As reported by Polygon, Sony Online Entertainment's director of global community relations, Linda "Brasse" Carlson, gave an interesting talk about balancing developer relations with its various online communities, while tamping down abusive behavior by users. Carlson detailed the process the company uses to handle all these different issues during a presentation at GDC Europe 2013 today.
Carlson said during her presentation that developers need to be consoled and protected in the face of strong user backlash. She also said that developers are generally terrified of players – particularly when there is vocal disdain for updates or changes that can have a dramatic effect on gameplay. When fans are particularly angry, developers can come away from those interactions feeling "severely demoralized," according to Carlson.
"Players think developers are sharks who think they are out to ruin gameplay and dumb it down," said Carlson.
Carlson emphasized the importance of community management's role in bridging the gap between players and designers, and in protecting developers when things get hot. This requires an "increase in reports of verbal and written threats and attacks against devs, a practice of zero tolerance of abuse, punishment by withdrawing participation, the guarding of developer's personal information and by consoling the devs," says Carlson.
But even in the midst of all the troubles that interacting with a community can bring, Carlson strongly believes that developers need to know how to communicate with the fanbase.
"There's no such thing as too much information," said Carlson. "There's an assumption that players won't understand or aren't interested. Players appreciate the information, it makes them feel a part of the process."
Carlson also reminded attendees of the presentation of the aftermath of a 2005 patch to Star Wars Galaxies called the "New Game Enhancement." This major update to the popular MMO simplified gameplay and features, which fans did not like. SOE ignored negative fan reaction, believing that it was a temporary attitude on the part of players. It was not.
"It was a stunning lesson in how not to do things," said Carlson. "It was too much change. It was brought in all at once. Even after the event there was an idea that it would blow over [among the developers], but it didn't. There was so much anger. You cannot hide from these events."
Carlson points out that SOE "is still getting hate mail for the NGE update in Star Wars: Galaxies."
At the end of the day her point is that the company has learned a valuable lesson about communication from the whole SWG affair.