Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Dark Side of Internet Communities

I know this doesn't sound like it's very related to games design (and well, it didn't start off that way) but bare with me a moment. I've just joined a new online community for creative writing, they seem like a cheery bunch that made me feel very welcome and things seem quite friendly there. I've made friend with some of the moderation staff and chat to them a bit on and off.

Recently I asked about some changes that where made to the forum and if it was worth saying anything about it or if I would be wasting my time. I did spend about two years administering for an online community myself so I know that generally moderators/admins already have enough on their plate without a small minority of users (and there is always one) kicking up a fuss because the changes made didn't perfectly suit them.

That's when it came out that the forum had gone through a bumpy change of management, people had been swept under the rug. Well not swept, but people who had already put a lot of work into a community would never be appreciated by the new people that arrived there. It's something I like to call the "Dark Side" of the online community, perhaps being a little over dramatic.

Behind nearly every community online there is at least one over stretched individual (or perhaps more) trying to build something out of their own blood sweat and tears. Usually for no money. The average user never really appreciates what they do. They perhaps get some token recognition for what they do, there are always member of the community out there complaining about how the forum isn't being run the way they like it. This causes tension, tension causes drama. Drama has a negative effect on the community, particularly non-core members.

How does this relate to games exactly? Well so many games now rely on an avid community to support them. If mutliplayer is one of the pillars that holds up your experience then it's important that it is inviting for new users. What I am trying to say is that building this community is a much more stressful and time consuming job than it would seem. On top of that the quality of the community is dependent on your ability to hide those stresses.

Or perhaps people should just learn to appreciate that there online experience is held up by a very patient and over pressured few...