SXSW 2008: Edit Me! How Gamers are Adopting the Wiki Way

by danhon

SXSW 2008: Edit Me! How Gamers are Adopting the Wiki Way

SXSW 2008: Edit Me! How Gamers are Adopting the Wiki Way

Pribul, Shelton, Burba and McKee.

McKee – from Inside view. Social community.

How many people are in marketing? Web dev? Game development? [It’s not that full an audience, and it’s only the first day. Most people are probably recovering from Ironworks]

Trying to gauge some audience expectations: better idea of wikis aside from Wikipedia, seeing what everyone else is doing, learning from the gaming world, building wiki for the community but keeping the griefers out, a gamer wanting to know how wikis will help make their gaming experience better.

April Burba: Community Manager for NCSoft USA on Richard Garriot’s Tabula Rasa. Also associate producer on City of Heroes, City of Villains – started wiki way back in beginning of beta, so here to talk about experiences with why we chose to have an external wiki rather than our own, and experiences of building wiki for game.

Angelique Shelton: Wikia Gaming, enable communites to create, share discover content on topics they’re passionate about – runs the gaming division, 1000s of gaming topics: Halopaedia and WoW and Tabula Rasa and free to play online games. Every genre, we have a wiki community, 300k pages of content on games written by gamers. Here to talk about how amazed about how the gaming community has found this to be their preferred medium to communicate and share and experience in becoming community mavens for gamers, which wasn’t really Wikia’s mission.

George Pribul: Lead admin for, second largest wiki (english speaking) in the world by traffic, can give you an insight into how a single wiki actually works.

McKee: George was a fan player first, then brought into wiki.

Pribul: Was playing WoW since it started, then edited WoW wiki, then became an admin there, then ever since have been guiding its path, admin for almost two years.

McKee: Second biggest wiki in world behind wikipedia…

Burba: 3m uniques a month, half English speaking WoW play4ers, shows the saturation level of the reputation. No one who says they work for Blizzard…

McKee: Why do wiki for your efforts, vs any other social tool?

Pribul: Forums aren’t a great way of collating information, you get a lot of arguments, on a wiki, it’s about working together, on wowwiki, it’s fairly rare to have big arguments that people quite frequently come to a reasonable decision that everyone can work with, it’s really good for collating all sorts of information that people might write – we allow fan fiction, background, history about the game, we’re excellent about collating that, things the developer wouldn’t have time for, for strategies, characters, names, everything you have in the game, you’ll have in there.

McKee: How does NCSoft feel about this?

Burba: Even though it’s not our wiki, our job is to enable people to enjoy the game and help people talk about the game. Relationships between people are stronger than the game, it’s their community to build and if they get together and document the game that way, that’s great, we’re behind that and that’s OK even if it’s not on our website, the more reasons they have to do those things together, the better it is for us.

McKee: Is there a difference between people hardcore dedicated to a game like WoW, there’s a significance for other industries or concepts or targets, a business not as cool as a game are there lessons to be learned?

Shelton: At wikia, we ahve 6-7k wiki communities, yes, gaming is a large propotion, but they work whenever there’s a passion – yachting, vintage patterns to design for prom dresses, the lore of warcraft, any way you can see your customers celebrating, discussing, collaborating their passion, wikis are a great tool for that, it allows the influentials a way to step up and be accountable and take ownership. Why do they write content for free? A lot of people use the basketball analogy: people get paid to play basketball in the NBA, but they also play on the street, there are people passionate enough to do that, there are social dynamics, a lot of pride, attribution, community elevation, you don’t really see it as a consumer of the content, you see the content, you don’t see behind the scenes, the pats on the back, the elevation of social status. Wikipedia, you see that a lot, but it’s happening in these more targeted communities.

Burba: Social currency is really valuable – how would we have Linux without the social currency given to developers? Our digital culture is about being famous on the internet.

Shelton: That’s why we’re here!

Burba: That’s valuable, even if it’s not – even if you can’t put dollars to it, people are passionate and they enjoy it, they like creating documentation. We should totally encourage people to do so!

Question: These two communities – are they bound to collide? Do you play with people you meet while editing a wiki, Lightheaded [a wow plugin], backing it with wiki based information, how do they collide?

Pribul: Well, … it works. I edit Wowwiki because I love how I’m interacting with so many different kinds of people – an aside, playing with people online who you’ve met – I met my girlfriend via wowwiki, it’s so amazing that you find people like this online, there are, I’ve noticed more MMOs are thinking about how to get outside information into the game – there was one widget which allows people to have an overlay to let you browse the game – very popular, and people enjoy being able to find out – they want to know something else while playing.

McKee: April, as a developer, do you find yourself thinking about how you can make that overlay possible, so you un-silo and integrate thigns?

Burba: absolutely, that’s where the MMO industry is going, a seamless experience between the web, between wikis that have information about the game and inside the game, there are games with browsers built-in – EVE Online has it, couple other games, to be able to be inside the game, have a question about the game and to be able to open a window, open a wiki, find out the question, instead of having it to be an opportunity for a user to exit the game, that you never want them to leave the game, if you can enable that by creating that for them and by pushing information about the game out to provide tools to wiki developers, XML feeds for character stats, database dumps for item stats, anything like that, is a win for us.

McKee: So, colleagues who have the idea for a wiki, they can access inside the game – there must be fear there, was there a scenario about where you start the wiki, is there a better/worse secnario?

Burba: It’s a decision you should make as early as possible – do you make the decision to have your own wiki, or let the community run the wiki, or do what we did – for Tabula Rasa, the wikia wiki we had and a player run organic wiki and they started in the beta process, and we as a company went through the exercise of whether we have our own wiki, a player-run wiki, then they decided to make one, we saw issues where you want to do your own when there’s already a player run wiki – we saw them struggle with that, and made the decision to let our users do their own. Security questions – we ahve to separate it from our network so there can’t be hacking into our database backend, what if the only thing they do is put penis pictures on it, or bash our product, the griefers – what about the griefers, we made the decision in Tabula Rasa and as a game for a community management mantra to be let the community help itself, we had two wikis at one point. The most amazing thing happened: they got together and they made one. We decided during beta to support them and provide information and the guy who was running the wiki was willing to make sure the NDA was being followed and we worked with them and amazingly – and you have to trust your users, you’re talking about griefers or people – the more people own it, the more protective they are, the more they’ll take care of their own.

Audience: But with WoW, any issue with people publishing wrong data? Publishing bad data so people can’t follow in their footsteps?

Pribul: People will notice and self-correct. On Wowwiki, we don’t allow anonymous editing, despite that, we still get so many people coming, almost all of them are there for the enjoyment of the wiki, the number of people we ban is quite low, I’m suprised about how low it is. It has so many millions of players, but you only get maybe one person a day, 300m pageviews, one bad edit, it works, it’s pretty good.

Shelton: A community manager is one person, the community is larger than you, it’s bigger than the one gatehouse, the marketing department, they never sleep. You look at the strategies, they’re published once, the game FAQs, they have to be approved for every submission, the wiki communities never sleep. They’re more passionate about information being correct than the developers.

McKee: When we were doing intros, you mentioned that no Blizzard people identify themselves – is it good they’re not there or do you wish they had more presence?

pribul: Independnece is good, you should be able to say what you think about the game, you shouldn’t be harrassing people, but to not feel you have a corporation bearing down on you…

McKee: What if they were just another member of the community and they fixed something. Would you want more visiblity?

pribul: I think it would hinder, the good thing about wikis are they’re fairly anonymous, you don’t have to tell people who you are, if you are a developer and you come on, people hate a certain section fo the game and they’ll attack [the developer] I think it’s a good idea for it just to be the community. Blizzard used to be fairly narrow, but probably spurred by the encyclopaedia, they put more background information out, maybe they saw areas they wanted to correct, they wanted people coming to them, and also more information about the workigns of the game, now there’s more of a back and forth between the devs and the community, with this kind of website, you’ll have something that’s changed and documented quickly, if it’s a problem it’ll come up quickly, and other things like the databases that exist in the game, Blizzard have become more open with that, allowing us to take that information and put in our wiki and we can put it out there.

Shelton: Will Wright came by our Spore wiki and made a comment about it being cool and [the audience] went beserk and they were all ‘Will’s looking at this and we need to make it the best thing that it can be’

Question: Adopting the wiki way is like book writing with many authors – whenever that’s done for a book it’s been a failure – has the wisdom of the crowds been in collision with the creators of a game?

Burba: Wikis are almost always information based – documentation about what something is, rather than what it should be. Not about ‘this class should be played this way’ e.g. you should play the defender class this way, it should pair with a blaster in this way, however most of the time I see stuff like that on a wiki – and it’s edited out and it’s flagged as an opinion, so people can make their own decisions.

Pribul: We go for neutral point of view, they won’t be railing against the game, they’ll be playing it.

Question: The validity of a corporate wiki against a spontaneously created wiki – a Tabula Rasa one, would that have had less validity?

Burba: Which would be more valid to the community? I’m biased, community should be empowered to be autonomous and not feel like they’ll be censored, I feel very strongly about that, that’s not to say you can’t have an official wiki or forum that doesn’t [do that] it’s just a lot harder, and when your lead dev comes up and says this guy is posting this, and I don’t like it, and you have to take it down it’s hard when that guy’s your boss, to say it’s his right to say that. If you can’t do that, if you can’t stand up like that and let your community speak their voice honestly then you should let them be autonomous and let them be independent.

Shelton: Outside the game world, your community may not be organised enough to do that, but have someone in the community you can appoint to be the informal leader who can do that. Appoint someone who will take ownership and is a passionate zealot to be the champion.

McKee: having a community person inside the company who has the ability to stand up well above their pay grade, that’s crucial, they may have someone there and they may not be empowered enough to do that.

Question: So, self correcting aspect – is there a critical mass where that needs to happen, Wowwiki has 3m uniques, but if you don’t have enough eyes, are there any wikis that don’t reach that mass?

Shelton: There’s so many different tipping points – no fun to work on it with yourself, but I’ve seen wikis with 5 editors to succeed – I think 5 is the tipping point to succeed, that core community setting the structure, tone, bulk of content, and a topic of broad interest, then readers will come in droves, they’ll fix commas, add references, I think it’s much smaller than people expect. Wowwiki probably only has a couple hundred people who have contributed 80% of content, it’s a small group doing the bulk and 100ks making it pretty, doing the final touches.

Question: Formalised structure within game companies to set up feedback groups with communities, do you have a weekly meeting? Beyond the beta test.

Burba: For an MMO the feedback loop is the most important thing you can do, it’s more important than running your own forums, one of our primary methods for Tabula Rasa is a feedback form that goes right through rightnowweb ticketing system, it goes through bucketing, then that feedback is emailed directly to the devs in the scrum working on that system. Every Friday we post feedback Friday that posts questions and addresses those from the community and future preview things on a weekly basis.

McKee: How does support work in the context of a wiki?

Pribul: We have some, we have suggested strategies that are the most popular part, people looking for strategies is the most popular part.

Burba: Do you provide information on how to go through proper channels?

Pribul: I think we, we don’t really get that much tech support issues, we immediately tell everyone to go away, it’s not our area. We send them to the developer and forums.

Question: [Guy from Meebo] There’ll be more wikipedia wikis, than collaborative wikis, I’m not looking for encyclopaedias, collaborative fiction wikis, constructing a collaborative vision, ones around films.

Shelton: I was just going to cover amateur, but Wikia has a tonne of canon and fanon and unfanon, for Star Wars, we have 5 different fanon and fan fiction wikis, but on a more professional standpoint…

Burba: I would say we’re regulated as an industry, Tabula Rasa has a huge wiki internally, as a group wiki we’ll create armour sets, weapon sets, everyone has the lead dev on that thing, I added this page, please add ideas for armour sets, then there’s 150 different weapon sets, so yes, but it’s internal and no one can get to that because of NDAs and IP issues, I do not know of anybody that’s doing somethign that’s professional – asking from the community to help and develop the game, that doens’t mean it’s not out there.

Pribul: Wowwiki started as documentation for the UI of WoW, it was just too complicated, so the community got together to do it, that segged into the background of the game, it was a forward progression. Fan fiction has been an issue but we try and make sure there are places to do these things so we don’t shut them away because it’s not part of our vision.

Question: This is an IP question, Blizzard puts out this game, rich with treasure and more and fans flock to Wowwiki and they document it and they create meta-IP to the game. It has a tremendous audience, have you put ads there, and what kind of dialogue has taken place between the devs and the people paying hosting.

Shelton: So we do have ads on all of our wikis, I think the ecosystem of third party fan sites has been around for a decade if not longer, Gamespot, they’re writing about another company’s product, people writing about another company’s product has been around, so that’s the analogy we follow, in terms of the developers themselves, they provide a lot of the content to us, they see us as a healthy resource for their communtiy, they list us as premier fan sites, they see us as another way of servicing their community.

Follow-up: so the developers for a while in early 00s, late 1990s, they had a nice premium cottage industry, licensing out to Prima, official game guides, you can go to thottbot, they’re all undercut now, I never need to buy a book. I see your point that fanfic and fan support sites have been around for a while and it’s kosher to do that, but those fan guides/game guides have fallen away, do they developers ever ask for a cut?

Shelton: The fan guides are published – Prima, etc. – are on day one, wiki isn’t ready until say day 2001, so I don’t know sales numbers, and I worked at Microsoft Games Studios and we didn’t make a tonne of money on strategy guides, you don’t make much deals, the guys who make money are Wal-Mart.

Burba: I think, the reason people buy strategy guides is because they want to be able to be playing the game and have it right there and don’t want another screen, so they can have it in the bathroom.

Shelton: So we’re not making a million dollars a day on the Tabula wiki

Burba: But then we’d me making ten times that… and IANAL…

Question: I’m from the wiki about wine – when users build the content, they protect, police the site together, that’s a virtuous circle, but what happens when it turns into a vicious circle and they start to clique? That’s an obstacle to newcomers. We see that with articles on wikipedia. Do you intervene?

Pribul: We try to make it as open as possible, we want as many people editing as possible, we want many ways for people to come in and have some small way that they can help out, we won’t throw policies and guidelines, they might edit something, might not be too happy about it, we won’t shoo them away. You have people who edit just UI, who edit just fan stuff, we foster both of them. We try to make the rules fit everyone.

Shelton: There are some cases where someone who has admin rights who wants his wiki to go just one way, so Wikia, we have a team of people experienced in community management to coach that person and in some cases can give someone else similar rights and argue it out, it becomes tricky. Wikipedia is like America, Wikia is like Springfield Illinois.

Question: does the data ever go the other way, if what is on a wiki ends up in games, what’s the IP conundrum?

Shelton: All wikias are under the GNU free content licence

Burba: From a developer standpoint, I don’t know anyone who’s ever done that. I know there would be some legal issues, we’d have to talk about that, how it would happen, would we ever use it because of that licence, probably not – that licence means that if we republish it, we have to adopt that licence, I would say that 99.9% of the time the game will not do that unless it is an open source game, but I can see how it would work for that, it would be cool for an OS MMO.