BioWare Development Teams and Forum Interaction: A Model of Inconsistency

When I first came to BioWare, it was via Dragon Age: Origins. Thus it was through those boards that I began seeing how BioWare interacts with its customers. It turns out, though, that the Dragon Age team has a unique relationship with fans of the game, even among the company’s own employees.

If you spend time on the DA boards, whether DA:O, DA2, or the brand-new Dragon Age: Inquisition subforum, you’ll see writers, QA guys, and various other devs wander in—sometimes to stay a while—and discuss the game and its lore with people. They respond to threads, they talk about other games and their preferences, they drop teasers and generally are well-liked members of the community.

David Gaider pops in to dismiss nasty rumors or start them. He’s sardonically funny and very opinionated, but he’s clear on his vision and sternly corrects people providing disinformation or making wild assumptions. He’ll stay and argue his point, as well.

A spin through the Mass Effect boards used to be similar, with devs and writers answering questions and giving insight to their fans. That changed a great deal with the frankly abusive behavior of some folks on the BioWare Social Network surrounding Mass Effect 3 and, to be honest, I haven’t spent much time there since. The atmosphere became poisoned and too much of the fun went out of the conversations.

And then we come to SWTOR. The Star Wars: The Old Republic forum is kept completely separate from the BSN, which I suppose I understand to a point, but to me it really hurts the former. The people who have fun at the BSN don’t frequent the SWTOR boards and Star Wars fans don’t see what kind of community BioWare fosters around their other games.

The folks on the SWTOR team, however, work for BioWare and must know folks on the other teams. Were they willing to put in a little time dropping teasers and discussing what’s already been released the complainers who point out—quite truthfully—that no one from the company posts would be silenced. I don’t think one post a week saying, essentially, “You’ll love it, just wait, but we’re not going to tell you anything,” counts.

Thus my suggestion to whoever leads BioWare now: get some of the SWTOR team into the game’s site to talk about the game as it exists. Let them answer questions about class stories and companions. Have someone finally explain why we have clickable escape pods that don’t do anything. Give them a little room to show their passion.

As an example, I just finished Chapter 1 of the Jedi Knight story. I found the final three missions exciting (and that burning planet was gorgeous!) but I never thought of going to the boards to thank the writers or the art team. Had it been DA or even ME I would have found a thread doing so already and added my kudos, fairly sure that it would be seen by at least one person who could feel the love and may have already posted there thanking people.

Then once staff has had a chance to play a little, link the two sites. Nowhere on the BSN could I find anything about SWTOR nor vice versa. Had I not been introduced to the game via the original BioWare site I wouldn’t have known it existed. People bashing BioWare in general, rather than just the SWTOR team, for never communicating with their customers might get a real eye opener if they clicked over to the BSN and saw how staff on the DA team operates.

My hope is that a thriving group like Dragon Age’s fans can show the SWTOR folks that’s there’s more than enough room for fun and civil debate even in the face of no real information from devs. Sure, there’s criticism and (to me) ridiculous amounts of hyperbole in describing the failings of older games. Trolls troll, haters hate, the world is round, a community works a lot better when the devs are willing to show their digital faces and act like they give a hang.

That’s what missing from the SWTOR community: proof that the people making the game care about it. The vitriol and the absence of an “official word” on pretty much anything drives away anyone looking for a fun place to discuss the game outside of general chat.

Paid PR people, enthusiastic though they might come across, don’t count, in this endeavor. All of the negativity and hysterical posts, with that little BioWare tag showing up almost nowhere but the sticky posts, gives a strong message that staff don’t care. Whether that’s accurate or not I have no way of knowing because they don’t tell me any different.

Get them posting, BioWare. Have SWTOR writers or designers post at least in the Story and Lore or Classes subfora. Let them talk about their favorite story moment or explain how the team decided that a smuggler would be willing to work exclusively for the Republic for a good long while. (Note: “Han Solo did” is not a useful response.)

If the Star Wars: The Old Republic writers and other devs have any passion for the game, the community has not been allowed to see it. There will always be whining, complaining, the not-infrequent rage-quit, and even some constructive criticism. As it stands the most-passionate community members, the ones who are willing to wade through the cesspool of fury that is the SWTOR boards, would benefit from seeing that some of BioWare’s employees care at least as much about the game as they do.

In a perfect world, the devs would change from faceless pencil pushers working as EA’s lackeys to talented, invested people that the community welcomes with open arms. In this one, well, that will still happen to an extent. The transition may be ugly but, with a lot of moderation on the boards and a committed effort to engage their fans, the forums on SWTOR’s site can turn into a place for players to turn rather than one they avoid like the rakghoul plague.

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