sends it off to the system’s implementer.

He does not send it as it arrived, however. There was no punctuation, half of it was spelled incorrectly, and it kicked off with “what was teh stupd buttface thot this was cool???!!!1” Bob edits out the personal attack, corrects the grammar and spelling because he knows few developers will take the question seriously otherwise, and then looks for an internal message board thread on the same topic. Sometimes, fixing the grammar drastically changes the intent, and Bob wants to be sure that he’s not going to hear “That’s not what I wanted to know!” when he posts the answer.

Bob is supposed to send these questions to a particular producer, his official contact on the development team. However, Bob discovered a few months ago that said producer, Frank, does not check with any programmers or designers.

Frank was around at the game’s launch. Frank thinks he knows everything because of this. Frank’s answers sound plausible but rarely reflect the game itself. Frank thinks it is funny that Bob is the one who loses credibility when Frank is wrong. Bob’s ulcer would clear up a lot faster if only he could see six months into the future where Frank gets fired despite being Someone Important’s cousin.

If Frank is not around, Bob is supposed to send system questions to Ronald, the system’s designer. However, Ronald’s system designs are marvels of intricacy, very impressive when presented at industry conferences, and totally impractical. For the last year, the girl stuck with implementing his systems, Gertrude, has been redesigning them on the fly. No one has noticed.

It is Gertrude with whom Bob speaks.

8:40 AM: Gertrude replies. She is not at work either, but home sick. She is as addicted to email and her job as Bob is, however, and has a wireless network for the sole purpose of being able to work in bed. A Blackberry would be easier. She would need to be promoted twice in order to be entitled to a Blackberry, according to the company handbook. She would also have to fight with the supply and equipment department, which is located in another state and currently being audited by the owners in another country. She cannot simply buy her own Blackberry, because the IT department will not knowingly allow her to receive company email on her own equipment.

She tells Bob that on her spreadsheet, the values are XYZ. However, she cautions Bob that the system works with an element of the code she cannot check from her sickbed.

8:45 AM: Bob forwards Gertrude’s email to Jake, a programmer. Jake is not the one who coded the original element on which Gertrude’s system is based. THAT guy, Wayne, is somewhere in the Caribbean coked up along with a bunch of strippers, where he has been ever since he cashed his FunFactory stock options, opened his own studio, and sold THAT one to MegaCorp for millions of dollars. Wayne was also a self-taught genius who adhered to no known coding formalities and whose comments were in haiku. Since Wayne left, approximately two dozen programmers of various levels of ability have added layers of complexity. Jake is very young and enthusiastic, but his joy at finally being in the gaming industry is starting to dim from coping with a ten year old pile of what is called “spaghetti code.”

9:00 AM: Jake was nine when Wayne started laying down code on this product. Jake doesn’t know where to start, so he forwards the email to his boss, Lead Programmer Dudley.

9:01 AM: Dudley responds that the system is working as intended.

9:02 AM: Bob reminds everyone that this answer is not acceptable, and further notes that the one minute response time guaranteed no one looked at the code.

9:03 AM: Bob discovers that Dudley has posted “Working as intended, and if you don’t stop whining about it, I’ll triple the failure rate” to the internal board.

10:50 AM: Fourteen private messages, three locked threads, and a screaming fight with Dudley later, Dudley has apologized, blamed the fact that he’s been up all night for two weeks without a break even on weekends (crunching for the expansion pack deadline) for his attitude, and checked the code. He says that the system in question interacts with an old piece of code in two places, and that code does not affect the failure rate… as far as he can tell. There is an area that looks like the code is referring to something else, but it is not possible for him to trace it back without three free hours, the which he does not have.

11:00 AM: Bob is nearly a week late returning a Q&A with one of the smaller fansites. All the time Bob was screaming at Dudley and locking threads, Bob was in IRC with the fansite editor, apologizing. The editor and Bob used to play the same MUDD back in the early 1990s, as it happens; a connection that is not generally known, but one that allows Bob to be more candid than usual. During the explanation of the day’s drama Bob happens to mention Dudley’s answer to the question. The community leader says, “Dude, if that’s so, why is it that when I wear my Cap of Everlasting Pulcritude, my failure rate drops to nothing? Also, it’s spelled Pulchritude.”

11:01 AM: Bob reminds the editor that human beings really do read the bug reports, and to send in that bit about Pulchritude.

11:02 AM: Bob sends the editor’s comment, minus the spelling correction, to Jake and Dudley.

1:00 PM: Dudley finally gets out of the two hour meeting where he was being yelled at for not being done with his work, and checks his email. He is genuinely apologetic, but he says he absolutely cannot look at old code again until the expansion code is done.

1:30 PM: Jake finds a haiku buried in a section of code untouched since Clinton was in office that makes even less sense than usual. Jake realizes that Wayne has used a zero to represent an attribute instead of a null value. In this case, zero stands for charisma. This code is being referenced by the code Dudley looked at earlier in the day. The Cap of Pulchritude is indeed affecting the failure rate of the special ability, because the Cap adds +19 to charisma.

1:35 PM: Bob starts writing the answer, pleased to have all the information. The item designer, Joyce, walks in, ostensibly to ask a game question, but in truth to ask if there is any Jagermeister left in the secret drawer. Bob tells Joyce the story. Joyce raises an eyebrow, and replies that the item should have been +10 to charisma, and someone must have made a typo. She adds that she’ll fix the problem.

2:40 PM: The impromptu meeting between Joyce, Bob, and the game’s producer, Biff, finally ends. Bob has utterly failed to convince anyone that a 50% nerf to the most popular item in the game will be a disaster from a PR perspective, or that the fact that no one noticed until now is a sign from god. Joyce correctly notes that because everyone since Wayne thought zero was a null value, a +19 item is completely insane, and even at her intended +10 it’s still freaking awesome.

2:45 PM: Bob goes back to the original system answer with dampened ardor, but still feeling a small amount of satisfaction.

9:00 PM: After being sidetracked with meetings, other crisis situations, two Q&As, locking another batch of threads from when the people on the internal board with day jobs came home and saw Dudley’s outburst, and the conference call with Oregon, Bob finishes the system answer, posts it, and goes home.

10:45 PM: Bob edits his post from home to remove his boneheaded typo that totally changed the meaning of the answer. This violates his own “never post when drunk” rule, but he decides an exception should be made, especially since Gertrude, sounding even sicker, is the one who called him to let him know. It is difficult to type quickly, because Jake, Dudley, and Joyce are in the living room shaking their dice bags at Bob, in hopes that he will hurry up and get back to the D&D game before Dudley has to get back to the office.

Biff is in the kitchen, yelling “Can I have a Mountain Dew” in a high pitched voice.

SATURDAY:

There is a sudden run on Caps of Pulchritude in the game. The item is still spelled Pulcritude. No bug reports are submitted at any point.

MONDAY:

9:00 AM: Bob hears about the three hour line for raids on the monster that drops the stupid CoP. He realizes there will be hell to pay when the nerf finally comes through, and decides to post that the cap will be nerfed in the next patch.

10:05 AM: Bob finishes convincing Biff that advance warning is better than a patch note surprise.

1:00 PM: Bob manages to come up with a brilliant post. He phrases the explanation for the coming nerf in a way that is both true and convincing. He works with community leaders and fan media in a coordinated education effort. He times the post to go up with a very happy announcement, a major gold bonus. The reaction on the boards is bad, but thanks to Bob, not a cataclysm.

3:01 PM: Biff points to the lack of cataclysm as proof that Bob was wrong, and overstated the case for not nerfing the CoP.

3:05 PM: Bob runs out of Jagermeister.

5:00 PM: Bob receives an email from a player, thanking him for everything.

THREE WEEKS LATER:

Biff and Bob are on a raid with their guild (Biff is the leader, although none of the other guild members know that besides Bob) when the new, +10 to charisma version of the CoP drops. Bob notices that it is still spelled as “pulcritude,” heaves a sigh, and submits a bug report.

***

Sounds a little rough on developers, doesn’t it?

Read it again. Bob pulled a twelve hour day, where he did not allow anything to prevent him from giving important, accurate information to his players. Don’t let the “thank you email” line sound small. You have to have spent time as Bob to know what a rush that one little thank you email is. Gertrude was working from home despite the flu, and checking the message boards for fun. Dudley’s only time off in more than a month was to play D&D with his friends, and while Dudley should have his fingers smashed with a hammer before he comes near a message board again, he cares about the game to the exclusion of nearly everything else in his life.

Biff comes off as the worst here, but you may safely conclude that if Biff is a guild leader, Biff is spending the most time of anyone actually playing the game. He tends to filter everything through his own experiences as a player, which is both good and bad. Until you have pulled a twelve hour day working on a game, you cannot comprehend the level of passion it takes to go home and log in for another five.

And despite professional disagreements, they’re all friends, because they are gamers first, and that’s a hell of a bond.

***

P.S. For me, the best part about the industry is that there is a Bob, a Dudley, a Gertrude, a Jake, and even a Biff at every… single… game company. No exceptions. Oh, sometimes it’s a LAN party, not D&D. Sometimes Biff is a coder and Gertrude is the XP. We didn’t have a Wayne at Mythic at all, but he was too common an element at other companies for me to leave him out.

P.P.S. I had rum in my desk, and to be totally honest it was four years old and covered with dust when I cleaned out my desk because I had this idea that drinking alone made you a drunk, but drinking with other people made you social. The CM who actually has the secret bottle of Jager is a crazy son of a gun.

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110 Comments

  1. Matthew said,

    May 23, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    I love it. I’m both scared and enamored. Please continue to post.

  2. mystery said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    I’m totally seeing Dudley’s side of things in this story. The impulse to yell: “To hell with you, and to hell with your ‘bugs’ and if you don’t like it, I may just set fire to the whole thing and laugh while it burns, Ok? Got another bug for me, smart guy? Eh? EH?” is almost impossible to ignore, particularly when you’re pouring your heart and soul into a project.

  3. GreyPawn said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Magnificent and totally true. And boy, those singular one-line thank you emails kinda make the whole thing worth it, don’t they?

  4. Ken Sykora said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    That drinking and posting rule should apply to more than just CMs but that’s just me. There’s nothing like waking up the next morning and realizing that you posted a huge rant that is about as valid as the infamous cleric petition (http://www.somethingawful.com/d/everquest/infamous-cleric-petition.php)

  5. Scott said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    I was the closest thing at Mythic to a Wayne, minus the, you know, stock payouts, Carribbean hideout and strippers. I am, however, told, there are still 6 programmers trying vainly to determine what the hell the haiku comments in my vermicelli code (spaghetti code is for poseurs) actually meant. This pleases me in a very dark evil way.

  6. SavageX said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    One to think long and hard on before jumping into the biz.

  7. Jason said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Does it make me crazy that I would be happy to be any one of those people? If only I could find a way into the game industry without leaving Atlanta.

  8. Sanya Weathers said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Scott said,

    (snip)

    You could be less proud of that, dickweed.

  9. Scott said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Sure, I could. I could also donate 10% of my income to charity.

  10. Servitor said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Oh, I feel ya. Except my playerbase would have filled the bug report queue with “For crying out loud, please pay attention to detail. It’s ‘pulchritude,’ not ‘pulcritude,’ from the Latin ‘pulcher.'”

  11. Cindy Bowens said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Very insightful. I have heard the same stories and could tell a few myself.

    The point I hope most people get from this (as far as communuty managment goes) is the amount of time and effort that is required to be a commuity manager. I regularly worked from home, often well into the wee hours of the morning. Since many of my fan site admins had day jobs, my communication with them couldn’t even start until the evening. I have left parties because I got an emergency call about all hell breaking loose on a forum or a leaked screenshot that was about to be published. Being a good CM means being available when you are needed and it is not always during office hours.

    The thing that gets to me is that we are in this mode constantly. I have had people question me about hours and not staying as late as everyone else during crunch times. But no one is ever around when you are dealing with one crisis after another until all hours of the morning on a Sunday. No one gives you a few days off of comp time when you have put in an extra 20 hours for the past few weeks to deal with the latest PR debacle.

    So what’s the solution? Well, I think the first step is just what you are doing here and what I am trying to do on my site as well. We all need to speak up about how things really are and how they need to be changed. We’ve all seen the damage a bad community person can cause. So I think it’s imperative that we speak up about how things should be done.

    Great article, Sanya. As always, you tell it like it is. 🙂

  12. Brenlo said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    While I understand this is anecdotal, it sure does have enough in common with experiences I and others in Community have shared, to read as a true story on its own.
    The moral of the story? Value your Community Manager.

  13. Trevel said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    What scares me is that I read it and think – man, that sounds like fun.

  14. May 23, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Wow. From these other posts, I assume you used to have another blog of some sort? Anyway, you totally get a high spot on the feed list.

  15. Georgia said,

    May 23, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Oh Scott…

    I don’t know what to say 😛

  16. Chris Ainsworth said,

    May 23, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    I’m currently talking to a company about a CM position, and reading your posts both excites and scares the hell out of me. I suppose that’s a good thing; if anything, it’ll keep the days interesting.

    Something I’ve been wondering… what is your feeling regarding the use of handles, nicknames, aliases, (etc) by community relations staff? Does using your real name add a level of accountability? Or does using an alias connect you with the playerbase, separating you from the “suits”?

    Does it make a difference if you are the community manager for an avatar-based game, or should you promote your ingame identity as something separate (but still you) than the identity presented in your day-to-day work?

    By the way, thanks. Two posts, and eatingbees is rapidly becoming a favorite.

  17. Streamweaver said,

    May 23, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    This runs about the same as any other big company. That said, I have to wonder the same thing I wonder in business, where is the leadership in all this? Customer service can’t be a branch or sideline in your business and when someone screws up like this they need to be held accountable. In this particular example it would seem a simple solution, run an internal forum the developers are required to check and respond to. Limit it to a number of questions and time of day, but they all have to look and respond even if it’s with a ‘me too’ or “dunno”.

    Like I said though, I say the same thing when I see this everywhere and I do see this everywhere. I use the solution of the response thing for a team I lead and it works well enough for us. Still some things do slip through still but we take it seriously and people are held accountable.

  18. May 23, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    I do believe that this post has turned me into a loyal reader now 😉

  19. Razor said,

    May 23, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Whoa there! If you keep posting, I won’t get any work done today at all.

  20. Razor said,

    May 23, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Oh, and from the community weenie side of my life, I was thankful that the game I did CM for only had 1 coder. I bequeath all my Rum and Jagger to Steve.

  21. Michael Neel said,

    May 23, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Not that i don’t love the look of the site – i do – but can you change the RSS feed to send out the full story instead of just the summary (or send both and let the reader choose)?

    Yea, you thought you were done hearing from the “community” =p

  22. Laitriem said,

    May 23, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    I

  23. May 23, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Sounds accurate to me. I’ve not had to deal with going through someone to ask questions about things myself, but I know it happens at many companies. Sometimes when a story like this played out for me was around 10PM at my house at some random time when I noticed something on the forums at the same time as the Senior Producer and we both instant messaged each other about the same thing.

    And getting a thanks from anyone for anything is so awesome you can’t really communicate it in words.

  24. Fik said,

    May 23, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Wait a minute…you’re really this “Bob”, aren’t you!

    Ha. Thought you fooled us with the pseduonyms.

    😉

    Good to hear from you, Sanya.

  25. malderi said,

    May 23, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Great post again. To echo above, becoming a favorite. And as a programmer, /em shakes fist at Scott over there. (Not at Mythic of course, but just in general at spaghetti coders!)

  26. Skeetarian said,

    May 23, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Heck, I still have my last name as ThankYouSanyanMissy after all the work you must have had to go through to get them to restore my toon names!

    Thanks again and best of luck in the future!!!

    Great posts so far! Keep ’em coming!

  27. wilhelm2451 said,

    May 23, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Great post. It reminds me of the voyage of discovery that occurred after a release of a development environment on which I work where NULL suddenly became the largest value in the universe and NOPs acquired different “flavors” depending on what preceded them. The discoveries came about through what I call “the great oral tradition” at our company by which all really useful information can only be obtained via random hallway conversations.

  28. James O'Quinn said,

    May 23, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Sanya,

    I know that myself and others all appriciated the work you did, (or tried to do) on our behalf. I hope you liked the book that I told Missy to tell you of. I thought it was fun. 🙂

    Cheers

  29. May 23, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Hmm… I guess in this scenario, I’d be “Biff”. The other thing to know about Biff is that he’s constantly being harassed by folks in other departments wanting to inane information about the game that they can spin for their own uses.

    P.S.: I had blended Scotch in my desk at The Company. At this new place, I have Booker’s Bourbon… sealed and unopened.

  30. Sleights said,

    May 23, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    That sounds EERILY similar to the environment I work in. Perfectly accurate and very very well done.

    We tended to go with Scotch and copious quantities of beer. At least until some kid tester wandered though and saw all the bottles.

    -Jake, one of many

  31. Khatie said,

    May 23, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    Dear Auntie Sanya,

    When I grow up I want to be just like you.

    *much love*

  32. Garthilk said,

    May 23, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Good stuff.

  33. Jeremy Dalberg said,

    May 23, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    At my last job, we had a departmental booze table – none of this wimpy little hidden bottle stuff for us!

  34. The Evil Sysadmin said,

    May 23, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    I just wanted to say, that as the community manager (among other things) for a company that has both gaming and non-gaming communities, your two posts so far have been a great source of reassurance. What you are going through here in these posts applies to anyone who has to manage an online community, be it for a game, or a piece of utility software.

    I’m adding this blog to my regular reading. It’s something I’ll definitely come back to when I’m in need of ideas, or simple amusement when my own users start to get me frayed around the edges. Keep up the good work!

    For me, I have several of those mini-bottles of booze in my desk. Two vodkas (flavored of some sort) and one whiskey.

  35. May 23, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    […] formerly the community manager for my favorite MMOG (DAOC), recently started a new blog. Her latest post is a mashup of anecdotes from several different community managers. Not only is it entertaining, it […]

  36. Davey & Goliath said,

    May 23, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    My favourite part was the “working as intended”

    2 thumbs

  37. Cito said,

    May 23, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Love the site! and thanks for all the great work you did!

  38. Dorn said,

    May 23, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    That was a very interesting read. It definitely reinforces several things I’ve always thought to be the case. If I had to point out one thing that seems really bad it’s that Joyce, Dudley and Biff all appear to be in very important decisions and all three of them appear heavily out of touch with the game itself. To the point that some of their comments would probably make players go “Do these guys even play?”.

    In such a situation it seems to me all three of them should be held more accountable to the head of community management. I hope in the future as the game industry grows more mature this becomes the case.

  39. DF said,

    May 23, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    I am just glad I found you!

  40. Jason C said,

    May 23, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    I haven’t worked for a game company, but I have done tech support for a national call center in which we were situated in between customer service, QA, devs, and management. The situation is eerily similar and your story really gets to the heart of “Why can’t we just get an answer!?”

  41. Muse said,

    May 23, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    Cito!

  42. nehebkau said,

    May 23, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    Sanya,
    As a DAOC player who has submitted much crap via the feedback froms I want to apologize. I didn’t stop to think that the players, being ankle deep in turd were standing on high-ground when compared to you all.

  43. Solvoug said,

    May 23, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    Great post! Glad to see your are back!

    As a developer /shakes fist at Scott and looks for the pitchfork

  44. Sanya Weathers said,

    May 23, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    “If I had to point out one thing that seems really bad it’s that Joyce, Dudley and Biff all appear to be in very important decisions and all three of them appear heavily out of touch with the game itself.”

    Dorn, I gotta say, buddy… if that’s what you got out of my little novella, there, I have utterly failed as a writer.

    “Dudley” does nothing but eat, poop, and code the game. “Biff” goes home from his job making it and spends another five hours playing it. I didn’t put in fewer than fifty hours a week for six years, the only night I didn’t check my email was the night I got married, and *I* wasn’t half as hardcore as the dozens of people that I used to make up the characters of Dudley and Biff. What do you want from them, blood?

  45. Sanya Weathers said,

    May 23, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    Generally speaking: Thanks for the warm welcome back, everyone. I’ve got a little more room to talk, this time 🙂

  46. pruneau said,

    May 23, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    Beeing a professional developper (i.e. mainly paid to spit and maintain code), I totally and compassionately wallow in misery and glee at the same time with you.

    There should be more books and studies on how to manage spaghetti code.

  47. Fashtas said,

    May 23, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    I find it interesting that “Scott” is proud of his Spaghetti code. I’ve worked with and managed many people like him and “Wayne”

    They are the first ones I fire generally, extraordinarily detrimental to a development project.

    This process is depressingly failure though 🙂 Well described. Though I am not sure what this “D&D” and “after works hours” comments are though, such an odd concept … after work hours 🙂

  48. TPRJones said,

    May 23, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    “I’ve got a little more room to talk, this time.”

    That’s the best news I’ve read all year so far.

  49. Bear said,

    May 23, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    Bwuhahahaha… 😀

    The best part about the story is that it applies everywhere. I’ve seen similar progressions while employed as a product engineer. You’ll find those same people in lots of different businesses… their titles are just a bit different.

  50. Bryant Durrell said,

    May 23, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Yeah, that sounds about right.

    With my operations hat on — I would personally move mountains to avoid being in a different state than the community managers for any game whose servers I was running. One of the big things that story highlights is how tough communication is. Being in a different office strikes me as making a hard job even worse.

    I couldn’t have maintained the (hopefully) good relationship I had with the CMs if I didn’t get face time with them. Ops always gets to give the crappy news to CMs, and who wants to hear that from someone who’s mostly just text and a phone call now and again?

    I’m not a developer, but man, I bet I’d feel the same way if I was.

    On the flip side, I was lucky enough to work at an independent company (Turbine), so no corporate pressures to put the CMs somewhere else, or have a central pool of CMs, or anything like that. So, yeah, I recognize that moving mountains might not be enough.

  51. Squirrel said,

    May 23, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Returning with style Tweety, no surprise that.

    Interesting to see that MMORPG companies run in much the same fashion as corporate software companies, substituting CM’s for very dedicated support folk.

    I unfortunately am always a little too late, a little too stupid and a little too dedicated to be Wayne. I’m sure I could learn to like cocaine, given millions and a carribean hideaway…

  52. Dahne said,

    May 23, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    Hey, it’s Tweety! Glad to see you back.

    It’s very interesting to hear about the behind-the-scenes stuff, especially when you’ve been on the other side since, dear Lord, the EverQuest days. Ever look at the people shouting about how a rep hasn’t replied to the topic they posted five minutes ago, think of the old Whineplay boards with a response rate just barely below God’s (seriously, people see the virgin Mary on corn tortillas more often than Verant’s guys showed their faces) and just laugh and laugh?

  53. Apache said,

    May 23, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    What I got out of it is: Ignorance is bliss. Stop asking CMs questions! (just kidding)

  54. Freakazoid said,

    May 24, 2007 at 12:14 am

    I find this view very interesting. I may have to take back some of my previous beliefs that most developers are incompetant jerkoffs. Apparently, only Wayne and Joyce types are the jerkoffs.

  55. Andrew said,

    May 24, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Scott,
    The spaghetti code isn’t as bad as the unshakable belief that anything involving the web can be done in two days or less. Next time at least pretend like you have an army of off-shore developers working with you!

    Sanya,
    This would all have been solved if there were more meetings.

  56. Nanopy said,

    May 24, 2007 at 12:46 am

    Sanya — As much shit as people gave you on the various boards (well…ok…primarily VN), we seem to be much worse off in the land of Camelot without someone on our side.

    Though I’m still a bit annoyed you never responded to my PM!

  57. Alan said,

    May 24, 2007 at 1:01 am

    Sanya,

    We miss you in DAoC. Nobody but you could handle that place the way you did. I hope you hear that a LOT.

    And I’m sad I won’t get to see you at E3 this year 😦

    -Alan from Ianstorm

  58. Kinada said,

    May 24, 2007 at 1:37 am

    Ohh my God you got married!! Congrats.

    Nice to see you around the rest of the internet again. I can’t say that I followed DAOC too closely after I quit. 😛

    I look forward to more of your amusing and insightful posts.

  59. Laryhn said,

    May 24, 2007 at 2:29 am

    My guild misses you Sanya, good to ‘read you’ again! /hugs

  60. Vulpis said,

    May 24, 2007 at 2:50 am

    I got pointed to this by a friend elsewhere and…my condolences to you. It’s always ‘fun’ trying to squeeze information out of people like that.

    Just a side note, though–I’d have to agree a bit with the poster that was saying that ‘Joyce’ and ‘Dudley’ (not Biff, though) *are* out of touch with the game–or at the very least the side of the game the *players* see. They’re so buried in the code, stats, and other facts and figures that they, as the saying goes, are too busy studying the bark and leaves on the trees to pay much attention to the forest. Not that that’s *their* fault, but it helps put the comment in more perspective. What’s worse is that they *can’t* take the time out to explore from the player’s view, because then they’d get screamed at for taking longer to do the code/stat/item work they were buried in to begin with. :-/

  61. May 24, 2007 at 3:45 am

    The two items I thought was strange was

    1) Why a poorly spelled question that begun with a personal attack should be taken seriously. I mean, a lot of the players are children or otherwise immature, and it seems very rude to let them grow up in the mistaken belief that they can achieve anything by starting with a personal attack. At least, it seems the developers in the story share my point of view.

    2) Why someone at an executive level should should be involved in a decision on whether some item should be +19 or +10. Probably justt shows that I never was a true gamer, despite the sharp decline in my grades when I first discovered Hack (the game that later evolved into NetHack) at the university.

  62. Kemor said,

    May 24, 2007 at 5:36 am

    *sniffles*
    This little piece brought back many bitter-sweet memories of a time both loved beyond passion and hates beyond reason. It also sums up nicely how, after some time, MMOs are such beasts that nobody really knows what’s going on. I sometime think that it’s part of the fun.

    Now, imagine that kind of info gathering but with another (really frikkin thick 9 hours difference/language barrier/contract whatever) layer and you’ll be welcome in the hell of “licensed MMORPG management”.

    I hope Bob still got his tools 🙂

    ps: Nice to see you blogging again Sanya. After translating your news for 3 years, trying to keep some of your witty comments intact (and probably failing miserably), it’ll be nice to read you again with more personal thoughts (and rants!)

  63. Alex said,

    May 24, 2007 at 7:17 am

    Well, I think you did an excellent job for Mythic. And thank you for the time you spent.

    From the time I spent on the test boards, and the frustration it caused me, and reading your posts… I can only imagine what it caused you and everyone else involved.

  64. MerseyMal said,

    May 24, 2007 at 7:42 am

    I suspect a lot of programmers are practising Pastafarians and are religiously obliged to write spaghetti code.

  65. May 24, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Scott, I could almost see that evil twinkle in your eye from here in Korea! 🙂

    Sanya, you bled, cried, and sweated with us. Even those little “thank yous” cannot express enough how big an impact you’ve had on the community you worked with for he past 5+ years.

  66. Georgia said,

    May 24, 2007 at 9:03 am

    Fashtas said: “I find it interesting that “Scott” is proud of his Spaghetti code. I’ve worked with and managed many people like him and “Wayne.” They are the first ones I fire generally, extraordinarily detrimental to a development project.”

    While I would tend to agree about your average “Wayne” character, you need to understand that oftentimes programmers (especially Web programmers) may be approached and asked to do things “yesterday” instead of allowing time for a proper process to be followed. This oftentimes means that code has to be implemented quickly and simply “working” rather than formally written.

    Sometimes Royce’s waterfall model is more or less interpreted as a cliff… you get the client’s basic needs, then jump off of the cliff and fall down to the end, all the while coding as fast as you can until you hit the canyon floor.

  67. Morgan said,

    May 24, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Douglas Coupland called. He wants his 1990’s manuscripts back.

  68. John P said,

    May 24, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Sanya, I doubt you’ll read this far down, but I just wanna say that I have always admired your work and especially your candidness with the community. It made me a fan of Mythic and kept me playing DAoC for years.

    I like to entertain the notion of working in community relations for the game industry. The negatives don’t scare me as much as they should… I can tell you now that if I every do land that job, I will be basing my model on the Sanya Thomas framework of community relations.

  69. DamianoV said,

    May 24, 2007 at 9:47 am

    I’m going to echo Georgia… no one writes spaghetti code on purpose, though we devs might well hint at some “evil pride” simply to irritate the powers-that-be.

    My rule of thumb is a paraphrase of a similar programming rule revolving around price…

    You can have it quickly (i.e.”yesterday”), you can have it solid, and you can have it readable and clean… but you can only pick two of the three.

    Choose wisely…

  70. Tovin said,

    May 24, 2007 at 9:58 am

    That’s awesome! Thanks Sanya 🙂

    And Scott, you’re getting an interview from hell for those comments! :p

    T

  71. Steph said,

    May 24, 2007 at 11:56 am

    The rum is in my mini-fridge, so it stays cold until I need it. Easier to drink that way. 🙂

    My producer three producers back kept a well-stocked desk drawer full of Tequila, Gin, and Vodka, and replenished often.

  72. Bryant Durrell said,

    May 24, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Per A. asks:

    Why a poorly spelled question that begun with a personal attack should be taken seriously. I mean, a lot of the players are children or otherwise immature, and it seems very rude to let them grow up in the mistaken belief that they can achieve anything by starting with a personal attack. At least, it seems the developers in the story share my point of view.

    Bob’s not doing this for the sake of the immature player, he’s doing it for the sake of the player base. The problem is affecting everyone, not just the possible jerk whose question Bob was answering. You can’t punish the rest of the players to teach a lesson to one person.

    And, actually, the belief that you need to or can teach lessons to individual players, in my experience, leads to bad relations. It’s not your job to make the players better people.

  73. Ibn said,

    May 24, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    You are the awesomeness.

    For me, it was a bottle of tequila. What made it especially great was that the bottle was a gift from one of our more vocal players.

  74. Ibn said,

    May 24, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    The only way that this varied from my OCR experience is that the bottle kept on my desk was tequila. When I managed to tag along with the dev team to the LA studio, I gave it to our customer support manager.

    Which actually reminds me of something. Customer service shouldn’t be forgotten in this. There’s a weird symbiotic relationship between OCR and customer service. Typically players will find ways to quote OCR when arguing with in-game support, and find ways to quote in-game support when arguing with OCR. Good times!

    I miss working in MMO OCR, but not enough to do it again. At least now when it’s 1AM and there’s a showstopper bug, I only have to worry about it getting fixed and not justifying the downtime and rollback to thousands of upset players.

  75. May 24, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Hehe… I was once a mod on a certain community forum. Not quite a CM, but there were quite a few parallels. Anyway, I envy your ability to relate to the users and to feel as one of them. Myself I had nothing but contempt and disdain for those in my charge, so after a few years I couldn’t take it anymore and quit.

    The above probably makes me sound like a prick or just an unpleasant person, but in all honesty those people were nasty. =)

  76. Sanya Weathers said,

    May 24, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    Not so. You just weren’t cut out for community, Michael. So? Am I an unpleasant person because I’m too blind in my right eye to be a fighter pilot?

  77. Alan said,

    May 24, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    I always envied your position at Mythic. I wanted to be that person. What scares me is that after reading this post, I STILL want to be that person. Heh, guess that makes me “cut out for community”..

    Now to figure out HOW to be that person..

  78. May 24, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    […] Eating Bees: Why does it take so long to answer simple questions? […]

  79. Dillgaar Rhine said,

    May 24, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Having had my fair share of message board modding in my days (although not completely comparable to the tale told above) I find myself being at first incredibly ticked off that people on the boards could be so stupid… then I realize that I’m actually in the know and if I wasn’t I would be pretty ticked too… it’s all in perspective and how you react to that perspective.

    In this anecdote, it seems that each character thinks they are doing what is either best for the game or the best they can do at the time (even the Wayne character doing what he did seemed the best approach to life for them) but for others it’s not always the case.

    A nice little ditty on what it is like to put yourself in others shoes and walk a mile or two. You never really get the whole picture until you put every puzzle piece where it belongs. Some you just have to hammer a little more than others however.

  80. Megaera said,

    May 24, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Wow… this all sounds so strangely…. FAMILIAR…..

  81. Skaggerak said,

    May 24, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Thank you Sanya

  82. MattP said,

    May 24, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    So THAT’S what happens… Sounds like the programming I used to do (the stuff I didn’t write, at least).

    Glad to see you doing other stuff, Sanya!

  83. BrianT said,

    May 24, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Tweety is back!! Yay!!!

  84. JMEF said,

    May 24, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    I keep a text file of the compliments I have gotten over the last few years from players when assisting them, so that when I have a day where I’ve had a lot of discouraging situations to deal with, I open it up and read them and remember that not everyone I try to help thinks I’m a failure at it.

  85. Jessica Mulligan said,

    May 25, 2007 at 1:56 am

    We’ve needed a blog like this one for a long time. By “we”, I mean the industry as a whole.

    So Sanya… don’t go changin’.

    -Jess

  86. CuppaJo said,

    May 25, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Great. Now I am looking around my office for hidden cameras and bugs.

  87. shane said,

    May 25, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    jhnuioh

  88. Phaltran said,

    May 25, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    Tweety,

    Great story.

    While I have little experience in the MMO/CM world, this does sound very similar to what a SysAdmin like myself or many other technical jobs have to go through to get a “real” answer to a problem.

    The really frightening part is you outlined following ONE question, where I would guess that you were doing this same thing for 50 or more questions a day.

    The main thing I get out of this is that every job has its pains; some jobs have more pains than rewards. In order to put up with the pains for the rewards, you have to really, really love what you do. Maybe someday I’ll find a job that kindles this much passion in me.

    Really enjoying the blog. Keep it coming.

  89. Brat said,

    May 25, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    Unfortunately these days Sanya, your happy ending just isn’t as realistic as it used to be. The “customers” tend to think, as the years pass by, that they deserve so much more for their $15 a month.

    The days of customers actually being greatful that developers listen and CONSIDER following advice (however idiotic) that customers give are gone. The days of the “face people” of gaming companies being human are no longer existant. Being under a microscope sucks for anyone, but being under a microscope in front of a bunch of selfish children who are salivating at the thought of a moment you’ll make a mistake is absolute torture.

    Here’s a little more realistic view after recent events…

    3:05 PM: Bob runs out of Jagermeister.

    3:10 PM: Bob logs into the boards while slightly tipsy and reads over the flood of complaints from players, ranging from recent topics discussed, to completely unrealistic requests and all of them point fingers directly at poor Bob.

    3:11 PM: Bob snaps and writes a diatribe. One that makes perfect sense, but because it’s argumentative and followed by a string of responses that could be deemed less than appropriate, it opens the floodgates of hell that calls forth the wrath of every “hall monitor” from here to Timbuktu.

    5:00 PM: Bob sobers up and shits himself. He frantically edits and deletes posts, sends apologetic emails to those involved and apologizes publicly.

    5:01 PM: Bob’s posts appear on about 500 fansites, gaming message boards and he becomes an instant celebrity (slashdotted). Conversations beging on both sides, some calling him a hero for speaking his mind and telling it like is, others condemning him to the reaches of hell for not playing kissy kissy to the customer.

    6:00 PM Bob gets a call that he’s fired due to the sheer amount of complaints they’ve received over Bob’s rant on the message boards.

    TUESDAY

    8:00 AM A post appears on the front page of the companies message board outlining new community policies but never actually apologizing to the customer for anything.

    8:01 AM Someone starts a topic asking what happened to Bob?

    8:02 AM Someone replies to the topic saying “Who the hell is Bob?:

    8:03 AM Thread is locked and life goes on.

  90. Riceman said,

    May 25, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    Truly fascinating read.

    Thank you for the insight into the industry, and the occupation, I will be entering shortly. It has, oddly enough, made me even more excited.

    Am I masochistic? Or is it, perhaps, that I simply believe that the job of a community manager is as integral to the modern gaming world as a brilliant coder or artist?

  91. Faelor said,

    May 25, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    Thank you for posting such an amazing read! I’ve shown this to a number of people since it was published, and we’ve had some great talks discussing the role of CM and similar positions.

    As someone who is interested in a CM position, this means a lot. Thanks again =)

    – Faelor

  92. Paul Hume said,

    May 26, 2007 at 6:54 am

    Seconding the poster(s) from non-gaming companies who note that tech support has the same scenarioes regardless of the type of product. Mind you, when the player who puts the question is the CIO of a large client it jacks up the fun factor.

  93. cc said,

    May 26, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    So, is the gist of this story that you guys pretty much get paid to send emails all day? It must be rough having to pause your YouTube videos to send a reply every 50 minutes or so, but I guess all the hard work being done replying to “WHATS UR FAVORITE COLOR?” threads on the official forums pays off in the end.

  94. Genda said,

    May 26, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    I work for a company that is a developer of software, but not games. There are still many many parallels there in the story.

    As an aside, your presentation and writing style is truly amazing, and I hope you keep exercising it here where we can all enjoy it. Thanks for that, great stuff.

  95. Voltare said,

    May 26, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Great insights you have.As a hobbyist game dev, and a serious rpg/mmorpg player, I get to see a bit of both sides of this.Imagine having to do all that yourself!Being the CM, main programmer, Bif, and everything else all rolled into one….sheesh…makes me kinda glad i’m not ever gonna release my game……heh.

  96. Per said,

    May 27, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Single Malt whisky here..and Me, 2 content people and a coder killed it a couple of weeks a go :)..oh.and beer 😀

  97. n.n said,

    May 28, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    Ronald here. I really found this a bit too close to life, especially as the programmers here are up in arms over the “wonderful” coding style of a recently-departed Wayne. But I enjoyed it very much nonetheless.
    In his defense, Ronald, especially if he happens to be less experienced, has a hell of a time trying to get the system across to Gertrude and co. Every missing detail that he forgets to put in because he stupidly assumes it’s obvious… Doesn’t get implemented. Even if the whole system doesn’t make sense without it. (His mistake.) Some details that he DOES put in don’t get implemented. Even if the whole system doesn’t make sense without them. (Not his mistake!)
    Even though he calls meetings with the programmers to find out whether it’s practical to implement certain features, half the time nobody says anything. (Possibly his mistake, depending on how well he actually communicated that feature.) And then when it’s time to actually code that sucker, they bitch and moan behind his back.
    When Biff notices that there’s a design problem or poor implementation and gets on his case for it, it’s frustrating, but when nobody notices, it’s twice as frustrating. There’s a very real sense of guilt, because the game is as much his baby as anybody else’s.

  98. Alex Weekes said,

    May 29, 2007 at 12:12 am

    That’s so accurate :). Really enjoyable reading as well. One of these days I should get a blog of my own up and running. Having just moved from community at a publisher to my first developer CM position I’m sure I’ll be running into lots of interesting things to pass along.

  99. Jubilus said,

    May 29, 2007 at 8:05 am

    You rock.

  100. Kallisti aka Andrew said,

    May 29, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Brilliant Sanya 🙂 I’m with the mad archer (/wave Larian) in full appreciation of all the efforts you made.

  101. Vorlonn said,

    May 31, 2007 at 4:16 am

    I am going to partially defend Wayne here.

    As a “cowboy” programmer myself, or what should really be called a rapid prototype or proof of concept programmer, you are expected to write large, complex, mostly functional systems in completely unreasonable amounts of time, usually by yourself, and the 12-20 hour work days leave you little time to write meaningful comments (not to mention the dementia that sets in after the 30th night in a row of 4 hours of sleep not really helping with the ability to even communicate in your native tongue).

    You do this because you are running on tiny amounts of seed money, the PR machine needs screen shots 30 days after the company is formed to secure more funding, nobody has designed the product yet, but you have to have functional code every week, and somehow everyone else has time for lunch, golf games, vacations, family, friends, loved ones, and sleep except you.

    The best part is when some middle management, PR, or middle management guy complains that he will have to work on a Saturday, or late in the evening, because, ya, like he has any clue what true sacrifices you have made to deliver the damn code.

    If your lucky, after years of this punishment, something you write sticks, makes money, hopefully buys you some freedom from hell, and if your one of the very very lucky, in some tropical place surrounded by strippers.

    You think maybe I exaggerate…but I do not.

    I, for example, single handedly wrote a huge product (in about 1 year) that was the only piece of code that made a company any serious money during 5 years of the companies life (6+ million $). I did this by completely removing everything else in my life…including sleep. I went for months at a time getting literally 4 hours of sleep. All of the comments in the code were of a fictional history of the Mongolian horde. Was this OK to do? Not really, but well, keep reading and also keep in mind that I busted my butt on code, not comments…

    Meanwhile, an entire team of programmers worked on the “other” only slightly larger product, which took them 3 years to develop to a semi-functional, but bug ridden state, the company never made more than a 10th of what they made on my code, but hey it was clean, commented, and followed a very concise development plan.

    They did work long hours sometimes, some of them really put in lots of effort, but most of them put in only 10-14 hour days and only during crunch time, and huge amounts of that time were spent on doing everything “right”, rater than writing code.

    The Dev, QA, and CM costs were so staggering, that we blew through all of the money my product made, all of the venture capital and other funding, and we ultimately closed our doors because that team, who I might add were all very brilliant and talented people, consumed 30-40x the resources of my “team” of me and the use of one QA/CM guy on major release candidates (because, well, I usually coded my own tests as well … which…gasp…had no comments).

    I make very nice money (not Wayne sized) doing this very thing over and over again as consulting work for people who had worked at this previous company. They know that my code is semi-crazed, uncommented, and will only make sense in its entirety to one person (me), but they also know I will deliver them a working product in a timely fashion and on budget.

    IMHO, once a product gets traction, that is when you risk the heavy handed, well planned approach, which will cost you millions of dollars to do and woe to the people that inherit the prototype code…but then again…they probably have the resources to do it right at that stage and shouldn’t whine about the code cowboy who made it possible for them to be there at all.

  102. Vorlonn said,

    May 31, 2007 at 4:27 am

    Bah, should proof read I guess…much like I should stop writing stories in my code I suppose, but couple of edits…

    Middle management used twice, was supposed to be product manager in place of one of those.

    Missed a 1 in product sales…$16+ million.

    And to add…

    I maintained and added features to my product, built other products and systems for one off jobs that we contracted, as well as jumping into the other product after 3 years of its dev cycle and contributed some of the only fully functional deliverables to the system.

    I left on year 4, after which someone told me in passing that at that point, the only code that was passing the current builds was my code…you know…the insane stuff w/no comments. Hmmm. I also know that people were up in arms about my stuff, but it is really hard for me to find fault with what I did and wrote. I helped keep them employed and buy them time with my blood, sweat, and tears, and all they did was waste money and create well commented vapor. My stock was worthless due to their “efforts”.

  103. Bear said,

    June 1, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Kallisti aka Andrew, your comments don’t sound like, well, like you… even forcing an imaginary British accent… until you add “dog’s bollocks” in there. Then its the Kallisti we all know.

  104. Taemojitsu said,

    June 4, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    lol @ Brat’s post (#89)…

    Very interesting and enlightening post, Sanya… it’s always nice to hear what it’s really like working in the game industry, for someone who never has. I’d have to agree tho that, in some communities at least, it’s no longer as “nice” as it might have once been in the past. You may be able to satisfy customers on the CoP nerf, but literally as soon as you do so customers with other, equally pressing issues will start demanding from you an answer… they won’t even allow you respite in the form of a single thread in which to enjoy the result of your labors, but will instead use that very thread as the means to begin leveraging new, titanic efforts on their behalf. Many of them will be demanding answers that you simply are not able to give, and will on no account accept your explanations as to why you cannot give them.

    How did it go..?

    “There is no win. There is only slow degredation.”

  105. Taemojitsu said,

    June 4, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Oh, and don’t forget that since it was such a great game, you’ll have tons of customers who are so passionate about it that they spend all their time on the forums, and when they get disillusioned and resentful because of imbalances caused by failure to compensate for progression, they WILL spend all of their time on the forums talking up the game’s flaws to everyone who hasn’t yet decided to quit. Hardcore players who know the game, know its flaws and why it has failed, and are absolutely determined to make sure everyone else knows them too… in the futile hope that your company will decide to change your design direction to address their problems. Months from now those people will leave for another game, but Warhammer doesn’t come out until 2008, and in the mean time customers with expired accounts can still post on the official WoW boards…

  106. Kardinal said,

    June 29, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    A masterpiece, not an uncommon thing from Sanya.

  107. Georges said,

    July 23, 2007 at 4:41 am

    Cool…

  108. Bigwig said,

    October 14, 2007 at 3:28 am

    Great essay, Sanya. Now, top it off by writing a thinly veiled breakdown of how a major MMO company focused on an RvR endgame creates a PvE-focused disaster like…uh…TOA….and what the hell they were thinking when it happened? Could be a great Rise and Fall story….maybe VH1 would do a special?

    Keep up the good work, Sanya, the few of us still playing DAOC miss you and your carefully written honesty greatly.

  109. May 11, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    […] whether a bug is important enough or not to get fixed, no matter how easy it is to do. Read this: Why Does It Take So Long To Answer Simple Questions? Eating Bees It’s a blog post from Tweety, former CM for Mythic, explaining just why it takes so long to answer […]

  110. September 18, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    […] in Community Management September 18, 2008, 2:04 pm Filed under: Uncategorized Read these posts by Sanya Weathers. Old though they may be (I first read them near the start of my time […]


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