Friday, April 25, 2008

Crap, they're on to us...

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." - The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.

Message boards are to gamers what the wretched teaming shore is to the huddled masses. Yearning to breathe free, gamers flood comment sections, forums and messageboards eager to spout their opinion, extrapolate on what they think is newsworthy and generally look for the opportunity to make the next poster feel like absolute s#$! about themselves.

It's a fascinating ecosystem to watch, and one in which I participated in as a voyeur for many years before coming to my job which made it a requirement. Silently watching, scrolling we’ve been tracking what gamers are saying, what industry announcements are significant, and what new ways to say pwned have emerged for years now. Well apparently, they’re on to us.

1UP has an extensive article examining the effects of messageboards on the gaming industry, featuring interviews with developers, journalists and people just like me (except they have more impressive sounding job titles and significantly bigger pay checks). The stories of these individuals range from those who have tried too hard to fit in to the crowd, those who ignore the crowd, and those who love messageboards for exactly what they are. A ridiculous, over-the-top, mind numbing source of fiber and news.

The article asks “Do marketers keep their ear to the ground at NeoGAF and other message boards? Do they track public reaction to their promotional efforts?”

Some PR types admitted to doing exactly that and commented on how it affects their plans.
“At every level, we have people who follow the trends closely and pay attention to what the community takes to and what the community skewers.”
Elizabeth Tobey (community manager, 2K Games)

Others tend to be more cautious:
“We live in an online world where anything we say and do is disseminated on a global scale in an instant. This has revolutionized the way we do marketing and PR. While we are always thinking about our campaigns through a digital, global lens, we do not micromanage our campaigns in reaction to any one online moment.”
Tammy Schachter (senior director of PR, EA Games)

A NeoGAF moderator, one of the prime examples of a vitriolic and fantastic gaming messageboards, noted that his community does not respond well to such efforts, saying “I'd like to think GAFers could smell a rat, but it seems like a good percentage of them can't even smell the ones right under their noses.”

So with such a huge potential of backfiring, questionable analysis of content, and enough bad grammar and hate mongering to make a Klan member feel bashful, what’s the value of a messageboard and how do PR types go about using it? How involved with the conversations should we get, considering how easy it is for a forum moderator to look up your IP address and tell everyone exactly who you work for and the latitude/longitude of where you posted from?

I’ve seen success to a certain extent with “MVP” programs where companies designate particularly level-headed forum posters, and encourage them to actively remain a voice of reason. By providing these individuals with slightly increased access to the company, community members tend to congregate around every post these individuals make. It doesn’t stop more high-strung posters from calling these MVPs corporate shills and digitally spitting in their face, but it at least insures that a larger crowd is seeing some more levelheaded messaging. Other than that, these forums are excellent sources of news and trends. With 1000s of people posting leaked info, screenshots, developer interviews and much more daily, messageboards are like google alerts on steroids.

What do you think?
Oh yeah, and really, go read the 1UP article.

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