Harnessing the power of the mob

The mob:

You know the type – the people that for whatever reason have taken something outside of their own control and have built their virtual life around it. These are the folks that call themselves, “the community”, have the secret handshakes, flame people that make the verboten questions that have been flamed over before, and basically spend hours of a forum hitting refresh, coming up with cute sig blocks, and have endless conversations about this game that isn’t even out yet.

Now, has there ever been an instance where a company has actively sought to harness these people as an “unpaid brownshirt marketing brigade” and do such fun tasks as spam online polls and write nasty letters to authors of negative comments? I know the mob does this themselves – one just has to see the reaction to Tom Chick’s Moo3 review, but it strikes me that an PR person with a bent to the machiavellian could really wrap a community around their finger.

Ever seen any indication of this?

Well, there were certain beta testers on Usenet, right around the release of particularly buggy games… I think Microprose’s last tank sim before they folded was such a case. Their appearance coincided with company representative so I think a concerted action was not out of the question.

But these days Usenet is irrelevant, and the fan hordes have mostly retreated to the company forums with their seamless transition between paid employees and unpaid fanatics.

Hmmm…with Dark Age of Camelot Mythic hired a couple of the best-known critcal fans of the MMOG genre, Tweety and Lum, and I think got a lot of goodwill from the fan base as a result. The fans had the feeling that they were finally being represented by some of their own at one of the game companies. Mythic people themselves were quite active on Lum the Mad’s message board up to the release of DAoC too.

I don’t think it was machiavellian, however. I think it was just one of those things that sorta happened. It does rub me the wrong way that Mythic effectively ended the fan dialog after the game was released, though. It did make Mythic’s previous communications with the fan base look calculated rather than genuine.

It does rub me the wrong way that Mythic effectively ended the fan dialog after the game was released, though.

The release date is when the praising-loving fans are transformed into scowling unsatisfiable customers. Frankly, I don’t blame Mythic for ceasing to maintain a presence after that.

Like every other company out there.

Name me one game where after a month, every class didn’t get nerfed in some way. Suddenly, you can’t solo, you can’t get to level 50 in 3 months, you need 3 years. They say nerfs are to balance classes vs. each other… great… so instead of upgrading the one weak class, it’s better to nerf all the others :/

Somewhat off-topic for anything but the thread title, there was an interesting article* in the 3/10 issue of Time called, “Day of the Smart Mobs.” The focus of it was on how in these days of mass instant communications, people “can be drawn together like schools of fish.” Mobilize in an instant for almost any reason.

I think the most interesting example was how of President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines was forced to resign in 2001 by a crowd of people who used text messages on cell phones. A crowd of hundreds of thousands.

PC games lend themselves to internet mobbishness because of the medium; more people tend to be wired into the big brain. Of course, in PC game fanboy cases, this should probably be called a ‘dumb mob.’ Maybe a ‘blind mob.’

*There was also an excellent article about Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers), who recently died of gastric cancer.

Heat.net actually got their members to do something like this for 10six. Apparently, they promised their users T-shirts and coffee mugs and other junk in exchange for spamming their favorite forums. As I recall, a lot of those idiots were banned from those forums.

If you were considering doing it yourself for your own game, I’d advise against it, at least in message boards and newsgroups, because of abuse/spam policies.