Friday, October 2, 2009

Tickled Pink: Should Ghostcrawler become a ghost?

As you probably know, the Lead Systems Designer for Warcraft has been a regular presence on the forums for at least a year. Recently, he stated he was going to leave the forums because he felt that his active participation was doing more harm than good. Even more recently, he wrote to make it clear that he wasn't leaving entirely, only being more choosy about his participation. Are you Tickled Pink with this situation? Tell us in the comments.


Frankly, the whole situation has developed into a negative public relations experience for Blizzard. I agree that Ghostcrawler has done a great job of acting as liaison for the company. But the hue and cry that greeted his initial announcement reveals the chaos going on at Blizzard.

One of the most fundamental principles of management is that you never let a person become identified with or essential to a position. Everyone is replaceable. Effective organizations are run as systems. That doesn't mean that they are uncaring or unfeeling; it doesn't mean inflexibility. But it does mean that if someone dropped dead tomorrow someone else should be able to step in and take over with little or no loss of core performance. Actors know well how being identified with a famous role can destroy their career; it's called being typecast. When an employee becomes closely identified with a position it came be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to replace them. Experience shows that whatever the short term benefit of having that "special person" in a job it's not worth the long-run damage.

The real problem is that Ghostcrawler has done his job too well. There was such a hunger among the fan base for someone, anyone, to communicate to them the underlying rationale and philosophies of the developers that Ghostcrawler has become a celebrity. When did their tee shirt spoof "Ghostcrawler promised me a pony" the demand for the shirts was so heavy they simply posted the graphics file online so that people could make their own. One only needs to do a Google Image search for 'Ghostcrawler' to see the problem.

He's an employee. It's very bad when you middle management employees are showing up in Google search results.

If I were Ghostcrawler's boss at Blizzard I'd pull out the ban hammer and use it on him. The role of being the developer spokesman has turned into a role much larger than what anybody thought. Right now, intentional or not, this has become a situation about Ghostcrawler. The focus should be on Blizzard. It needs to be clear that while a developer liaison speaks for the developers it's Blizzard the company that is doing it as part of its customer service and/or community relations effort. This perspective has been lost.

Once a situation becomes about what's best for one person and not what's best for the team something has gone seriously awry. Someone high in the company needs to step in and clean up. It's time for someone else to do the job.


Oh, I’m tickled by Ghostcrawler. But my position is quite the opposite of Elnia’s.

In my view this guy, or should I rather say phenomena, is everything a PR manager could wish for. How many companies and organizations don’t try to give their brand a human face, to reach out to the audience, to communicate? And how many of those don’t fail since the assigned person clearly lacks charisma, talent and a genuine interest for the task?

Ghostcrawler has all of this – and above all – he’s got a persona that the audience can identify with. While the costume dressed top-managers of Blizzard-Activision would turn off the target audience whenever they appeared (everyone thinking: “they’re only in it for the profit”), Ghostcrawler has the opposite effect. He shows up slightly overweight, a little bit geeky, in some badly fitting out-of-fashion t-shirt. He could easily come up in the how-I-look-in-real-life thread on our guild forum. There’s no doubt that he’s “one of us”.

What adds to his credibility is his writing style, which has a flavour of authenticity. Even if his texts may have passed under the eyes of a PR person, it isn’t obvious; they aren’t overly polished or diplomatic until boredom. You get the feeling that he writes whatever comes to his mind. He’s sharing his personal views, sometimes with a spice of humour and a little bit of edge. While making a clear border of how much the community can expect to influence the game (we don’t always know our own best), Ghostcrawler also displays a genuine interest in what we have to say, as long as we express our views in an intelligent, non-insulting manner.

He is performing an act of balance, where every single comma he utters may be discussed and analyzed. And he’s doing it excellently.

In short: Ghostcrawler is a gem. He means far more than Ozzy Osbourne for the promotion of WoW and I wouldn’t be surprised if the marketing specialists at Blizzard took part in the decision to let him become a spokesman. For what I know it could even been on their initiative, to make sure that Blizzard wouldn’t appear too distant and anonymous to their customer base.

But what about the danger of depending on one person that Elnia warns for? Well, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Ghostcrawler isn’t the only celebrity at Blizzard, not the only employee who players know by name. And if he one day would find another employer and leave, I’m pretty sure they would scan their human resources and see if they could find someone willing to take his dropped mantle.

I can’t help wondering though why he’s called by his nickname and not by his real name. Is it for security reasons only? Tradition? Actually it opens up for new possibilities. I come think about the comic series The Phantom, who is said to be “immortal”, but in fact is a persona, taken by several different persons.

What if there would appear a new Ghostcrawler the day when the current one has had enough and left the scene? Just hand over the t-shirt, make sure he’s got the right body shape and send him out on his mission.

Ghostcrawler – the ghost that never dies. It isn’t likely to happen, but I must admit that the thought tickles me.


Rem said...

With Larisa on this, always very much enjoyed reading how he put things, and even if his message was not always positive for me (i.e. my class), his argumentation is always conclusive and entertaining. By the way, everyone knows his name is Greg Street - the nickname promotion is probably just another way of being "one of us".

It is, however, sadly, true, that the forums turned into a rage-pool in parts through his presence. It's like giving a screaming child too much attention...

Klepsacovic said...

To be clear, I do not mean to put down any of his talent and contribution. He is not as amazing as we seem to think. So much of why we love him is from having had no one for so long. There should have been a GC four years ago. Maybe GC needs a break, but there should still be a GC. More than one to spread the burden.

Carl Lewis said...

Ippon Larisa

Stabs said...

I'm a big fan of Ghostcrawler and I think it's a shame that people are so obsessively nerd rage inclined that they can't stand to have an honest developer communicating with them.

I hope they enjoy the new regime of bland third party news from PR/Forum staff. They've worked hard for it.

Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying these tickled pink posts! Starting to look forwards to fridays.

I think GC has done his job really and if he takes a back seat now, it might not be the worst thing in the world. As Elnia says, people need to be replaceable.

But for me what he's really done is convince me that Blizzard do understand where we're coming from. And in many ways, that's all I really ask from any customer rep -- I want to make sure they understand my problem and why it is a problem for me. It's not my job to tell them HOW to fix it, but I need to be able to explain what's wrong and what I wanted it to do (in case they need to tell me that my expectations were wrong).

I will never again doubt that Blizzard does understand where players are coming from. And GC takes a lot of credit for that. Despite the flareups on forums, I think he's generated a lot of goodwill.

But it's not a bad thing if the community get to know someone else too.

Larísa said...

@Rem: yeah, actually I figured out his name eventually, but decided to let the post stay the way it was. Even if it's "known" it isn't used for some reason. I don't expect it to happen, but wouldn't it be fun if the "Ghostcrawler" title could be picked up by someone else?

@Klepsacovic: yeah, probably the love we feel tells something about some lack of communication that was there before. A void that has been filled. Until now.

@Carl Lewis: cheers!

@Stabs: yeah, even though I appreciate the works of my fellow PR people, I must say that they can't replace a real gem like Ghostcrawler.

@Spinksville: thanks! It's fun to write stuff in a sort of cooperation from time to time, from our different POVs. And yeah, I guess he isn't irreplaceable, No one is. I only hope that Blizzard realizes the importance to keep up this kind of communication with the community. No matter of some stupid comments - most of us appreciate their efforts.

Rem said...

@"The Ghostcrawler" title: That would for sure be fun!

I experienced something similar iRL recently. At the university/faculty I was studying at, we had a long-time secretary who was, obviously, the go-to person for any questions and issues. Professors keep their heads firmly in clouds, so you can't bother them with mundane stuff, they won't know the exact regulations anyway. She knew everything and had every student's file at arm's length. Whatever it was you were unsure about, you went to ask Miss N.

Last year, she quit on the job (I don't know exactly why) and was, of course, replaced. Even now, people are still referring to the new secretary as "The new Miss N."

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Hinenuitepo said...

Elnia makes some good points, but really, Blizzard is a unique company and GC's position is quite unique.
I think Blizz can/should/does benefit much more from GC's celebrity status, fine posts, and sense of humor. I think (along with many, I know) that GC is by far the best 'blue' Blizz has ever had, and would be very sad to see him sail into the sunset.
Perhaps a change/add in title from just 'Lead Developer' would be in order; certainly sometimes 'Lead Publicists' become the face of their company - which can be very good for said company.