PLEASE READ: Posting Guidelines for this Forum

All the blurbs from our main page, notices of updates, and other Kerberos items from around the web.
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Re: PLEASE READ: Posting Guidelines for this Forum

Post by castewarkp » Wed Nov 12, 2014 10:19 pm

[First published online around 2007 - archived here from 1up and a couple of other places that no longer exist as they once did - we're officially outliving gaming websites now, apparently]

Building Community
By Chris Stewart

“Oh what a Brave new world to have such creatures in it”

Hi folks. I’m Chris Stewart, Designer/Producer and all around go-to-guy here at the hell-kennel known as Kerberos Productions. One of my many side tasks is managing the SotS message boards and so I thought I would take my shot at the dev diary and go over some of my thoughts about game communities in general and the one I would like for SotS in particular. And to start I would like to share two important truths with you that drive all of my dealings with the community.

You are not cattle. And we are not dancing monkeys.

As long as both sides can keep that in mind, we’ll get along fine. It will take a lot of work though, something I think most developers and gamers don’t realize. But before I get to that, let me back up and explain a bit about where we, at Kerberos, are coming from.

The history of Kerberos and the online community begins with Homeworld: Cataclysm. While working on the follow-up to Homeworld, we discovered that we’d inherited a fanbase and it was a day-one struggle to convince them that it was Ok that we were NotHomeworld and NotRelic. What was almost worse was that we had few opportunities to address this ourselves. And by few I mean none. We were busy working to follow-up to a Game Of The Year, and the outright policy was that Homeworld is the bestest game ever.

“Ok,” we’d say, “that’s cool, but doesn’t this mean then that we’re trying to sell Cataclysm as being Not Quite Bestest?” This would always be met by stares, a couple of expressions like someone had wet themselves, some smoke wafting from one person’s ears, an uneasy cough or two, and the reaffirmation that the mantra for selling Homeworld: Cataclysm would be, “Homeworld is the bestest game ever.”

Suffice to say that this dichotomy ended up with us creating a great game that is still to this day referred to as Homeworld 1.5 - official policy was that it would never to be promoted as a direct sequel - and an “expansion,” even though it was a stand-alone product.

Our next go-round the PR mill was Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon (and yes, I will forever refer to it by the full title, so as to separate it from every other Treasure Planet game out there, particularly the McDonalds flash games. Brrrr.) In this case we were working for The Mouse. We were creating a game from scratch and it would be promoted by one of the biggest media monoliths going. This would be important as there was no pre-existing fanbase, and there was the stigma of being a “kid’s game.”

This time we were given some freedom to reach out online and talk to whomever had a question, which was good, as every opportunity to talk about the game was a chance to explain why it wasn’t just a kids’ game. Ultimately the game would be released, garner some solid praise, and disappear forever, due largely to the fact that two months prior to the movie’s release, for whatever reason, Disney kind of walked away from the property. Which included us. C’est la vie.

So, by this point, we were making good games for other people. Fast forward a few years, which included one studio purchase by a major publisher, a year of working on an ethically dubious title, a handful of burn-outs, dozens of people getting fed up, lots of people leaving, and one experienced strategy team simultaneously saying, “Oh, I’ve had enough of this”, and you roughly have the birth of Kerberos Productions. All of which was well covered at the start of this series of dev diaries.

So now we were our own company. We were calling the shots. We were going to make a game we wanted, as gamers, to see made. And we wanted to let everyone know about it. Eventually. We actually stayed under the radar for a long while – when you’re networking (literally and figuratively), just getting the foundations set up, there’s not much need to makes any noise. But eventually we did pop up and we declared our intentions to the world.

“Here’s Sword of the Stars. It’s a 4X title. We’ve made some changes to the genre we think you’ll like. Any questions?”

There are always questions.

There are three common approaches to interacting with people who are interested in your product (any product – it doesn’t have to be about video games, but there isn’t really such a thing as a toaster-oven fan community), each one is an addition to the one before it.

One is the Press Release – regardless of the level of interest or the questions being asked, everything is handled in a strict, sterile, PR fashion. Queries get answered in periodic press releases, new items, etc. But no direct contact with the people interested in what you’re selling.

Two is the Flak – There is someone who will talk to you, say on a message board, but for all intents and purposes they are the pep squad. Everything is A-Ok and “great.” This isn’t a bad approach, but again, it’s fairly impersonal. It gives some illusion of interaction, but it’s most like putting a talking head in front of the press releases.

Three is the VIP – In this case, the “someone” who will talk to you is directly involved in the production of the product. They’re actually making it. This is a really good approach, but if you haven’t spotted it already, I’ll point it out – each level requires more and more personal interaction and personal interaction is hard. It’s draining. So, when you see a company that has adopted the third level, you will probably notice a lot of tricks picked up from the previous two levels – this interaction is limited, and rarely extends beyond one, maybe two people, and you can bet one of them is a producer, which is the guy with the most time during the development period to check in on a message board from time to time.

The VIP is always rah-rah in their answers. This is because a) someone asked if the product is good, and the answer is, of course, yes. And b) someone asked something that opens up a can of worms. They don’t understand the implications of how something works in games, for example. They naturally try to compare what they know to what you’re offering. And so on. To answer these properly takes time and energy and most likely it won’t help and it will turn into a discussion, which takes more time and energy and this person is making a game – so time and energy are in short supply. So the easy answer is something short, not very helpful, but with a smile.

This is all right when you’re going what has been before. When you’re producing something that is very much like the thing that came before it, most people don’t have a lot of questions that will take time and energy. But what if you’re trying to shake things up a little, or try something different. That creates a lot of questions. Questions need answers, and if you open up access to the public, you’ll be answering those questions a lot. See above, regarding energy draining. It’s easy to see why this approach isn’t a popular one. Regardless, we’re going for a fourth approach, which takes the third one a bit further.

Four is The Club – All are welcome as long as the basic rules of human interaction are observed. The idea is that in order to provide more direct contact between the developers and the community interested in what’s being developed, a tricky balance has to be maintained, by both sides.

If anybody attempts something different, we think this is the only way to go. Not only because it helps get the word out, but because it shows that we’re standing behind what we’ve made. How much do you truly believe in your product when you’re not willing to open up the floor to questions? So, as I said, we set up our message boards and we made ourselves available. Not just one or two of us, but all of us. And the results have been good. The guys designing the game will answer questions about how the mechanics work. Art is shared and explained. The woman writing the background stories for the universe the game inhabits will answer questions about the races of the game, easily generating twice or three-times the amount of information that was originally written about them.

You aren’t cattle, meaning each one of you is an individual that will have separate ideas about the game. What you like about the game will be different from what the guy a million IP addresses over likes about the game. And another million IPs over, some guy hates the game. Now, multiply that by thousands, and you begin to see why talking to you through a press release seems like a good idea to most people.

We’ve been lucky enough that some of the first people to show interest in our game set up a Wiki repository, where everything we released about the game got catalogued. It made it very handy to be able to point people new to Sword of the Stars, not to mention the press, in its direction. We’ve also been lucky enough that people who know the answers are willing to help inform the new kids, allowing us to help clarify any follow-up questions. I like our message board members and I want to see where this goes.

There are a handful of places online where the personalities who make content, mostly comics and film, directly interact with the people for whom they are making that content, and their success stems from a simple philosophy of “Don’t come into my house and track mud on the floor.”

Think of it like this (or try it as an experiment, if you prefer concrete proof) – go to the nearest university and wander into a lecture hall. At the front will be someone who’s taking the time to talk to you about something – they could tell you to go read a book, but they are there to talk to you directly. Then, pretend it’s a message board. Listen to what the lecturer has to say. At random times, roll your eyes comically and groan at things you disagree with. Bark out counter-arguments dripping in sarcasm. Laugh out loud, perhaps. Try a “you suck!” or two. Then watch in amazement as you’re escorted from the building. Had you politely listened to the nice person, you can always go up afterwards and ask questions, even engage in a discussion. You might not agree with him, but you’re having a discussion. Same thing applies to our boards.

I don’t want to turn this into a Very Special Episode of game development, but based on what we’ve learned from our past projects, this is how we want things to go. We’re gamers making games for gamers. Something that has been said many times before but Kerberos plans to walk the walk. When someone makes a game, they want to talk to people about it – I’ve never met anyone who’s written a pen-and-paper role-playing game or board game that didn’t want to go to a gaming convention and play the game with other gamers. The same goes for us. We’re not just making a single product, we’re looking to expand it out wherever we can. Expansions, spin-off games into other genre, we’re even looking into ways to tell stories about our universe in different media. Part of that is building a community, made up of like-minded individuals, to share it with.

Some of you may find this attitude toward the message boards a little intrusive or controlling, and you may not be entirely wrong, but we’re trying to create a game that isn’t a one off. It’s not a grab for your money, we’re trying to make something special and we plan on this carrying on for years. Accordingly, we want to build a community around it that’s also something special.

There’s a quote in Ghostbusters 2 where Bill Murray ad libs the line, “You know, I'm a voter. Aren't you supposed to lie to me and kiss my butt?” I’ve run into that a couple of times already in terms of our board and our game. “I’m a consumer! Aren’t you supposed to suck up to me?” Not really - both of us deserve better than than, and if you don’t get that, then I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s going to work out. If you do, welcome aboard!

Like I said, it’s a tricky balancing act, but we’re going to give it a try as best we can. There’s not much time left before we offer up Sword of the Stars to the world, but come on by the boards and we’ll talk.

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Re: PLEASE READ: Posting Guidelines for this Forum

Post by Ciurrioc » Sat Nov 15, 2014 7:06 pm

Hahah very nice, love it. I've got a serious question, I'm sure this isn't the right place to ask it but here goes. had you guys the scale and funding of these "AAA" (quotations with extreme prejudice) publishers/dev companies.

Would your standards and demeanor change? I'm talking on the stance that you (as you do now) publish and develop your own games but again as stated had clouds of coin and ridiculously extensive coffers of disposable income. WOULD you really be the same/similar to as you guys are now?

As is you folks are down right awesome, and I'm sure you've seen more than your fair share of "OH HOW I WISH YOU GUYS HAD MORE MONEY" from your fans (as I) who immerse in the interactive and personable environment you provide. you guys are experienced you've been around the coast many many times.

Honestly would you be the same?
Has seen the Cover of the fabled Mecronomicon

"Who's hands shape what is"

Been around since ate my 8/3/13

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Re: PLEASE READ: Posting Guidelines for this Forum

Post by Mecron » Sat Nov 15, 2014 8:50 pm

honestly it would be exactly the same just with more games being made and more people under the roof. Its more important now than when we started that dev's take the stand and risk to present themselves as real people and to respond to fans as such.

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Re: PLEASE READ: Posting Guidelines for this Forum

Post by Slashman » Tue Nov 18, 2014 6:58 pm

Kerberos' straight-forward and honest attitude when dealing with their fans and customers alike, is a big part of what got me interested in their games and them as a studio. Even when I'm on the receiving end of Mecron's frankness, I know that I'm dealing with someone who isn't BSing me to present a fake image. I can respect that.

I became a fan during the whole SotS2 debacle rather than before it. So that should kind of tell you something. (Maybe that I'm nuts...)

I really wish that they had the financial backing to do bigger and better things, because they really are a studio that I think would shine brightest independent of any publisher or controlling investor.
If you want a different perspective, stand on your head.

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