The Laws of Online Communities

These laws are part joke, part informational about online gaming communities and how they work. While I say they are part joke, I only say that because some of them seem humorous but happen to still be accurate (according to my personal observations over the years). Some of these laws are instructional, while others are merely observations about how online communities work. The following laws will slowly expand over the course of time:

Law #1: The sanity of an online community is inversely proportional to the number of members of that community. Mob logic. Things can get out of control a lot faster if there are a lot of members of a particular game community.

Law #2: The quality of an online community is directly proportional to the quality of its moderation. Quality, not quantity. Moderation needs to be performed in moderation–only moderate when necessary (i.e. when the rules are broken), and don’t squelch someone for simply having a differing opinion from your own.

Law #3: The more information that is provided to an online community, the more it will demand. Do not, however, stifle the information flow because of this. The more information the better, as long as the message is kept consistent and truthful.

Law #4: The more stickies on a particular board, the less likely any of them are to be read. If you have official forums for a game, keep the sticky posts to a minimum and cycle old stickies out if they are no longer pertinent.

Law #5: Communities are always more positive about a game before it launches. After a game launches, they have real experience with which to complain. Allow players to exercise their passion for the game, whether positive or negative, as long as they don’t start breaking the rules.

Law #6: Nothing you say is taken as conceptual. Even if you indicate that something is “in concept,” many members of the community will take it as fact and will become quite angry after it doesn’t occur (or quite happy, if they thought it was a bad idea).

Law #7: Never stealth nerf anything. Ever. If you do, communities will figure it out and will call you on it (and they’ll be rather annoyed about it). Players are smart, despite the way they sometimes post on forums.

Law #8: If you are experiencing major issues that require you to provide an ETA and you do not have one, tell the community that you don’t have an ETA. Not telling them that you do not have one pisses them off because they feel like they are being ignored, and giving them a false ETA will only make you look bad.

Law #9: The more you give, the more they expect. This goes along with Law #3. The more you give a community what it wants, the more it will desire. This includes not only information, but changes they are demanding, bait you take (e.g. someone posts a thread just to get a response from you, and you go ahead and post in that thread), etc.

Law #10: Developer posts are valuable as long as what they post has value. It’s great to allow for transparency and open communication between fans and your development team, but it is only valuable as long as what the team posts is useful. The Signal/Noise ratio doesn’t only apply to members of the community, it applies to the company as well.

Law #11: Never announce something before you’re 100% sure it’s going to happen. If it’s something very minor, it’s often okay to mention that you are thinking about doing it, but always be clear that it isn’t a sure thing. If it’s something major, don’t even go that far, or people will expect it to come to fruition even if you indicate that it may not.

Law #12: Never lie to your community. Honesty is the gateway to trust. It is better not to answer if you aren’t sure, and it is better to tell the hard truth even if players aren’t going to like it. They will respect you and your company more for your honesty.

Law #13: Never try to mask a negative as a positive. A nerf is a nerf, a buff is a buff. Players are smart. You can’t fool them into thinking something is a good thing if it isn’t. If something that players perceive overall as negative has positives, feel free to highlight them, but don’t pretend that everything is pie and cake if it isn’t.

Law #14: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it” – Kay, Men in Black. Build relationships with individuals, and realize that an individual can be reasoned with. People are smart. Treat members of your community as individuals, not just as a faceless crowd.

Law #15: Encourage and reward constructive contributions from community members. Whether positive or negative, acknowledge and thank players who provide constructive feedback, organization, and sanity to your community.

This list is far from complete, and I’ll be updating it as time and brainpower allow. The behavior of online communities is quite interesting (behavior on a personal level, meaning how players act, and behavior on a global level, meaning how a community changes over time and the like). While most of these laws currently apply to forum communities, I’ll expand upon them at some point to include more about communities in general.

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