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Sep 22, 2006



All this is obsesively focused on commercial success. Is that the only thing that counts? Is it possible to foster community in a virtual world without a commercial entity presiding over it?


All this is obsesively focused on commercial success. Is that the only thing that counts? Is it possible to foster community in a virtual world without a commercial entity presiding over it?

I have a problem. My problem is that I don't actually care about money. I am an idealist, a dreamer, and I'd like to live in a world where no one buys anything because no one needs to. Unfortunately, this is a fantasy.

Commercial success represents survival, not dominance. Someone has to pay for the bandwidth, the electricity, the maintenance. You need money to do this. The money has to come from somewhere.

There are ways to foster community in a virtual world without a commercial entity presiding over it, of course. But these ways are difficult. You basically need a sponsor to pay the bills without getting in your way (too much). There are probably a few other ways. But the self-sufficient way (if your sponsor suddenly withdraws or folds... you're dead) means that the service you provide generates the income that pays the bills to continue the service. That's how civic systems generally work: it's called a tax.


Since when did "commercial" become a dirty word? As long as we're not talking about unfair or inasanely one-sided competition, the commercial marketplace does all kinds of good things in all kinds of areas, especially in entertainment related systems and platforms.

You often don't have a choice in stuff like health-care, transportation, environmental living conditions, utilities, etc. etc. But entertainment? Crap... Ain't nobody holding a gun to anybody's head and saying, "Hey! HEY!!! When we said 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' we meant YOU TOO, BUSTER!" Nobody's forcing anybody to play WoW vs. SL (which, last time I checked, you could play for free... hmmm...).

Is it possible to foster community in a virtual world without a commercial entity presiding over it? Sure. Ask yourself the same question, but substitute some other industry:

"Is it possible to foster community in a literary world without... etc." Yup. Get a whole bunch of people to do so, and we call it a library. You could do the same thing with a VW. If you got enough people together and said, "We will donate the time and money necessary to buy/rent the server space, hire the programmers, write the content, do the upkeep, etc. etc." you could have a free, public VW for whatever "public" you define. Either those who donated, or everyone. Your call.

Problem is, the marketplace is just much more damn efficient at doing that kind of thing than groups of well-meaning activists. I'm a liberal to the point of almost being a socialist, and I still favor the market in almost every field of human endeavor. The government should be in charge of some things, because competing for blood money (wars), reaping (health care), and lowest common denominator futures (education) seems to me to be a bad idea. But what kind of games do you think we'd get if the gubberment were in charge? Yoiks!

There are a number of Open Source VW projects going on right now. None are as slick as the commercial ones because... well... slick costs. Heck, if you don't mind using text and hyperlinks as your world-nodes, you can build your own world for free [PIMP ON] on my site, www.playbywiki.com [/PIMP OFF].

Now... I'm going to go back and take umbrage at Koster's remark, "Content isn't worth a damn." What a load. You can have the best community building team in the world. If you're humping a crap product, the people won't come to commune with you. Or, if we're talking Long Tail and micro-niches, sure... you can have a VW with 3 bright-eyed CMs and 17 players who are all gloriously happy. That's fine. Really. I think it's great that tech can now enable everybody to go and do their own thing. I know that some of the "communities" I participate in online are pretty damned small. But they also have some pretty damned good content, and that's why I'm there. Not because some CM is blowing smoke up my avatar.


Michael Chui wrote:

There are ways to foster community in a virtual world without a commercial entity presiding over it, of course. But these ways are difficult. You basically need a sponsor to pay the bills without getting in your way (too much).

Actually, no, you don't. There are hundreds of virtual worlds with strong communities (text MUDs primarily) run completely for free and paid for out of the pockets of the owners, purely as a hobby.



Matt's right. I think it would help this conversation to think of the economy in virtual worlds as involving much more than market exchange. Reciprocity and learning are constantly operating alongside, and interacting with, market exchange, and there is no shortage of examples in VWs and offline of societies where these other dimensions of the economy are robust enough to balance out the power of the market (although I think most VWs tend to be overridden by the market). It's not an either/or proposition of market or state; there are other forms of governance and distribution that VWs are well-poised to explore.


I completely agree, A great example of this is the relationship of the CM with 3rd party sites. I run a fair size MMO fansite. I do it as a hobby, and if you factor in the value of my time invested into it, the site probably loses money in the long run. It doesn't really matter to me, because I enjoy doing it, but one of the reasons I enjoy doing it is because of the relationship of our site with the CM as an intermediary between us (myself and other fansite staff) and the game. Yeah, i know that sounds quite odd thinking of him a liaison for between us and the game (specifically in relation to the fact that his mortgage is paid by said game), but that is what makes a him a great CM. Someone who filters, summarizes, and clarifies problems with an MMO for the developers, yet they also have to explain to the community steps taken within the game in relation to the problems reported. They have to be the perfect ambassador. It is a very tight rope to walk, and it takes a very special person to do that in my opinion, but I also think this specific game is starting to see that the CM is by far one of the most important position for the game, if not the most important position after launch. Unfortunately the game I have a fan site for is losing the best CM in the industry in my opinion, form what I understand not because of another company/game, but because of external factors. It, as a 3rd part operator, is a huge impact on me, specifically related to the intermediary for the game and my site. I am sure it will all be for better in the end, but it really does show me personally what power the CM wields with the online community, and if I were the head of a dev studio, I could easily see where it IS the most important position post launch, specifically for games that entail a lot of communication for updates. The specific game I am talking about I hope understands this, and will choose the next CM carefully. In short in relation to this post and as a great analogy, I do view this specific CM (or past CM as of today) as the Jerry Garcia of the game (band). The games brand and reputation was very much dependent upon him, when he leaves he will leave a gaping hole, it is certain the band will continue touring, as for ticket sales they have us deadheads locked, but for new listeners it might be some tough venues from here on out.


There have been many text worlds I've been on, or read about, or generally just admired from a distance where the CMs were the bastions, the focal points, of story telling. They were the wizened kings and caring queens (or whatever genre analogy you prefer) guiding the very feel of the world from seats very close to the pilot (to break to a different metaphor).

The CM as glorified forum monkey is a strange beast. Partly, I think, it says something about these games that so much time is spent on out of game experience here. What do forums successfully convey that might not be done in game? I'm not being rhetorical, I think its an interesting question that more game designers should be asking themselves... I'm curious how often "oh, a 'forum' thing on the main website" is a decision made by marketers...

Not that I think there aren't things that a forum brings to the table, but certainly an "official" forum needs more to its existence than to be a place for CMs to spend all of their time responding to complaints about the game.

For instance, I think the way that the "official forums" for Uru have always been full of cryptic story puzzles, very directly tying together the forum and game experience, is a very unique step in that direction. How well that sort of thing works with other MMO styles is a seperate matter altogether, I realize, but certainly food for thought...


In 2001 I set up a company specifically to provide professional community management services to online games, game services and MMOs, based on my previous experience helping to set up and run what was at the time one of the largest online game communities in the world.

Not a single MMO developer I spoke to in the following three years was even remotely interested in community management or customer support (both of which are, in my mind, linked), to the point where it became pointless from a commercial perspective to even consider speaking to any MMO or online game developer about community management. The one company we did deal with in terms of community management took every community and customer support suggestion we made and ignored them - even basic ones like providing information about the game *before* registration, not after (yes, really, you had to register for this pay to play online game before you could find out anything about the game).

Forgive my pessimism, but when it comes to Community Management, most of the large MMOs I've played, tested or looked at are all lacking any decent or integrated form of CM and CS. One company I spoke to - off the record - even admitted that their (hugely popular) MMO didn't have any CS tools built into the game at all, as CS and CM were extremely low priority.

Even Raph's comment: "What is of value is the relationship between the consumer and the producer" rankles me, as the primary reason for my giving up SWG was the appalling customer support and community management within the game, and the absolute lack of interest show by the company in the players within the game. I even used SWG as an example of how *not* to provide community management and customer support once, as the CM's and CSRs appeared to do everything they could to break the relationship between the consumer and the producer, even going so far as to abrogate responibility for large portions of support.

As a company we don't do Community Management anymore - it's too enervating. When I play a massively multiplayer game, I no longer have any expectation of receiving community or customer support, and if something goes wrong, I don't even bother trying to get help - I just move on, and if it gets too bad, switch game.

No current MMO, in my view, has anything close to a serious commitment to community management from the company providing the MMO, something distinct from games which actually have community seperate from the provider, which is a great shame.


I disagree.

Somebody always has to, right?

Well, others have already written about how CS makes absolutely no difference in terms of customer retention and how CS can never be good enough. Since it'll never be good enough, one has to wonder why anyone would bother to spend money on it all.

Secondly... Community Managers? Please, please give me a break. The only players CMs have any relationship with are the "catass" type who troll forums during the time they're meant to be working or when the game server is down. The enthusiasts. The ones who, if there was no official forum would go make their own forum to whine and be stupid on (and very often do even if an official forum exists).

I don't see (for example) the Rolling Stones as having any relationship with their fans at all. They certainly don't consult with fans about songwriting decisions.

I think the "interactive medium" bit has gone to some peoples' heads. The consumption may be interactive. The creation is not. Let consumers consume - don't get anywhere near letting them influence the creation process lest all we end up with is McWoW and EQKing.


In context, the statement means "the fair market value of content is asymptotically approaching zero, as far as consumers are concerned, simply because content is increasingly everywhere and increasingly cheaper."

Even Raph's comment: "What is of value is the relationship between the consumer and the producer" rankles me, as the primary reason for my giving up SWG was the appalling customer support and community management within the game, and the absolute lack of interest show by the company in the players within the game.

I think that for a while, SWG actually had the best community management in the industry. Particularly in the run-up to launch and for a period after launch.


(trying to fix the ital bomb, but we may need Ted to do it from the author interface...)


Fixed, apparently. :-)


Jerry Lives!

Great insight, Raph.

These companies need to spend more on community managers, appreciate the role more, and upgrade its status within the company with the programmers, who sneer at them, and with the fans, who abuse them. They shouldn't be wisened kings and queens but, well...community managers.


As anyone who attended the AGC panel with Patricia Pizer, Betsy Book, and myself will know, there are those of us in development who believe strongly in the importance of community. For those of you who didn't catch the panel, let me re-iterate some of the things I said there (my apologies to everyone who heard this the first time around).

I believe that MMOG communities are black holes. At a panel on how to best use third party fan/news/community sites to your game's advantage, at AGC the day after my panel, someone from the audience stood up and said that the reason that players are so demanding of developers is that players don't understand the development process. "If we could teach the players more about the process," said this person (whose name I didn't catch -- I had to run out in the middle of the panel, but no, not because I was offended, for those who were wondering! ;) ), "they would understand and they would stop demanding so much."

I couldn't disagree with this statement more. Getting back to my black hole comment, I truly believe that it doesn't matter how much attention, or access, or information we give to the community as a whole, or to individual players, they will always want more. It's an insatiable beast, and the more we feed it the more entitled the players feel. They pay good money for this game! They pay our salaries!! We must explain to them why we made that change! We must get their approval on all changes before we make them!!

IMO, that path leads to nothing but pain. We end up kowtowing to the most devoted, most neurotic 5% of the playerbase, ignoring the vast majority of players who will never post to the official message boards. I think that we should restructure our relationship to the community, especially in terms of post-launch. I definitely believe in the importance of the community, in the importance of respecting the community, and getting feedback from them. However, I do not think that the community is best served by official message boards run by the company. We are spending too much time with the neurotic 5%, and not nearly enough time with the third-party community sites, the experienced guilds, and the social mavens.

We need the developers to be able to communicate upcoming changes, with help from both Marketing and Community Relations, in such a way that attention isn't drawn away from the developer's comments by replies from the 5% (perhaps through a Developer Blog with the comments disabled?). We need to solicit input from all players in a way that encourages constructive feedback, but doesn't allow them to use our resources to air grievances publicly. We need to search out guilds who have a strong understanding of the gameplay mechanics, and lurk on their forums to gather reactions to recent or upcoming changes to the game. And above all, we need to fight the sense of entitlement that nearly every MMOG to date has fostered, while encouraging the growth of the community and cultivating a reputation of valuing and genuinely liking the players (imagine that!).

I also strongly believe that all this argues for stronger, more professional Community Relations representatives, rather than any form of downgrading of the community team. I've seen situations where the development team sees the Community Relations team as the enemy; where communication between these two groups is none existent; and where the Community Relations representatives are unable to do anything but apologize for the actions of the development team. All of these situations are harmful to the business as a whole, and management needs to be as aware of these issues as they are of all other communication and pipeline issues within the company.

As a Designer and an advocate for MMOG community issues, I take a lot of my cues from Disney: do not have official message boards, listen to the larger community rather than the vocal community (ie, Winnie the Pooh vs. Mr. Toad), and always make sure your representatives to the public are in a good mood.


Having no Internet at home means I'm slow on the response...

Actually, no, you don't. There are hundreds of virtual worlds with strong communities (text MUDs primarily) run completely for free and paid for out of the pockets of the owners, purely as a hobby.

I probably should've mentioned that you can sponsor yourself. That IS what I meant. To me, a sponsor means someone who puts money into an operation without expecting a monetary return; it doesn't have to mean another person.


"All this is obsesively focused on commercial success. Is that the only thing that counts? Is it possible to foster community in a virtual world without a commercial entity presiding over it?"

Actually, the only community folks I know who aren't essentially in it because they'd be doing it anyway and are just lucky enough to get paid are the ones who see it as a career path to marketing (go figure). To stay in community work, you pretty much just have to love creating positive social connections. The money's just for bills and things.

My point is really that most no-one else (in the game development business) is paying attention- and that there are some very powerful and potentially valuable reasons that people might. I'd even argue that a really good community manager can shape the culture of the community well enough to avoid Samantha's "black hole" syndrome- though the proactive approach to community that she advocates is something I'm very much in agreement with. Or to say it again: folks do this work because they value and are good at creating positive social dynamics, and, if supported, can help create a positive experience around games and virtual worlds (especially) that greatly enhance the user experience.

I suppose I'd want to go even further, and say that one of the primary reasons people dedicate themselves to this wacky profession- or vocation- is the belief that positive social interactions, connections, bonds, meaningful exchanges between individuals, generally have a genuinely positive effect on those involved. Or to put it another way, I think there are very real reasons people become as passionately attached to their communities as they do, from being "On Tour" with the Dead (oooh, that took me back!) to hacking Mplayer to the insane dedication it takes to run a good fan site- or to run privately hosted Uru Live servers after the game has been shut down, long enough to demonstrate to a new publisher that the product has a very passionate consumer base (GameTap has resurrected Uru Live, as it were, the Myst based MMO that Ubisoft took through Beta but didn't launch).

I can't help but really see this stuff in somewhat revolutionary terms: the dawning realization that good business can very much rest on solid, interactive, long-term relationships with your customers... Communities of passion have had very positive stuff going on for some time, and I can't help but think that if business decisions are made with meaningful input from the customer base, some "better" decisions might get made.


I think that most of the comments here are based on the conclusion that by saying 'Content isn't worth a damn,' Mr. Koster meant that content isn't worth a damn, period. Note the punctuation.

That's one interpretation, but I think that when he says this and continues to say that what matters is the relationship between the consumer and the producer he's saying that Current content isn't worth a damn. What matters is the producer's ability to react to their target consumer and tweak content appropriately.

I disagree with that because you have to start somewhere. In the words of Steve Jobs, 'You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.' You need somewhere to start and you need somewhere to aim, and then you make a 1.0 version based on your interpretation of that. Current content matters, but it isn't important in the long run.

I do agree that what's important is picking a consumer to listen to and then tweaking the experience to fit them. Community Managers, as stated before in these comments, act as ambassadors to your target audience and interpreters for your company.


There is a dynamic balance between content and relationship, and between listening to users and treating them as designers.

In the first case, you won't bring users into your game if you don't have some content. How much content is needed? No one really knows. Thus far most games have aimed very high -- the largest worlds, the latest graphics engines, the most armor combinations, etc. A few, such as Puzzle Pirates, have made a virtual of starting off with less content but keeping a (mostly) positive relationship with the players, building on both over time. Personally I find the latter strategy more appealing: it's less risky and moves the focus off of whiz-bang content that's going to seem really cool to the users for a few hours at most. I suspect next-gen MMOGs (not the multi-gigabyte content-heavy ones that are about to come out) are going to start minimizing initial content for strategic, risk, and relationship reasons.

On the other side of the content balance, online games depend on the continuing relationship with the users more, I think, than any other entertainment medium. Thus far mostly that relationship has been based on the content itself ("give us much more of the same, please" has been how users' requests have been interpreted), which has enabled us to deflect our attention from the service-oriented aspect of the busisness back to the more tangible, tractable part (and one well understood by those executives who are used to making single-player, fire-and-forget, all-content games).

The other balance that's been mentioned here is how you listen to your users. On the one hand you need to listen to what people say about your game; you're not going to find all the issues yourself, or be able to see the game with fresh eyes (something many developers and execs underestimate, thinking they can 'unknow' what they already know and be an effective stand-in for a new player). On the other hand, if you listen only to the most vocal users -- especially those you've given a free bully pulpit on your own message boards -- you're going to end up catering to a niche of a niche; a small and likely unsatisfiable minority.

Moreover, users aren't designers (in any field, but especially in games). It's been said that users "can't imagine what they can't imagine." They'll ask for -- sometimes demand -- exactly the same thing they already have because it's what they know, not because it's what works. So the danger in listening to them is not only that you'll not deliver something they'll like, but that they'll first feel listened to ("hey they're using my idea!") and then will see their hopes dashed when what's delivered really doesn't change things at all. If as a developer you sink into sullen silence at that point, that's when the users begin to feel spurned and the relationship really goes downhill -- again, at least for that highly vocal minority.

Effective community management to me means, in part, navigating the waters of what people are saying (and not just on the boards), how they view the product, how new people find it and others stay with it (or not) -- being an internal advocate for the players overall, but without becoming a buddy of the uber-guilds or an adversary to the developers.

I don't believe any of the major games in our industry do an even passable job of this today. It's an incredible challenge, and the aspect of game development and operation most outside of our typical comfort zone as developers. There are excellent analogous examples from other parts of the entertainment industry -- Disney first and foremost, as Samantha mentioned. To see the dynamic balance of content and relationship in play in that part of the industry, spend a day at Disneyland and a day at another theme park and see which one you're more likely to return to. If you answered one of the others because of the roller coasters or something like that, you aren't representative of the average consumer by a long shot -- as Raph implied, it's not the content that makes for repeated sales.

At the same time, we're once again in that situation where the old rules don't quite work here. We aren't making theme parks, exactly, nor single-player games. Just as the development for online games changes dramatically from the paths used in other games, so too the marketing, positioning, branding, and management (including but not limited to community management) of these games also has to change.

No one does this well yet. Someone will. And then, as with World of Warcraft's fast dominance of the subscription space, we'll all slap our foreheads and say "of course! It's obvious -- now that we've seen it."


Great comments Mike, and your Disney mention is a great clarification: establishing a relationship with your customers doesn't really mean handing over design to them. Disney certainly doesn't let consumers design, if anything they're an example (which I've used here, oddly enough) of a community based around content which is created from the top down. However, they are very active in managing that community, and in guiding the culture to create positive experiences for the participants. In doing all of the support, communication, and relationship building associated with community management, I think the same thing is happening, often below the radar, in the online sphere as well. Whether they define it as such or not, most community managers are actively working with the various participants to create positive long-term relationships. I think recognition of the importance of the community is the basic value, both to the community and to the developer team.


Effective community management to me means, in part, navigating the waters of what people are saying (and not just on the boards), how they view the product, how new people find it and others stay with it (or not) -- being an internal advocate for the players overall, but without becoming a buddy of the uber-guilds or an adversary to the developers.

An interesting view, considering that the uber guilds are the ones with the members most likely to stay on as subscribers if you keep catering to them.

Average Players (people not in uber guilds)obviously have a higher churn rate, in part because they include the people who get bored with any game and eventually move on. Because all MMORPGs, the most successful MMOs today, are already based on rewarding players for time investment (and because players don't seem to mind), it seems to me like the MMO predilection to put people into Uber Guilds is a perfectly reasonable one. The consumers have proven by playing time-rewarding games based around social interaction that they want more time rewarding social interaction, and the easiest way to give them more of that is through guild catering.

The issue of Solo Players vs. Uber Guilds in MMOs is an excellent one (I should hope so, as it's been argued ad infinitum), but from a developer perspective is largely resolved. Uber Guilds promote long term players just like rewarding time spent in-game does, and so from the company's perspective catering to Uber Guilds is community management.

It seems to me like the only two goals of the company behind any MMO focused on community management should be to a) Make it as easy as possible to create an uber guild and b) Give the guilds more of the same.

As has been pointed out, people on the general forums are generally the exhibitionist and unpleasable minority (they are, after all, ranting out their concerns to millions of perfect strangers along with thousands of other people just like them) and a better indication of popular sentiment can be derived from the message boards of the Uber Guilds.

Also, I'm of the opinion that engineers should be users. If they aren't making something they'd use, they shouldn't be the ones making it. And if they are making something they would use and it's a Virtual World, it stands to reason that they'd use it. And if they use it often and the game is designed to facilitate the creation of Uber guilds, they'll probably be in one.

That unnecessarily long chain of reasoning leads to the totally inconclusive conclusion that if you accept all of my original premises (takes a breath), your developers will be in a position to understand why you're doing everything you do (if you choose to explain it to them) and will not be in an adversarial relationship with you.

It seems to me like the most effective community management would be making all your subscribers get into Uber Guilds and catering to them. And indeed, that is the trend.

In part? What else does effective community management mean to you?


This Article corrected me: One of WoW's main appeals is toward the more casual gamer.

Which begs the question: do PvPers (read:Twitch Gamers) need community management? Are the soloers manageable? Or should they be left with the dregs of the Uber Guilds in an MMO environment. WoW's success seems to say no, but then again they are often accused of catering to uber guilds these days.


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MMO's are a service, not a product. In service, your 'face' to the customer is essential. For MMO's, that's made up of many things, but what many players have the most direct interaction with is the CMs and the GMs. That 5% that post on on the official boards is vocal, annoying, often hard to please, but THEY CARE. Now, perhaps they care to see you go down in flames or care to gain an unfair advantage, but they are motivated to do something beyond what the more passively consuming remainder of the market does. That's power, for good or for ill.

One thing I learned in marketing that applies here was the 5 stages of customer satisfaction. Apostles, satisfied, neutral, unsatisfied, and terrorists. Anybody who bothers to post on official boards tends to fall into or near the apostle or terrorist groups. Apostles are wonderful. They spread your advertising message farther and better than you ever could and they do it for free. They care. They communicate. They create buzz, and they are very hard to make but also very valuable. It takes a lot to lose an apostle. Making them is the goal of relationship marketing.

As you run down the stages, you get less active customers and more passive consumers. It's much much easier to lose a satisfied customer than it is an apostle, but the difference between the satisfied customer and the neutral one isn't nearly as large. All 3 of the middle stages are prime targets for the competition, as they are all fairly passive consumers that aren't that hard to lure away.

Finally, you get to terrorists. They people are often ones that once cared, that used to be near or in the apostle category. Now they hate you. And they are far more damaging than apostles are good. People love you some of the time, but they hate you all of them time. They spread bile and acid at every chance, and due to the same human nature that makes terrorists tend to work harder than apostles those attacks tend to get more attention than the apostles' support. Slinging mud gathers attention faster than singing praises. Ignore the 5% that yell and scream? Bad idea, that noise gets through to those that don't play the game and if it is overwhelmingly negative it makes you lose customers before you ever have a chance to gain them.

Everybody who posts more than a few times on a MMO's official boards has a greater than average chance of either starting or being pushed into those two active camps. A lot of companies have to spend millions finding out who cares about their product and who merely uses it. MMOs can get it almost for free. Ignoring the fraction of your customer base that goes out of its way to say something isn't wise. Yes, many are morons, attention seekers, chronic whiners, or trolls. They are still your customers, and if you expect to see a forum full of worthless fools that's probably what you'll get regardless of what the reality is.

Furthermore, don't forget that in that active fraction there is a LOT of brainpower. A dev might be thinking about how the guts of the game works 60 hours a week or more, so the company might well put in 1200 man-hours a week. Hell, let's assume WoW has a big team. 500 people, 30,000 man-hours a week. A just an hour each, the player base puts in 6 million man-hours a week. Even if just .1% of that experience is harnessable to the benefit of the company that's still 6,000 man-hours a week. 20% of your dev time that could be useful. I know people, yes plural, that put in 40 hours a week. Don't be so quick to sneer and assume they are all useless idiots. Not only does the player base have a massive time spent advantage, but they have it all with how the game actually works. I've seen lots of Devs, from basic mucks on up, insist that things are different from how the actually are because they deal with the theory of how parts of the game are supposed to be working rather than dealing with how the game actually works as a whole. I'll point to the WoW 'miss' rate way back as an easy example. Harnessing your customers' spare brainpower is an interesting topic in modern business, just check IBM's innovation sessions or the Sep 25 issue of Business Week.

While you have to keep in mind that not everybody posts on the forums, and not everybody even reads them, trying to justify ignoring what they say because 'it's not the larger majority' or 'that's not the REAL community' is asking for it. Any teacher can tell you that if one person is willing to voice a question or a comment, chances are good 5 more were thinking along the same lines. Any forum base is a distorted reflection of the 'total community', but keep in mind that the 'distorted' part is as important as the 'reflection' part. You don't think the uberguilds and the social mavens post on the official forums? Some do. Some don't. How do you tell which is which? This problem is compounded by the primitive forums that most MMOs use. And considering that the forums seem to be about the only tool companies use to communicate with their customer base, the neglect those forums get is very puzzling.

I do think that the CM team needs to get more attention. All the interaction with the company that many players ever see comes straight from the CMs and GMs, and when those CMs come off looking like they are stalling, out of the loop, or outright hostile it looks really, really bad. Talk to any upscale service business about what happens when your front line representatives to the customers get angry, uninformative, or provide wrong answers. No MMO I have seen yet has managed a very good customer relationship management program. The CMs always come off as angry, clueless, powerless, or out of the loop in fairly short order. Anybody who aims to beat WoW is going to have to address community management better than Blizzard did, as that is one of their biggest weak points.

I do think that official forums are a good idea. Lacking them means that you are limited to communicating with your customers by much more limited means. Other forums, while useful, are run by other people, with other mods, with other rules, and for other goals. Your use of those forums will be constrained by those factors, possibly to your detriment. Furthermore, if those 3rd party forums say things you don't agree with, will you instead just dismiss them as more of that 'unpleasable 5%'? In addition, I see a number of assumptions about the 'average player' or the 'average consumer' that aren't substantiated by much of anything, even in my own post. There seems to be a general lack of knowledge about player bases that represents a treasure trove of useful information. Are you sure that the comments of your forum base don’t reflect your larger player base? 5%, are you sure about that number? How many raiders do you really have?

And of course the players want more. It is called progress. Business are driven by it. We want more, we want better, we want new! It is also called opportunity. When people say that, you have an opportunity to give them more, better, new and make more money and get more satisfied customers. It's not a black hole. There's a steady stream of money flowing out of it and into your pocket.


Another perspective to think about Community Managers is to view them as supernodes and to view content as data that can be accessed. Of the two, the node is more important than the content.

The supernodes facilitate, navigate, and provide other useful services. It asks as a catalyst, an amplifier, a regulator, a multiplier. etc.

Also, Jessica Mulligan already pointed out the importance of customer service function and the under-investment.

Lastly, another concept to ponder is Rhizome and the application of multiple, non-hierarchical flow of content (genes, cultures, food, etc.). Essentially how flat non-hierarchial social network works.

I'm new to the concept, so I don't have much information. But I do know that it's something to explore further from an applied perspective.



"It seems to me like the most effective community management would be making all your subscribers get into Uber Guilds and catering to them. And indeed, that is the trend.

In part? What else does effective community management mean to you?"

Posted by: Peter S. | Sep 24, 2006 12:46:53 PM


"This Article corrected me: One of WoW's main appeals is toward the more casual gamer.

Which begs the question: do PvPers (read:Twitch Gamers) need community management? Are the soloers manageable? Or should they be left with the dregs of the Uber Guilds in an MMO environment. WoW's success seems to say no, but then again they are often accused of catering to uber guilds these days."

My thoughts are that the Uber guilds are passionate- and possibly in part because we understand their play style (in part because they've told us about it) and as a result, we've built better tools and technologies for them to have positive interactive experiences. We must appreciate passionate players, and we really do want to do what we can to create more- in that play style or others.

For example, why isn't there a stadium in WoW? Where more casual players to come hang out, watch a battlegrounds fight, and chat? Or some sort of craft guild? The social options that are there are best at supporting the play of hard core players.

So I think there should be options to facilitate the social experience of most users, from hard core to casual. Similarly, the CMs should be paying attention to this spectrum- building relationships through a variety of communication paths- ideally supported by the rest of the development team. This may mean new technologies or design features, but will hopefully create a much richer, and much more consistent, player experience. So, the answer to both of your questions is yes... see what I mean about community managers and positive social dynamics?



I have to admit that I am floored by the use of Disney as an appropriate model. Disney engages in purely broadcast practices. Its control over things like its theme park environments are not examples of community relations (something for which Disney has a long-standing negative reputation); they are examples of literally management, designed purely to extract dollars.

Most particularly, it is a method premised on minimizing user input and contribution, pretty much from top to bottom. Is that the model we want for virtual worlds?


Actually, there is a stadium in WoW. Nobody goes there.

I envisioned a battleground where everyone had stock armor/weapons (army issue) and it was up to your team to be better than theirs. But the Uber Guildies say 'We spent time getting this armor, we want to use it to CRUSH these guildless, godless curs!'

I don't see a reason for the devs to cater to the casual crowd, as even if you do get a ton of casual people the ROI sucks. Make a good skill-based PvP system that you have to continually tweak for balance, or make a new dungeon you fire and forget and yet lasts forever.

The way I see it, leveling up in WoW is for casual players. Post-60 is for Guilds. Seems like it works.


Disney is not purely broadcast by any means. Most of their customer/community management is done person-to-person, as with any MMOG. As for "extracting dollars" you could say the same thing about any MMO: every feature there is designed to extract dollars by getting people to play and to come back.

In Disney's terms, they have armies of people connected to their attractions (including theme parks) who make every aspect of your approach, reservation, arrival, duration of stay, issues, billing, special requests, departure, post-departure, and eventual return as positive as possible. There sare some direct analogues to MMO customer service and community management, and they run circles around the best in our industry (or most others). This level of management -- both at the individual and community level (e.g. with their Disney Vacation Club) is why they are able to charge premium prices and yet have phenomenal growth and retention of repeat customers.

There are of course many differences between Disney's community relations and that needed for an MMOG. But we should look to them for ways to do what is necessary for MMOs and apply them as we can -- IMO there's no solid example of how to do this well within our own industry.

User input is a dicey thing, as I noted above: users are emphatically not designers. I'm not saying we should not listen to our users by any means, but right now most MMO developers' methods are primitive, hit-and-miss affairs where small numbers of often shrill, idiosyncratic users are given disproportionate weight. I am not a fan of democratic design by any means. Unless you're going to throw open your world construction to your users as Second Life has done, I don't believe they're the best arbiters of what makes for a coherent, cohesive, engaging design.

FWIW, Disney is far from being a perfect company, or even in many instances a fun place to work. But in terms of managing expectations and assuring a positive experience for millions of customers, day in and day out, there is a great deal we can learn from them to apply to our own particular market needs in MMOs.


All of your examples are of customer service; are we really at the point where we equate customer service and community relations? I agree that the industry has a lot to learn from other sources regarding customer service.

But in terms of relating to, interacting with, and responding in some fashion to, a community, be it of customers or fans or both, I actually think that the games biz as a whole, and the MMO world in particular, are trendsetters, not laggards. Again, most communication with most mainstream media companies -- Disney included -- is unidirectional.

Let's not fall into the trap that thinking that community relations is about "managing expectations and assuring a positive experience," please... you can do that without talking to the community at all.


Community Management is not Customer Service. Two different groups with different goals. Customer Service is individual interaction with a goal of resolving a specific, usually short term issue. Community Management is all Macro-Commuication, with the end goal of encouraging players to play our games longer.

It is also not marketing, although effective community management should work closely with marketing.

The current community management role, in my opinion is broken. The forum moderator, voice of the player is antiquated and served mostly to placate the masses. I feel that we are at a fork in the road and the industry can continue to lump Community Management in as marketing or CS, looking to keep the players quiet so that the developers do not have to waste time chatting with them, or we can move forward.
What is that direction? In my opinion it revolves around 4 things;
Informing the players. Community Management should be your news team. They should keep the players updated on everything.
Educating your players. The Community Team is your front line of education (other than player education). They should not only teach how to play the games, but how processes work, why things are the way they are, and this CAN be done without giving the players an expectation of control over design processes.
Entertain the player. A good CM team should be working on adding additional entertainment value for the players. This can be in the form of contests, promotions, events, anything that adds some fun outside of the game and leads into number 4 on my list.
Promoting Socialization. At SOE (yes the evil empire) we have a motto for our CM group, Bringing Gamers Together. To me this is the crux of what we should be doing. Providing ways for players to meet each other, promoting grouping, introducing players to each other and strengthening those community bonds which they build regardless of what support we give them. This applies to our internal gamers (developers) as well. We should be highlighting those folks, getting them out there, interacting with the players. There is plenty of Rock Star love to go around, it should not all be reserved for we community folk.

Just my opinion. =) Please beg to differ.


FWIW, my examples really aren't only of customer service; there is real community relations there too. I prefer not to spell out the connection more specifically at this time though.

It's true that MMOs are blazing new trails in the degrees and ways in which we interact with our customers -- I just believe we're doing so badly (in general), not taking advantage of the lessons learned by others who have blazed similar trails before us.

Let's not fall into the trap that thinking that community relations is about "managing expectations and assuring a positive experience," please... you can do that without talking to the community at all.

Yes, you can. But the mirror trap is that of believing that community management necessarily features intimate conversation with the community at large -- once you get above a few thousand customers, such contact with "the community" is an illusion.

Brenlo wrote: Community Management is all Macro-Commuication, with the end goal of encouraging players to play our games longer.

What you wrote -- quoted above and your four focus areas -- is part of the reason why I keep bringing up Disney -- for most of their products and services, no one does remotely as good a job at this macro-level, multi-directional, one-to-one and many-to-many communication as they do. (If you see it as broadcast and unidirectional, you're missing a big part of the picture.)


Hmm. I honestly cannot think of one single instance of anything like what I'd call community relations from Disney, and I have two kids squarely in their target demo. Seriously. I'd love some examples.

I fully concede they are fantastic at marketing to us. But I have never seen Disney do anything because a community wanted it that way except via massive outcry (as in, for example, when they put Japanese language tracks on the releases of Ghibli movies).

In fact, I cannot think of even a case of Disney saying something to us even on a macro-broadcast level, outside of standard branding and PR exercises.

I'm going to come out to some degree on the opposite side and say that in the end community relations is about making each individual user feel like they are a member of a community. It's not about keeping them paying month after month -- it's about keeping them in the orbit, so that even if they leave they might later return. In the end, it's not about relationships to masses of people, because you can't have a relationship with a mass of people. It's about building the personal relationship, a user at a time.

Saying that this doesn't scale is belied by examples ranging from Apple to Southwest Airlines.


Just to clarify, I think adroit community management is valuable in both content creation paradigms, top-down and user created. I think some of the most powerful and transformative online experiences can come from collaborative creativity, though that may not be the kind of experience most users look for. Similarly, last time I was at Disneyland, one of my chief pleasures was thinking about some of the community design I was seeing there. In particular, I love the notion that much of the social interaction at Disneyland is bouyed by an ongoing presence of the laughter and delight of children, sort of as a common background thread that affected the mood, and thus the interactions, of all attendees. I'm not sure whether or not this was design or circumstance, though I have been told that Walt was very much a believer in designing social experiences. Whether or not that's happening now, dunno.

The effect seems quite real, however. Anyway thanks all for such insightful elaborations on this topic.

PS as to the discussion about Disney as community management, for what it's worth, I think they're clearly doing some things that positively influence social interactions between participants, and clearly not doing some of the more interactive one-on-one relationship-building MMO CM's do. Is this a question of how we define these terms?


I think it is. Because to my mind, the social design of the spaces in Disney is fantastic and groundbreaking and we have much to learn from it, but is a separate discipline entirely from community relations.


Thanks for the comments Raph, but I disagree at least partially. Neither Southwest or Apple is a valid comparison to what Community Managers in an MMO are faced with.

Southwest does a great job of creating influencers, of that there is no doubt. However, they have thousands of customer touchpoints throughout the US. One passenger may deal with as many as 20 different Southwest employees on one trip, all showing their great customer friendly attitude. We have one community person, dealing with hundreds of thousands of passengers =) I feel it is an apple to oranges comparison. Are there lessons to be learned? You bet! One of the more important lessons is that even the person driving the plane should take time to be courteous and friendly to the passengers. That no one is above treating the customers with respect.

Apple is a totally different beast entirely and while I know they have a fanatical following, I am not aware of there community efforts to drive their fanaticism. Please send me some links where I can read up on them.

As for a Disney Community building effort, Disney Pin Trading at the parks. Huge following, supported by the park, they even have cast members wear pins just to trade. They have special pin trading newsletters and events. They are as fanatical and loyal as any Mac user and they love Disney and the Disney experience, while being a part of the pin trading community. There are other Disney initiatives as well but this was the most prominent off the top of my head.


Ron, I have to disagree that Disney doesn't do the "interactive one-on-one relationship-building" thing. I have a collection of tiny moments that I've had with Disneyland and Disney World "Cast Members" (the park employees who are seen by the public), starting with my first visit when I was four years old and continuing on through today. To list a couple of examples: the Cast Members telling me "Welcome home" when I return to Disneyland or one of the Disney World hotels. Snow White coming up behind my husband and I when we were watching the newborn ducklings in one of the ponds outside of Tomorrowland, and completely in character counting seven ducklings, then giggling and saying "Oh, too many for me!" before continuing on her way to her autograph signing shift. A Disney Vacation Club Cast Member spending about a half an hour with my husband and I just a few weeks ago, telling us all kinds of trivia about the park. During a family trip several years ago, a Cast Member in full Goofy costume escorting one of my siblings to the restroom and then back to our table at dinner...

I could list experiences like this for hours. A lot of the Disney experience is about the design of the park, and I will admit that I love how friendly and cheerful their Customer Service phone representatives are. But things like Snow White pausing at the door to go backstage, as her shift was ending, just to lean down and give my three year old brother the kiss he had followed her for? What is that if not interactive, one-on-one relationship building? The above-and-beyond personal experiences Disney gave me as a child made a life-long customer out of me -- it's no mistake that I got engaged at Disney World, returned there for my honeymoon, and now am the proud owner of an annual pass to Disneyland.

In my experience, there is a section of the Disney experience that isn't design, or customer service, or marketing. There's no real way to quantify the effects of tiny things like the hot, tired Cast Member at the front gate of Disneyland smiling at me and greeting me by name as she swipes my annual pass. And yet it does make a difference. That is what I mean when I talk about Disney's community management.


Okay, one last Disney-flogging post and then I'm going to take off the Mickey ears for awhile.

It's interesting to me that many people don't see or understand the many overlapping communities that exist within the Disney customer base. I feel a bit like I do when talking to "online community" people more familiar with text-based discussion groups who don't quite believe that these online games actually have communities in them too -- often more vibrant than the ones in the discussion groups.

There are a number of points of Walt Disney's design philosophy that bear directly on community design and management. For example, he said "shared experiences are compelling experiences." There is underestimated value in having exciting, moving, frightening experiences in a shared environment: they become more memorable and more fun. This has important consequences for game design and community management.

Similarly, Disney said, "you can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality." This applies to everyone involved, from production and management to (especially) community managers, however they're defined. And while that's a broad statement, it's one that too many game developers fail to understand and put into practice.

Finally, it's interesting to me that one of the Disney hallmarks -- in physical and social designs and in their interactions with their customer communities -- is the principle of "infinite detail." No item is too small to be tweaked, no gesture too insignificant between a cast member and guest. One case study quoted Disney imagineer John Hench as saying that the secret to their success was "attention to infinite detail, the little things, the minor, picky points that others just don't want to take the time, money or effort to do." This is something missing in most MMOs, and yet should sound an awful lot like the "culture of polish" at Blizzard described at AGC by Rob Pardo.

I know that from a traditional MMO development and deployment POV, this all seems fairly abstract and far removed from community management, but it's not: it's all of one piece, or it's worthless. This culture and these principles have to be set firmly in place by management and production, and carried through design and development, marketing, support, and community relations. Otherwise you're left trying to "manage" a community that's been inadequately considered during development, and which hasn't been the focal point all along. As they used to say about usability, slathering this on at the end is like putting lipstick on a cow.


Thanks Samantha... point taken. Though I will say also that those experiences don't sound like they were building one-to-one relationships, as much as they were one-to-one interactions, however magical. I'll agree that they're not in those other categories, though there's a piece of community management that's not being covered there. I can exchange meaningful information about the game or virtual world experience with members of a community I'm working with, on a meta level, as it were, which I've not seen at Disney (though that doesn't mean it doesn't exist). In the process we're also building one-to-one relationships, and encouraging that in others.

And I thought I had a good time... (and isn't it interesting how appreciative of Disney we all are, regardless of our differences about how to talk about it?)


And to Mike, thanks, I'm raving here about the points you make and how they're stated. Regardless of where one draws the line of where community management actually begins or ends, Disney does an outstanding job of creating a culture, of valuing that at every step, and in believing that will make a difference in the end user's experience (surprize). I'd argue that that's a core dynamic that's happening in our online communities- the creation of culture- but usually it's driven in a much more "random" fashion, as it were, often by the loudest. Culture forms dynamically as a point and as a product of our interactions, and consistently being aware of that can make a huge difference on the cultural values a community comes to exhibit, especially as a product of community leadership. And certainly, there's a world of potential value, to community and host, in recognizing these dynamics and supporting a positive implementation or response to them.


As I read this growing and very interesting thread, it occurs to me that we are actually discussing two different issues. Community Relations and Creating Evangelists/Influencers. Creating influencers is an important function of Community Relations, however it is not the sum of their responsibility. Every strong Community person (insert non-standardized titles here =)should be targeting key people to convert into influencers. But Let's face it folks, with the size of our audiences, it is nearly impossible to give every customer that personal touch, to convert each and every one without the staff of Disyney, Southwest or Apple. These companies have a corporate culture of creating influencers that extends from the top to the bottom of the organization. They have thousands of employees all ready and willing to make sure your experience with their company is the best it can be. That is where the Southwest's of the world and the Disney's have excelled, in creating influencers. We can argue whether they actually practice community relations all day, but it is clear that they know how to create passionate fans and in large part that is due to vast number of employees that affect your experience.

We, on the other hand have a handful of resources, which is continually growing smaller as companies move away from existing Customer Support models (Hell, if you followed Gordon Walton's panel, the future may very well lead to no more CS) Which leaves an even smaller number of smiling, happy folks to ensure that the customer experience is "Dyn O Mite". So how do you propose that a team of 3( as is the case of the SWG Community team as an example) grant that personal touch to a few hundred thousand customers?

I do not believe we can. I do however believe that thru good community management, we can get the players to do that for us. Targeting specific users to create evangelists and enabling them to spread the gospel is a good direction. Providing them with resources to host their own mini events, much as Adult Swim does with their College program can work wonders. Inviting influencers out and catering to them on the weekends is something we have found has a lot of positive traction. Make sure you spend time and resources determining who your real influencers are first, otherwise it is a wasted effort.

When Raph was still with us, here in the great collective, we were working on some very cool social network tools. These tools showed some surprising trends, for example on any one server in one of our MMO's there were only 5 to 10 real hubs of communication. Amazing when you consider the number of players on a given server, those are the folks we need to be giving the personal attention to, and that is the kind of support we need to get the job done.


Raph said: "I think that for a while, SWG actually had the best community management in the industry. Particularly in the run-up to launch and for a period after launch."

My wife and i spent huge amounts of time on both sides of SWG's prelaunch period and postlaunch 'honeymoon' in research for Smartbomb (we profiled them).

From what we observed, I'd not hesitate one second to concur with Raph on this.

It was actually kind of phenomenal to watch.


on any one server in one of our MMO's there were only 5 to 10 real hubs of communication

By "hubs of communication", do you mean players or locations? It looks like players, from the context, but it's hard to believe. What was the average population and average concurrent, if you can recall?


With respect to all and the good comments made, this discussion has gone WAY off topic.

If I could attempt to sum up the summary I read at Gamasutra, Raph's point is that MMOs are making content, not experiences. To me, MMOs don't seem to be truly services or products but the "content as product" example is good. "Here's a sword. You're level 1. Get to level 60." Once you've done that... what? You can't experience the past 59 levels in the same way again because you've already consumed them.

This brings me to my own point. Communities do exist within the MMOs, but more as an afterthought or concession. The "point of the game" isn't to find your place in an ongoing community, it's to get to level 60 (and perhaps bling out your avatar).

How can you expect someone to be attached to that? Don't cite uberguilds, because those usually exist across MMOs. They are their own communities. Where is the face and voice of the publisher? Anything to give the world that personal touch, because ultimately it's the personal things that create a community. The problem of scale is the true problem I believe, but that just makes it a question of how to break down the players into managable groups. And who says broadcast can't help create communities? Have developer podcasts with discussions about why changes are being made, for example.

The Iron Realms worlds are, to me, a terrific bridge between the close-knit groups of small MUDS and the huge masses of other MMOs. Players who contribute to the community become leaders among players and eventually gods, still playing in the world while also serving an important CM role.


There are many things missing in the current offering for community management and customer service. Obviously a lot has already been presented here.

The problems in both areas revolve around the industry's unfortunate desire to think of both as an afterthought.

The keys to any good community management or customer service offering are:

1. Excellent Internal Communication
2. Early phase CS / CM Integrated Development strategies
3. Use your CMs as direct liaisons between developers, customers, and external communities. They are more than just internal forum moderators with administrative powers.
4. Your CM is your "one to many" face, and your CS is your "one to one" face. Give them the tools and communication to do those jobs effectively. Then you will see the real value.

Being one of the earlier players in the graphic MMO industry, I have seen huge problems with the industry's view on CS / CM and seen them just stay huge. The biggest problem is actually the lack of any real view. Companies need to stop thinking about the process as just making a game and realize they are making a service. One day companies will realize the strength in CS / CM comes in their ability to reduce churn and build retention. If done well, increase word of mouth marketing.

Another giant problem is the unfortunate "US vs THEM" attitude with both the Developer vs the Player / Customer and even more damaging the Developers vs CS / CM. Communication between Dev / QA / CS / CM has to be integrated in the project planning and development phases in order to assure proper communication, and in turn execution, in all areas. When the right hand is perfectly fine telling the left hand what it is doing, and the right hand is perfectly ok realizing the left hand may actually have valuable input, we will finally see good results.

Developers and operators often talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk. They like to start the day by saying "customer first", but not one of them has integrated anything in their system or project management that would indicate such a desire. By "customer first" I do not mean the customer is always right. I mean they should be thought of in processes and not just gameplay.

I currently direct a company that works with developers doing just this. Unlike some of those presented here, I have not and will not give up on community. The community is your customer. If you think of the community as only that 10% vocal of the 10% on your forums, you are already off to a bad start.

~ Working on improving CS / CM one developer...err.. conference...umm.. discussion... crap.. I'm working on it, OK?!


Another perspective is to look at your local township and see how the elected leaders manage the community in that they:
1. Plan for the growth of the township (city design)
2. Provide essential services for you to do what you need to do (roads, waste disposal, etc.)
3. Deal with problematic elements of the township (police, firefighters, emergency staff, etc.)
4. Process to change community leadership (elections)
5. Promote and celebrate the special events within communities (holidays, fairs, etc.)

Since we are using Disney as an example, we can view Disneyland and the surrounding area as Disneytown with a focus towards providing a great experience for visitors (a tourist town focus). In this light, they are doing a good job for their objective. It's a top-down approach.

If we look at Apple, they have created products that buyers can really build a community out off. Most of the work is done by the community, so this is a distributed, Rhizomic, approach.

Southwest airline appears to be in the middle of the two. There is some top-down directed approach to managing the community, the customer base. They also produce a service that the consumer can build a community out off.

In an MMO environment, goals and strategic may be different, but any community management should have at least the four basic objectives I stated above.

Marketing is to bring people into the community.
Customer Service is to provide service for the community. Community Management is to manage the community. There are many ways to do it, but I do believe the strategic and tactical decisions should be made at the highest level: the mayorial, town council, the lead producer or manager.

Talking about one-to-one and one-to-many strategies is great, but I think we should step back and look from afar. The library, main street, the park, and the event held there are content. However, it's the mayor, the town council that manages the community (with participation from the citizenry).

So, any one has good examples we can learn from?



I can't totally agree with that, but then again I don't have to. :)

The mayor would hire the correct people to do the job required (not just elected officials). The correct people would definitely report to the mayor, however the mayor would trust them to do they job they are hired to do. A mayor, in no way, knows every level of every thing working in a town. They are there to provide big picture strategy, and not there to micromanage.

Strategic goals should always come from the top, however tactics are developed by the people doing the job. The president says "Destroy that power plant", the generals say "Yes Mr. President, this is how we will do it."

I agree with the basic elements, but I can't agree that putting a producer on the task just because he is titled as producer is the right way around it. You need a professional to do the job and provide guidance, and not a title.

A mayor (lead producer) can't do anything with his town (project) if he doesn't trust his teams and facilitate proper communication and teamwork between the teams.

A good example of poor communication and bad teamwork due to lack of trust and communication would be Katrina. Due to mistrust and US (State) vs THEM (Federal) politics, it was even more of a disaster than it would have been. If FEMA management would have facilitated a plan of proper communication between all levels of government, with no room for politics or star syndrome, it would have been less devastating than it ended up being.

"One to One" and "One to Many" are just one element set of the stated strategy. Tools, processes and procedure are also involved. Communication and integration are more than important.

Hope I wasn't all over the place too much.


It's all about communication...

The models for internal processes are another topic, though I think we agree that input from the community, or awareness of the community, should be at the table.

Two quick thoughts on the topic of online community and government: that for the most part one really different aspect of these social contexts is that they are largely constructed... while "default world" social constructions can be affected by similar influences (messages into the community, how interactions take place, social organizations are all examples of how interactions can be influenced), the tools for these things must be constructed in a virtual world, and so the artificial nature of them is much clearer.

Second, another point of interest, the only virtual world I know of where there's an explicit social group chosen as representatives of the population to the host company is There. Although it's as yet nascent, they're trying to work on the myriad problems of what an official community representative group looks like, what's expected of it, what it's empowered to do, how it's chosen, etc. Is it a government? In what senses?

Theoretically this will further a social group's involvement with a site... and lead to the evolution of systems where a community itself has a signifgant organizational role in the further development of its virtual world.


I'm really startled and appalled at Samantha LeCraft's comments -- she and the Lindens must have gone to the same gaming conferences and weekend seminars. Currently the Linden Lab communication strategy is following just exactly this playbook -- shutting down the forums (a dramatic and very contested and disliked move which got hardly any game media press, much less RL media covarge); moving to an official Linden Blog (already dubbed the Blob by the customers for its vague, white, puffy feeling); shutting off comments on some forums; railroading, filtering, summarily deleting, steering off to third-party sites out of site, out of mind, etc. etc.

It's a communications strategy worthy of Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin -- shutting off dissent, muting or silencing criticism, spinning, whitewashing, closing down, deleting summarily, retreating, etc. People often talk about the Bushies' spin cycle and Karl Rove and such; that doesn't begin to capture the feel for a blanket, society-wide media strategy a la the Kremlin that seeks to totally control the relationship between government and governing.

There's nothing wrong with having a sense of entitlement about a game or a world. You're a customer, and you do indeed pay a salary. These are facts. Dismissing them and saying it's a black hole can't eradicate the *real* black hole problem: the utter lack of concept of balance and sharing of power on the part of the game company.

It's the game company that is setting up the zero-sum game. It conceives itself as an entity, with game gods, that must stay in power, use sychopants, resmods, fanboyz to do so, and never share power, let alone undergo a division of itself into separate powers.

We are now at a very painful stage in human evolution, if you will, or development, where discrete entities that seemed like they were "out there" like governments, or religions or game companies are now "in here" because of the Internet and virtual reality.

Accordingly, they need to realize that they can't really insist that they leave off somewhere and the customer starts up somewhere -- they are integrated and interwined. They're in it together. It's paradoxically realizing this symbiotic relationship that should catalyze the more enlightened game company into realizing that it must share power. That means giving IP to the customers and letting cash out the game currency, but so much more.

Game company officials wouldn't like to think of themselves having to subject to democracy and elections when they and their venture capitalists invested money in their game/world. Fair enough. But there's nothing wrong with lifting some pages from the manual of representative government, independent judiciaries, accountable police, etc.

People spend A LOT of time in worlds and games. They need to get better. It's fine to demand more of them. Disney isn't at all an example of the new phenomenon of an integrated "out there/in here" experience I mean. It's an old media dinosaur of the last century, push media, with a studio that figures out what sells, pushes it, pumps it, sells it, merchandises it, puts it on cereal boxes and sneakers, sells, sells, sells.

New media can't do that or it breaks and the customers shuts it off and moves to the next space/social software/thingie that doesn't get in his face that way.

Community managers need to manage. Part of their job is to retrain angry, sulking game-gods who are also in entitlement mode, thinking they need to be coddled and privileged like rare race horses just because they are coders. Pretty soon, it will become clear that coding isn't THAT different than making vacuum cleaners or toast. It will become less special and the game companies will have to deflate their egos and become more normal and responsive to customers.

Community managers have a really important role to play in evolving the game gods off Olympus and also prepping the fanboyz to yield their FIC 2 percent status to the commoners. What I do agree with Samantha about is the need to look beyond the fetishistic IRC channel 2 percent (or 5 percent if you will) to social mavens and such. Yet there'd be no need to deify them, either, and put them on a pedestal. They're just social mavens; one leaves; another will come. If they are less critical and demanding and happier with whatever is pushed to them, that's no need to over-celebrate them, because only listening to them will make for a bland and dull game, too, that they'll be the first to leave, biting the hand that fed them.

Balance is key. Nothing in excess, as the ancients said. Community managers have to become more respected, the complexity of the job valued, and the hiring has to reflect its upgraded status. Companies often hire young women or home workers because they think it's women's work to socialize -- they don't higher qualified older women or men with higher degrees and management experience that goes beyond saying "woot" and "wowzer" about each new fabulous game patch.

I'm not going to have to keep ranting about this too much longer, however, because there is going to be just an explosion of games and worlds coming around the corner, and Xbox stuff and Internet-based rooms and 3-d stuff, and it will get very, very competitive. And that means the companies that can turn around on a dime and really be sweet to their customers and treat them like real people in the real world instead of orcs and dwarfs will be the market-share winners.


Prokofy Neva, I have to say that your response is very strange. First off, I don't believe you've had any commercial experience creating or running MMOGs -- there are some things you advocate for or against that simply will not fly when we're talking about ventures that cost $15 million to $50 million to create, and more on top of that to run. Secondly, you agree with me on several key points, but at the same time completely twist some of things I've said. So let me clarify a few things.

I am not advocating for an "out of sight, out of mind" approach to community management. Rather, I believe that we need to spend less time with the neurotic 5% (or 2% as you said, which may be closer to the actual value), and more time listening to the wider community, even when they aren't speaking directly to us. We need to follow what players are saying when they don't think we're watching. We need to use statistics in our community management to see what people do rather than what they say. And we need to stop assuming that the neurotic 5% represent the needs and desires of the entire community.

I am not in support of the idea of "developers as gods". I abhor the "rock star" mentality, and on that point you and I seem to agree. That is actually one of the specific reasons that I think we need to move away from things like official message boards. If you spend enough time listening to the 5%, you start to believe two things: 1. that you are a god among men, and fanbois everywhere kiss the very ground that you walk on, and 2. that the players are the enemy -- how can they not love what you create, don't they know that you are a god? It looks paradoxical on it's face, but I've seen more than few developers fall into that mindset.

That said, developers are special in that we are the ones creating the entertainment that the players are paying for. It isn't like creating vacuums. It's like creating a TV show or a movie. I'm not saying that game developers are movie stars (or that they should be treated as such), but I do believe that the skills to create good game code, design, and art will remain as rarified as good writing, directing, and editing is in show business. We deserve to be well paid and valued for the contributions we make to a successful entertainment vehicle. That's the way all other entertainment sectors work -- if you use your unique creative vision to create something that people will buy, you get paid for it, end of story.

And on that note, MMOGs are not countries, and the developers are not governments. We aren't running democracies (or socialist communes, for that matter) here, we're providing entertainment. These are commercial ventures, and players can vote by taking their dollars elsewhere. Developers already "share the power" with their publisher, their investors, their stock holders, etc. Players like to throw around the "I pay your salary" line quite a bit, but the reality is that the monthly fee from a given player pays for about half an hour of a single developer's time, if that. The players were not the ones who put the money up for development, and so they are not the ones that the developers have to "share power" with. The players are paying for access to entertainment, just as they do when they buy a movie ticket or sign up for cable TV.

I do not believe that MMOG developers and their players have any more of a symbiotic relationship than the creators of a TV show have with their audience. Finding out what the audience likes and responding to that is important in any sort of on-going entertainment media, but just because you've rallied with other fans online to get a character brought back to the show does not make you entitled to power over the show. The show is still a privately-held Intellectual Property, and the creators can do what they wish with it. If you don't like it, there are plenty of other places for you to spend your entertainment dollar. As a developer, it behooves me to pay heed to what the majority of the playerbase wants, but that does not make the players co-creators.

I do agree with you that we need professionals in the community management roles. (Though I must say that I don't know of a single commercial MMOG that thinks of community management as "women's work".) Hiring professionals with backgrounds in sociology, social psychology, and statistics might be helpful as well. I think we need to move away from the game-god/fanboi relationship, and towards a more professional entertainment industry demeanor, and I agree that one of the first steps towards that is recognizing the importance of having professionals in community management roles, rather than using community management as a stepping stone for those trying to break into development.

And for the record, since this seems to be a confusing point: when I've talked about following Disney's example, I'm talking specifically about the Disney parks, Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I'm not talking about the marketing Disney does for it's movies and merchandise, the cable channels and radio stations Disney runs, Disney's ownership of ABC, or any of the other multitude of topics that fall under the Mouse Ears. I will agree that much of the rest of Disney is about marketing, but I stand by my statements that there is a lot to learn about how Disneyland and Disney World, the physical parks themselves, are run.

As to your last point, the MMOG business is already a very, very competitive place, and is only going to get more so as the years go by. Anyone who doesn't see that probably isn't cut out for commercial MMOG development.


Samantha LeCraft wrote:

As a developer, it behooves me to pay heed to what the majority of the playerbase wants, but that does not make the players co-creators.

Prokofy's game of choice is Second Life though, and it's somewhat hard to argue that players are not co-creators there.



Eh, I will concede that point, Matt. Though, as I've made clear in other venues, I don't think that what works for Second Life can necessarily be applied to commercial massively multiplayer online games. Two different forms of entertainment, in my view, and while I think we can learn things from each other -- just as I think that commercial MMOG developers can learn things from the Disney parks and from television development -- I don't think we can say "X works for Second Life, and therefore MMOGs should do X too."


Samantha, at what point will you game gods share, and start treating customers who pay for your bottom line as equals? I've probably spent something like $25,000 US on Second Life over two years -- when would it be enough for you, eh? I realize your games cost millions. Hey, I'm spending a lot too -- and I'm a minor businessman compared to some of the very heavy hitters in SL who make a living from it completely.

I suggest you're one of the dinosaurs of old media and old game companies that Raph Koster has been talking about.

What is the neurotic 5 percent? It's actually not me -- it's cranky, tekkie early-adapter beta testers or compulsive bug hunters who obsess about platform technology. I share some of your concerns about yielding to their hectoring. But I'm an important crank too, because I crank about the social and political aspects of the world. And all of us cranks are important in our way and need not to be suppressed; we live and work here, and we not only make or serve the content that keeps the bulk of the population coming in the door, some of us even make the features that are co-opted by the game gods and help their company. So a little more respect and equality is in order.

I don't, in fact, believe that the old media and entertainment model of tiny (relative to the vast population of consumers) specialized and professional content creators in studios is going to be sustained at the level it once was by consumers.

You say, "I do believe that the skills to create good game code, design, and art will remain as rarified as good writing, directing, and editing is in show business."

Yet new technology is increasing the surface area over which amateurs can be quite happy doing without skilled game gods and make their own even rough code and designed furniture, etc. And in fact the residents often make very professional content even more powerful than the original game-gods. So..It's not all about passive consumption of show business; it's about interactivity and more of a sustained, 24/7 experience that has a continuum from play to work and will include lots of other things besides entertainment. I'm not going to sit still and be an elf for you.

As for your comment, "just because you've rallied with other fans online to get a character brought back to the show does not make you entitled to power over the show," I disagree. We will have power over the show because the old model just isn't capturing enough audience, and we will demand interactive, shapeable narratives -- and get them with tools we can use ourselves for narration.

I don't think you're aware of how much in Second Life, and for that matter even in more controlled games likes World of Warcraft, people feel they are staging, scripting and producing their own shows. It's no accident that we don't even have cable television anymore.

Now here's where you'll get resistance from me: "If you don't like it, there are plenty of other places for you to spend your entertainment dollar. As a developer, it behooves me to pay heed to what the majority of the playerbase wants, but that does not make the players co-creators."

We are co-creators; and even in more game-y games the play itself is a co-creation you need to recognize. Your exit plan is the fallacy of forced emigration as a tool to manage a country. It's the sort of fallacy that Soviet Russia would use. It's been fairly well debunked in scholarly articles very applicable to games and worlds online, like, "Cyberspace Self-Governance: A Skeptical View from Liberal Democratic Theory by Neil Weinstock Netanel on the Harvard Law School servers:

"ii. Ease of Exit

The cyberpopulists' favored solution to the problem of majority tyranny focuses on the ease of exit. Cyberpopulists assert that dissenting netizens can, if they so wish, find a haven from the strictures of majority rule by simply leaving the cyberspace forum or network in question and choosing or establishing a new one to their liking. n109 Such exit, cyberpopulists emphasize, is much easier and less costly in cyberspace than in real space. A cyberspace dissenter need only discontinue visiting a forum [*426] and find, or fairly cheaply establish, an alternative one more closely aligned with the dissenter's views or preferences. Losers in real world plebiscites, in contrast, can usually avoid the result only if they endure the cost and disruption of physically moving to another jurisdiction. As a result, cyberpopulists assert, netizen dissenters and minorities, unlike their real world counterparts, have no need for liberal rights. The capacity for easy exit substitutes for constitutional liberty, and the abundance of alternative rule regimes provides a near certainty of consent. n110
This argument that exit and abundant alternatives can make up for the illiberal aspects of majority rule is unconvincing. Certainly, exit from a cyberspace forum is considerably cheaper than moving from a physical jurisdiction. Indeed, in many, perhaps most, instances it might entail no more psychic cost than terminating a subscription to a journal or discontinuing watching a television program that has moved to a new time slot. But as cyberians often note, involvement in a virtual community is not always so trivial. Individuals may develop deep feelings of attachment and loyalty to virtual communities and may be devastated by perceived wrongs within those communities. n111 In such instances, exit is far from costless."

The players ARE co-creators. They do have a stake. The sooner you can wake up to that fact, the better you'll be able to compete.

There will probably still be a market for closed games with game-gods, just like the 19th-century novel is still thoroughly enjoyed -- but they will not be best-sellers.

As for "women's work," just look at the people who are hired for these jobs everywhere -- young women and some men willing to take lower salaries who are viewed as being "good with people". You're right, too, that it's viewed as a boot-camp job one has to survive, to pay dues to get to the 'real stuff' of the game development itself.

It's not good enough.



1. I am not a god. I am a game designer.

2. Second Life, by its own reckoning, is not a game. I have only a passing interest in online worlds that are not games, because my job is to create games.

3. I don't much care how much money you've spent on Second Life, being that I have no ties, professional or otherwise, to Second Life. You might as well tell me how much money you've spent on shoes in the last two years.

4. You said: ...we live and work here, and we not only make or serve the content that keeps the bulk of the population coming in the door, some of us even make the features that are co-opted by the game gods and help their company. So a little more respect and equality is in order.

Let me reiterate: I DO NOT WORK ON SECOND LIFE. What you make in Second Life means nothing to me, as it has no bearing on the games I design professionally.

If you have an issue with how you are treated by Linden Labs, please, take it up with them, and leave me in peace.

5. You said: Yet new technology is increasing the surface area over which amateurs can be quite happy doing without skilled game gods and make their own even rough code and designed furniture, etc. And in fact the residents often make very professional content even more powerful than the original game-gods.

Again: I do not work on Second Life.

And: Second Life is not a game. I make games for a living.

I understand that the draw to Second Life, for many people, is being able to create their own objects within an online world. I have heard the rallying cry that worlds like Second Life will overtake game worlds with professionally created content like World of Warcraft.

If or when that day comes, I'll deal with it then. For now, many, many more people than participate in Second Life are interested in buying professionally created game content off store shelves, and paying a subscription fee to access that professionally created content. I create that content for a living, and will continue to until the day that there is no longer a market for it.

6. You said: So..It's not all about passive consumption of show business; it's about interactivity and more of a sustained, 24/7 experience that has a continuum from play to work and will include lots of other things besides entertainment. I'm not going to sit still and be an elf for you.

That's fine with me! Seven million people world-wide are willing to "sit still and be an elf" in World of Warcraft, and at least 6 million people world-wide play every other MMO game. There is a market for entertainment-based, game-based online worlds. That market is bigger than any other online world market currently. That is the market that concerns me, nothing else.

7. Yes, new technology is allowing consumers the ability to craft their own stories. That doesn't change the fact that you are not a co-creator of Lost or 24 or Desperate Housewives. Scream and yell all you like, the showrunners and IP owners will still not make you a co-creator.

8. What you're missing in the "ease of exit" argument is that game-based virtual worlds are commercial ventures. If you don't like the food at the physical Disneyland, you are welcome to take your vacationing dollars elsewhere. If you don't like the writing on Law & Order, you are welcome to change the channel. Arguments of governance do not apply to something that is a commercial entertainment venture, no different than a television show or a physical theme park.

9. You said: The players ARE co-creators. They do have a stake. The sooner you can wake up to that fact, the better you'll be able to compete.

I have no interest in competing with Second Life. Wake up to the fact that I am a game designer. Customers are not co-creators of games in which the world is delivered to them whole and packaged. That is what I create.

10. You said: There will probably still be a market for closed games with game-gods, just like the 19th-century novel is still thoroughly enjoyed -- but they will not be best-sellers.

When or if that day ever arrives, let me know. Until then, I have entertainment to create professionally for the 13,000,000+ people in the world interested in consuming it.


I'm seeing this as a matrix here, really- with one axis being top-down content models, and user creation models, and the other being good community managament and the lack thereof.

My point was to follow up on Raph's initial comment about the value of good community management. I'm not sure I've seen a whole lot of disagreement with that premise, though there's been discussion about exactly where we all feel the line should be drawn as to what constitutes community management. But I don't think there's much disagreement about the central point - and if I'm misunderstanding, and "you" don't believe in the value of community management, either in top-down or user created content paradigms, that might be good to discuss.

It's interesting to speculate about the relative popularity of the two content models - I believe there's a certain bet out that might indicate that this isn't a new topic. I also believe that I heard a recent comment about the bet to the effect that the amount of the wager indicated the seriousness with which it was being proposed. I also believe that in all likehood both content models will continue to be valued, by their various adherents, or by the same ones at different occasions. Social identities, especially online, can be quite fluid.

The question arises as to just what good community management is, in any context, and for what it's worth, my sense is that by definition it's ... well, contextual. Certainly post-modern perspectives apply here, and cultural values are clearly largely matters of social and personal perspective, and I'd also argue that ultimately community management is really, in some sense at least, cultural management: the informed modification of cultural circumstances given the peculiar powers and resposibilities afforded by virtual social interactions. In most MMO's this is entirely appropriate, and, as entertainment, even social entertainment, solid design and support for social interactions are what is called for.

In the context of Second Life, some very different dynamics apply... or the application of these dynamics to a largely open, user-created world, lead to some funny results. The investment, in just about every sense, by the participants leads to some very reasonable expectations about the ongoing experience, and the maintenance and evolution of the social and creative platform. That is, it's quite reasonable to expect a voice in this- and I would argue it's valuable, just as an understanding of the user community is valuable to any virtual world or game host (see above).

But there's also a funny way in which, at least in my imaginings (because I haven't talked to any of the SL folks about why this was done or the thinking that went into it), the closure of the forums indicates a philosophical intention to put the community entirely in the hands of the participants- to make it clear that the SL staff did see their role as community management, as much as the provision of a platform that that community could make of what they would. Mind you, if this is the case (or in any event really) I'd say the way it was handled was not good community management. The community's vocal reaction to this is one indication (though not the only one). And even as a platform provider, the SL staff needs input from the users as to what development paths to follow, especially with the community/content mix they have.

And this re-raises the question of governance of a virtual community. If it's to be driven by the community, or if the community is a co-partner with the site host, how do we navigate the many confusions and conflicts this creates? What's an effective role, or definition, or organizational structure? Especially given so many cultural/business contexts?

After thinking about this for some time, the only hint of an answer that I have is the open source community- and mind you, I don't know many in depth examples of how this works in various applications, but it seems to me that the various open source enterprizes have each found, through the various tortured (or not) political machinations of the different communities, functional paths to cooperative governance. That these groups, wrangling through whatever terms seem relevant to the participants, have managed to generally create some sort of contextually appropriate consensus-driven organization. In some sense, again given the diversity of context and virtual culture, it's quite possible that the only satisfying solutions for these questions will arise out of the specific culture itself. Again, I believe this may be true for the specific case, really, of Second Life, where so much of the content is created by the users.

Do I forsee an in-world driven standard committee arising to provide input from the Second Life community? Or maybe I should be asking, do you?


Sorry I'm tired- should have reviewed more closely:

" to make it clear that the SL staff did see their role as community management" should be

" to make it clear that the SL staff did not see their role as community management"

Thanks all!


Sorry I'm tired- should have reviewed more closely:

" to make it clear that the SL staff did see their role as community management" should be

" to make it clear that the SL staff did not see their role as community management"

Thanks all!



I hear these arguments occasionally in our games. "I spent X dollars. Do what I want."

Not going to happen. Make your own world if that's what you want, but you're operating in a sandbox created by somebody else. You might build the sand castles in the sandbox, but you didn't build the sandbox. That's a fundamental difference between a virtual world and the physical one, and it's the reason you are not going to see Linden or Blizzard or anyone else of any size surrenduring control over the sandbox any time soon.

If you don't like it, you're free to build your own sandbox. That is, again, a fundamental difference between the physical world and a virtual world. The physical world is limited and nobody truly has any claim to it. Nobody created it. Everybody "stole" it from a state of non-ownership/common ownership. There is a good case to be made for outrage when coercive control over an area of land is made in the physical world as a result. Were you talking about the physical world, I would whole-heartedly agree with virtually everything you say.

In the virtual, however, the land is made. It's made by the developers. Even in Second Life, that is absolutely explicit from the get-go. Users make content, of course. Nobody is arguing that. I'm not sure why you equate ownership over the sandbox with creating a sand castle in it though. Make your own sandbox if you want, but I'll run mine as I please, for better or worse.

The virtual world and the physical world are not the same. They are not equal. The virtual world is a subset of the physical world. It depends, utterly, on the physical world, and is inescapably part of it.



Matt, I disagree, because in Second Life, you yourself are making the sandbox, too. And I disagree that the idea that you address the problem of game-god intransigence by simply going to another game I think is amply refuted by the article I set -- you cannot always except the population to keep emigrating, keep finding a new country, a new game. What's wrong with trying to make *this one* different?

In fact, if the software designers and world creators don't heed the residents, it is stolen, when you think of the aggregate amount of dollars and manhours spent on the platform by the people living and working on it. This is what is qualitatively different than all the static, contained games. There, you might have a case -- if I don't have $15 million for a game, then I should shut up, because I didn't make the world with the palace and the princesses and the orcs and knights, etc. all I do is shoot them or save them or gather berries around them.

But the way SL has evolved is so much different, and people do have such a stake in literally the sandbox itself -- people have had input into the very coding itself even, and the social constructs -- that it is unjust for the game gods to claim whole credit and complete ownership. If they were to do that, they'd shake loose a lot of the consensus they have that enables them to grow.

The real world and virtual world are more alike and more connected and intertwining than you seem prepared to accept. I think more and more this will be the case. The making of the metaverse and the worlds in it is a powerful function, and the people affected it will not be content to cede it merely to coders.


I agree with Prokofy here, but I think the argument applies to a certain extent even to the MMOs that are foundationally games, like WoW. I understand that model of traditional media is compelling, but even in a highly controlled environment like WoW the players are creating content as well, both in the game (guilds, names, emergent gameplay) and outside of it (machinima, etc). To hold fast to a story that claims that MMOs that are "games" somehow make this impossible is just wrong. T L has done some of the most important work in this area, and her article for the First Monday special issue on governance, which will appear early in Oct, is directly on point here (in fact, it also turns out that, according to Richard [in the same issue], you *are* a god, Samantha ;-) ). My article there is about content and governance as well, in the case of SL.


Matt, I disagree, because in Second Life, you yourself are making the sandbox, too.

You're free to disagree, but your opinion really doesn't change anything.

This is demonstrable by an easy test. Can you, without violating your agreement with LL, turn off the world? Can you make 'the sandbox' (not just your 'sandcastle') go away, temporarily or forever? Can you change the fundamental constants of the world -- how land is created and meted out for example? No, you can't. Only Linden Labs can. They can make such changes whenever they like, for any reason they like, or for no reason at all. They say this explicitly in their user agreement with you. Believing otherwise is perhaps comforting, but bears no relationship to reality.

Yes, you have certain intellectual property rights granted to you by LL for the use of anything you make in SL for as long as they want to keep them around. They are in no way required to do this, and could change this at any time. Or they can just delete what you create whenever they like. Marketing and PR efforts aside, it is no way your world.

You (the individual or aggregate 'you') did not create it and you have no legal, moral, ethical, or even market basis to assert any ownership over it except as the real owners, Linden Labs, let you believe this is the case. Even then, that doesn't weaken their absolute, 100% control over the world, your external IP rights notwithstanding.

And of course as has been said, this whole argument is moot for games where the perception of "user creation" of the world virtually does not exist and people tend to harbor a less fantastic view of their relationship with the service provider (and that, Prokovy, is the entire extent of what you pay for: access to a service, not ownership). AFAIK, this goes for any virtual world other than Second Life, or in other words, for those virtual worlds with which over 99% of all virtual world users maintain contact.

the idea that you address the problem of game-god intransigence by simply going to another game I think is amply refuted by the article I set

No, it's not. You've misunderstood the point and the reach of the theory presented in that article; it has zero force on any actual virtual world that exists in the real world.


Can Linden Lab, by turning off the grid, make Second Life vanish entirely? Actually, no, but that point is not as important as the fact that, no matter what their formal level of control over SL, LL is enmeshed in an intricate set of obligations and constraints that have arisen because of the actions of its users; in effect, LL is to a certain extent governed by its residents just as it governs them. Yes, the law may not recognize that yet, but law is re-made to follow reasonable and shared expectations all the time.


The great thing about virtuality is that it is...virtual! That means it is eminently portable, transferable, inventoriable, saveable, copyable, and lots of other stuff.

Example: in the Sims Online, groups of people clustered around a neighbourhood called Sim Arts. They were artists, designers, builders, writers, etc. They put on all kinds of events and games-within-games and actions and activities. They pushed the limits of the non-customizable inventory. When they finally hit a wall with the whole game, the entire group picked up and moved to Second Life. Within a year, hundreds of people associated with Sim Arts, who once had land, property, relationships, ideas, builds just picked up and moved to Second Life, porting with them their ideas, relationships, hopes, designs, etc. -- and realizing many of them in SL.

I've seen the same thing happen with groups of users from Active Worlds, There, and A Tale in the Desert who have come into SL and recreated their "homelands" and extended them.

Those non-inventoriably intangibles of "ideas" and "relationships" and "creativity" are not something that game gods will ever possess -- they think we only rent the servers and they own them; well, let them realize they only rent our ideas/relationships/creativity -- they never own *that*, either.

Is this an example of the proof of your point, the exit option? In part, sure. People leave games and move in groups and extended families to other games. Done all the time. But at a certain point, the critical mass is reached, and the complexity of the relationships is such that the company becomes as dependent on the residents as the residents are dependent on them. Perhaps the Lindens might shrug and say "there's always another guy to buy the island" as one Linden famously and cynically told me. Threats to tier down leave them unmoved. But when there is a roster with hundreds of names of the most creative, productive, active people showing the most hours logged on and highest number of created objects and dollars spent, they can't afford to be that cavalier.

If they are, those types of groups of content providers or very loyal social mavens pick up and move because what makes them adhere together isn't dependent on servers or software.

Both gamers/residents and game-god/world makers need to end the solution of problems through emigration.


Let me restate some of what I said above...

So far, the largest contributor to SL has been a corporate entity made up of Linden employees. Reasonably, they have a legal, and by virtue of the IP contributed, functional right of determining the course of the world.

To question or modify or impact that right, and that determination, create an entity that has a voice they will listen to. So far, they're the organization with the power- create a constituency whose voice they can't ignore.

Clearly the community has some power here, in political, creative, or possibly even legal terms. But it's paled, thus far, compared to the organized power created and wielded by the Linden corporation.

Honestly, in less combatitive terms, I'm wondering if that's what the Linden folks may be looking for: some sort of organization "naturally" created out of the community.



It seems to me that your entire viewpoint rests on not making a distinction between stockholder and stakeholder. There's a big difference. Users are stakeholders. Linden (or Blizzard, or me) are stockholders in their respective virtual worlds.



Mike Sellers wrote:

And of course as has been said, this whole argument is moot for games where the perception of "user creation" of the world virtually does not exist and people tend to harbor a less fantastic view of their relationship with the service provider (and that, Prokovy, is the entire extent of what you pay for: access to a service, not ownership). AFAIK, this goes for any virtual world other than Second Life, or in other words, for those virtual worlds with which over 99% of all virtual world users maintain contact.

You know, despite agreeing with the entirety of the rest of your argument, I completely disagree that there is any reason to draw a hard distinction between Second Life and any other virtual world. All virtual worlds have user content creation. Talking to another user is content creation as I see it, and most MUDs/MMOs go well beyond that in terms of user content creation. Second Life just has more of it, and far less dev-created content than most virtual worlds, but there's nothing fundamentally different about SL's content creation that would give a user any say beyond what he could negotiate with the developer, same as in any virtual world.



>create a constituency whose voice they can't ignore.

This is the debate. They are trying to shape that debate, naturally, by saying "if you want your voice hear, be like us, be on the same page, be one of us, think like we do, be cleared by us, only those who are constructive critics can get attention from us."

There already is a natural lobby of sorts such as yuou envision, made up of the residents-turned-Lindens, don't forget 1/3 or more of their staff is from the resident base.

Of course the question is whether other kinds of constituents who wish to be there and wish to use their platform, but who do not share their goals philosophically will also find room there and can challenge them effectively to change or mitigate some of their own ideological decisions.


Matt, I think you aren't grasping that stockholder and stakeholder become much closer in concept when the stakeholders aren't just people who have elf costumes in inventory, skill points from grinding, and game gold in their accounts, but have RL US dollars tied up in assets, real IP, and a RL business on the platform, which sustains their real lives. Why is stake so diminished in your concept given those aspects?



What you describe is the case for every virtual world. Everybody has something invested in their virtual worlds. If you're involved in a virtual world, your real life is affected. Second Life is not exceptional in that respect.

Stake isn't diminished in my concept. Stake represents less control than ownership, period. It's simply the nature of it. You seem to want to equate stake and control, but you know as well as I do that they're two separate things entirely. If they weren't, you'd not have to spend so much time complaining about it. You'd simply effect the changes you wish effected. The fact that you cannot highlights the difference between the two quite starkly from where I sit.



Matt, in fact we do change things and I've certainly gotten more of the changes I'd like to see happen achieved in Second Life than I have in the United States or Russia lol.

I'd refer you to this discussion which outlines the challenges and accomplishments:


I'm neither a lawyer nor an economist, but what the heck. :D

Although some people (e.g., Thorstein Veblen, "The Beginning of Ownership") believe that use implies ownership, most don't.

When I go to a theater to watch a movie, I care about the service I'm paying for. If the sound or picture is lousy, or if the place is filthy, I might complain to the management.

But I don't own the theater just because I use it. I don't get to decide (either individually or with my fellow theatergoers) what movies will be played.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said (in MISSOURI v. HOLLAND, see text and discussion) that "[P]ossession is the beginning of ownership."

Can users of a virtual world (game or otherwise) reasonably claim to possess any part of that service that they are not explicitly granted just because they're users of that service?

Whether a good or service is intended for the use of an individual or for common use seems to be irrelevant -- what matters is whether the good or service was created through public funding or by private interests. Private creation implies ownership by the creator -- to permit usage of a thing to transfer ownership of that thing without the private creator's consent would undermine all property rights.

That might appear attractive to some people, but most others seem to think it would be a Very Bad Idea. No one would ever let their neighbor borrow their lawn mower again. Even if I agree to let you tinker with the engine, it's still my mower and I want it back, thanks.

So what is the ethical/legal/economic justification for believing that "use implies ownership" of privately-created goods or services, either in the real world or in virtual worlds?


Matt said, You know, despite agreeing with the entirety of the rest of your argument, I completely disagree that there is any reason to draw a hard distinction between Second Life and any other virtual world.

Matt, I think you and Mike might be saying more or less the same thing, but coming at it from entirely different angles.

I agree that in any virtual world, game or otherwise, the user has only as much influence on and ownership of the world as "what he could negotiate with the developer," as you said. In game VWs like WoW, this negotiation is clearly laid out in the ToS and EULA. Copyright and IP ownership are understood by both the game provider and the player, so that even when a player does create something like machinima using the copyrighted assets of the game, the player understands that they are using someone else's copyrighted IP to create something new -- which is functionally no different than fans creating fanfiction based on the IP of a television show. The standard in the fan communities I'm familiar with is to include a disclaimer with the fan creation to the effect of "characters copyright so-and-so, no infringement intended, no money being made." (I am not familiar with all the legal details surrounding this, but fanfiction, fanvids, machinima, filk, etc etc, is a wide spread phenomenon covering nearly every type of entertainment imaginable.)

In theory, a group of users/players could attempt to re-negotiate the ToS and EULA with the virtual world provider, and would likely have varying degrees of success, depending on the nature of the virtual world and the company who owns and operates it. Blizzard would be unlikely to change, I think, but Andrew Tepper over at A Tale In the Desert might consider it. One could argue that SOE's Station Exchange is the fruits of the playerbase requesting a change to the ToSs and EULAs for SOE's MMOGs (heh, sorry for the alphabet soup there).

The difference I see between Second Life and these other, game-based virtual worlds, is that Second Life has given the users more influence on and ownership of the things they create within the world. This creates the murkiness we are seeing reflected in Prokofy's arguments -- Linden Labs still owns the world (the sandbox, as you put it) and has full legal, ethical, and market rights to unplug the Second Life servers whenever they want. But because SL encourages its users to create content, and grants them ownership over whatever IP they create within SL, users begin to feel that they should be treated as equals to the "game gods" of Second Life -- after all, what good is a sandbox without any sand?

Now, I don't agree with that sentiment, and I agree with you (and with Mike, FWIW) that at the stark level of legalities, there is no difference between Linden Labs' ownership of Second Life, and Blizzard's ownership of World of Warcraft. The ToSs and EULAs may vary widely between the two, but in the end, the law grants sole ownership of each to Linden Labs and Blizzard, respectfully. Any argument to the contrary is no more than wishful thinking.

The other difference between Second Life and game-based virtual worlds, of course, is the purpose of the VW and the nature of the content within the VW. Despite all their legal similarities, I really do see Second Life as a different sort of entertainment than game-based worlds like WoW, Puzzle Pirates, or Eve -- similar to the difference between YouTube.com and cable television, say.

The reason I bring this up is to bring the topic back around to community management. As Ron said earlier, community management is contextual. What works for managing WoW's community may not work for SL, and vice versa. Within the subset of game-based virtual worlds there is some variation -- what works for EQ may not work for ATitD -- but I have seen startling similarities in community management issues between games as divergent as Puzzle Pirates and WoW. Each game-based VW has its own community and its own set of hurdles (as well as its own ToS and EULA), but I think there is enough similarity there that it is worth discussing general strategies for managing communities for game-based VWs.

If we bring Second Life into a discussion like this, I think we all need to realize the inherent differences in the hurdles that Linden Labs face in managing their community, with regard to the hurdles that a game-based MMOG would face. There are similarities, of course, and things that MMOG providers can learn from looking at how SL has managed their community, but I think lumping all virtual worlds together, without any regard for their purpose and content, only makes discussing strategies for managing communities more difficult.


Bart, lawn-mower type of analogies never hold for me in discussing Second Life, or for that matter World of Warcraft, because I use lawn mowers as a tool to cut grass, then I'm done. My neighbour helps me with that loan; I return it. Very neat and simple transaction with only one use.

I don't chat with the lawn-mower; I don't play games with the lawn-mower; I don't battle the lawn-mower; I don't get married to the lawn-mower. It's just a lawn-mower.

The products that are worlds, where people spend more and more of their time, talent, and treasure, whatever they have of it, are very, very different than lawn-mowers. This shouldn't have to be belaboured.

If there's no difference between Second Life's ownership status and World of Warcraft's ownership status, then there'd be no reason to go to Second Life, really, because World of Warcraft has more it offers for many people (and that's why it has more users).

But the reason SL has a growing number of users and is evolving into something more is because its ownership is a quantitatively different type of ownership that is more like a partnership.

It's not only that there isn't a sandbox if nobody puts sand in it or builds a sand castle; it's that they have nothing else to offer besides users and their user-made content, essentially. That is, they don't make a world and a game, and then graft user-made content on that (and I think that's why people keep seeing them as in the MMORPG vein and insist therefore that they're no different).

They really do have to live with their claim of a user-driven world full of user content. That means they need users -- or they don't have a product.

If I operate a Tilt-a-Wheel ride at the country fair, and no one ever rides on it, what good is my Tilt-a-Wheel? It's worthless. The country fair did its best to provide me a venue for my Tilt-a-Wheel, but I proved useless in attracting riders. The essence of my Tilt-a-Wheel is its ridership. It has no tilt nor wheel without those riders. I can sit there crowing about my ownership of a grand Tilt-a-Wheel, but soon I'll be driven to bankruptcy.


Interesting thread.

I'm wondering who here believes that there are actually sufficiant mechanisisms in place to measure customer satisfaction/interactivity. Your answer to this, to me, is a good guage on just how much you value your customers, your players.

When does a game company need player input into a game?
Is the method they use sufficient to illicit an accurate measure of what the playerbase likes/dislikes?
Do they facilitate input?
Discourage it?
Disregard it?
Or bother asking at all?

These are not rhetorical questions, these are easily distributable and deployable questions.

This is what your facing.

The issue is not if you "need" community managers, the issue is how they are used, to what extent and to what effect. Community managers are held in high regard by playerbases, only so long as thier viewed as advocates and not flaks. One manner of achieving this is through ensuring player concerns and input reaches the organization.

It does not matter if one is resistant to player input or not, neither does it matter if they care about player base feedback, further it does not make a differance how much one feels they should "grant" to a player.

How does one grant anything when all the players have departed, due to flawed miscalculations about thier wants and needs (determined without input, analysis or data?)...

Player input, and player feedback, and to a greator or lessor extent player stakeholding (depending on the VW) is comming to the gaming industry. It does not matter if one like's it or not frankly because the only differential that will matter is player loyalty to a brand.

If one cannot see that they are severly disconnected from thier consumer base and from whats going on accross a number of industries. Including gaming, which suffers from a very fundamental flaw.

Products do not naturally innovate themselves, they improve over time with consumer input and consumer demand.

What are gaming consumers demanding more and not less of....


It's interesting to compare designers to gods, particularly in the context of management and governance and such. I mentioned this on another web site, but the readership is so different that I feel okay reposting it.

In real life, we are responsible for our actions. Some of us aren't so responsible, so we look to the gods to control our destinies. Some of us have even greater responsibility than normal, so we ideally help our fellows. Sometimes problems occur, and for one reason or another, we hurt our fellows.

I think we asked for vibrant virtual worlds for a long time, and when they were delivered, we didn't want them after all. We tasted the fruit of freedom, and it was icky. Instead of being cast out of Eden, we left of our own volition, and begged the gods to control our lives more. We weren't ready for the responsibility, and a lot of us still aren't. And of course we still don't know what we want, let alone what we're ready for.


I ended up writing a reply to this on my own site.


In case I was unclear:

Designers & Developers, Artists, Programmers, Community Managers, YOU are increasingly the "Brand" not the Conglomerates or the Publishers....


Prokofy Neva wrote "at what point will you game gods share, and start treating customers who pay for your bottom line as equals? I've probably spent something like $25,000 US on Second Life over two years -- when would it be enough for you, eh?"

Question for you. If you decided to leave SL for whatever reason, do you think Linden would give you your money back if the community voted they support such an action?


I think we asked for vibrant virtual worlds for a long time, and when they were delivered, we didn't want them after all.

Nice story, but is that emphasized part fact or fiction? I'm looking for an example; because either I'm too tired to remember anything straight (possible) or there hasn't been a delivered and rejected "vibrant virtual world" to my knowledge. I guess it might also depend on what you mean by "vibrant", which would be nice to know...


Slyfeind, I take your point about leaving Eden and people's need for someone to make things for them and tell them what to do, but don't speak for all of us. I don't need game gods to do much more than put up the servers, keep them running with the world more or less intact and visible and functioning, and use their internal tools to trace griefer scripts and such.

Re: If you decided to leave SL for whatever reason, do you think Linden would give you your money back if the community voted they support such an action?

Second Life doesn't work like that -- anymore than, say, New York City doesn't work like that. You can't suddenly say, "Oh, I'm beating this berg, fleeing my condo and the city council has to give me my money back." You'd have to find a buyer, and sell your property, possibly for less, if there are no takers and you're in a hurry.

All Linden Lab could do would be to say, "Good luck in selling your land and inventory, Prokofy, there's always another guy to buy the island."

And I wouldn't fault them at all for that. It's a free market. What do they owe you? They have a service, you pay tier. If you're done, you stop paying, and hope when you flip your land to sale it will sell at a good price.

Of course, there's all kinds of attached issues. Let's say you had a rich career as a content creator with fabulous clothing or vehicles, or even just a very cool avatar that had all kinds of outfits and adventures. You might wish to sell those things, too -- but there you'd have to get permission from LL to do that -- you're not free to do it on your own.

We need community managers. What they manage is the expectations of the community and their frustrations; what they manage is the fiction and the interface between that and the game gods who need to get more enlightened. Even the most enlightened game gods like Raph Koster are going to have friction with customer demand. It can be managed, like any conflict, with good communications policies and ways for customers both to obtain justice from the company itself and from other customers and for them to resolve disputes.

I find so much allergy to the simple idea of disputes resolution or courts of justice that find facts and render decisions about what it right and wrong that could have immense value as precedent for the time when the world and the gods are mature enough to become more participatory democracies.

The allergy stems from the lack of will to give up power.


There have been online groups run as shared spaces -- not necessarily democracies, but there are many other governmental forms that achieve the same goal. Many text MUDs have operated this way, albeit on a small scale and almost always with one person still holding all the actual legal reins (even if this ultimate governance power was rarely exercised). As far as I know, only a few larger online groups have operated this way -- The River, for example (not sure if it's still around), had members who each bought shares; the group's hardware and software was owned corporately and there was no ability for one person to take back control even if they wanted to. All changes were voted on and decided by the members or a council elected by them.

So far as I know, no large-scale virtual world (text or graphical) has operated this way. Despite comments made here, Second Life definitely does not operate this way. If you peel away the rhetoric and illusion of "residency", the inescapble reality is that Linden Labs can delete any account or content they wish, limit access as they wish, change prices as they wish, or turn of the servers whenever they like. They can do any of these unilaterally, and there is nothing anyone else can do about it (laws could change this at some point in the future as Thomas suggests, but this remains an entirely hypothetical possibility, essentially a fantasy with no foundation in reality).

It would be interesting to see a group of people corporately (meaning shared by all members, not commercial) start, fund, develop, operate, and maintain a virtual world. But I do not believe we are likely to see this any time soon.

The reasons for this have nothing at all to do with easy accusations of a desire for power or maturity; they have to do with the extreme difficulty of creating a virtual world under any circumstances, compounded by the even more extreme difficulty of getting any group operating under 'shared regulation' (e.g. democracy or variants) to define and carry out significant goals. Anyone who has had experience in either pursuit knows the daunting challenges involved; putting them together makes for a situation of such difficulty and complexity that (despite many attempts by small independent groups) it remains unreached and probably unreachable as a goal.

Absent this sort of sharing of actual costs and responsibility, calls by users of a system to share equally in the direction of a virtual world with those who do bear the costs and responsibilities amount to nothing more than petulance -- and perhaps a desire for power without having to bear the commensurate risk and responsibility. I can think of no other commercial enterprise where such a situation exists. Can a customer, or a group of customers, determine what movies a theatre shows, what songs a radio station plays, what rides a theme park has, or what services a store or other business offers? It's true that they can influence what a business does by declining to shop there or even voicing their opinion to the owners. But no matter how regular and dedicated a customer they are, no matter how much they add to the atmosphere of a business, no customer or group of customers can assert ownership or any form of control over a commercial enterprise other than their choice to withold their patronage. Virtual worlds are no different. You can of course disagree with this, but that disagreement will not affect anyone else, much less the course of any virtual world.


To bring this back to the question of community, the tension between a commercial, centrally controlled virtual world and its dependence on strong communities of users is why we even consider an amorphous topic like "community management" and why questions of things like shared control are so vexing to some. As I've said previously there are some good examples we can follow (I'd bring up Disney again but others discount it, and I'm not going to belabor that point), though I think little real understanding of what community actually is, how it emerges and sustains itself, or how a commercial group can ever hope to 'manage' such a process. I think we may be better off considering how to maximize the benefits of this relationship for both virtual world operators and customers than simply wishing for changes that aren't going to happen.


It would be interesting to see a group of people corporately start, fund, develop, operate, and maintain a virtual world.

I thought it was interesting that this list of verbs didn't include "use" or "experience" or "participate in".

But along that same line, thought experiment:

In order to gain access to a virtual world, you had to buy shares. No subscription, no flat rate, none of that claptrap. You just buy ownership, and then you can do as you like. If you want to quit, you sell. If you want to invite more people, you persuade the others to increase the number of shares and then sell those to the newcomers.

Is this remotely tenable? Are launches going to become reminiscent of IPOs?


Are launches going to become reminiscent of IPOs?

Not if the SEC has anything to say about it. Except for certain circumstances (sometimes known as "friends and family" investors -- "I want to play this game" doesn't count) the rules governing public offerings preclude solicting shares from "non-qualified" or unsophisticated investors -- essentially those with less than a million dollars in net worth or $200,000 in annual income.


Mike said:

If you peel away the rhetoric and illusion of "residency", the inescapble reality is that Linden Labs can delete any account or content they wish, limit access as they wish, change prices as they wish, or turn of the servers whenever they like. They can do any of these unilaterally, and there is nothing anyone else can do about it (laws could change this at some point in the future as Thomas suggests, but this remains an entirely hypothetical possibility, essentially a fantasy with no foundation in reality).

The degree to which arguments on this site can tack back and forth between acknowledgment of emergent effects, and dismissal of same in the name of a crude formalism, often by the same person, is really quite shocking. It's pretty obvious to me that those with something at stake in these arguments (on both sides) are perfectly ready to shift the basis of their arguments for purely strategic reasons. In the course of this thread alone, participants have variously reduced Linden's position of governance vis-a-vis SL and its users to law (EULA), code (architecture), and the market, but all of these are partial and strategic accounts. Governance occurs through all three, plus through social convention, which itself often becomes law, as Susan Crawford has argued. LL's practical (as opposed to formal) position is therefore much more complicated. I realize that formalist views can be more comforting to those with something at stake, but they have the distinct advantage of being static and reductionist, and therefore partial and wrong. If any views here are fantastic, it is those. Does LL retain the greatest degree of control over SL? Absolutely. Does this mean mean that they are unconstrained in what they do re: SL? No.


[Argh. Toward the end it should say, "distinct disadvantage" (in case that wasn't obvious).]


Thomas said:

I realize that formalist views can be more comforting to those with something at stake, but they have the distinct disadvantage of being static and reductionist, and therefore partial and wrong. If any views here are fantastic, it is those.
I'm not sure what you mean by "comforting" -- I have nothing at stake relative to SL and no need to be 'comforted' by a particular position. Nor do I understand in what way you see this view as "wrong" -- how is it inaccurate or non-descriptive of the situation as it exists?

While I have nothing at stake here (and Prokofy and others are probably best left to whatever they want to believe), I do find it unfortunate that in discussions here on TN, matters of laws-that-might-be, or customs-that-might-maybe-someday-become-law are treated as seriously as what actually exists today. This blurs and conflates important lines between what is with regard to virtual worlds, and what may be in some uncertain, unforeseeable future. You can dismiss this as a formalist position, but it is also very much a practical one: SL does limit access if you violate their EULA and at their complete and sole discretion. They'll pull your lovingly crafted data if it doesn't conform to the EULA. They'll shut down your account likewise. And there is nothing any user or group of users can do about this other than take their business elsewhere, as I've said. I am in no way picking on SL or suggesting that they're doing anything improper; if anything they provide their users more latitude than do many other virtual worlds.

But the stark facts -- both practical and formal -- remain that their users are not "residents" in any real sense (this is comforting if IMO misleading marketing rhetoric), and do not enjoy any of the "rights" which some users have unfortunately conjured up for themselves. Sure, things may change someday: maybe everyone will create their own virtual world and the one that's voted best will become our official reality. I kinda doubt it, but if our analysis and discussion here amounts to flights of fancy, where do you draw the line?

Getting back to my earlier point, this dichotomy -- telling users they're part of (or as in SL, residents in) a world they do not control -- presents a point of tension or friction between users of a system who have no control or ownership over it and yet come to feel a sense of entitlement regarding it, and those companies that would attempt to grow and 'manage' (in some indistinct sense) that community. Keeping both those who work to develop/operate these worlds and those who use them (and thus make them valuable) happy, engaged, and in some sense productive is the tightrope that any 'community manager' has to walk. Asserting one group's value over the other, or asserting unsupportable 'rights' for one over the other, damages the entire enterprise.


I'm not talking about what may be, Mike; I'm talking about what is. Reducing everything to the EULA, or the control over code, is a flight of fancy. Control, it bears repeating again, apparently, is not so simple as it's ultima ratio along one avenue. Do these things dictate much of what happens in SL and elsewhere? Yes, but that doesn't mean they dictate everything.


To clarify: I'm saying that, like it or not, LL is not in a position of total control over SL. SL is governed through a combination of what LL does, what its users do, what the market more broadly does, and whatever law may come to apply (and it is folly to think that the legal issues that pertain are well settled -- everyone is making the best guesses they can). I also, to clarify, am not advocating, here, for SL user "rights" or similar; I am only pointing out that a simplistic model of owner/creator vs customer/user does not apply given the current state of affairs.


In terms of 'total control' LL is in no less control of its product and service than is any other business. Every business must be responsive to the desires of its customers at some level, and of course every (legal) business must follow the law.

But the law quickly fades to the background for most businesses and does not seem operative here. That is, I know of no virtual world business that takes into serious account in its strategic planning the idea that maybe the law will change to grant users any degree of control over what goes on in the virtual world, who owns what, etc.. From the POV of anyone actually doing this, the law is settled, academic discussions notwithstanding. The prospect of laws changing to give users any degree of legal control over a virtual world or what happens in it simply is not a consideration for any developing virtual world, nor is it likely to become one in any foreseeable future.

As for market and customer considerations, virtual worlds are, as I've said, like any other business. A country club or bowling alley can raise its rates so high or limit services such that customers are driven away. The same is true with a virtual world business. Businesses depend on being able to attract customers. But in no case does this give the customers any degree of entitlement or ability to determine the decisions made by the operators of the business. The business owners may make decisions that anger their customers and drive away customers -- but the customers have no say in the making of that decision; all they can do is be vocal and hope to be heard by those making the decisions, and ultimately vote with their feet.

For example, Sony Online made decisions about the SWG virtual world that upset many players. Those players did not have any ability to make or forestall that decision, and their outcry changed nothing; given that, they must live with it or leave. If enough leave, maybe it's a poor decision, unless even more new players join up. But whether it's bad or good, whether it kills the game (including all the user-created content within it) or causes it to thrive anew, remains to be seen. The ability or power to make these decisions and see them through remains 100% in the hands of the operators of the virtual world. The customers may respond by leaving or not, but that's about it.

This extends to Second Life too. Yes, the law may change to give users more rights in the virtual world, but it is equally likely that the law may change to outlaw virtual worlds altogether -- neither of these are operative in any planning. And yes, SL doesn't exist without its customers, but SL can and will make decisions entirely unilaterally whether the customers ("residents") like it or not. When the first world-killing replicating objects came out, LL removed functionality from the world that crippled the world for many users. After an outcry from the users, LL put it back: again, it was their decision alone, albeit influenced by the clear business consequences of disabling the ability for users to transfer objects in-world. Now they live with this exploitable hole, which is still LL's sole decision. They will and do delete content on their discretion, limit the number of people who can be in a given location (nothing you can do about that either), limit what you can wear or show, etc. In some few cases an outcry by the users may influence what LL does, but this should not be mistaken for any degree of entitlement, rights, or control over the course of SL (or any other virtual world) for its users. This simply does not exist. This will remain the reality of virtual worlds unless and until some group finds a way to organize, fund, create, administer (and theoretically use) their own virtual world.


I don't see a point in continuing this debate, Mike. I never said anything about entitlements or rights for SL users. The difference here appears to be between my "realpolitik" view of how constrained the relevant actors are by circumstance and your focus on formal
categories that confer rights and capacities.

Oh, and about:

I know of no virtual world business that takes into serious account in its strategic planning the idea that maybe the law will change to grant users any degree of control over what goes on in the virtual world, who owns what, etc..

The recent SLBIZ email about "patent peace" I received from Gene Yoon, LL's General Counsel, shows enormous concern on LL's part with less than settled law.


I'm glad Thomas Malaby is pointing up the issues of constraint. And I disagree with Mike Sellers that there is a stark "no" degree of rights or entitlements. Formally, legally, Gene Yoon/Ginsu Linden has indeed locked down the TOS so that we can be kicked "for any reason or no reason" and nothing we have has any "intrinsic value".

However...there's the precedents -- and precedents count in common-law societies. There's the (much feted) prim tax revolt. Even more importantly is the (much played down) telehub land owners' rebellion -- where the Lindens were compelled to provide compensation and not just forcefully declare "eminent domain". Those whose land was devalued were compensated with buy-backs or with infohub development bids. This is an important chapter in the annals of virtual worlds, one that the Lindens never mention -- obviously they don't want stuff like that to repeat.

Corporations are restrained by law and their own sense of social responsibility all the time. This social Darwinism and scorched-earth capitalism I'm always hearing about here that grants ever right and privilege to game and software owners only in fact is belied by the actual practices of these companies in the real world. Whatever their virtuality and their game-god status, in the real world, they listen to their customers in various ways and change their behaviour accordingly, even compensating for damages at times.

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