Sometimes, I like to categorize myself in the “not-so-intelligent” column. My most recent foray into stupidity was deciding that taking a Spanish 2 class – at 8 A.M. – 4 days a week – was remotely a good idea. Since I haven’t taken Spanish in four years and mirror the sleeping pattern of a Northern Hawk Owl, every morning is a little slice of tortura. I get why they make us take a foreign language – they want us to be able to converse with the vast cultures of the world more efficiently because communication is the key to success – blah, blah, bler. That’s all well and good in theory, but I highly doubt “Donde es la biblioteca” is going to push my career to new heights. (Unless I’m a Fireman from Fahrenheit 451, of course)
A much better communication lesson has come from my internship here at Insomniac Games. And more so than teach me to communicate – it’s taught me how to communicate. No doubt you noticed that the Resistance 3 beta went though a few rough patches when it was released to a larger group of people. That was unfortunate, but that’s why you have betas – to find and fix the problems. Still, fans rightfully wanted to know what was going on. In my infinite wisdom – I was prepared to hunker down and stealth out a patch in the middle of the night. Isn’t that what most companies do? Maybe they’ll release the patch notes a few hours after it goes live if they feel especially courteous. The “Pretend All Hell Isn’t Breaking Lose” tactic is an industry favorite. I simply expected Insomniac to follow suit.
Silly me. We don’t “follow suit” here at Insomniac Games. We don’t even wear suits (Fancy Friday hasn’t really caught on yet). Instead of passive avoidance – the Community team here actively addressed every single issue. I don’t think there was a thirty minute span of time when Insomniac didn’t update people on the status of the beta via the magical magic of social networks. Having connection problems? BOOM – IG responded to your concern. Patch just went to Sony for testing? BOOM – IG let you know. Heartbroken Matchmaking was down? BOOM – IG was there to wipe away your tears and rock you to sleep. Every issue was addressed and it wasn’t filtered through some corporate rose-colored spin machine. You got the facts as soon as we got the facts. And y’all seemed to genuinely appreciate that.
This approach was a pretty big eye-opener for me. I learned that the key to proper communication is transparency. Dodging around an issue is only going to make your loyal fans upset. It’s not like you guys are unaware of what the issues are. You’re all smart (I’ve seen your report card – Gold Star for you!) – thinking otherwise would only insult the community we care about. So, the best way to communicate with the fans is to be as open and blunt as possible. Again, that’s a pretty scary notion, but at the end of the day it’s immensely more respectful to the community to keep them out of the dark (Are You Afraid of the Dark? Yes…).
However, I also learned that simply informing people isn’t enough anymore – you need to interact with people, as well. For instance, since matchmaking was down for a short time in the R3 Beta – my superiors went all out to help people find each other so they could play custom games. Tweets were re-tweeted, forum post where advertised – heck, I even saw Vitti, our web developer, playing Mr. Matchmaker by introducing beta players too each other over a candlelight dinner – while playing a romantic violin ballad for them (Not really – he only plays the French Horn). A grand deal of effort went into making an unfortunate situation – better. Without it – all of that communication would be like the points in “Whose Line is it Anyway” – useless (Although, I did always root for Colin to win). You can keep people informed – sure – but that is only one layer of commitment to the fans. The other layers need to show that steps are in place to rectify the problem. Using social media to interact with people and help them construct private games was a great way to show that commitment.
Transparency and interaction – those are the key ways to communicate – not some foreign language you’ll only use to try and pick up girls (for me, that’s a big emphasis on the try). Keeping fans consistently informed instead of dodging acknowledgement only conjures up unnecessary frustration. With this lesson learned I’m starting to inch off the “not-so-intelligent” column. Oh, I’m still there, but I’m starting to communicate my way off of it. Just not using my Spanish. Estoy muy mal a Espanol*.
*See, I didn’t even use the accent mark.