December 17, 2009

How Valve Is Designing Their Community's Behavior

In the past week, both Valve and Blizzard have rolled out huge, long-awaited patches to Team Fortress 2 and World of Warcraft respectively.

The patch notes for WoW's 3.3 patch are just staggering. There's some great stuff in there: they've finally fixed their Looking For Group tool, added new content, and made tweaks to every class as well as a huge amount of powers, missions, and items. It took me about 20 minutes to wade through all the text in the patch notes.

TF2, on the other hand, received 7 new items and about 40 achievements. Presumably those patch notes would take about 2 minutes to review, right? Except TF2's patch notes have taken over a week to reveal themselves and still aren't finished yet.

The patch notes for TF2's War Updade are complete with challenges, conflict, a narrative, rewards, and even merchandising. In other words, it has many aspects in common with a game.

I've talked before about how Valve uses every opportunity to teach their players, but I've been really impressed at the lengths to which they've gone to entertain and motivate them this time around.

Good community members > good players

The really amazing part of this update, though, is what it communicates about Valve's values to their community, and how it reinforces it.

I've spoken about designing your audience before, in the sense of making sure you have the right players, but Valve is taking this a step further and designing how their community actually behaves.

Take a look at both of these posts. Notice anything in common? Both of them include players being called out by name for their great contributions, and rewarded with unique items that can not be acquired through the game:
Note: Pretty much any time we reveal a new weapon, somebody on the forums claims they thought of it first. But this time, assuming it’s Tom Francis and jibberish, they are absolutely correct. As a special thanks to them for doing our work for us, they'll each be getting a unique version of the Equalizer of their very own.
Think for a moment about how important and powerful a statement this is. By playing the game well, players can help their class get a new item this weekend, which is cool in itself. But by making some fan art or posting an insightful suggestion on the forum, they can receive a completely unique in-game item that nobody else will ever be able to own.

TF2 is also known for redistributing player maps as part of the game proper, which is great exposure for players who contribute to the community that way, especially if they'd like to break into the industry.

By rewarding their players so enthusiastically for the behavior the company values, Valve is making a very clear stand for what is important to them in their community, not to mention causing no end of evangelizing. Imagine how many people this guy will end up convincing to play Valve games in his lifetime.

It's a really interesting contrast to WoW's community-developer relationship, which has been famously rocky this past year. It often seems like WoW devs' main form of interaction with their playerbase lately is to yell at them for misbehaving (which as any parent will tell you actually encourages misbehavior).

This is one of the reasons so many other people like Valve so much: they realize that their players are worth much more than money, and treat them accordingly.