Forums have become almost as important to many players as the game itself. So with many new games coming out, there is always the debate over whether to have official forums or not. Darren recently wrote a piece about official forums, and there’s a lengthy discussion thread over on the Nerfbat forums that also brought up the question.
I’m coming from an EQ background, where my favorite site was good old p.com, and where the whole notion of fansites became mainstream. Everlore, Mobhunter, Magelo, EQ Atlas, all set a high bar for player contributions, and it really changed how we approach MMOs.Having said that, it’s beyond crazy to release a game without an official forum. And I’d go even further, to say that it’s bad marketing if you don’t have a good official site with solid resource information for new or returning players. Here are a few reasons why:
- Information is lacking on big fansites. There is an occasional game guide here and there, but even still, you often have to wade through tons and tons of crap and ads to get to it. I don’t like to play the revenue click game to get answers to game questions.
- Games change, sometimes drastically. Players need a central place to quickly take in those changes, especially for returning players who have not played in a while. Even if a fansite writes an accurate piece about content or gameplay, they rarely go back and update it to reflect any changes. And we all know that the little game booklet that comes with a CD is outdated the moment the box is opened. So new or returning players are left to spend hours and hours scouring fansites and forums to get answers to their questions. I’m back, now make it easy for me to want to stay dammit!
- There’s a practical, and even crucial, reason for forums. Developers need input from the playerbase. Forums are the best way to get that feedback (bugs, broken content etc), for fast fixes. Vanguard had no official forums at the start, so developers had to rely on feedback from forums like Silky Venom, Vanguard Servers, Ten Ton Hammer, Vanguard Vault, Vanguard Spheres, and a few dozen class sites and international sites. It was impossible for the devs to be able to visit and address feedback from all these sites, which was a problem obviously. But then when they concentrated their efforts on feedback from a couple of sites, they got complaints from all the others, who felt slighted. Having official forums would eliminate the problem, and get bugs fixed even faster.
- Some say that having official forums hurts small sites, but I argue the opposite. Having a central spot where players can see links to community contributions is a no brainer. Lots of official forums have a community news section, where pre-approved players can highlight their creativity. We’re in an age where many are showing their gaming passion through fansites, blogs, videos, songs, artwork, comics, and podcasts. Official sites should want to draw attention to it, and where better than on an official forum, or even the main site itself. That’s free PR for the game, and brings additional attention to the little guys. That’s a Win-Win Situation! (For those of you up to speed on the EQ2 forums, pardon the pun!)
Yes, WoW forums are notorious for their inane, kid drivel. But there are many smaller WoW forums that do very well, so the two are not mutually exclusive. And the official site hits on all points – it has lots of game resources, keeps up to speed with patches and game changes, and highlights plenty of player contributions. The gold lettering on blue marble is almost as recognizable as yellow arches on a red background. There’s a reason for that!