UO and Community Relations, a Primer

This stems from a few conversations I’ve had in the past day or so, and is also a follow-up to an article from a few weeks ago as well as about half a dozen articles I’ve posted over the past year. There is a lot of redundancy here if you follow UO Journal. I’m just going to break down my thoughts on this, for the 15th time in the last year, maybe 20th, who knows.

Hire an actual community representative who can work on UO.com
As many of you know, UO shares a community representative or two with three other games, and possible four other games. The only person we really see doing anything is Kai Schober. You see him updating UOHerald.com with patch notes. If you play Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR), you see him on the official BioWare.com WAR forums interacting with players. If you play Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC), he also posts patch notes on DarkAgeofCamelot.com. Kai also handles community relations stuff for Warhammer: Wrath of Heroes, a spin-off of WAR, and he probably handles some work on the Ultima Forever project. Kai is also in charge of updating the websites for all four games (three MMOs, Wrath of Heroes).

As long as UO is sharing a community representative with three other MMOs and an additional one-two games, I don’t see good things happening on this front. It’s more than a full-time job for just one person, but the one person we have doing this happens to be dealing with communities from other MMOs, each of which deserves their own community relations person. If we are as “widely profitable” as the head of the EA Games Label has claimed, and if the BioWare Mythic Vice President is truly proud of being over the studio that develops UO, this should be a no-brainer.

Why is it that smaller games have dedicated community representatives, but UO, a “widely profitable” game doesn’t? Look, UO Event Moderators are contractors, and there are dozens of them. A dedicated community representative can do more for UO than a few EMs. A lot more. That’s not a dig at EMs either. A community representative could take care of broken link, bringing back UO history, highlighting fan sites, highlighting EM events, etc. If EA/BioWare can spend money on EMs that they don’t even bother highlighting their events on UO Herald, EA/BioWare should be able to hire at least one full-time person.

As long as we only have a part of a person that we share with other MMOs, we’ll never see the kinds of things mentioned below taken care.

Bring UO.com back.
For the majority of UO’s life, and given that the majority of UO players who have left, left long before UOHerald.com, UO.com was the official website. It’s iconic. This is supposed to be happening, but I’ve mentioned this week that I don’t think it can happen before the 15th Anniversary. I hope I’m wrong, but UO is behind WAR when it comes to website priorities.

Fix the broken links.
You’re inviting people into your home, but there are broken windows, holes in the floor, and water is dripping from holes in the ceilings. Come September, you’re going to be throwing an open house of sorts, trying to get a lot of people to come in and give you money. Clean it up.

Feature the Event Moderator events.
The majority of players are not going to find out about the EM events unless they stumble across them or have friends who participate. Looking at UO Herald, you will see intricate in-game fiction written by EMs, but you’ll never see the events run by those very same EMs. You’re paying EMs money to run in-game events. They add value to the game. Let the players know on the official website that there are interesting events going on every single week. There is already an EM website based off of UOEM.net but even the front page has no information. You have to go to specific shards, such as LakeSuperior.UOEM.net or Atlantic.UOEM.net.

Feature developer/producer communications on UO.com
Highlight messages Jeff has sent to players on Twitter, highlight interviews and comments made on Stratics by UO developers and artists.

Bring back the archives to UO.com that Stratics helped rescue.
UO is an old game, it is frequently mentioned with a nostalgic feel by many people every week across the many gaming and MMO-related websites out there. Embrace that history, don’t hide it away on a fan site, don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist. Putting aside the fact that it was a horrible decision to move UO.com to UOHerald.com and was clealy made by somebody who hated UO, ditching all of the iconic history is absolutely insane. Long-running MMOs do not hide from their history. They celebrate it. The history is still around – on Stratics, UO Guide, and all of it is on Archive.org.

Official forums:
There is no excuse not to have them. BioWare has official forums for every game under its umbrella except for UO and DAOC. The Star Wars: The Old Republic forums are incredibly active. The Dragon Age and Mass Effect forums are very active on BioWare.com I had a conversation with an early UO community representative two years ago, and it became clear to me that UO.com’s official forums were killed off at a time when EA did not understand MMOs/MMORPGs and how important community was to retaining those players. EA seemed to see the UO forums as a nuisance. BioWare on the other hand understands how important such forums are – it has them for every game but UO and DAOC. EA, and now BioWare are the only major MMORPG developers pushing fans off to third-party websites for forums, and they only do it for two games.

Celebrate the fan sites:
Prominently mention fan websites, especially websites like UO Guide, Stratics, UO Forums, UO Guilds, Pinco’s UI, Ultima Collector’s Edition book, etc.

Bring back MyUO:
I’ve seen excuses for removing them ranging from security issues to players figuring out the actual active population of UO. I don’t care what the reasons are for pulling it, for a very long time they were present on the official websites. Game companies normally add new functionality to their websites. UO on the other hand, has seen functionality removed. It’s had it’s history wiped clean, it had MyUO removed. Players coming back are going to find less functionality than they had before. That is never a good thing.

Conspiracy Theories about the UO Community:
I’ve been meaning to address this for a while. Over the past year, I’ve had some crazy emails and comments sent my way, that claim the absolute clusterfuck that is the official UO website and community relations are due to certain fan sites having agreements to keep the official UO website and community relations neutered. One person even implied that members of the UO team or EA are somehow receiving payments from Stratics in exchange for that.

Put down the bong, stop listening to Alex Jones, step away from your computer, wad up your tinfoil hat and throw it in the recycling bin, and step outside. The sunlight will do you some good.

I don’t know Stratics’ financial situation, I don’t know if they could even afford to do something like that, but even if they could, they aren’t paying anybody at EA/BioWare. Stratics doesn’t benefit from DAOC’s or WAR’s community problems. You may think that Stratics benefits from UO’s official community relations and website being a mess, but in the long run they don’t, because UO’s official community relations and website being a mess hurt UO.

Anything that hurts UO hurts Stratics and the other fan sites. If BioWare decide to really take care of UO’s official community relations and website, it would help UO, and anything that helps UO helps Stratics and the other fan sites.

The truth is that UO’s community relations and website, along with WAR and DAOC’s community relations and websites, are messes because EA did not understand the importance of community relations, and just as importantly, they saw community relations as something that could be farmed out to third party fansites while cutting the number of personnel down. In theory, it should save them money. I think in the long run it’s actually cost EA a lot of money, because every little bit of frustration a player, or paying customer if you will, feels, adds up over time. When players see so many broken things, or see so little communication or a lack of caring by a company for a game, it shakes their confidence in that game and that company. Ask any UO, WAR, or DAOC player their opinion of EA. It’s not very high, and chances are they are not keen on buying more EA products.

EA/BioWare should have been bending over to interact with us, to work to retain us as customers, not just of Ultima Online, but of EA itself. Instead, they’ve worked to insure that many of us will not be future EA customers if or when we leave UO.

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