Today, 4-16-10, is Foursquare Day. Rejoice, Foursquare users! (Foursquarers? Foursquares? Foursies?) Finally, you have a day of celebration where you can attend parties filled with Foursquare users. And earn a special badge. Also, you can check in to places. And stuff.

If you’re neither a Foursquare user nor a social media news junkie, you probably have no idea what that means. In fact, to the non-koolaid-drinker, the idea of a Global Social Media Holiday is exactly the kind of self-indulgent narcissism that is “wrong” with Social Media. Can you do that? Can you just… declare a holiday? And then get thousands of people to celebrate it?

Yep. You can now. And for online communities it’s really, really smart.

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If you’ve been reading up on social gaming, you’re probably familiar with terms like “microtransaction,” “core gamer,” “casual gamer” and “viral.” Maybe even “Freemium.” But buried in all the talk of Farms and Fish is a new lexicon that combines old school statistics with the latest in search engine analytics.

So, for those of you who are neither stat geeks nor analytics jockeys, here’s a crash course in basic terminology for social games metrics.

ARPU
A term carried over from Telecom companies, Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) is measured as total revenue divided by the number of subscribers. This includes revenue from subscriber fees, virtual goods, affiliate marketing and ad impressions. Because social games are so metrics-heavy, ARPU can be broken down by day, by country, by demographic, or by pretty much any other metric.

Churn
The turnover rate (or “attrition rate“) of a social game’s active players. The noise level in casual gaming is extremely high, which means social games have a user base that is constantly changing as gamers abandon the game or delete the Facebook app. Churn refers to this constant loss and gain of members.

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Social Media (and it’s parent buzzword “Web 2.0″) proves one thing: the most powerful force on the internet is narcissism. Well, and cats. Whether it’s a tweet, a blog or a Facebook status update, people love to talk about themselves. And when other people talk about them, they love it even more.

Is your online community hurting for activity? Then it’s time to stroke some egos. Here are 5 ways to turn everyone into frothing narcissists.

1) End of the Year Awards

Is it December? Good. Start your annual award thread. It’s not December? Then make some other excuse. With a good mix of categories, you’ll have a fun forum event that gets everyone involved in complimenting each other.

Get your community voting on as much as possible. Ask for categories and accept both the sensible and the silly. Once the categories are set, have a nomination period. And once the nominees are filtered down, begin final voting.

Possible forum award categories:

  • Most helpful – who’s always the first to help a newbie?
  • Smartest member – who always kicks your ass in forum debates?
  • Spamtastic – but Matt! Spamming is against the rules! Yes, but every community has that overenthusiastic member who is online 24/7 and answers every post, without violating the rules. Make them smile.
  • Sexiest mod – again, don’t take it too seriously. There’s a line between having fun and flouting your own rules. So long as you can enforce that line, this is always a popular category.
  • Member of the year – “Best in Show,” only with less tail wagging and drooling. Ok, maybe just less tail wagging.

Forum awards are a fun way to get your community to reward your best posters. But! Do not give actual prizes. This is about social recognition, which is much more powerful. The more you pay to forum award winners, the cheaper the award itself.

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We’ve been experimenting with using Twitter at live game tournaments. Already it’s proved extremely useful for delivering match results which, coupled with Livestreaming, bring real-time updates of your event to those not in attendance. Several corporate tournaments use Twitter to fantastic effect – for instance, Magic: The Gathering’s live event coverage is a thing of sheer beauty. But while the big players in eSports have adopted Twitter, grassroots tournaments have not. To help, here are 5 ways to instantly improve your Twitter feed during a live event.

Aside: for this article, let’s say we’re hosting an aptly-named Super Smash Bros. tournament called the “Best Official Awesome Smash Tournament,” or BOAST.

Hosting an event entirely unrelated to grassroots gamingt? These practices still help! This is the best way I’ve found to organize a complex, constantly-updated Twitter stream for events that need to disseminate lots of information quickly. The goal is to create a feed that immerses your Twitter followers while also engaging your event attendees.

1) Use consistent formatting when reporting results.

Keep things clear and consistent in your results. You can add more tweets to pump up excitement, but the results needs to be as easy to read as possible. Include the screen name and a clear verb. You can always add another Tweet (perhaps on your primary account – more on that later) designed to stoke a frenzy about an upset. But when reporting results, keep it clear and consistent, in the same format every time.

  • Bad: “OMG Logic got beat. DrDrew is too good!”
  • Good: “DrDrew beats Logic”

Decide your verbs in advance. “DrDrew beats Logic” means something different than “DrDrew eliminates Logic”. In a double elimination bracket, you’ll be using both. “Beats” when talking about the Winners Bracket, and “Eliminates” when talking about the Losers Bracket.

Results will be coming at you fast, so don’t get bogged down in too much information. When streaming tournament results, all you need is Noun Verbs Noun.

If you’re using Twitter to announce active matches, provide all the necessary information for people to watch it. If it’s on a livestream, include the link. If not, include the station where they are playing.

But wait! Results? Announcements? Livestream links? How do you keep all of this crazy information organized?

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There’s a lot of talk going on about virtual goods economics in games. The developers hail it as the monetization strategy of the future. Economists love it because they can see results in real time. This ain’t your grandpa’s ultimatum game.

But as usual, it’s The Onion who reduces the new business model to its core essence.

Virtual goods are the golden egg laid by the social gaming goose. Social games are built around inviting your friends, and virtual goods are about looking awesome in front of your friends.

The successful social games developers know what’s up. In an interview with FreshNetworks at SXSW, Playfish cofounder Sebastien de Halleux said:

In-game micro-transactions are key. The game is free and we create emotional incentives that make people want more of the game. Audiences are ready to pay for good games, but in small chunks. Just don’t get fooled into believing that you need large ticket transactions. Try not to think in terms of a business plan based on: Price x Quantity. Instead, think about Distribution x Engagement x Lifetime User Value.

To which Eric Todd from Playdom added:

we’ve found that there are two things that can have a disproportionate impact on profitability:
• Creativity / self-expression – allowing people to be creators makes them care more and increases their life time value.
• Competition – player vs. player conflict drives a willingness to pay for competitive advantage.

Remember: the happiest man in the world is the one who makes $1 more than his neighbor. Only now, that neighbor is in Farmville.

Games industry consultant Nicholas Lovell gives his clients this simple question: “when you are at home, with no one watching you, do you dress up in your best trendy clothes, or hang out in an old T-shirt and tracksuit?”

Admit it: you answered the latter. Everyone else does, too.

Lovell goes on to point out the difference between a “reward” (as you get in a single player experience) and a “purchase” (usually as a microtransaction.) Purchases of virtual goods must give you “a feeling, an experience or a social benefit.” They must allow you:

  • to feel more powerful (i.e. have better weapons, level up faster)
  • to fit in (like the one million people who bought a Santa Hat in Kart Rider in the run up to Christmas 2007)
  • to stand out (like anyone buying a unique set of clothes for their avatar)
  • or a combination (like a guild all kitting themselves out in purple clothes so everyone recognises them).

Game developers are catching on. And they’d better do it fast, because virtual goods were worth over $1 billion in 2009. That number is expected to grow to $1.6 billion in 2010 in the US alone.

That’s a lot of fake farming.

Image credit: p e e p e r

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Video game community manager David “Historian” DeWald has a great article up on why your company needs a community manager.

One key point:

The launch phase of any community requires someone that is passionate and “transacting” a lot. Building communities is not about collecting as many people as possible and communities often don’t grow the way they are planned. The CM role will change as the needs of the community change. This means the CM doesn’t fit into any single definition. I often refer the to the role as being similar to a liaison, bridging the gap between those inside and outside the organization.

The important subtext here managing a community is a complex responsibility. You’re hiring a customer liaison, a marketer, a writer, a blogger, a human resources administrator and a product manager, and you’re probably expecting him/her to know about the tech, too. This takes substantial work from at least one person, and probably more than that. Remember: a big reason why most online communities fail is because they are understaffed.

This is just as important whether you’re building a brand-driven or a grassroots gaming community. Even if you’re giving users most of the control over the content, you need a hands-on CM to keep promote growth and encourage good behavior.

Image credit: Horia Varlan

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The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article up about Foursquare. Only it’s not about what Foursquare’s creators designed it for.

College students at University of Texas are tagging their campus with jokes, tips and gags. Not “tips” as in “I checked in on Foursquare and then left a tip.” No, students are leaving behind tags marking “the teacher they loathed,” “the room they smoked pot in,” and “the couch they had sex on.”

Awesome. Now THAT’S how you build an online grassroots community.

This is the kind of emergence that separates a Plurk from Twitter. Friendster from Facebook. Google Video from YouTube. To truly grow an online community, you have to get lucky and have one of these emergent lightning strikes. You have to encourage your community to use your product in a way you had NO IDEA existed.

If you’re really lucky, this emergent behavior will be self-replicating. For instance, “retweeting” and “follow friday”, had nothing to do with Twitter. They were created by the users. The exceptional part is how retweeting and follow friday reproduce themselves. If someone #Followfridays you, you are exposed to the trend. You then #Followfriday someone else. Other people see you tweet the tag. They do it to. It spreads faster than an chain email from your mom.

In the gaming space, World of Warcraft was amazing at promoting memes in its community. Blizzard did this by giving their massive player base a central place to talk – the Official WoW Forums – and making sure their customer service reps (Blues) allowed these memes to unfold. Want an example? Let’s melt some faces.

So there’s your answer, Foursquare. Give students easy ways to deface their colleges.

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The most important rule of blogging: choose a subject.

I started this blog as more of a scratchboard. A placeholder for ideas spread across various interests, including fiction, copywriting, creative agency life, social media, online community building, and video games. The old tagline, “Writing, Gaming and Brazen Geekery” expressed this.

As a personal project, that’s fine. As a blog? Ineffective.

Now I have a subject. For the past several months I’ve been diving back into online community management and social media management, with a particular focus on gaming communities. It’s a subject I’ve been immersed in for almost a decade. I’m good at it, and I love it. So, as a start to a new personal brand, Wavedash.net is relaunching.

What is a Wavedash?

From SmashWiki:

A wavedash is a technique in Melee that causes a character to slide along the ground without walking or running. It transfers the momentum of the air dodge into a spurt of ground-based movement. Like l-canceling and Short Hopping, wavedashing is considered an advanced technique, and one of the first techniques smashers learn when they train for tournaments.

How’s that for confusing? Wavedashing is a technique used in Super Smash Bros. Melee to move without changing direction. It lets you do standing attacks while moving. You can do it out of a shield. You can use it to change the way you land after jumping. It’s considered the gateway to advanced play: wavedashing doesn’t make you good, but because of the complex hand motions it requires, learning it puts you on the path to competitive play. It’s like learning about foreshortening when painting.

There’s a reason why this site is called Wavedash. The technique is an example of emergence in a gaming community, facilitated by modern technology. At the time, thousands of Smashers were talking strategy on one website, Smashboards.com. They shared techniques, exploits and crazy bugs. At the same time, all of these gamers from all over the world voluntarily began hosting tournaments. They created their own meetups, shared ideas and evangelized the game to their friends.

Bear in mind that this was already years after SSBM had been released.

Wavedashing was the first truly “advanced” technique that Smashers collectively identified. It’s an exploit of the phsyics engine. It doesn’t exist anywhere in the rulebook. Nintendo has never spoken the word out loud. But if you wanted to compete in the dozens of tournaments popping up, you learned to wavedash.

Since then, wavedashing has taken on a bad rap. Casual players talk about banning it. Funny thing is, it doesn’t actually do anything. It’s not a powerful strategy. Some top players don’t use it at all. But it’s become so synonymous with competitive play that it represents the entire competitive Smash community, complete with rules, philosophies and strategies that are anathema to the casual.

I’m fascinated by this emergence. The Internet has created a way for fans of a game to connect and have conversations. This leads to completely new rules that the designers never foresaw. More importantly, it leads to the creation of a frothing enthusiastic fanbase that promotes the game. With zero support from Nintendo, the Wavedashers made the competitive Smash community into one of the largest for any game on any platform.

This is Grassroots Gaming

Esports like MLG and NVGA have finally taken off. Game companies the world over have identified the value in having a dedicated community. “Community Manager” and “Social Media Manager” are both real job titles. Just look at Bungie, Blizzard, Valve and a dozen other developers who have given their fans a place to play. It translates to real dollars.

Grassroots gaming is different. It’s the holy grail that all of these companies, from the competitive league to the publisher, want to grab. It combines the hardcore fervor of competitive play with the friendly frolicking of social media.

In short, “grassroots gaming” is about harnessing emergence to turn fans into community builders. It’s about tapping the casual fan as well as the hardcore, and exciting them about getting their friends to play. It’s part word of mouth, part marketing, part community management, and part chaos.

There’s the Wavedash wheelhouse. Welcome.

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Self promotion, recession style

by Matt on July 27, 2009

in Miscellany

Self Promotion, Recession Style

Seen on my morning commute to work. The SUV’s owner wrote “HIRE ME. SMU MBA – FINANCE.” followed by his (her?) gmail and phone number, on all three rear windows. The best part is the contrast between “MBA – FINANCE” and a medium usually reserved for highschool Homecoming.

Somehow I doubt slapping “MBA” on the back of your car is going to lead to many job offers.

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Random Word Thought: Economy

by Matt on December 4, 2008

in Miscellany

“Economy” means frugal restrained, which has come to mean “cheap.” Economy class. Economy car. Economy-sized. If you’re “economical,” you’re efficient with your money and focused on reducing expenditures.

So isn’t the phrase “Consumer Economy” a contradiction?

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