Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is a Twitter chat really the best way to communicate?

Maybe it’s just me, but I've found it quite hard to follow and decode the recent Twitter chats with the developers. I seem to be inable to find the juicy parts in it. It's just a bunch of paragraphs and words.

I have the feeling that there might be some interesting information hiding in there. However the chat notes are so fragmentized and spoiled by irrelevant questions and old information that I fail to spot it. MMO Champion has made an effort to sort the questions in different categories, but I still can’t get through it, finding a context. The noise ratio is too high, so in the end I give up with a shrug, judging it’s not worth the effort even to try.

Not the best way to go
I hate to say this, because it seems a bit ungrateful after all the effort Blizzard has put into this, and after all the crying I've had on this blog about how they need to improve their communications.

They're doing exactly what I've asked them to do - reaching out to the community, in a way that I've understood is rare in the gaming industry. They're already much better at this than anyone else, I've been told. So I feel as if I should reward them for their good behavior, singing their praise in order to keep them motivated to do this kind of things. I shouldn't punish them with yet another whiny blog post addressing their PR/community staff with new demands.

However: there are only so many hours in the precious working day of a game developer that they can put into this kind of activities, so they'd better use that time as wise and efficient as possible. And I’m not that sure that the Twitter chat is the best way to go.

Bad questions
One of the issues I have with this format is actually the players who put the questions. I know it’s unfair to expect something spectacular – they’re not professional journalists and they’re perfectly entitled to ask whatever they want to. But still. Many of the questions are if not stupid, at least rather uninteresting.

For instance - exactly what do you expect them to answer to a question like this?

“Can we expect more fun talents and maybe even shiny new abilities in further iterations of the new talent trees?”
Would they answer:

“Absolutely not. We want to make the game as stale and boring as possible”?
Probably not. I suppose it doesn't help for my enthusiasm that the mage class has gotten so little attention so far. In the last one there were two, I tell you two questions about mages, of which lead:

"Q. Will mages get pets for Arcane and Fire specializations at any time?"

The answer? “No”.

Surprise, surprise. If they ever planned to do such a change, did anyone expect them to announce it answering a question in the Twitter chat?

Reasons to use it
So, what's the point about this form for communication? Well, it helps to tie the community closer to the developers, creating a true or imaginary bond, a sense of belonging together.

Anyone with a Twitter account can chime in (well, apart from the EU players then, considering that the chat was scheduled at 2 am in the morning). You get the opportunity to communicate with them directly. Every voice matters, yay!

The feeling of participating in something is bound to make the audience more involved and enthusiastic. They want to believe that they can contribute and not just standing there watching from the sideline. And that's one of the reasons why it's so popular to run those things in media shows. (Another reason is that it's a cheap filler and very easy to make compared to editorial material that requires paid journalists to produce.)

But for all those benefits: what comes out of it isn't optimal if you look at the information value.

One of the things I can't understand is why they choose Twitter as the channel for this in the first place, rather than running some chat client that you can access through a web reader.

I’m not into twittering myself, but I always thought that the idea about it was something different than this. I would have expected to see Blizzard give us a steady stream of little pieces of information, comments, thoughts, what-we're-up-to-right-now sort of tweets. Not the marketing messages they send once in a while between those chat sessions.

What I'd like to see
Let's play with the thought that Blizzard would ditch the Twitter chats. What could they do in it's place?

Well, what I'd like to see is some sort of regular feature, preferably on at least a weekly basis, where Ghostcrawler, the community managers and others with a talent for writing would participate with well thought out posts. This could actually also replace some of the random blue responses to miscellaneous forum threads, so even if it would be more time consuming than just one Twitter chat session, I think it could be arranged.

They could pick a topic of their choice and discuss it at length in the form of a personal commenting column or some kind of current-state wrap-up. The posts could - and should - of course take inspiration from the issues that are up for discussion in the community. The input could come from questions they've gotten by Twitter, but also forum posts, maybe even blogs out-of-Blizzard's own website (ooooh! daring thought!). Hopefully the community managers could be of help in identifying suitable topics.

I think this would make a far more enjoyable read than those fragmented questions and answers. Answering eleven random questions about warriors doesn't make anyone happy, apart from those eleven guys who provided those questions. They could put the same effort and time into writing one longer post where they describe the current intentions for the warrior class, address the concerns and ideas they've seen from the community and maybe ask for player feedback regarding a certain question.

This would in my opinion be way more useful than to publish a bunch of short statements as a reply to whatever happened to drop in the incoming Twitter box.

Pick the cherries! Make your own agenda! Share your thoughts! That's what I'd suggest if they asked me for advice.

New community site incoming?
It's not impossible that Blizzard is thinking along those lines as well.

Recently they released the beta version of the new Battle-net website, giving us access to the new community site for Starcraft II. From what I've seen so far, it looks way better than the current WoW website.

One thing I noticed is that they are posting news articles in a new form, that reminds a little bit about blog posts. One example of this is Zarhym's post "What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been" where he summarizes their experiences from the beta testing in a humorous way that is more open and personal than you might have expected. Until now this post has 104 comments. And the audience seems just so thrilled and enthusiastic. No trolling as far as I can see - despite of the fact that they're allowed to post using their avatars.

Will we see this kind of posting on the WoW site in the future, featuring blog posts rather than a Twitter chat? Maybe. I wouldn't rule it out. After all, they said during the Real ID debate that they were planning for changes to the WoW community site for Cataclysm, and that Starcraft II was a ground for learning.

Zarhym's post might give a glimpse of how Blizzard plans to communicate with the WoW community in the future.

I'm hopeful.


Prelimar said...

speaking as someone who uses and really likes twitter, i think there are two reasons they chose this format:

1) it's an easy way to get questions from the players, and players can respond from basically anywhere (no need to be at a computer logged into a forum or what have you); and

2) it's succinct. with only 140 characters to spend, there's no long, drawn out questions or answers. hence, they can fit it into their day relatively easily.

at least, that's my take on it.

Xaxziminrax II said...

What Prelimar said.

Also, be careful what you ask for.

Here they provide 140 chars on each of 110ish topics, and managed to touch mages twice.

Would you rather they provide 280 chars on each of 55 topics, and only have one of those topics touch on mages? Or 560 chars on 27 topics, and hardly hint at their plans for the mage class?

Or, heaven forbid, they do what you ask and write large compendiums of goals and plans, and have them all be about hunter focus, and warrior's rage normalizing, and the new use of CC in dungeons, and how they feel about alts going through story-driven content you've already seen, or how outland still uses the old style of questing, and... only one of those is even remotely mage-specific.

Talarian said...

Actually, Paladins had an entirely new mechanic, Holy Power, announced via the Twitter dev chat the other day.

The other thing is that Ghostcrawler has mentioned many times that part of the reason they use the forums is to have a dialog. To watch people interact. Players pick the topics and the blues just watch, popping in for the occasional comment when warranted. A separate blog would defeat that.

On the other hand, I do find myself agreeing with you on the idea of reading a developer blog might be really interesting. I just fear that they only have so much time on their hands and it servers their own purposes as well as the community's with these once in ablue moon Twitter chats and the forums, whereas a blog would mostly server the community rather than the developers.

Imoh said...

"(well, apart from the EU players then, considering that the chat was scheduled at 2 am in the morning)"

Hehe, it's always nice to know that oceanic players aren't the only people who get regularly screwed by Blizzard.

I actually don't have an opinion either way on this topic, I don't use twitter or any other social networking sites so whatever avenue they decide to go with for further developer chats I'm still going not going to be able to ask a question, I just felt like complaining a little about Blizz after they took the servers down for maintenance before I'd left work yesterday, missed 2 frost badges on my DK =P

Anonymous said...

I agree I grow tired of the guild housing, more character slots, and other retarded questions that seem to pop up everytime.

Magma said...

I agree about idiotic questions. The mage pet question was especially stupid. Yeah, I'm sure they'll add pets to the other specs, we want a another warlock class right? Twits is all I can say. (pun intended)

Larísa said...

@Prelimar: you have a point about the character limit. It makes the questions concise. But I'm very grateful that they don't use the twitter format for the replies. That would be pretty useless.

@Xaxziminrax II: Actually: yes! I'm not just interested in mage questions. Other classes interest me as well as long as it's well written and fluid. Not the stacatto replies in the Twitter chat. We get way too few longer textes these days imho. Most of the longer ones are general lore-related discriptions of upcoming new zones and such. Or for that sake the information about Real ID. ;)
But I think that many of Ghostcrawlers replies to forum posts for instance would serve as a good base for solid posts on different topics, which at least I would read eagerly.

@Talarian: yeah, you might have a point there. For some reason it might work better for their own information cathering to dig down into the forums. But it's really not reader-friendly. From a strictly selfish perspective I'd really wish for something different.

@Imoh: yeah, as I said I don't twitter either, so I'm sort of locked out of this, although strictly, there's of cause nothing that stops me from creating such an account just for this purpose, if I so wished. Maybe I'm just too old to fully appreciate the twitter culture.

@Anonymous & Magma: Yeah, there are very few GOOD questions there. That's why I eagerly scroll the internet for solid professional interviews instead, like the one The Guardian did the other week. That's the kind of questions I'm interested in.

TechDeft said...

I really don't get the whole twitter thing either. Most of the time it feels like flinging a handwritten note into a busy mall crowd. So impersonal and detached. But I can see prelimar's POV, that it is super easy for Devs cruising around on Ghostcrawler's yachts and ponies to answer questions from their phone.

Adgamorix said...

I'm late again!

Anyway - the Twitter question format makes all kinds of sense, as Prelimar pointed out. What I don't get is why there isn't some sort of vetting of the questions (there probably is). They probably consolidate them down and we get responses to one question that might have a dozen others that are similar.

While I understand your aggravation(?)at what you consider to be stupid questions (housing, mage pets, etc), they aren't stupid to the person who asked them. Also, when Blizzard reversed their stance on RealID on the forums, they gave ammunition to the "Just shout more and louder" crowd. Yeah, it rarely works, but all they will remember is the one time they got what they wanted - not the 1000 times they didn't.

I take the whole thing with a grain of salt. It's nice to see them talking, but until things go live it won't make much difference. Even then things get changed all the time.

Mycroft said...

I agree that Twitter is a poor method to effectively communicate, IMHO. It ranks up there with dribbling out information on their forums, also IMHO.

While it is nice to see them making an attempt at communication, I'd have a hard time giving them a passing grade for communicating effectively.

Sanya Weathers at Mythic spoiled me when she was community manager at Mythic. A good community manager working with dev blogs would be great. :)

Azryu said...

"They're already much better at this than anyone else, I've been told."

I hate to say it but the Aion team for NcSoft does a much better job than Blizzard on multiple fronts.

Every week they do something called "Eye on the Community" where they respond to community feedback, provide a bit of news, and answer questions that they have been asked. They even feature community fanart and fanfiction! They link those and other blogs on their front webpage! On top of that, five of their developers have twitters which they all run themselves and update very often, with stuff relevant to the game and they post things just for fun. For instance, they might throw up a code that the first 100 people can enter into their account and they recieve something cool or nice.

Expanding further on that, they actually moderate and post on non-official forums as well! is a website hosted by Curse, where we all get our beloved addons at usually. They have a good forum base there which even NcSoft dev's will post on. To boot, they even do a video podcast every once and awhile to showcase any new updates and such.

I think from this post alone you might think I was a NcSoft fanboy. In a way I am, of their community management anyway, and I get really excited when I talk about it as you can see. But I have unsubscribed to their games before, and never once have I unsubscribed to WoW. If only Blizzard did some of the same things that they do, things would be so much better. They really do the best job of anyone I have experienced myself. Below Ill provide a link to one of their "Eye on Community" posts- no, it may not be entirely relavent because it is a different game, but I think you can appriciate what they do there anyway.

Example "Eye on Community":

Magma said...

I don't know if you've been paying attention, but NC has been (along with Aion) going down the toilet for some time now. If you had posted that on something like, you'd get downranked into oblivion. NC is just not cutting it, they're lazy in addition to numerous other things. I could make an entire rant but I shall stop there.

Jim said...

Twitter gets a 20 year vet at CNN fired because it can't convey nuance. Maybe video game news is so simplistic that 140 characters suffice. I'd prefer paragraphs of information.

Larísa said...

@TechDaft: impersonal and detached, oh, definitely. But I like your theory about the reasons behind it.

@Agdamorix: I can agree that they're not stupid to the one asking them but this doesn't mean they deserve the priority and attention. I think a more heavy editing would help out a lot. Even if they got the questions in twitter format they don't need to answer them that way.

@Mycraft: oh yeah. Dev blogs... You can always dream...

@Azryu: I honestly don't know much about how other MMOs interact with their communities - I'm all in the hands of others. But it sounds nice as you describe it.

@Jim: to be fair, the Blizzard answers to the tweets are longer than 140 letters. But they're still too short and without context for my taste. I find them hard to follow and digest.

Azryu said...


I understand that they are mockingly called "NcSoon".

Was just stating that Ncsoft West does a good job of communicating, even if we don't always like what is being communicated.

Iapetes said...

I asked a few questions for that devchat and surprisingly about half of them got answered. The only problem I have with the twitter approach, besides having to use twitter, is that the questions have to be really really short.

btw if you took the time to read the whole devchat, they actually had a lot of really good information, along with the "why would you waste the devs' time with such a dumb question" answers.

Tesh said...

I finally broke down and claimed my Twitterspace. I did so largely to secure my claim on the handle so I don't get someone else out there spewing stupid pretending to be me.

...not that I think anyone has been tempted to do so, but hey, I "claim" email addresses in a similar way.

I've used it a few times to send smallish messages to friends (fellow bloggers and commenters), but that's about it. It's certainly not a satisfying mode of communication.

That said, the Girl Genius crew uses it to tell a story by having one of their more iconic characters writing a narrative via twitter posts. It's not a conversation, it's almost a diary... and it's actually pretty good.

Larísa said...

@Tesh: Oh dear, I didn't think of that. I don't expect my name to be available. Sigh.... I'm so lost in the Twitter era.

Interesting idea to tell a story through Twitter, thanks for the link! But mostly from an experimental point of view to be honest, at least for my own part I prefer to read in huge chunks, for the immersion. Losing myself in the book. One sentence a day wouldn't cut it.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.