A Discipline Without History

On RPG Vault, FusionFall’s Rich Weil outlines a lot of the reasons community management is a much more nebulous position in online gaming than many other development roles. Lum (honorary community manager) and Sanya discuss the article and agree with most of what Rich says, and there’s not much in the piece that I would argue about either.

But I think there’s more to this general misunderstanding about community management than a lack of metrics or solid job descriptions. The profession also lacks a sense of history.

If you want to judge a designer, artist, or coder on a game he or she has worked on, you can (usually) pick up the game and evaluate it for yourself, or at the very least do some digging into reviews and feedback on the particular aspects of the game linked to this person’s efforts. To evaluate the work of a community manager, what are you going to do–dig through years of forum posts? Search out fansite interviews? Google for vague impressions?

The very nature of community management is that it’s of the moment. These moments have a cumulative effect for members of the community–they either develop a sense that the community team is listening and actively working on their behalf or decide they’re useless corporate shills–but beyond the realm of the player base and dev team, the community manager has a hard time making a clear impression. Unless you were a member of the relevant community at the time, there is little chance you’ll know anything more than third-hand rumors about what Abashi did to piss off players, or what Sanya did to make the Camelot Herald kick ass, or what Moorgard did or didn’t say about frogloks. You can read random insinuations posted on message boards by those who may or may not have been there, but often those recollections are made through the hazy veil of selective memory.

So we’re talking about a profession that not only lacks standardized tools, job descriptions, and advancement opportunities (is there a pure community job in gaming anywhere above the director level?), but where new generations of community managers can barely get a sense of what their predecessors have done right or wrong.

Sure, I suppose if someone comes up with a formula for measuring exactly how a community manager’s efforts impact specific aspects of a particular product, those metrics would help justify the position to those who doubt its value, but we’ll never entirely get away from the fact that OCR is indeed a touchy-feely affair (as it should be; if it ain’t touchy-feely, it ain’t community). Personally, as much as I’d like to see the next generation of community managers armed with proper standards and metrics, I’d just as much like to see them endowed with a real sense of what went before so that they can help guide this discipline to a better future.

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