Community Involvement Doesn’t Equal Community Development

In recent years EA Sports and some other publishers and game developers have started inviting select members of their hardcore gaming community and fanbase to come in and check out their game and give opinions and critiques as well as simply get a chance to play the game in its early build.  For the many people that don’t get a chance to visit places like EA Tiburon for Madden over the course of a game’s development cycle it is easy to think they might do a better job than those going down to Orlando.  There are a few things to consider before you let your mind run wild with envy if you aren’t among the invitees for Community Day (as they call it at EA).  As well, if you are among the lucky few – it will behoove you to pay attention as well.

Before we proceed, it is important to view one of the interactions from OperationSports.  This is between a non-Community Day participant and a Madden Community Day Participant –

Illustrator76 – “This was a great analogy sir, and I agree with what you’re saying. But I disagree with it as well, lol. Actually, I only disagree with the bolded part as it applies to Madden. I just feel like people need to remember why they are at the CD in the first place. Just because EA employees feed you, show you pictures of their kids, their peg leg, etc… that shouldn’t change your reason for being down there, or what you intend to say. Now, it may change HOW you say what you say, but it shouldn’t at all change WHAT you say.”

And the reply –

rgiles36 – “Just to offer a response, are you suggesting that people do forget the reason why they’re down there? And if so, what evidence is there that people go to Tiburon and don’t critique while in the studio?”

MY DIRECT RESPONSE

This is kind of a Catch-22 because there is no evidence that anyone can give that wasn’t there and the people that can give that evidence won’t likely speak freely about anything truly negative as it wouldn’t be beneficial if they wanted to keep getting a trip to Orlando.

I think it would be best practice for those that aren’t going to Community Day to remember that those invited are invited as guests and it is usually customary of a guest to show proper respect and gratitude toward their host(s).

If you go to someone’s house for dinner and the dinner tastes crappy – you (probably) wouldn’t stand up and yell “This tastes like sh*t!”.
However, if your guest stops eating after the first bite and says “This tastes like sh*t!” – you should feel slightly more inclined to either agree with them or give your two cents… otherwise, you hack down what you have been fed and you go home to a nice bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

MY MESSAGE FOR COMMUNITY DAY INVITEES AND PARTICIPANTS

You have to keep in mind that a majority of hardcore fans have no idea about what their favorite game is going to look, play or feel like until they pull it out of the DVD case on release day.  Chances are good that you will be criticized by an ignorant public because they believe that you have an inside track… because you do.  There is a certain level of responsibility that you have when it comes to being a sought-after member of the gaming community and you have to remember that while you have confidentiality clauses and other issues to worry about – you are still in a position of power among people in the community.

Also, as it is widely known among active members of the gaming community itself each person making the trip to Orlando must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that legally prevents them from divulging any information about the game or development of the game without prior approval of the studio/company.

Be that as it may, any person that is invited to a Community Day needs to remember that they were once among the commoners.  While there are rules they must follow, there is also a responsibility for them to be a conduit that other people in the community can utilize to further the overall mission – making the game better.  In my view, Community Day participants have done an excellent job over the last few years and their efforts are much appreciated.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line is that when you bring in anyone to critique your product you are trying to get some feelers for what could be tweaked.  If the people being invited to give advice or suggestions were better at developing the game than the actual employees they would probably have a job offer to work at the studio.  (Keep in mind, this has actually happened in some cases with EA Sports and Madden)

There is a vast difference between being asked for your opinion and being asked for your help on any project.  For the most part, when people are invited out of the community to check out a game (of any sort) it is in a capacity of giving opinions and feedback but not much else.

Going to a community day is like helping someone hang a picture.  The developers picked the spot on the wall, put the nail in and they standing there holding the picture and asking you, “Does this look straight?”.

It is good to remember that people like Josh Looman pay close attention to forums and Twitter when it comes to community suggestions. Not just those from Community Day.

IN CONCLUSION

The main message here is that you must understand that people invited to give suggestions at Community Day are not there as developers.  They are there strictly on the basis of being valued consultants (at most).  They give opinions and they give suggestions when they are asked.  They give feedback and might even take some notes in order to give a detailed list that is comparable to proof-reading.  However, in the end it is up to the developer to take these suggestions and use them or ignore them.

So, before you accuse Community Day participants of ‘not doing their job’ or tell non-participants to ‘provide evidence’ that you know they don’t have – remember that this entire process is in the spirit of consulting at most.

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