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the Big Blog Company | Just trying to keep the customers satisfied?
“Who yer callin' a sparrow, you schmuck?!”
The bird on the back.
November 09 2004
Just trying to keep the customers satisfied?
Perry de Havilland • Blogs & Blogging • Products & Services • Brand blogs 
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Are you old enough to remember the lyrics of that old Simon and Garfunkle song?  It is not easy to satisfy people.  And in some markets, it is damn near impossible.

The computer games market is ‘one of those’.  All you have to do is hang out for a while in one of the many forums set up by games companies to discover as soon as your company announces it is planning to release a patch to improve things, you are reviled for not releasing it yesterday.  If you release it promptly, you are criticised for not addressing ‘this’ and ‘that’ as well, but if you wait for that, you are screamed at for not waiting until pet peeve number 289 was also addressed.  If the patch fixes the way the game plays, you are moaned at for ruining some favoured exploit, or for not ending that exploit which is ‘ruining the game’.  And all of this in the sort of incoherent and intemperate language that only bad tempered teenage old boys are capable of.  Moreover dissenting opinions are shouted down and discussions meander off-topic constantly.  And yes, they really do think that their £29.99 game entitles them to several thousand man hours of personal tech support, personal player tips and weekly free downloadable new content… which is why I think games forums are a vastly overused tool.

One of the attractions of forums for a company is that on the face of it, they are inexpensive and self-perpetuating.  You set them up and the punters just talk amongst themselves without you having to get yet another set of content providers on the company payroll.

Well, yes and no.  Certainly a forum is a splendid way to take pressure of fa tech support department by allowing knowledgeable customers to provide free tech support answers to other customers.  However I must say that I think ‘general discussion’ forums are more often than not really quite ghastly places where adolescents engage in baseless rumour mongering and peevish behaviour quite literally at company expense. To function well and not degenerate into a hateful stream of profanity, flame wars and racist taunts, you have to rigorously moderate any forum 24/7.

Forums are ostensibly about community building and I am all for that because what is a brand but a label for an affinity group of people who share an interest in a product? But is providing a sandbox which you have to carefully watch to prevent the kiddies killing each other really the best way for that affinity to express itself?  The trouble is the once voice which often gets lost in the noise is so very often that of the company itself.  There has to be a better way.

Feedback can be good, though it needs to be said that as with most things, there can indeed be too much of a good thing.  Blogs can generate feedback when needed via comment sections and via trackbacks from external sites.  Moreover, the quality of the feedback tends to be superior as the very format of blogs discourages digression, given that blogs are hierarchical in nature and therefore more focused on the article at the top of a qualitative hierarchy, whereas the more ‘democratic’ format of forums (particularly nested thread forums) actually encourage conversations to shoot off at irrelevant tangents.

The important thing here is not to provide a platform for people to sound off for the sake of reading their own pixels but rather to provide information and receive feedback focused on what the whole object of the exercise really is: building relationships between your company and customers. For a games company, a blog can provide a developer’s diary that gives authoritative information on releases, patches, workarounds and other information of interest to a gaming community in a format that is timely, informal and yet authoritative. 

This can be highly complementary to a tech support forum and in many ways replace chaotic general discussion forums, with pre-publish moderated comments enabled on suitable blog articles to allow feedback when that is appropriate.

General gameplay and tactical forums certainly have a role but focusing more on what the company wants to say is more suited to a blog, because game playing customers really do want to hear things from ‘inside’, most notably those deities of the games world, the ‘Devs’ (game developers).

I get the impression many games companies set up a full raft of forums because that is ‘what everyone does’ rather than focusing on what they actually want to do (talk to customers) and what the customer wants (to get rumour-free and timely information ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’wink.  What matters most when building a community is not setting up playgrounds but rather enabling interested customers to hear the authentic non-PR department filtered voice of a games company.

As an avid gamer, I know I do!

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