Sean Bulger's Column
Community Column: The Site Beyond the Game

Sean Bulger | 23 Jan 2008 19:58
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Alright, so far we've taken a look at the ways in which players are important in online games and how competition between players can be used to build a stronger community (well, rather, we scratched the surface of that one). But, this is a community column! This is like those community managers, right? And they just stay in dark rooms, in dark towers, reading message boards all day (which are often dark-themed!) right?

Well, no, not really. But, it is true that message boards and such are going to be one of the first things many people think of when dealing with game communities and community management. Granted, this column is not just on community management, but also about community-friendly/encouraging game design, I can't simply duck around this aspect. Simply put, message boards are pretty important for game communities. That's why most game companies run official forums, and when they don't, major fansites tend to get plenty of activity on their boards.

There is a reason for this, after all. People exist not just in the game world, but also outside of it (imagine that). MMOs have this habit of affecting the lives of people who play them in a fairly significant way. They will play the game a fair number of hours a week, they will likely make friends in the game, they will talk to people they know out of the game who play - either via message boards, internet chats, social networking sites, or even offline with people they know who play. While not everyone gets caught up in these games, plenty of people do.

Beyond the Basic Official Site
Every game has an official site for various reasons. The official site of a game is either an important hub of information and activity or it is simply a marketing page trying to draw players in. Or sometimes it is both, like how Sony Online Entertainment sets up their websites - the main page being a flash page used to draw players in, while also retaining forums and the Players websites.

Speaking of the Players sites, such as EQ2Players.com or VanguardPlayers.com, as many bad things as people may say about SOE and how they handle customers and such, they have probably one of the greatest websites out there for a game community. Web 2.0, everyone's favorite buzzword/Internet phenomenon, was the talk of the town at last year's Game Developer's Conference. Richard Vogel over at BioWare was running a session that I had the pleasure of attending, about community management. One of his major points was all about official sites for games. Sites like EQ2Players.com and World of WarCraft's Armory were brought up as prime explains. These sites were referred to as 'Web 1.5' as opposed to an actual 'Web 2.0' site, stating that they were close, but not quite there.

For those of you unfamiliar with these websites, they essentially are there to show off your character, their stats, their equipment, how they look, rankings against other players, etc... SOE allows players to share screenshots over the Players sites and several other features as well, including their own guild website creation tools. I personally have minimal experience with WoW's Armory site, but it shares many of the basic features of the Players sites.

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