On Emergencies and Broadcasts

After taking a week off from these gaming posts and still trying to get the smile off of my face, it’s only natural that I still have PAX on the brain. Of all the fantastic experiences and stories that came from Penny Arcade Expo’s debut in Boston, I’m still soaking in the information I received from the many panels I attended. My favorite panel was, “Traversing the Twitterverse, and Beyond!”, which focused on how social media is used to listen and respond to communities. Points addressed in this panel didn’t just apply to someone as prominent as Major Nelson, but to anyone with a Twitter account. What I found particularly interesting was how some of the concepts and theories discussed in the panel would be evident in the recent fiasco with Modern Warfare 2’s Stimulus Package Map Pack.
Please follow and retweet before reading the rest of the post.
Part of the discussion during the panel focused on general concepts behind using Twitter as an effective communication tool. One of the ideas reiterated was that content is more important than follower counts. Having interesting things to say is more important than what is essentially spamming followers. When it comes to your own content, you don’t need “headline making” posts to be insightful. Don’t feel the need to attract an overwhelming amount of attention from the outset, building a brand takes time. You have to prove that you have a unique and worthwhile perspective for prospective followers. Some of these tips may seem like common sense but these basics form the foundation for how the panelists operate, at least on a professional level.
Larry Hyrb, or @MajorNelson functions primarily as a one-way street. Be it broadcasting information on the latest offerings on the Xbox Live Marketplace, the newest content released on the Xbox Live Arcade or updating the status of Xbox Live itself, Major Nelson is Xbox’s beacon of information. That’s not to say that he isn’t listening to feedback and developing strategies based on responses sent his way, but there literally isn’t enough time in the day to respond to every legitimate at-reply he receives.

Robert Bowling, Creative Strategist for Infinity Ward, also known as @fourzerotwo uses Twitter in a capacity similar to Major Nelson’s. As the first line of communication with fans, and disgruntled gamers, Bowling sends out updates on patches, bug fixes, downloadable content details and other pieces of information about Infinity Ward’s latest games. During the panel, Bowling gave an example of how Twitter has worked as an information gathering tool – he first found out about the infamous javelin glitch from a user’s response to him and as soon as he verified the glitch for himself he notified the development team and a fix was immediately under way. That kind of instant feedback is gathered by Bowling and then presented to other people within Infinity Ward or Activision be it marketing, development, or the people responsible for the pricing of the Stimulus Package Map Pack that was just released. While he cannot respond to every single message sent his way, especially the vulgar ones, he uses Twitter as an immediate point of contact with the people who matter the most, the people actually playing these games.

The other member of this panel, McKenzie Eakin, or @MacheteBetty represented the Twitter account for @xboxsupport. Their utilization of Twitter differs greatly from that of Hyrb or Bowling as they function almost entirely as a two-way street. During the panel, Eakin cited Comcast (@comcastcares) and Best Buy (@twelpforce) as two existing models of customer support that they are modeling their strategies to emulate. Xbox Support has a 5 minute target response time for any inquiries sent their way. There are currently six people managing the account, as indicated by the initials at the end of each message sent out to users – ^JC, ^MB, ^AS among others. Along with basic support for individual users they also keep followers updated on any technical difficulties the network might be experiencing, like if a certain map pack’s release is wreaking havoc among Xbox Live users.

Each of these strategies to use Twitter as an effective communication tool varies depending on the man-power and the overall intent of information dissemination. The point of their panel was to show that while approaches might be different, the idea that critical, valuable information be available to followers was a key point made by all three panelists. With the release of the Stimulus Package Map Pack for Modern Warfare 2, we saw how each of these approaches handled communicating with the public as the situation went from bad to Internet Meltdown in a hurry.

Over the course of three hours, users could track the status of the problem and the eventual fix by following Bowling’s tweets. Of course, similar messages were being sent out or retweeted by @xboxsupport, @majornelson and other Twitter accounts with the ability to reach as many people as possible. I’ve highlighted some key words and phrases to help drive home the points that were being made at the Twitter panel in Boston.

Thanks for the feedback! I’m going to be sitting with production & giving you updates as they come regarding when you can expect to play. 11:13 AM Mar 30th

Alright, thanks to @thevowel and the team over at #xboxlive – the #MW2 title update is now live (just downloaded it), the DLC is good to go. 12:05 PM Mar 30th

Just connected to a game. Playing on Crash now. Give it a go yourself and let me know how it goes1:08 PM Mar 30th

See people. You’re witnessing why Twitter is amazing. I’m getting an instant consensus on what 100,000+ people are experiencing first hand! 1:26 PM Mar 30th

This is the progress first hand. You can see the number of connections increasing, were getting more stable! #MW2 http://yfrog.com/j2519ij 1:39 PM Mar 30th

Behold! The power of feedback. We’ll be integrating the new maps into all playlists as well as enabling Double XP for all playlists tomorrow 8:13 PM Mar 30th

Bowling was able to receive instant feedback throughout the entire process and more importantly broadcast instant updates to keep gamers as informed as possible. Sure, the Internet can be a scary place and Twitter is loaded with plenty of nonsense and spam. But this is an example proving that Twitter can be the next generation of customer support. This is how social media can make a positive impact on a company’s ability to communicate with the public when it matters most.

If one of the highest profile games has an issue, the complaints will be louder and they come at a higher frequency than other games. But at least the tools exist and, more importantly, are being used to effectively communicate with consumers. The near real-time correspondence ensures that information is being transmitted as quickly as possible to as many people as possible. While not the best circumstances to implement the theories outlined in their panel at PAX, what resulted was a premiere example of how Twitter can be used as a communication tool with unprecedented reach.
This post is featured on Talking About Games.

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