Why Charge for Forum Access?

  • Why Charge for Forum Access?


    The following is what I posted on a message board in response to the assertion that we shouldn’t charge for access to our forums on www.pantheonrotf.com.


    I took some time in responding so I was thinking – why just post it there? Why not make it my next blog? So here it is – just remember the context – I am responding to a post on a non-official forum:


    Yes, let's be super clear here.  You are correct:  we are requiring a sub or a pledge at a certain level if the person wants full read & write access to the forums and other areas that that allow the person to express their opinions and thoughts, and, more importantly, to be heard.


    Now let's talk about why we set it up that way, and there is no simple or one answer -- it was a decision based on several different factors and goals.


    That said, before I attempt to explain our reasoning you'll need to first check out the site yourself and wrap your head around it in general. No, you don't need to spend hours checking it out, but neither will just speed reading through it give you the understanding and context you'll need to really understand my points as they relate to why we chose to require subscriptions to participate in the Think Tank, the game design & mechanics, forums, etc. Also, by visiting www.pantheonrotf.com you’ll see that there’s a whole lot more to the site than just creating an exclusive pay-to-participate forum. It’s really designed to help build community for Pantheon now, so people don’t have to wait for the game to be released. It’s designed so that people can start making friendships now with people. Sure, anyone can set up a fan site or a guild site and interact there – they don’t need us for that. But what our site can do, because it is the ‘official’ site, is help bring people together who didn’t already know each other.


    You can find out all about the game reading through the site, the FAQ, the Wiki. You can download official concept art, screenshots, and wallpapers. You can watch the various interview videos we’ve participated in over the last 40+ days. You can advertise and promote yourself or your guild starting now. You can upload cool videos of your group overcoming a boss mob in EQ 1, Vanguard, and other MMOs. You can reminisce about the past and plan ahead for the future. It’s really a comprehensive web site with a lot of time and effort put into it to get it to this point (while we’re guilty of not planning enough and not releasing enough info on Kickstarter, I don’t think the same accusations can be made about our web site and this new, second phase of crowdfunding).


    You'll also need to understand one of our core tenets, because most of the reasons explaining why we did what we did are based on our belief in that tenet and may not make sense if you are unaware of the tenet, or even if you don't agree with the tenet.  Ok, here it is:  We believe very strongly that not only is a solid community necessary for a game like Pantheon to work, but that we, the developers, have a responsibility to help support and build that community.  And that if we’re going to make a game for a specific audience, that we darn well better listen to that audience and get into the game what’s important to them.


    Ok, let's jump into the reasons for requiring a subscription to interact with parts of the web page.  Note please that they are in not in any particular order.


    1. Fan sites are very important and we need to support them, not compete with them.  We like to support these fan sites for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways.  We want to do interviews with them.  We want to occasionally give them some exclusive info or exclusive artwork (early on concept art, but then, later on, actual in-game screenshots). We want our team to occasionally go to these fansites and support them by posting on their forums.  We want fan sites that are general, but we also like fan sites that have specific audiences... say one that is focused on PvP, or role playing, or raiding, etc.  


    But we don't, especially early on, have the resources and time (and even sometimes the desire) to set up sites similar to these fan sites… and we usually don't have the manpower to properly moderate open forums.  We also usually don't have the time or people to set up official sites dedicated to specific aspects of the game (like PvP, role playing, documenting quests and item rewards, etc.)  Most fan sites have forums.  These forums are usually open to everyone who signs up.  These forums are usually moderated, but to what degree varies. We realize that many people like open forums with minimum moderation.  


    So, bottom line, we don't want to allocate resources to try to compete with our fan base by creating sites that are really just another fan site, but 'official'.  If we do, this is what happens (and this is supported by history, because I've been involved with projects that have done just what we are saying we don't want to do):  we either end up supporting a fan site or two (usually the better built ones and/or the more popular ones) by contributing, posting, etc.  This results in those who frequent the official site wondering why we have official sites at all, and so they either sit around and complain that we're not frequently supporting the official sites too, or they simply leave and migrate to one of the sites we are actively supporting.  Or, the exact opposite occurs:  we end up only posting to and supporting the official sites.  This draws traffic away from the fan sites, which just isn't cool and certainly not community-friendly behavior.  The fan sites then typically don't take off because hardly anyone is visiting them and there is a genuine feeling of negativity and disappointment towards the dev team because those running the fan site and also those participating in the fansite feel ignored.  And rightfully so!  So we don't want either scenario to occur.  We want fan sites that are sufficiently well done and well moderated enough to warrant us visiting their site, participating in interviews, posting on their forums, etc.  


    Quite simply: we want a community that is not only interested in the game, but also in participating in various fan sites depending upon their interest in different aspects of the game.  We don't want to mirror those efforts and create 'official' versions of fan sites.  We're not interested, we think it's bad for community, and we likely won't ever have the resources to do everything all fan sites do.  Instead, we like to see various fan sites appear and bring to them different types of players, focusing on this or that.  


    2.  We want the community to participate in the development of Pantheon.  Yes, I know, almost everyone says that.  It's almost cliché.  But in our case, harnessing the community, listening to what they want, seriously considering their ideas, etc. are core to what we're up to. Look at how we began things:  we brought the game to you all via kickstarter in an attempt to not only raise money to help pay for developing the game, but also to make sure there were enough people out there interested in what we were specifically trying to do.  (And there are, btw, even though we didn’t reach our goal – KS showed that there are easily enough people out there who want a game like Pantheon. The number of people willing to fund a game that is still somewhat vague and also 3 years out is a small number. The number of people willing to pay to play a game like Pantheon after it’s released is a much bigger number. It takes some math and some metrics, but the way investors have been looking at our numbers has been very encouraging).


    Anyway, so because we are not trying to make an MMO that does everything and attempts to appeal to everyone, it is extremely important that we reach out to those who ARE our target audience.  If we make a game targeting a specific audience or niche but we end up building an MMO that actually doesn't appeal to that audience but instead maybe to another audience or even to nobody at all, then we are screwed. A larger more general purpose MMO can survive this kind of scenario -- maybe they really screw up and make a horrible PvP system. Well, they may not get PvPers to subscribe to their game, but because their game is so broadly focused, they still bring other types of players to their game.  They survive unless they somehow fail to appeal to absolutely everyone.  We don't.  We either make a game that appeals to our target audience, or we don't have a game worth developing, launching, etc.


    So we need to listen... really listen.  This is not lip service, but the real thing.  And that requires setting up a way for those people to effectively communicate to and with us.  So instead of creating general forums and reading countless posts about all sorts of things, we want to create forums and other means of communication where we're hearing not only from our target audience, but also those specifically within that audience who have the time and talent to come up with really good and new ideas… to supply us with specific feedback regarding specific game features and mechanics.  This simply is not achievable with more general boards you see at your typical fan site.  Without the proper setup, you get all sorts of people in your forums with all sorts of different agendas.  Some want to try to convince us that we're making the wrong game, that bunches of people don’t want a challenging game that focuses on grouping (for example) -- they're there to try to get us to change our vision.  Then there are those who are interested in Pantheon, but really prefer to talk about more esoteric topics, or topics that are too general.  And then there are the trolls, who come to your site and really just want to create contention and discord.  They want to turn the community against the developer.  They want to try to make people think they're smarter and better at making MMOs than the devs and therefore the actual developers had better listen to them.  They encourage other people to reject or heavily question game features and tenets.  Why? Whew, there are all sorts of reasons and 1. I'm not a Psychologist and 2. this post is too darn long in the first place.


    So if we truly desire and need feedback and ideas from people in our target audience who enjoy thinking about game design theory and who want to participate in game development, then we have to come up with a better way to listen, respond to, and even engage in dialog with those people.  We have to weed out those who want us to instead make a different game.  We have to weed out trolls who just want to make trouble, or who want to be heard so badly that if they don't feel like we're listening they go into some sort of rage.  We need to weed out those who are indeed part of our target audience, but really prefer to talk about all sorts of things with their fellow fans.  Instead of wanting to get into serious discussion about MMO game mechanics, they'd rather simply meet friends who have similar tastes, or simply don't care -- they really don't think hard about what make MMOs tick, but when they hear about a game that appeals to them they want to be involved, but just not at a super deep detail level.


    So, that's it, albeit a bit long winded:  in summary we want to support fan sites, we don't want to run and moderate general forums.  We do want to engage in dialog with people who are part of our target audience and who have great ideas and a desire to articulate them.  We have no patience and time for trolls.  We can't overly worry about upsetting a person on the forum who one minute was a big Pantheon fan, but then, in the next, a hater because they don't feel listened to, or felt that while we were technically listening, we really were not truly listening because we didn't simply agree with them and promise to include a feature or two that has been dear to them for years. 


    So we thought long and hard about how to accomplish our goals.  We looked at other message boards, official and unofficial.  We looked at some of the newer social media methods of dialoging with your audience (reddit and the like).  And we came up with the following:


    1. Create a system that requires people to pay monthly to participate.  Why? Sure, to make some cash on the side, but that's not the biggie:  the biggie is to weed out those who aren't really serious about having that dialog with us.  Most people who just want to casually interact with developers don't want to spend money to do so.  Most people who want to mandate to developers that their pet mechanic or feature be implemented or else they'll never play another one of your games until the day they die, don't want to spend money to be heard.  And then most people who actually derive pleasure by seeding discontent and flaming not just ideas but people... most of those troublemakers don't want to have to pay to do this -- there are plenty of other places they can do their thing without having to pay for it. Also, when you have to pay for something, anonymity generally goes out the window.  The game developers will know who you are, have your contact info, etc.  And while some people will do horrible things in a mob, most will not do horrible things as an individual whose name and info is known by those they would have normally wanted to attack.  


    2. It's also hard to really have effective communication if there are just too many people to communicate with.  So charging money removes some of the good people too because they can't afford to participate, or perhaps they can afford it, but having that dialog just isn't sufficiently important for them to pay a monthly fee.


    But we also felt that charging money wasn't enough. This is where we started looking at reddit and the like.  In those kinds of systems they deal with the problem of getting too much feedback all at once.  They also deal with the problem of the developer feeling obligated to answer everyone's ideas, no matter how strange, because, well, they did pay to be heard.  This is where the voting system comes in. When a subscriber brings an idea or comment or concern to the developers, other subscribers have to agree that the idea or comment or concern is a really important one.  There is a realization that the developer simply doesn't have the bandwidth to really consider each and every idea out there, even if those ideas are coming from very serious people who were willing to pay to participate in the creative process.  So you set up a voting system and, hopefully, only the ideas and issues that really resonate with most of the subscribers make it to the top where they are heard and considered by the dev team. This means less ideas or issues for the developers to have to take seriously and devote time into addressing or implementing.  Only the really popular ones make it to a point where a developer is going to really devote time and money into researching and possibly even implementing.


    Now, none of this is of course fair or efficient or a perfect system by any stretch of the means.  What about the guy who really wants to be involved, who really cares, but simply cannot afford to subscribe?  Or, what about the guy who has some crazy cool ideas, but for some reason his fellow subscribers don't understand what he's really trying to say?  He might be onto something absolutely genius but his 'peers' don't understand and so it doesn't get up-voted and the developers then don't hear about it.  In those scenarios the pay and be voted-up setup fails or isn’t sufficient.  It's like democracy -- it's a sucky political system, but it's also the best system we human beings have come up with thus far.


    So that's it.  That's why we're doing what we're doing.  We don't want to compete with or hurt fan sites.  We don't want to have to create forums with uber-strict moderation that ends up stifling everybody, not just the troll.  We do want to hear from members of our target audience who are serious about being heard and who have ideas and comments that their fellow subscribers also want us to hear.  And so that's why we came up with the system we did.  It's nothing new or super innovative -- others have done it before, and it will be done again.  It doesn't work perfectly, but it's the best setup people have come up with thus far.


    And then, of course, here I am posting on a forum that I don't control, that is free, that doesn't have voting, and where I will almost positively be flamed for what I just wrote. You have to love the irony :) But really it supports our assertion that we still want to participate in forums that we don't control and that we still want to reach out to the general MMO public and talk about Pantheon.  Our more complicated official system that requires people to subscribe is of course very important to us and we hope that it succeeds in making the signal to noise ratio something easy to deal with and where we can get some great ideas and feedback that then make it into the actual game.  But we also know that our new system is not perfect and that by remaining committed to reading and posting to boards and threads like this one we will come across some good ideas... diamonds in the rough, so to speak.  The difference is that all or even most of our time won't go into supporting fan sites and posting to forums we don't control.  We'll still be around, but a lot of our time will now be allocated now to our own site, to our Think Tank.


    -Brad McQuaid



  • Max63
    Max63 I am glad you posted that. I am also glad you did the forums the way you did.
    March 4, 2014 - 1 likes this
  • TWAnderson
    TWAnderson Spot on with all accounts, Brad. Great stuff here!
    March 4, 2014 - 1 likes this
  • Killian
    Killian Thanks Brad, excellent message here! It is interesting (and encouraging!) to see that the vision you had for the portal is essentially taking shape as envisioned; on-topic discussions, minimal trolling, passionate idea generation, voting up/down on ideas,...  more
    March 5, 2014 - 1 likes this
  • CanadinaXegony
    CanadinaXegony I think this is about the most sane way to do it..if someone is sincere, they'll be front and present..pay their bit of cash. I'm a retiree, if I can do it on a fixed income I would say most can. What you have done separates the wheat from the chaff,...  more
    March 7, 2014