Building community is often counter-productive

The Star Wars: The Old Republic drama is so apropos to a general feeling I’ve had on this subject that I simply couldn’t pass it up as a discussion point. Take a gander at the general forum over at SWTOR for a moment. You’ll find that in their “need” and desire to build a community for their MMO, Bioware has also possibly done themselves a huge disservice at the same time. Despite being in the latter stages of their development cycle–supposedly to be released in 2010–they have released remarkably little information about the game and how players will be able to interact within it. The only substantive information released thus far is that SW:TOR will embody a “fourth” leg of the MMO Triangle. The much vaunted “story-driven” environment. Story-driven equals PVE Questing in MMO lingo folks.

That has lead to numerous threads by fans questioning the direction of the game that so many of us are anxiously waiting for. Has lead to charges that SW:TOR is simply a KOTOR clone with “co-op” play. I like to think of it as “MMO-ized”. And none of the charges, questions, pleas for information, and diatribes have been answered in so far as I can tell leaving their fans to further work themselves up over the matter in a virtual black-hole of information.

I simply don’t see this working in Bioware’s favor over the long term. To be certain more information will be forthcoming over the coming weeks and months, but in the mean time Bioware is allowing bad publicity to spread virally with nothing to stop it. Not only can this tamp down expectations and desire for the game, but it could also lead to disappointment when or if they do release information that contradicts what people have come to expect.

Bioware would be wise, in my view, to get ahead of this now by releasing a full vision statement. Tell us exactly what the game will be like, and how it will differ from other competitors in the market. And other developers should take note and not show their hands too early. Do not set up “shop” so to speak, and create a community before you have real details to feed to your rabid fans. Those same rabid fans can and will bite the hand that feeds it.

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