There’s no Diablo III at the PAX East convention this weekend, but I’m sure the attendees are finding other ways to spend their time. Most game developers are attending the show, and along with the games there are a number of industry panels on a variety of topics.

    The Community Manager one featured five CMs from game developers large and small (no one was from Blizzard). They talked about their job responsibilities and requirements, the tools (twitter, podcasts, forums, facebook, etc) they use, how they balance their time, relate to the dev team, and more. You can watch the whole thing courtesy of G4TV, or check out a nice write-up from Massively. A quote:

    CMs are the liaison between players, marketing, developers and press, which Linda admits can be “a very delicate balance at times.” Meghan noted that they have to balance their responsibilities with marketing, but prefer to be the ones communicating with the players overall. Community managers are the advocates for the community, but even so, they must use common sense to filter through forums and other avenues of player feedback to gain an accurate understanding of player mood and topical issues.

    Do they report the tone of the forums to the company? Yes. While marketing departments talk in numbers, CMs don’t always use that metric for their reports. While they draw player responses and feedback from forums, they know that’s not where all the players are, and not where all the happy players are, and adjust their reports accordingly.

    The second interesting panel featured five panelists talking about how they’re using Facebook to market their games and build their communities. G4TV posted a good write-up, but apparently not the video. I’ll quote a bit of the closing analysis, since it touches directly on the benefit (or not) of what Blizzard’s doing with FB now.

    Drake reflected on how different Harmonix community members are between their forums and their Facebook page. They have half a million active users on their forums, where everyone is anonymous behind forum names, and by and large they all get along fine. ?Inside of Facebook, people post ten times more hate-filled speech,? Drake said. Even though you can see who they are on Facebook.

    Houston noted the irony that his company, who has more Facebook followers than they can often keep track of or interact meaningfully with, sometimes provides less substantive content on Facebook than the other studios represented on the panel, who had deeper content, but fewer followers. In my mind, this exemplifies the issue with Facebook as a tool for studios that don’t produce games specifically for Facebook. It’s not really a medium intended for meaningful interaction, or anything short of a ?Hey, how are you?? post to keep track of friends or family. Likewise, social game developers don’t really design deep gaming experiences historically, and so they mesh well with a service like Facebook. If you make rhythm games, first person shooters, or action games? Not so much.

    I documented the, ahem, “less substantive content on Facebook” shortly after Blizzard started up their Diablo page, by quoting a bunch of the most clueless comments re: a post about the fifth character. That didn’t exactly take a lot of searching, either. Delve into the comments on any post on Diablo’s FB page, and you’ll grow rapidly dumber as you “read” virtually nothing but all caps demands that Blizzard release the game now, or random complaints/praises for the graphics.

    Since Blizzard is constantly striving to add more Facebook followers, this is clearly what they want. Like the panel quote says, lots of followers = useless feedback. Blizzard’s goal is to have millions of Facebook followers purely as a marketing tool. They’ve got forums and fansites for fans who want intelligent conversation and debate.

    It’s ironic; we saw a lot of Twitter hate when @Diablo began, since people (me included) thought the 140 char limit would make it useless for revealing new info or communication. And yet @Diablo’s tweets, and the fan questions it responds to, are infinitely more readable and interesting than anything you’ll see on their FB page.

    Finally, check out the write-up of one last panel, where various studio heads under Activision talk about the pros and cons of running an “Independent but Owned” gaming studio. There are even nice words about DiabloWikiBobby Kotick! A baffling quote:

    Peter Della Penna, head of High Moon Studios, was grateful for Activision CEO Bobby Kotick’s support of the “independent studio model,” which allowed his studio to, among other things, continue to surf during lunch breaks.

    “You’re good for a reason,” he said, speaking for Kotick, “and the key to that is the studio culture.” The responsibilities Activision placed on the studio of keeping on budget and delivering quality games never changed High Moon into something it was not.

    Activision didn’t force Della Penna or High Moon studios to work on properties they didn’t want to work on either. He acknowledged that while Activision would suggest properties he felt weren’t suited to the studio, he would still seriously consider them and discuss with the publisher whether working on those properties was a good idea.

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