The first forums were held in Ancient Rome and consisted of city residents gathering in the central square to discuss and debate current issues. Even now, 2,000 years later, the essential purpose of the forum has remained unchanged. The difference is that in the 21st century we no longer need to go anywhere in order to exchange ideas or debate issues – all we have to do is connect to the internet and find the relevant forum for whatever it is that we want to discuss. As you likely well know, forums and the gaming industry go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. If a player is having trouble performing a difficult in-game task or finding an item, he or she is very likely to turn to a forum for help. This makes forums an excellent tool for companies to effectively communicate with their players. The simple truth though is that many community managers do not understand how to utilize forums effectively. This article will seek to highlight the importance of forums from the community manager’s point of view and talk about strategies that you can employ to increase player engagement and get YOUR message across.

First things first. What is a forum and what purpose does it serve?

FORUM OBJECTIVES

  1. A gaming forum’s primary purpose is to establish a popular form of communication between a company and its users. It’s not enough to simply post about an upcoming update or event, but rather this is a place where you have the opportunity to conduct a dialogue with players. This is where you can listen, explain, and persuade, all the while getting insight into what makes your players tick.
  2. A forum allows you to quickly collect players’ thoughts and comments in order to convey them to the developers.
  3. A forum might feature a large amount of content that can be used to better engage your players. Memes that are set in the game world, helpful tips, art, photos, and screenshots of battles can be used to further immerse players into the game world. The task of the community manager is to create a comfortable atmosphere in the forum where players desire to produce and share interesting content.
  4. A forum should be seen as a collection of ideas from players on how to best improve your product.

What should you do with player suggestions?

  • You need to know your product inside and out in order to understand how a new innovation can affect the development of the game. To do this, you need to play actively every day.
  • If you do not fully understand the proposed changes, you should ask and clarify. Don’t simply write “I will convey your wish…” if something isn’t clear. Even if the idea is one that likely would never be implemented, simply acknowledging it is something that will cause this player to feel like he or she is being listened to and that their opinion matters. This will encourage the player to put forth more ideas in the future, and those ideas might very well make your game better. Even if one player proposes an idea that isn’t fully fleshed out, having it in the forum presents the possibility that another player will see the idea and expand upon it. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. Now imagine an entire community of players contributing and building on one another’s ideas. That’s a lot of heads! The importance of maintaining a forum where players’ ideas and comments are responded to in an active and timely manner cannot be overestimated. If players see that you care about what they have to say, they will be even more likely to remain active on the forum and, more importantly, play your games.
  • Don’t feel that you have to lie to your players and tell them that you love every change or addition that they propose. If a player complains about a certain feature of the game that other players like, feel free to talk about the advantages of this feature. The important thing is to maintain a respect for the player and whatever objections they may have. It is important to be able to explain why you cannot realize every player’s desire.

Who is who? Why it is important to know your players.

Players aren’t all alike. As a player yourself, you’re likely to already know this. Get to know your audience in order to discover the multiple types of players that exist. You can call these types of players by whatever name you like, but for our purposes we’re dividing them into the following five types:

  • Loyal
  • Rebel
  • Creative
  • Expert
  • Silent

Each forum contains some truly unique characters. The trick is in recognizing the roles that these characters should play in your forum. One of the first things you’ll want to do is find players you can rely on to moderate. Good moderators can best be found from loyal players. They are committed to your game and ideally know it inside and out. Rebels can also serve in this position (more on the reasons why later).

Remember: you need to always keep up communication with your players. Community managers don’t need to always stick to the script when it comes to this kind of communication either. Don’t be afraid to delve into other topics, like a player’s other hobbies for instance, but always keep a bit of distance. You don’t want a player to confuse you for their best friend as your role is to help facilitate friendly discussion. Maintaining this middle ground will earn you the respect of the players in your community.

The community manager has to be seen by players not only as an adviser, friend, and diplomat, but also as a trustworthy representative of the company. A community manager who consistently takes the side of players isn’t playing the role that they’re supposed to, which is to act as an intermediary of sorts between the company and the community. If a community manager is directed to a problem, their job is to find out who can fix it or inform the company about it so that they can assign somebody to do just that.

Our next type of player, Rebels, could be further divided into several subtypes and require special attention. It’s important not to ignore them or give them too much attention as this will only strengthen their resolve and their desire to try to turn public opinion against you and possibly the company as a whole. Now then we’ll take a look at some of the different types of rebels that you’re likely to find in your community.

Natural Rebels often love to argue and relish the opportunity to be the center of attention. They’re not necessarily game experts but often position themselves as such. Conflicts between them and other players are likely to break out over any given issue. With these players, it’s crucial that you behave calmly and act according to the rules of the forum. Don’t speak badly about these or any players, even if they lash out at you for some reason.

Next we have Expert Rebels. These are respected people from your community who have achieved some success in the game and as a result consider themselves more knowledgeable than others. However, it is important to always stay above the fray. Ensure that all players operate according to the rules of the forum and that there is no verbal harassment taking place.

There are also Rebels by Conviction. Most rebels of this type appear when the company makes a decision that is contrary to the wishes of a group of players. They enter into a dialogue with the forum administration, trying to find a compromise. If a compromise is not reached, they may try to turn the community against the company. These rebels often enjoy a certain level of prestige within the community, and could influence others to rebel as well. The key to dealing with these players is honesty. Tell them why that particular change that they dislike so much was made and try to reason with them by communicating the company’s position. If there is a petition with demands, try to read it and give a detailed response. After the company releases an official response, continue to engage in a dialogue with the players.

Do not abuse your power. You should only ban someone when all other options have been exhausted. It’s also important to remember to notify the offending player about which rules he or she violated.

Creative players are active in the game, the community, and in various informal groups. They prefer to operate with facts and expect detailed, fact-based answers. They ask questions only when they have exhausted other options. Be sure to give detailed responses to these users – nothing that doesn’t pertain to the immediate question or questions asked.

Experts are familiar with the game and are always interested in updates and the slightest changes in game mechanics. They do calculations, develop strategies, and love to teach others. As a result, they tend to occupy the top positions in their clans. Reputation is very important to these players, so even if they are wrong about something it is important to be sensitive when dealing with them. As always, it is important to carefully consider each sentence of their question or comment to ensure that you don’t miss anything.

Silent players make up the largest category of community members. These types of players pay attention to everything going on in the forum. They even pay attention to the posts that they didn’t write, noting replies from the community manager and other players. This just goes to show that even if you think you’re just replying to the author of the original post, you’re not – you’re replying to the entire community. So consider your answers and tone carefully – everything you post is public and can be read by anyone, so assume it will be read by everyone!

A few tips on how to respond to a player

  • Never respond to aggression with aggression.
  • Show respect for each community member.
  • Listen to what they say. A great source of the problems in other forums is due to a lack of understanding. Maybe the community manager can’t understand what a player wrote or maybe the player can’t understand what the community manager wrote. Read carefully and remember that replies should be clear, concise, and to the point.
  • Never speak badly about a player with another forum member. Moods change quickly and as life experience has taught us all, someone you don’t care for one day might be a friend the next. Besides, even if you think you’re telling another player something in confidence there is always the possibility that your words will be heard by others. Show kindness to everyone you deal with.

What should you do if players threaten a boycott?

The reasons for a boycott can be an assortment of different things, including the following:

  • Insufficient attention paid by the community manager to players.
  • Bugs and other in-game issues that have gone unaddressed, leading to a buildup of player frustrations.
  • Boredom at the forum, which can easily foster dissent as players seek for something to do. This is why it is so important that discussions take place and the forum is maintained.
  • A player’s feeling that the game is rigged against them in some way, possibly due to frustration after suffering a defeat.

Prevention

  • Communicate with players, showing an interest in the issues that they’re discussing and responding in a fast and effective way.
  • Announce updates and new features in advance to make players aware of any changes that might be coming. This can be done by conducting interviews, releasing teasers, detailing new features, and ensuring that forum moderators are kept abreast of what is coming.
  • Report on the bugs that have been eliminated or that are still in the process of being fixed.
  • Keep players entertained at all times by announcing contests, holding discussions, and other ways of getting them involved in the running of the forum.
  • Pay regular visits to all communities in the forum.

Your next step

  • Look around for trustworthy individuals who can reliably offer you support when needed.
  • Establish contact with any disgruntled players and address their concerns.
  • Understand and analyze the reasons for a boycott or player protest.
  • Be clear and detailed in your replies to player questions and comments.
  • Assess the damage and begin to restore order.

Boycotts are very often tests of strength. Only in critical situations will you see which moderators have the strength to weather boycotts and which give in easily. Don’t forget that rebels remain loyal fans of your game. Don’t make the mistake of singling them out as enemies.

Above all else, love your players and always treat them with respect. The ability to remain calm and composed in difficult situations is paramount. This is what makes a good community manager.

Vincent Van Gogh once said that “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”

Thanks for reading!