Monday, September 8, 2008

Mark Jacobs pays the price for Blogging

The GOA Shitstorm
There is a lot of talk about the GOA fiasco and it's turning into a PR nightmare for Mythic. The short version is that EU players couldn't participate in Open Beta because the EU partner (GOA) screwed up the account website launch. It certainly didn't help that EU players predicted the problem in advance and GOA tsked tsked the dire predictions.

Mark Jacobs felt compelled to chime in on forums and his new blog. If you followed Mark's posts spread across various websites, he first appears as a problem solver with his "fix-it-hat" on, later scolds people a bit for being abusive and most recently offers some "clarification" about his scolding and throws GOA under the bus. Scott Jennings thinks Mark just forget about the #1 rule of the internet: Anonymity breeds sociopathic assholes.

My take is that GOA problems aside, it's just bad business to infer your customers are assholes. As I wrote on Tobold's blog: "Mark and Ian should either keep these remarks to themselves or at least do a better job clarifying which posts they found offensive. It’s not that they are wrong, it’s that people misinterpret who they are calling flaky biscuits. While they may be directing the chill out comments to the worst offenders, it’s interpreted by everyone who voiced any negative sentiment that they are talking about them. It’s like hearing someone say “those people make me sick” and then wondering if you are one of those people. Such ambiguity only leads to misinterpretation and it’s no wonder people are pissed off about it – they think it’s directed at them."

The price of Blogging
This whole shitstorm is indicative of a bigger problem that Mark is creating for himself. Amber Night explains it best on Scott's blog:

"This is what happens when the CEO thinks he can do community management. I don’t mean that unkindly…mostly. But Mark Jacobs should not be blogging this shit. Mythic community managers have got to be tearing their eyelids off in frustration, because anything they say is going to have to be carefully vetted against Mark’s latest post, and holychristonacrutch let’s pray to god it jibes with what he said last week, and what he’s going to say next week. And as a customer, why engage with the community managers when you can just leap on over to Mark’s blog and engage directly with the guy writing the paychecks?

Mark…hon…you are not paid to do community management. You are paid to pay your community managers to do community management. At the very least turn your comments off. Wax poetic on game industry trends, post Youtubes and cute pictures of kittens, but stop cock-blocking your community managers."

This type of thing is exactly why I was incredulous that Mark Jacob's had a blog. It's unimaginable to me that Mark would be THIS reactionary to his customers.

How open is too open?
One thing I really admire about Mythic is how open they are with their community. If they screw up, Mark won't hesitate to take ownership of the problem and talk about how they are going to fix the problem. Unlike other big MMOs (cough..Blizzard), they don't have a bunch of community managers with no authority running around making promises they can't keep.

I've been very critical of Blizzard that CMs are horrible at setting customer expectations. In my opinion, Blizzard would be better off with silent CMs that never posted anything instead of the morons that constantly stir up trouble. I've said in the past that the "blue" tag should be limited to people with authority and the other CMs should be "orange" to designate that they are basically peons in the grand scheme of the MMO hierarchy.

Mythic doesn't have that problem. They communicate and are very engaged with the community. They don't hide from issues. When players are vocal about something they face it head on. From a game development standpoint, they have great open communication. The in-game surveys in particular seem to be really nice tools for getting "good" community feedback about the game.

However, I would also say that Mark is TOO close to the community. It's one thing to be interacting to get feedback, it's another thing when you start making justifications.

As soon as you start finding yourself at a point where you need to explain yourself or others that work for you -- STOP. Don't just REACT to what people are writing. Take a moment and think about how your words will be interpreted. Let other people in your company think about what you are writing. You can't afford to write knee-jerk reactions and then clarify them after the fact.

We all say/write things in the heat of the moment. Too often, those things are not as well thought out as we would like them to be. A blog is a wonderful forum for expressing your opinion and ideas, but when your opinion and ideas represent not just yourself but YOUR COMPANY then you have the added responsibility to consider the greater impact of your words. You can't simply write whatever you want. You have a responsibility not just to your financial stakeholders, but the employees who work for you to blog responsibly.

Stop Apologizing
The game hasn't even been released yet and Mark is already pushing my personal threshold for apology tolerance. There is a point at which you want someone to stop apologizing for mistakes and just get the damn thing right. You can only say "we screwed up, folks" so many times before it starts wearing thin.

No one ever stops making mistakes, they happen all the time and life is simply about fixing them. The problem with apologizing for EVERY mistake is that when the BIG mistakes come, no one cares that you apologized. They care about the mistake. You used up all your get-out-of-jail free cards on stuff that didn't really need an apology.

Explanations do NOT have to be an apology. The very best explanation frame the context of the problem AND provide a description of the solution. In most cases, what people really want to know is that a) you understood the problem and b) you have a solution.

Stop running all over the Internet
One downside in not having an official forum is that there is no central place to find all this information. This is frustrating to people trying to follow it. It also gives the impression that Mark and Mythic are running around scanning blogs and forums trying to put out community fires rather than address real problems with the game.

On one hand it’s neat to see MJ respond in the comments of a blog you read. On the other hand, it gives an appearance that he is trying to be a little TOO convincing.

In some ways, I feel like he’s a salesman trying to overcome any possible objection. Sometimes you just need to let people rant, Mark. Try convincing them with your ACTIONS rather than your words.

All this running around seems to defeat any purpose in not having a community forum. You can’t avoid the internet trolls when you troll the internet yourself.


Anonymous said...

Good -- nay, GREAT post. You put into words what has been niggling at me for some time now.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, rather have too open, then not enough openness.

Rathanel said...

An excellent run down of the situation, but I disagree to a certain extent. It is never a bad thing to own up to the problems you have. Never. Being willing to step out into the screaming pit of jackals that is the internet and say "This is our fault. This is entirely our fault and we. will. fix. this." is incredibly rare and really serves to set Mythic apart. I wouldn't care half as much about the game if it weren't for MJ and Josh and Paul and Jeff getting out in front of people and actually talking to the community.

It also serves to reinforce customer loyalty when the people running the business are seen as honest and forthright. That's not something you can get overnight. It takes months and years of honesty and consistently producing results when you say you'll fix something to build up that level of trust, but I'd say they're well on their way.

I don't think calling people out for "nerd rage" is at all improper. It may cost you customers now, but in the long run you'll have less people susceptible to "nerd rage" playing your game, which sounds like an incredible attractor to me. I actually admire that he's willing to stand up to these people and say "That's going too far." And if someone reading his comments honestly thinks he's referring to them, then chances are he is. No one automatically assumes that "Why do some people feel it is okay to threaten, curse, abuse and be downright hostile to other people over a game" refers to them unless they have good reason to.

I do think he will eventually disable comments on his blog, if only because people are using it as a platform to ask any and all questions they have about the game, which I don't think is what he intended.

sid67 said...

Being willing to step out into the screaming pit of jackals that is the internet and say "This is our fault. This is entirely our fault and we. will. fix. this." is incredibly rare and really serves to set Mythic apart.

I couldn't agree more. I really admire Mythic for this approach and find it very refreshing.

But you know what happens when you use it all the time? It's no longer refreshing; it's the same tired excuse that you used last time.

Max said...

Great post! I couldn't agree more

Hudson said...

Doesnt bother me, I dont live in Europe. GAME ON!