The Jellybeans Community Project

There’s an old joke that goes “For every time you have sex before you get married, put a jellybean in a jar. For every time you have sex after the wedding, take out a jellybean.” The punch line is that the jar will never be empty. That joke is so old that originally, you were supposed to put the jellybeans in the jar during your first year of marriage. But (as usual) I digress.

You could make the same “joke” with developers and how much they post before and after launch.

This is why my road rules for developing a community include the statement “Don’t post at all unless you are willing to commit to a post-launch posting schedule, and are willing to hold yourself to the same rules that apply to the community team.” That deceptively simple statement is short, but the execution with all its implications is a full time job requiring a professional (or a clever person trained and supported by a consultant).

It is so much a full time job that a certain drop off in posting occurs even with the professional community people, as other elements of the job (feedback, ombudsmanship, customer service problem resolution, patches, design meetings, and events) cut into time that used to be reserved for posting. But the difference between the community person’s drop off, and the rock star dev’s drop off, is the size of the Grand Canyon.

The timeline with amateurs looks like this:

1. John Developer, pure of heart and intention, makes a public “statement of intent” about his game. John is enthusiastic, and his typing is mostly free of spelling mistakes. His grammar is similar to that of Koko the Gorilla, but the enthusiasm makes his occasional incoherence easy to forgive.

2. No community professional is on the team as of yet. The other devs are either busy working, or experienced enough to know that posting in public is a trap, or both. John is also busy, but with no mate, no pets, and no other hobby, he posts before work, after work, and during lunch. John becomes the public voice of the product by default.

3. John generates a thousand paragraph essay on why the new game is awesome.

4. Players (whose current game of choice has gotten to step 25) post their adulation of John, and by extension, John’s project.

5. John is afloat in a sea of warm fuzzies for the first time in his life. He personally feels so good that he gets personal with his fans. He replies publicly, for the most part, but indulges in private messages with his most rabid fans. Particularly the females. At least he thinks they’re females.

6. He releases a barrage of posts responding to every topic related to the game. If anyone has a criticism, he promises (using the phrase “I promise” with abandon) that it will be addressed. He discusses systems not yet implemented.

7. Beta begins. A community manager named Ed is hired. Ed starts making a list of what was promised, and threatens John’s life if any more promises are made. John smiles at Ed, and says that Ed just doesn’t understand how special and unique the community is. John is certain that the players will understand if things don’t quite work out as planned.

8. John continues his prolific posting schedule. He is falling slightly behind in his regular work, but he finds time to address questions on every topic from the death penalty to crafting to armor customizing.

9. John realizes that deadlines are not suggestions, and skips checking the boards for a few hours. Exhausted after a long day, John goes home, hits the beta boards, and has a mild outburst towards the lone naysayer.

10. Ed tells John that this is not acceptable.

11. John is not listening. John’s ears are filled with the kudos from all of the people who have genuinely grown to love John. John is also basking in the light of the million flames directed at the lone naysayer.

12. Now emboldened by his obvious community wrangling GENIUS, John indulges in a stronger outburst towards a handful of people who are negative.

13. Ed and John wind up in the producer’s office. The producer is reluctant to crush John’s spirit. After all, John was there at the beginning! Ed realizes he is probably screwed, here.

14. John throws his first public tantrum at testers who were expressing concern with some unfinished elements of a product that is supposedly going live this quarter.

15. Ed presents the number of moderators he will need to cope with the way things are going. Ed is laughed at. (At this point, Ed’s future diverges – either he has the pull and the sense to get John muzzled, or he’s a wimp and decides to knock himself out working overtime, following the orders of people who don’t understand community, and cleaning up after John. Or he quits. We’ll assume for the rest of this post that Ed doesn’t have enough pull to make the pain stop, but for some reason needs to keep this job at any cost.)

16. John goes on a banning spree. People are removed from the boards simply for disagreeing, because at this point, ALL disagreement is proof of a lack of faith. All negativity, no matter how presented, must be silenced before anyone can agree. He convinces himself that he’s doing the right thing. He doesn’t just lock the threads, he deletes them. Leaving the threads might cause someone to think that the banned guy didn’t say anything terrible.

17. Launch day! John posts a heartfelt thank you to the community for all their efforts, and makes a final promise – he will continue posting at the same rate that he always has. Ed cries on the inside.

18. At the launch party, to which a number of the more ardent beta testers were invited, John meets up with one of the girls he’s been PMing for the last six months. The good news is that she’s an actual girl, with a vagina and everything. The bad news is that she’s built him up in her head to be a real swashbuckling hero capable of bringing her to peaks of ecstasy all night long, and faced with that expectation, John cannot actually perform at all.

19. She puts this bit of information into a PM to someone else. Within an hour it gets back to Ed. Ed laughs. On the outside.

20. In the excitement of launch week, meaning the twenty hour days fixing the bugs and exploits that were not reported, John neglects to post for two entire days.

21. John flames the crap out of the guy who posts “For shame, John, thought you were going to keep posting.”

22. Ed jumps in and explains what things are like behind the scenes, and the drama simmers down.

23. John flames the crap out of the person who lists out all of John’s promises and concludes that the finished game is batting .125 and that only if you count the “broken calendar” as the “robust raid scheduling system.”

24. Ed starts to post that those promises were made before Ed was hired, and were delusional even then. Ed hits the backspace key just in time. Ed gets drunk instead.

25. John responds to one description of a character development bug with “it’s working as intended.”

***

I will now ring down the curtain on that drama. Even if Ed is desperate to keep his job, so desperate that he will give any number of hairy, hairy people elaborate tongue baths, he will still be looking for an edged weapon after step 25. And even if he lives, John is not likely to post ever again – but he’ll swear until his dying day that he only stopped because Ed was unable to manage the community.

But if you’re still reading, I’d like to develop THE definitive drop off formula. And I need YOU.

Either post here, or email me (sanya AT brokentoys DOT org) the following data points:

– The name of the forum

– The name of the developer and his job/function/role at the company

– The number of posts a developer made to that forum in the six months prior to launch

– The number of posts that same developer (or that developer’s publicly designated replacement, and no, the community person is not the developer’s designated replacement) made in the six months post launch

– If the product is not yet launched, or if six months have not yet elapsed since its launch, be sure to note the beginning and ending dates of the period you’ve observed.

I will remove the names (I only want them for the purpose of verification), and post the results. I’m betting that the drop off rate is dramatic for all but the community pros – and again, some drop off is expected there. This isn’t intended to be a giant game of gotcha. This is just an attempt at working out a formula for gaming jellybeans.

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19 Comments

  1. August 7, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Forum: Lots
    Name: Copper
    Function: Copper@Mythic
    Posts before: Lots
    Posts after: Can’t shut him up!

    Forum: Mythic
    Name: Sanya
    Function: unsure
    Posts before: Lots
    Posts after: Lots
    Posts after that: Lots
    Posts after after that: Neverending.. until they ended.

  2. Dragoness Eclectic said,

    August 7, 2008 at 2:03 am

    so, John was Mackey?

  3. August 7, 2008 at 2:31 am

    I was reading too quickly and didn’t see the “or post here” bit so I emailed it.

    I generally like what you write, but I disagree pretty strongly that community managers should be the only interface between the community and the dev team. Not every developer should participate directly with the community, that’s true. I also lean pretty heavily on our community manager, and I prefer having a dedicated specialist to wield weapons like the banhammer.

    However, I think there’s a lot of value to having the forum be a place where players and developers can talk, and giving the community manager time away from forum-watching to manage the community in other ways. It requires more discipline on my part (and on the part of every developer who is visible to players), but the reward is significant IMO.

  4. Frank said,

    August 7, 2008 at 3:04 am

    Sent some results that may or may not be what you’re looking for. Interesting experiment. I look forward to the results.

  5. DM said,

    August 7, 2008 at 4:12 am

    Mark Jacobs had a post on Warhammer Alliance saying something to the effect of “developers who are really confident in their games will drop NDA 8 weeks before launch.” 6 weeks til the Age of Reckoning! (Admittedly, he didn’t say “6 weeks is really bad,” but it’s still the kind of quote that makes Ed want to kill “John.”)

    http://www.warhammeralliance.com/forums/showpost.php?p=701390&postcount=54

  6. Walter Yarbrough said,

    August 7, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks Ant!.

    I thought about sending Sanya my palomides.net numbers, but I only surfaced there post launch. (It only existed post launch)

    So my numbers there kind of skew the curve 🙂

    Also, to be fair to John – it is much harder to post while running an active MMO service than it is to post during game development beta.

    One of these instances has paying customers who expect results and the other has hardcore gamers who have hopes.

  7. pharniel said,

    August 7, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    But that’s sort of the point isn’t it?
    That yes, if posting on the company forums is something you feel adds value then you need to keep doing it. before and after launch and to set and manage the expectations of how much you’ll be there before launch, so that the customer doesn’t go ‘devs don’t care, see, they are never around now’ but instead ‘oh, ok, so one more thing that was precisly as advertised’

    i mean, you’ll still get the former, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to manage them with a simple “see this post for when bob will be around next” than “look, they’re busy…honest”

  8. Frank said,

    August 7, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    This is all about setting expectations. If you set a bar high enough, people are going to expect you to meet it and will eat you (or your poor community weenie) alive for lunch when you suddenly can’t. No amount of justification will help some (legitimate) criticism that you promised something and then didn’t deliver.

    And it’s also about trusting your damn people to do the job, too. Far as I can tell, “Ed”, if they aren’t all messed up doing 3 other jobs or managing beta forums or whatever, can and should have been first line of defense so that a consistent message can be delivered and expectations set. It’s their main function to be that conduit to the community – not necessarily a developer’s.

    If a developer is out there posting in the trenches, sure, that’s noble, but it makes the Community Manager a eunuch, and they never get any credibility. So when the developer drops off or finally does delegate to the Community Manager, they get the deluge of QQ. It’s not fair nor empowering to the community person.

    But that’s just my 2 cents.

  9. DoesNotMatter said,

    August 7, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    WoW: Kalgan post launch
    Issues: Direction of classes, specific Warriors. “Awesome Changes”
    Fallout: Longtime Warriors pissed*; after that nothing can be said in favor of warriors which does not elicit a) Shut up, the lead dev loves you (Non warriors) and b) “We had that then it was awesomely changed” (“Longtime warrior”)

    *Fun abilities were nerfed. No, not kill death abilities, fun abilities. Also a patchnote that read “The graphic of Thunderclap has changed”. That was at the time the single most under appreciated warrior ability, there were bugs and other classes got pages of changes – some nerfs sure but mostly bugfixes and buff

  10. August 7, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    […] and start getting real. Like, say, in this thread over at the SWG forums. Especially in light of Sanya’s most recent – really excellent – post. The loss of beast loyalty is NOT new, it just became apparent in GU5 due to a bug. A bug that we […]

  11. Cedia said,

    August 7, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    So this is why you left Mythic? Dunno, while the rant has some good points, it seems pretty transparent to me.

    That being said, I really don’t know why the GM of the game AND the community manager can’t work together communicating with the player base. I think that’s what would make most players calm and reassured if the two were in agreement instead of fighting all the time.

  12. sanyaweathers said,

    August 8, 2008 at 1:47 am

    I left Mythic in the spring of 2007. At first my posts were aggregates of various stories I had seen and heard across the industry in order to cover my ass. Now they’re aggregates because I have enough perspective to realize that gaming history repeats itself more often than a Tourette’s patient who develops Alzheimer’s.

  13. August 8, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Good lord…

    You actually have an email address at the Lum(p) of Mad’s site?

    That’s like asking the neighborhood pyro to ‘fire up the barbie’.

  14. redrinn said,

    August 8, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    I was wondering where you’ve been Sandra! This post is possibly the funniest and most insightful thing I’ve read on the web in months. Don’t ever change.

  15. Christian said,

    August 9, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Have you been sneak reading the Age of Conan forums?

  16. dartwick said,

    August 9, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Ed should have “used tactics.”

  17. mythago said,

    August 9, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    dartwick, so glad I am not the only one still bitter about that.

    Please tell me Ed and the woman who had a crush on imaginary-John met, fell in love and rode off into the sunset together!

  18. Jeff Freeman said,

    August 22, 2008 at 7:32 am

    From my perspective, there’s an unfair degree of blame for the post-launch drop-off in developer’s participation in the community here.

    When I’ve participated in the forum community less frequently (all the way down to not at all), it’s been because I was told to shut up.

    Frequently, it was the community management telling me to pipe-down. Especially if there wasn’t really much in the way of a dedicated CM staff up to the point that someone was hired to tell me to shut up.

    Other times it was marketing (telling me and community management to stifle, which bothered CM a lot more than you’d imagine, considering they had no issue doing that to me).

    I’ve had CM tell me that they were looking like the bad guys too often, and needed to post something positive for a change, and noticed that I was telling the players what they wanted to hear an awful lot, and I should stop posting and let them post what I’d have said… Yeah. And I wasn’t posting “what the players wanted to hear” at all – I was just communicating with them (which is what they wanted, but not the sort of thing one can “outsource”).

    Alternatively, there were times I have been encouraged to increase the level and frequency of communication, starting with an apology for previous low levels of interaction and a promise to be more available henceforth.

    Directives to shush-up following those episodes were especially effective in making me look like an ass to the community. I worked with guys who refused to fall for that more than once. “Everyone needs to post more? No way. I won’t do it.” – ’cause they knew that eventually they’d be gagged again and all their promises to communicate more, better, and so on would once again be taken as evidence of their own personal character flaw.

    Management never posts, “We’re telling the devs to chill-out with this whole communication thing, and that’s why they’ll be posting less now despite having told you a month ago, at our insistence, that they’d be posting more often.”

    So that sort of skews the perspective a bit, I think.

    I’m not even trying to whine and moan about it, really. I suppose it’s part of the job, something we’re paid to do, on some level. Better for someone to think I’m a jerk than to think the company I work for, in general, is a jerk.

    It’s just that in my experience, right about step 9 there, Ed tells John that if he has something to say to the community then he needs to say it to Ed.

    It’s not even that Ed doesn’t have a valid argument there, either… just that when John stops posting it might not have been his decision to do so at all.

    Maybe a better solution would be to have John post as “Posty McPoster” from the git-go, and then hand-over the pseudonym to Ed when he comes on board.

    Then there’d be no break in the continuity. In terms of the players perception of reality being warped, well it still would be a bit warped, but at least not in a way that makes anyone look like a douche.

  19. September 11, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    […] auch das ist eigentlich nichts neues. Tags » Autor: Dirk Datum: Donnerstag, 11. September 2008 7:34 Trackback: Trackback-URL […]


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