Should MMOs have official forums? The question has been debated for years.
This is the most recent incarnation of the question, as posed at the Stargate Worlds forums.
And this is Darren's take on the situation, along with many interesting comments made by his readers.
Also, Jaye writes in defense of official game forums. Given my experience on the development side of Vanguard, and my pro-newbie stance, I generally agree with Jaye.
MMOs are huge, constantly evolving games. As developers, we need to complete the circle of communication with our players. And we can't expect to accomplish that by solely relying on fan sites.
When Vanguard launched, the beta forums were taken down and no official forums came up in their place. Players had been warned, and they were given a list of fansites to visit instead.
Players, now offered a score of potential communities, didn't have an obvious place to give feedback. Because the barrier to player entry increased, the fansite-only system weeded out those less familiar with using forums - people who could have given valuable feedback.
Designers now had a similar barrier. We needed to comb through dozens of fansites to find new feedback. In order to meaningfully respond to players, we had to set up dev accounts in multiple places.
Regardless, without the familiar official channels to post in, players offered less feedback. Players seemed to think that without the official forums, they weren't being heard. Many players posted on fansites as though their only audience was other players.
While 'noise' was reduced, so too was 'signal.'
My argument is this:
Encouraging good player-player and player-developer conversation is so important to the health of an MMO, it's well worth the publisher's effort to have official forums.
Official forums provide players with a familiar, safe and reliable place to find information, give feedback, and receive developer responses. They show that the developer cares, and is listening.
As well, compared with most fansites, game publishers are better equipped to take advantage of modern media and proper information design to avoid losing 'signal.' Also, they can afford responsible moderators (and search technology) to help bypass 'noise.'