Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Three Reasons Creators Should Never Read Their Forums

If I have learned anything from writing Indie games for a living for fifteen years (and there are plenty who would say that I haven't), it is that it is usually a bad idea for creators to visit online forums discussing them and their work. It doesn't lead to happy ends.

This is why big, smart companies with actual budgets hire community people who do nothing but deal with and sift through forums. Managing fans is real work, and picking out the realistic and worthwhile comments takes a ton of time and judgment. That is why smart companies put a layer between the fans and the creators. If you don't have this layer, you should keep a safe, respectful distance.

It's a pity. My company, Spiderweb Software, has a really awesome, active online forum. Been there for years. Always active, full of all sorts of discussions. However, unless I've just released a game and are looking for signs of early, evil bugs, I have to stay away from it.

Some of my fans really resent this and take it personally, and they haven't been shy about letting me know. But if you've ever wondered why the creators of your beloved games often avoid the forums (especially the Word of Warcraft forums, Yeesh!), this might help you to understand why.

1. It's Not Productive To Read How Much People Hate You

It's been said that, if you want a healthy marriage, you have to say five kind things for every unkind thing. It is in our nature to gloss over and ignore kind words, but to really fixate on and get affected by unkind ones. This is why Facebook will never have a Don't Like button. If you see "Joe likes your post," well, fine. If the average online denizen see "Joe doesn't like this," he or she will probably freak out.

Which brings us to forums.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for IGN about how I felt that Indie games were far from the only source of innovation, and the big companies don't get enough credit for trying to make innovative things. Slashdot was kind enough to link to it. Someone might agree or disagree with me. Fine. But someone wrote this ...

"This is the kind of commentary I'd expect out of a cynical independent ripoff artist in action, really. You know, the kind of person who is too afraid and closed-minded to try anything new, partly because he doesn't want to lose his money or reputation - a sound judgement - and partly because he just doesn't seem to want to try. ...  In other words, nothing to see here. Just near-mindless droning from another cynic with a rather skewed and defeated view of the gaming world."

WHOA! DUDE! What did I ever do to you? Did I run over your dog? Make out with your mom? Go to where you work and mess up the settings on the fry vat? Damn!

Now, I thought that one was pretty funny. I sent links to it to my friends, saying, "Hey! Look what people REALLY think of me!" Over the years, I've developed a pretty thick skin. And yet, if you read lots of people dumping on you, unless you have super-human emotional control, it's eventually going to get to you. Sometimes I'll get weak and look at a forum and see some nasty cheap shot and it'll throw me off my game for hours.

Remember, as Penny Arcade put it (in a far superior and NSFW way), anonymity plus audience makes assholes. (And, for what it's worth, the creators of Penny Arcade don't read their forums either.)

It's a little different on my company's forums. But only a little. Even though it is mainly populated by my fans, it is still full of shots at my design skill, game quality, virility, and facial complexion. Remember, there's a thin line between love and hate. Nobody will lash out at you like a disappointed fan.

When I read the forums for, say, World of Warcraft or xkcd, I'm always amazed at how nasty things get. It makes me think, "If you hate it so much, why are you there?" But that's just the way it is, and excess exposure to insults can really get under your skin, make you doubt yourself, and interfere with your work. It's very sad, but you sometimes need to just protect yourself by staying away. Keep your brain clean.

2. It's Not Going To Be Helpful

It seems like reading forums would be a good way to get design ideas and learn ways to improve your games. With the exception of learning about bugs, this is usually not the case.

It can be tempting, when you're stuck designing a game, to read forums and look for feedback. The problem is this. No matter what the question is, there are people who will advocate strongly for both sides of it. Many of these people reflexively hate change. Many of these people are only happy if the game is much harder (or much easier). Some of them will not, in fact, have a realistic idea about anything. Often, there are issues where intelligent people can come to opposite conclusions, and you can read thousands of furious posts on either side of the issue without getting an inch closer to an actual decision.

Forums contain a cacophony of people telling you to do diametrically opposite things, very loudly, often for bad reasons. There will be plenty of good ideas, but picking them out from the bad ones is unreliable and a lot of work. If you try to make too many people happy at once, you will drive yourself mad. You have to be very, very careful who you let into your head.

Of course, it is still very important for designers to get lots of good, constructive criticism. That is why I have built up an elite cadre of awesome beta testers and interested friends, and I listen to them very closely. And, I must point out, many of those testers were recruited from my forums. You just need to choose carefully the people you ask for advice.

3. You Might Get Suckered Into Getting Angry

Not much to say about this. If you read forums for long enough, you will read a lot of nasty comments and cheap shots. If you read enough cheap shots, you'll get angry. If you are angry enough, you will eventually lash out and flame back.

Snapping angrily at your customers never, ever leads to good results.

One Final Comment

I'm sure some of my fellow Indie developers are reading this and shaking their heads at my idiocy. A lot of developers do maintain close relationships with their forums. It works for them, for now. I'm glad for them, and I hope it keeps working.

Just bear this in mind. When you start out and gain your first following, you get a grace period. You're a fresh face, making awesome new things. Everyone loves you. And, most importantly, you haven't had a chance to start disappointing chunks of your fan base yet.

The longer you are active, the more of your fans will turn on you, justified or not.

And, if you are a member of my forums reading this, know this. I love you guys. The idea that anyone wants to discuss my work at all, even to dump on it, is insanely flattering. I just hope that this makes clearer the instincts of efficiency and self-preservation that lead me to keep a little bit of distance.

Edit: Changed "think skin" to "thick skin."

133 comments:

  1. Do you read these comments? We could always migrate here. :p

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    1. Great blog! I really love how it is easy on my eyes and the information are well written. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which really should do the trick! Have a nice day! Taruhan Bola

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. It's a very insightful article, Jeff. What people write do get under one's skin after some time. Forums, blog and other media are certainly not the way to resolve any matter. In general, Internet is a place with a lot of very mean people. It's not a good thing to be on the "bad" side of the fence.

    Ian.

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  4. "This is why big, smart companies with actual budgets hire community people who do nothing but deal with and sift through forums. Managing fans is real work, and picking out the realistic and worthwhile comments takes a ton of time and judgment. That is why smart companies put a layer between the fans and the creators. If you don't have this layer, you should keep a safe, respectful distance."

    I'd argue that you _do_ have a layer of sorts, just not an official one. Most of the regulars on the forums know you don't check them often due to time and sanity constraints. We still make threads directed at you on the forums anyway, because if the problem raised is important, chances are one of your betatesters/moderators will bring it up to you.

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  5. But the real question remains. Do you read blog comments?

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  6. @Aleks: Actually, I do read the blog comments. They're distant enough from my design work that it doesn't really unnerve me.

    I should have pointed out in my article that I am very careful to read and respond to all my e-mail. The e-mails I receive tend to be very friendly and helpful.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. So what's better, nonconstructive criticism or spam about irrigation techniques? Both are about carefully passing useless clog. :D

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  9. I agree with you completely.

    I started in the game industry about 25 years ago, and my experience with users or some reviewers matches closely with yours.

    It never ceases to amaze me how quick some people are to try and tear something down that they could never hope to create themselves.

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    1. You make me understand. It is knowledge for me. Great post of helping me.
      power ranger costumes

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  10. The same thing applies to application developers.

    Sure, do user testing. That's in debth, with a few people.

    Sure, let the masses contribute via closed polls. That gives them a feeling of involvement, and if done right it can work great (imho it's vital for application development).

    Just never ever read the idle banter of your users.

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  11. I personally feel that it is a balance between visiting a forum and taking in ideas and criticism and trying to stay focus and true to your project goals. It is very hard to give a sweeping statement like 'don't visit the forums'. No... it's a sweeping statement in anyway and too extreme. I would still advocate visiting the forums to find some ideas but it's up to the project leader to balance the fulfilment of ideas from users and the main project goal by retrospection and self understanding.

    If people have something personal and negative for their hate messages... all you do is smile at them and leave them as they are or if you are an admin, you simply ban them and remove their messages for the act of committing personal insults.

    Things like feature requests and bugzilla are for submitting bugs and feature requests anyways. These are the places bugs and features requests should go... rather than forums.

    In the arts of Knowledge Management in IT, forums is a good place to find ideas but because it's a place that is rather 'fuzzy' it can be a 'love-hate' affair. It is nevertheless a place to go but it all boils down to attitude, goals, principles.... things that manages the person who drives the project. The people out there can say all the want.. helpful or not helpful stuff... but it is the people in the project rather than the people sharing their ideas that matter when it comes down to project planning and design.

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  12. You make good points, but I can't help but think of how mainstream journalists tried to "engage the community" by allowing comments on the online versions of their articles and then... never moderating the discussions, never mind participating in them. *Of course* trolls ended up dominating.

    But think of it this way: even face-to-face talks often need moderators. Why do we keep thinking computers and the Internet are somehow magical and completely different from real-life?

    That, and many trolls aren't malicious, but simply young and stupid. I've been that way; haven't you? These people need guidance. Only if they don't respond to it should they be declared beyond help.

    And if they are beyond help, what do you do? Complain about them while they go on a rampage? Of course not; you *stop them*. But for that, you need to be there.

    Would that eat up your time? Well duh. And maybe you can't afford it. But running away from it won't solve the problem.

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  13. I find that good feedback is crucial to the development process, and forums can be a great way of getting it - you've just got to be careful as to which forums you pick.

    Go for one based around users and you are likely to have a fairly bad time, but pick one where most of the members are also game programmers / designers and you can get some very useful pointers indeed.

    Yes, you need to develop a fairly robust attitude to be able to deal with the negative comments, but the neutral / positive comments should outnumber them. If they don't then you may need to take a deep breath, re-read the comments and try and work out where you are going wrong.

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  14. I came here via /. convinced that you were wrong for ignoring your fans/customers.

    And then I read your post. And surprisingly found myself (gradually) agreeing with it.

    Food for thought.

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  15. Interesting take that I would agree with in most parts i think. I have seen countless time Point #3 happen and it isnt pretty!

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  16. This is a problem very particular to today society, which applies all the same to creators themselves, and in all domains of life, including, very notably, politics. We say and believe everything and its contrary. We have a very blurry vision of everything, including of ourselves. And we try to protect ourselves, to find some control, and to relieve stress and frustration, through violence.

    The solution is to listen enough to have a good global vision of the problems, prejudices, ignorances, and on the contrary, of what is more positive, then, if you can do it, if you can detach yourself enough from all the confusion, from all the pushes in all the directions, to synthesize, reflect, think, invent, perfect, and present.

    Of course, it can be very difficult, if you are not already paid directly for this. This is today society, with all its consequences, perpetuating most of our problems indefinitely, creating new ones regularly, and coming back to old ones every other day.

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  17. I have found this to be completely true. Couldn't have said it better myself.

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  18. <troll>
    WE WILL MIGRATE TO UR COMMENTZ!!! DO YOU READ DEM? LOLOLOL!

    YOU ARE TEH SUX0RS!!!11!!ONEONE!!!
    </troll>

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  19. I had some dealings with running a forum for a games magazine.

    If I learned anything it was:

    - It takes a LOT of time and effort to do it properly, or even keep a vague idea of current topics, and keep a lid on libellous or offensive material.

    - Enforcing on-topic discussion takes even more time.

    - Never, ever, be, do or say anything that isn't completely positive. You must be relentlessly cheerful, or people will run away with it. Seriously. Didn't like your morning coffee? Well, if you mention it on the forum don't be surprised to find you've triggered a whole bunch of DDoS and trolling attacks against Starbucks.

    All told, I wouldn't have a forum again unless we could get full-time moderators.

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  20. Another point is that the well-meaning advice can actually steer you in the wrong way. I posted my site to HackerNews when I first launched it and got tonnes of advice (we hate this, fix this etc...)

    I spent two weeks fixing everything up and my page's "stickiness metrics" plummeted (5 average pagers per visit to 1.3, 5 minutes onsite to 1:00, 5% clicks / impression to >1.00% clicks).

    I *personally* like the new site better, but I've been really trying to recapture that magic lost from the very first one.

    To be fair, I'd probably have made the changes anyways, but 'oh well' right? :)

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  21. I'd say there's a mix of good and bad. It's about feedback in general.

    Take anything you like from a movie, game, book, band, consumer product, etc, go look it up on something like Amazon and read the negative reviews. For everything you find perfect in its given form, you'll find someone who will confirm that's exactly why it sucks. And most of the really good stuff that's come out has dealt with a lot of rejection beforehand.

    Now the stuff that does suck, some of it can come so close to being good and you think to yourself "If only someone had told them about this one thing!" Ah, feedback.

    The lesson learned here is everyone needs feedback but you need to get feedback from the right people. The danger of internet forums is that the minority opinion can often have the loudest voice. If JK Rowling listened to her most vociferous fans, book 7 would have been all about Potter/Malfoy snogging. "But that's what the fans wanted!" No, that's what a few, very loud fans wanted.

    Identifying the fact that you need people you respect to provide honest feedback is the easy part. Finding those people is the hard part.

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  22. I deeply disagree, and I use Paizo as a good example of engaging your community instead of ignoring it. For every asshole there are 9 people who are decent folk. At least hat has been my experience as a micropress publisher who engages his fans via patronage projects over the last three years

    Steve Russell
    Rite Publishing

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  23. To be honest I often don't even make suggestions on forums or read them as a user because of the likelyhood of ending up missed in amongst the crap there. But if you can get the community to help moderate it properly, it can be a success, see introversion forums.

    On saying that, an idea, look at old players/users with low post counts and don't log into the forums very often and ask them. They are likely to be most honest.

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  24. This article reminded me of Derek Smart on USENET.

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  25. I actually like forums for generating ideas I haven't thought of. Though I develop productivity software and not games, I've found some of the feedback to be really good! However, I only pay attention to those who provide good feedback and not the crap. Of course, it should never cloud your big picture vision (with negativity and useless feature requests), but help you figure out if you're on the right track. The part that sucks is, it's your baby they ultimately criticize... that's what hurts.

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  26. THANK YOU. I've been doing the indie dev thing for about five years, and I couldn't agree more. I remember when my first game went up and I began reading the customer comments obsessively. True, most were positive, but the negative (and most vocal!) comments cut me to the core. So much that I think I started drinking beer at noon! Now I know that the key to sanity is to never start reading them!

    My forum isn't quite as active as yours, but it does have the occasional troll. What's interesting is that the most vocal and hyper-critical poster still ends up buying every game I make. If I was angry and rude with him, he'd probably stop buying.

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  27. The one thing that I do not really don't understand/agree with is.
    "Forums contain a cacophony of people telling you to do diametrically opposite things, very loudly, often for bad reasons. There will be plenty of good ideas, but picking them out from the bad ones is unreliable and a lot of work. If you try to make too many people happy at once, you will drive yourself mad. You have to be very, very careful who you let into your head."

    You are already a game designer and should be able to tell good ideas from bad and in the case of ambiguity still come to a good decision.

    I am an admin of a indie game's forum and I have people there telling me ideas all the time, and I often give ideas myself to the creator, and yes 99.9% of the users ideas are complete garbage, but I am intelligent and could design a game myself so can easily sort of the bad ideas and can pick up on anything that has a hint of a good idea in it.

    And it is not just game design that had loud opposing reviews, the whole world is like this. watch TV for very long and you will have to competing products telling you to buy them.

    So I really do not understand why this would be a problem, as far as I am concerned when trying to come up with something unique and interesting it is good to have as much random suggestions as possible (because no one can think of everything, but if you are smart you should be able to recognize something good when you see it).

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  28. "Even though it is mainly populated by my fans, it is still full of shots at my design skill, game quality, virility, and facial complexion."

    Your beard, on the other hand, receives near-universal acclaim.

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  29. As a forum owner,not even a proper game designer, I generally think forums are a terrorist bomb waiting to go off for reasons that relate to Jeff's post. Not only am I thick skinned, which is required in the online universe, but I welcome reasoned dissension in my group. However, most dissension is not well reasoned. For all I can tell, someone gets a speeding ticket in real life and howls at the injustices of the online universe at my forum.

    I'm not mocking the real people behind the personas on my forum or anywhere else. But when I get the consistent sense that people aren't actually responding to my words in a conversational threads, then I can imagine it gets much worse when the topic is the fruits of my creative effort.

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  30. I just want to say thanks for Exile II. Best. Game. Ever.

    Mike

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  31. I have to say that this made for a great re-tweet this morning. As someone who covers indie games for a large website, this made me hope that no budding indie developer reads this.

    Why? There are a ton of indie developers who maintain sanity, produce great work, and...you know...talk to their community on forums. It IS possible, trust me.

    In the end the question is: why have a forum then?

    It seems to come down to your inability to take criticism, valid or not. After all this time and experience, has it not become easier?

    Beau Hindman

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  32. I engage a lot with my forum, but my forum is also quite small. And there are certain subjects that I make a point not to comment on, because there's just nothing appropriate I can say from an official position.

    Luckily, I don't get poisonous trolls on my forums. People who REALLY hate me flame me on their own blogs and forums (which one day I should learn to stop reading). I probably would quietly ban them if they followed me home and were nasty enough. :)

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  33. "And, I must point out, many of those testers were recruited from my forums."

    Hmm, i missed the part where you explained how you did that without looking at your forums.

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  34. I'm currently playing a unique indie game called Winter Voices and the latest patch for the game clearly addresses some complaints raised by players in forums/critics in reviews. I don't know... as the player I think that's a good thing. There is no doubt in my mind the game is better now. Of course, I have no way of knowing where they got feedback from but I think it's reasonable to assume some of it came from forums.

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  35. This was enormously well-timed for me. I was just about to start a forum for an indie game I'm developing (also I'm a former big-company developer), and now I'm convinced I should save myself that time investment. Probably an easy sell, since I myself stopped visiting forums as being too aggravating.

    Thanks a bunch!

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  36. Perhaps certain segments of the Internet population are actually angry and frustrated at something else, spend their time virtually blowing things up and killing things, as a form of displacement:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Displacement_%28psychology%29

    For some reason the worst displacers also tend to hang out in IRC.

    Also, possibly, people don't get heard enough, so tend to be more vocal and mean when they do actually get heard.

    I hope that trolls and jerks don't run companies away from listening to their customers.

    It does seem like one needs to take a personal history into account when deciding how much credibility to give a complaint or insult. Maybe you could create a voting system for ideas, and somehow give people a limited number of + and - votes, or make the - votes count less for every one they spend, or something :-)

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  37. So, this boils down to Jeff is a sissy girl child whose feelings can be hurt by anonymous internet commentary and either so incompetent or prideful that he is incapable of the critical thought necessary to evaluate materials relevant to his own profession.

    I won't comment as to the quality of his games as I've never played any of them, but a quick browse through the catalog has proven to my satisfaction that Jeff is a prideful man(or girl child). He obviously has a very consistent idea of what his games should be if I am to judge by the single game presented on his website with 5 different titles and ever incrementing numbers after them.

    Jeff, don't change a thing. You have a vision, and you need to play it out. It's not about the game so much. You author interactive fiction. You are the god/creator of your own world. You are also sane and down to earth so I'm not worried.

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  38. All I see is some game developer living in his mother's basement that is very pretentious and is trying to make the next World of warcraft without realizing people are tired of playing that game. So he gets flamed by gamers, but takes it to his self righteous ego to make a blog about it.

    Get use to the vat fryer because larger corporations have done just the same and their game bombed. Ie: Age of Conan, All points bulletin, Mortal online.

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  39. Coming at this from the perspective of an author, you get some similar issues with fans. Before I go any further, I have to say that 97% of the fans I've met are friendly, lovely people who I wouldn't mind having a drink at a pub with - they're kind and appreciative of all the work you've done, and they just enjoy your work for what it is. Then there's the other 3%, who are downright scary - and VERY vocal.

    Back about ten years ago, I was writing one of the first online computer games issues columns out there. It had a readership of about 20,000, which while not huge, was respectable. And, I had this one fan who emailed me abuse.

    Now, the job of an issues columnist isn't to be right - it's to raise a certain question in an intelligent way. My favorite feedback was always the people who disagreed with me, as that meant that I had been successful in starting a discussion. This fellow, however, didn't just disagree with me. He sent in actual abuse, accused me of propaganda, and when I added him to my killfile, he created a new one and sent me more abuse starting with "you can't hide." As far as he was concerned, he had the right under free speech to hound me.

    As best I can figure, when it comes to that 3%, what's going on in their heads is that they think that because they have consumed your stuff, they therefore have rights over you. And, about all you can do is add them to your killfile, or boot them off your forum, when you detect them. You can't make them mend their ways, but at least you can get them out of your hair.

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  40. Related: "Author's Big Mistake", or "Thin-skinned people should stay out of show business." (http://budiansky.blogspot.com/2010/09/authors-big-mistake.html)

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  41. Steve Jobs intuitively developed a great technique for dealing with such things: when they asked him in an interview how he deals with rumors and negative press and hate, he said he imagines that he has a twin brother who is a public persona that they write about and not him.

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  42. This is the kind of commentary I'd expect out of a cynical independent ripoff artist in action, really. You know, the kind of person who is too afraid and closed-minded to try anything new, partly because he doesn't want to lose his money or reputation - a sound judgement - and partly because he just doesn't seem to want to try. ... In other words, nothing to see here. Just near-mindless droning from another cynic with a rather skewed and defeated view of the gaming world.

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  43. Jeff -- nice post. (Yeah, yeah, I have to admit I got here via Slashdot.)

    What you say here is similar to the reasons I hesitate to read my student evaluations. Or, anyway, the rationalization I use. The real reason I don't read them is that I now from experience they make me cry, and make me think that I must be the most horrible teacher ever, and that I'm doing the world a disservice by even trying to continue doing it.

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  44. Try 4chan. Or any other Anonymous Imageboard so to say. After a few months of participation, your brain will automagically filter away all obscenity and other bad stuff, leaving only information.
    Worked for me.

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  45. Thank you very much for the comments. I have read them all and, in all seriousness, enjoyed them immensely.

    I will write a blog post soon answering a question I was asked a lot: "Why have forums?"

    Also, I do not have thin skin. After over two decades of Internet residency and flame war participation, my skin is quite thick, thank you. However, even thick skin can be pierced if you let people try hard enough.

    Finally, you all got me. I am, in fact, a cynic with a rather skewed and defeated view of the gaming world. :-)

    - Jeff Vogel

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  46. As an 11 year indie-developer, I can't agree more with you! I think I've even met you at old shareware conferences.

    Forums are very unproductive and despite many attempts over the years to perform technical-support in public-forums (so that all can see Q/A's); I've found that customers perceive "public" support as a soap-box for their views, rants and just-plain bad attitudes.

    The bottom line is that people will say things in email/text that they would *never* dream of saying in real-life; people are finicky; people are moody and people will take it out on someone else, anonymously, in a heart-beat.

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  47. Wow, I cannot adequately express how wrong this blog post is. Yes, if you are a spineless leader who collapses at a single ounce of criticism, you should avoid your forums. If you have an obsessive habit with hunting down negative posts and dwelling on them endlessly, you should avoid your forums. If you are the greatest game developer on earth who never makes a game with any problems, you should avoid your forums.

    However, if you want fans to feel that sense of personal connection, you NEED to read your forums. The forums I frequent the most are where the main developers come down and talk with us. OF COURSE they're busy and cannot come talk for days at a time, but they certainly do not take this attitude of "I need to stay away from the forums".

    If you feel this urge to avoid your forums for all the reasons listed in your post, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

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  48. I've just been reading that 5 to 1 ratio in How Full is Your Bucket, his predictive power on who would get divorces is pretty amazing (assuming it was true). needless to say I've made a big effort with the girlfriend to give more compliments.

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  49. I disagree. You can't take things personally, and you should be there and supportive as much as possible. These forums are the store front in which people come in and meet like minded customers. You'll hear good things and bad things - but the ones you make a personal connection with will usually turn to supporters. The more supporters you have the better your business will do. Lack of a connection to your base will help drive a wedge between you and your business. For longevity and a top notch customer loyalty you're going to have to play ball. I think Gabe Newell is a good example. You don't want a middle man deciding what's worth you to see and what's not - you're going to miss a whole lot.

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  50. By the way, I DO get feedback from the forums. When people post problems to them, they tend to percolate back to me, by e-mail and other communications. Participating myself is not always necessary.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  51. Wadjet Eye made a valid point. Many who are most critical feel that they are paying customers and have earned the right to be hyper-critical. The analogy I make is to the employee who likes to complain a lot but is otherwise your top employee. I say that you put up with the attitude--maybe even engage them in five minutes of vent time a day--and reap the rewards of employing them. Some would never tolerate the attitude and would sack the employee at the first opportunity. To each his own management style.

    As for Jeff, he is too modest. His customer service is top notch, his DRM is minimal (and he makes a living) and his forums are useful. I can deal with his coping mechanisms.

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  52. Now, I thought that one was pretty funny. I sent links to it to my friends, saying, "Hey! Look what people REALLY think of me!" Over the years, I've developed a pretty think skin.

    A pretty think skin.
    What an interesting typo.

    Thin > thick > think
    Love it.

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  53. As a former community relations representative turned game designer, I can really appreciate what you have to say here.

    Speaking from experience, when a developer posts angrily on the forums, it is more often than not in response to negative feedback that contains no constructive qualities. Not only does this make the developer/company look bad, but it also encourages other “trolls” to create negative posts, as it is now a proven way to get developer attention.

    It’s much easier for a community relations representative to respond to these posts when necessary, and glean whatever feedback there may be in even the vilest of criticisms. A good community manager will earn the trust and respect of the community and the development team, while also acting as a liaison between the two, creating a friendlier and more productive environment for everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  54. I run a web game. I got suckered into getting angry this week. Well timed to read this. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  55. I thinks it ironic how, after presumably reading your post, several people decided to rail on you for "DOING IT WRONG." It's like having a proof text under a passage in a book.

    ReplyDelete
  56. @Enumbra: I declare you winner of this thread.

    - Jeff Vogel

    ReplyDelete
  57. I help craft a game via Neverwinter Nights engines. Gotta say much of what you wrote resonates as true, though on our small community level we're expected to keep a presence. Oh well. Good luck to you with your gaming creations, know that you have quite a few non rabid fans out here.

    ReplyDelete
  58. I'm a musician, and this perfectly captures why I distance myself from a lot of online music communities. It gets, well, sketchy.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Sounds like you've just had a bit of a bad experience. Most forums are usually very helpful to developers, in fact, I know of some things that could be a lot better if the dev actually read their forums. Sure, you'll get a bit of hate now and then, but the important thing is to interact with your fans/the community, this way you'll be able to figure out what exactly they want and what will make them happy.

    ReplyDelete
  60. "this way you'll be able to figure out what exactly they want and what will make them happy."

    Jeff, don't be scared - dive right into those forums! You just need to spend more time interacting with fans, then your games will be much better. Simple as that.

    In fact, the more time you spend reading posts, the more you will know exactly what they want and what will make them happy (Ryan's Law of Game Design).

    And what a happier and more balanced person you will be for having done so!

    Dammit Jeff, I wish we knew what you thought about this subject. If only you would talk to us, interact with us.

    You're like some type of guy who sits in a high-up place that we can't get to.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Congrats to Enumbra! My natural optimism has me suspecting that some of these responses were written specifically to prove the point of this entry (my unnatural pessimism says they probably didn't even read it before posting their rants).

    ReplyDelete
  62. You make good games but you aren't quite synchronized with this universe, are you

    oh well

    ReplyDelete
  63. Thanks for these helpful tips..This is very much useful for everyone. Keep it up.

    ReplyDelete
  64. Jeff while I don't disagree with you, I find it odd that this came from you. I'm a fan of your games and frequently visit the spiderweb software forums. I don't find your forums very vitriolic or hateful, in fact they appear to me to full of your fans!

    I heart Avernum and Geneforge :)

    ReplyDelete
  65. I think that what you wrote is fair and understandable. All the best for you and you family in the future Jeff :o)

    ReplyDelete
  66. Yeah, we see this all the time with our games. The fact is, as you said, anonymity + audience = assholes. Plus, people just love to gripe, especially the younger folk.

    One thing to remember is that if they really didn't like or care about your game, they'd most likely just leave. The fact that they post negative comments indicates that they actually do have some connection to the game (or part of it), enough to get a response out of it. The negativity is just an aspect of their personality, not your game. Those who like your game AND have more "likeable" personalities will provide constructive criticism rather than just rants.

    ReplyDelete
  67. This is the kind of commentary I'd expect out of a cynical independent ripoff artist in action, really. You know, the kind of person who is too afraid and closed-minded to try anything new, partly because he doesn't want to lose his money or reputation - a sound judgement - and partly because he just doesn't seem to want to try. ... In other words, nothing to see here. Just near-mindless droning from another cynic with a rather skewed and defeated view of the gaming world.

    ReplyDelete
  68. I really like your work, for what it's worth :)

    ReplyDelete
  69. Jeff, Jeff, Jeff...

    My comments do not reflect on any of my clients: But here goes.

    You're damn right about players not knowing shit. All the game developers who read this are nodding their head, all the players are shaking it furiously (This is why I don't say it is the belief of my clients). Fact of the matter is, players have such clouded views of what is going on they couldn't possibly give correct feedback. There are ways to lift that veil, but it isn't worth doing on a public forum (Special team of beta testers are a good example, observing people play your game for the first time, ect.)

    Now that said, to ignore your own forum to me is terrible! A direct relationship with your consumer is exactly what gives a small company an edge. As far as I have seen fostering a "positive" community takes two things: Hefty use of banning forum accounts and locking threads and hefty use of talking about ANYTHING other than your own games.

    Now once again players are shaking their heads about banning accounts/locking threads... well, sorry, this isn't a free speech zone! If you don't have constructive things to say you should simply stop people from talking about it. If they continue, you ban them. Eventually you cull a group of positive people who are there to SOCIALIZE and SUPPORT rather than give their half-assed opinions. This leads to item 2: People want you there and want you talking you curmudgeon. So talk about something they can't hurt your feelings about. Talk about news, books, a funny moment involving the cat... they want to hear from you and know you're involved and FEEL involved.

    Now some of you business minded folk say "Well, if you're going to stop people from talking you're going to lose customers." - this is correct. However, the effect you don't see is letting them talk ALSO costs you customers. The guy who's out there trash talking your product after buying it is not nearly as likely to tell their friends about it as the person who has praise; however, the person who praises the game may change their opinions of the product based on negativity of your game in the forum (or worse, never buy it at all). Time consuming, yes, but in the end I am a BIG FAN of cultivating the RIGHT group of people for your forums... and it's just easier to do if you don't ignore it.

    ReplyDelete
  70. There's nothing worse than people who think they know what they're talking about. Forums breed all manner of expert opinions from armchair designers. It is indeed why major companies handle their forums via community management folks.

    The other way to handle it is to have someone not involved in dev, but not willing to get drawn in deal with things. In indie development that can be friends or relatives willing to sift for you.

    ReplyDelete
  71. VGSmart. If the Developer is not going to talk about their game, why would I want to spend time on the game's forum? I, and everybody else, already has about a million different social sites and forums to keep track of. Why even have a forum at all, in that case? It'd be cheaper to just forget the whole business.

    It does feel a little as if the players are held in a certain amount of contempt by many of the professionals in this thread.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Aww man, I think it lost what I wrote :( It was really long (again) too!

    Well, I will summarize what I wrote:

    The players can talk about the game (You're only locking/banning trolls, not for simply suggesting things). You can too, to some degree, you just don't want to do so in a way that opens the games up to debate. The key from the business side is they simply want to be acknowledged. Finding a "reason" for your forum is part of your business plan.

    As for contempt: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that this is the developer's JOB. Nobody likes it when someone tells you how to do your job; especially if its someone who doesn't know anything about it. I don't walk into an art exhibit and tell the artist how to paint. If the art is bad I leave. For some reason gamers feel entitled to tell us its bad before they go (or tell us how we should have done it).

    ReplyDelete
  73. There's a dozen pointless complaints and or pointless text dumps for every comment but no one is going to grow and improve much without real criticism, even if it's simply figuring out what features people do and don't like. From many comments you've made in the past it seems obvious you are out of touch with what your fans want and make decisions that go against their grain. I've liked some of your games but when you come out and say things like fans want more hitpoints for enemy trash mobs and more trash mobs that only take damage from certain things it shows you are not listening.

    Just because you listen doesn't mean you need to get sucked into flame wars or that you need to respond or that you need to go along with something you don't agree with but without some critique art of any kind is going to be less than it could.

    ReplyDelete
  74. I love this... Well, not really. I'm a indie-developer as well and commented on having the same issue. What's funny, is that I subscribed to watch the comments as they come in...

    Jeff, I'm starting to think that you started this thread to help illustrate a point; as these comments are exactly the same as a public-support-forum.

    Watching them come in and reading each one makes me want to pull my hair out. While there's some great nuggets, they are far and few between.

    I loved the suggestion for a private beta-group and I think I might adopt that; but unless you hire someone to that's great at "smiling from the wrists down" (but hires are never cheap), I'm going to stick with no public support-forums and just perform private support on a per customer basis.

    Good luck brother!

    ReplyDelete
  75. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  76. Jeff, you should peek a sneak at Toucharcade's iOS forums, and the constant interaction that occurs there between iOS developers and their customers and fans. It is an surprisingly symbiotic relationship, and a great number of iOS devs rely on those forums in more ways than one (something they often tell the community outright). Some devs have been communicating for years with their customer base in there, with little or no signs of the gradually increasing animosity and frayed relationships you describe.

    Darkwind's player forums are another wonderful example, a place where the player base has been gradually integrated into the development of the game in question, and where the developer relies on his players to provide him with everything from patch testing and feedback to new 3D models and content creation. 4 years now, and counting, and the developer and the players only sem to grow more fond of each other's company. I have never, EVER seen any personal attacks on the developer in there. There have probably been a few, but not enough for me to notice during the two years I visited the forums frequently.

    For many indie devs, forums of any kind are one of the greatest assets, and a source of joy that by far outweights any instances of negativity. What you describe certainly occur, but probably far from as frequently as many would believe, or be led to believe by this blog post, and might sometimes (though only sometimes) be indicative of different developers' ability to handle developer-player interactions, communication, and criticism of both the justified and randomly nasty kind.

    ReplyDelete
  77. Hey Jeff,

    This was a great article. As main designer of the fan game resurrection of King's Quest, The Silver Lining, I often debate whether I should be visiting our forums or not. Sometimes, it's very nice to read the great comments and the constructive and honest feedback, but I have fallen victim of lashing back, which never leads to anything good, as you said. In our case, it gets worse as we have to deal with a legacy of fans.

    People (reviewers and fans alike) sometimes don't understand how close we are to our designs, and how some comments really get to us, especially after putting so much heart and love into something. I don't always believe I'm right, and sometimes I love things that I've come too realize too late don't work, but geez, some of the ways people make comments about one's work is really disheartening.

    Anyway, enough ranting. Great article, really hit home with me.

    Cesar Bittar

    ReplyDelete
  78. I'm a bit late to the party because you just showed up on my facebook, but I have a suggestion. I find that sometimes people get mad when they don't know how to get something. They start demanding it from whoever they think is closest to their ideal.

    You could have a section called "If our games suck, try:" and topics could be labeled like "better graphics", "faster pace", "cooler characters". Inside you would let people suggest games for those trolls. Lead them out from under your bridge and make them somebody else's problem. Train your regulars to always point to those topics whenever anybody says something out of character with your games. People don't like to be asked to leave, so they will probably shape up.

    I know this is "bad business sense" because you don't like them even thinking of some other game when they consider yours, but you're trying to get rid of them anyway, right?

    ReplyDelete
  79. Personally, as a non-creating fan, I am thrilled when creators (of whatever stripe) maintain an interactive online presence, particularly in forums. It's deeply cool getting to, however rarely and/or indirectly, talk to people who make neat stuff I enjoy. But at the same time, I certainly don't expect it. Because people get weird about it, feel entitled, etc. And because, ultimately, time spent interacting with one's public is not time spent a) making the stuff that's so cool or b) having a private life. And those are important.

    ReplyDelete
  80. Here's my contribution to the 5:1 ratio: Keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
  81. just wanted to say i love your games and though the graphics might not be that great, the plot is always kickass. keep going, cant wait for next game.

    ReplyDelete
  82. Hey man!
    Just wanted to say I totally feel you!
    I'm so left aghast how people behave in these forums and how what they're calling wit and free speech are actually plain rudeness/terminal stage
    of douchebagassery! Seriously, what the fu** are moderators for?!! By allowing this kind of behaviour they create a space not of exchange and share but of violence and ruthless expression, without a clue or a damn about what could feel another human being receiving this kind of trash.
    Well just saying you know ;-).
    Keep up the good work cuz it's true, you make dreams in our sometimes not that dreamy lives and yes it matters, really!
    As for all these jerks well they'll all die alone and miserable if they continue behaving like toxic morons!

    ReplyDelete
  83. While I understand your point and agree with many of your points there are still many companies that keep in touch with their community through forums. Not all of them are indie too. One of them, for example, is piranha bytes. They are answering questions and talking to people over at www.worldofrisen.com and it has been like this since Gothic 2(what? 10 years now?). I'd say the key to the success are good mods and involving community in helping you take care of the "flamers". Propose reasonable, polite fans mods/admins, maybe not use your forum but some fan community forum (those are always more civil). In my opinion if you're polite and show respect to the community MOST of them will also be polite.

    ReplyDelete
  84. I have had similar experiences and pretty much came to the same conclusions. I took on helpers on the forum and they deal with the worst of it for me. Strict rules of behavour mean those who vent at me or anybody else get banned. Nobody ever gets exposed to that sort of hate. But it used to happen, and I agree with everything you have said and the reasons you said it.

    ReplyDelete
  85. Hi, generally agree, but thought I'd point out that it also greatly depends on your product. If you have a product where the forums are a helpful element in the everyday usage of the program (e.g. figuring out iMovie themes, Keynote tricks) and the program is for frequent, creative use, a Forum will generally have enough positive voices to keep the negative ones in check most of the time.

    OTOH, if the program is one that "just works", or mainly for consumption, the positive voices will never get the idea to seek out the forum, so all you get are people having problems (just like in support), because those will actively seek out any channel for a solution. If they then see the archived majority of problem threads on the forum, that'll skew their initial impression even more.

    ReplyDelete
  86. I'd agree with you in the initial stages of development and release, but now that I'm 2 years past my first big game's release, I find the only people left talking about it are the people who absolutely love it, which is pretty encouraging.

    ReplyDelete
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  88. It was a really interesting read from the creator's point of view. I like how you described in detail about your experience and can totally feel it.

    Only very few people get to be creators the rest follow. Thats a nice place to be.

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  95. Hi Jeff,

    I have to say that I believe the issue of criticism vs. constructive feedback is something that pretty much applies to almost any kind of job.
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    I absolutely agree with what you said about how people tend to ignore positive feedback and focus on criticism.
    I'm a performer, and after shows and in public places I've heard people discussing my performances: I can hear dozens of flattering comments, and I feel great, then I hear one negative one, and I am completely devastated and feel like I'm talentless and pathetic.
    Regardless, I have to say that I really have a problem with people who think they have me figured out (thinking here of the negative quotation you posted).
    I understand that everyone's taste is different, and some people just will not like my shows (or your games). But people like the one who wrote that awful comment are a little too much, I think. I suspect the writer to be rather cynical and immature themselves, if they feel the need to 'figure' you out. I say this in full awareness that as a younger person, I used to be exactly like that! I thought I was so smart and had people figured out to a T. Time has taught me otherwise.
    Good call blogging about such a delicate issue that affects so many people.
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  96. 100 comments on your post = you have arrived.

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