Earlier today I came across this column by the managing editor of MMORPG, Jon Wood. He talks about the dangers of basing your community management staff with your marketing department. It's well worth a read, and I feel he raises some very valid concerns.
My vision of MMO community management has always been deeply entrenched in development. That's simply where the role fits in for me, where it has the most impact and benefit. Understandably, I'm not a fan of the trend to pull CMs away from that. It doesn't matter if it's putting them in with marketing, or their own little niche, the lack of strong bonds in development is a hindrance with little compensation.
The idea that CMs are responsible for acquisition isn't incorrect, but it's been grossly over-emphasized. It should simply be a by-product of your efforts to reach out and provide for a broader community, not a statistic by which your success is measured.
I feel it's a square peg & round hole issue. Companies are still struggling to understand how to get the most out of the role, and frankly I think there's more than a few CMs that aren't sure either. It's a general lack of understanding on all sides, as to how much of a CMs role requires taking the initiative, being creative with solutions, and going into unknown territory. On top of that, the areas important to focus on can vary insanely from studio to studio, as we all know.
Simply: So much of the job can't be specified easily, or only be so broadly that it's impossible to hold anyone to it. You need someone who will be pushing in every direction for their community, not just following some poor and unsuitable preconception of what they should be doing.
Conveniently, social media became as important as breathing, and it provided something to focus effort on. (It's something, but it's not what I call community management.) It was this renewed focus that emphasized the false idea that community management is more about communication than it is about development. Thus the trend I mentioned earlier.
I think there's a definite need for social media and community management to become two separate roles. I don't think you can be a truly effective developer based CM, whilst also handling every channel of communication.
I'd also very much like for someone to illustrate to me the benefits of having a marketing based CM.
So right now there is an interesting debate going on between Tobold and syncaine, on whether the next Blizzard MMO has a shot at getting over one million subscriptions. Syncaine thinks it doesn't, because WoW's success is largely down to timing and the sheer amount of work put into it over the years. Tobold does, and blames the failure of more recent MMORPGs on failing to have the same attention to detail and craftsmanship as WoW.
I like the premise of the discussion, and I think there are some very valid points being made, but I wouldn't quite agree with either of them. I'm a firm believer that the age of traditional MMORPGs is coming to an end. (By 'traditional' I mean the standard quest systems, crafting systems, economy, leveling, shoddy PvP... and so on.) I'm not going to go out on a limb and say the next Blizzard MMO will fail, because we don't know enough about it yet, but it's possible it might if they stubbornly stick to the same formula.
I just got finished watching Second Skin. Here's the synopsis for anyone unfamiliar with the title:
Second Skin takes an intimate look at three sets of computer gamers whose lives have been transformed by online virtual worlds. An emerging genre of computer software called Massively Multiplayer Online games, or MMOs, allows millions of users to interact simultaneously in virtual spaces. Of the 50 million players worldwide, 50 percent consider themselves addicted. From individuals struggling with addiction to couples who have fallen in love without meeting; from disabled players whose lives have been given new purpose to gold farmers, entrepreneurs and widows, Second Skin opens viewers’ eyes to a phenomenon that may permanently change the way human beings interact.