Christian Montoya

The whole community management thing is REALLY HARD

Unless this is your first time reading this blog, you've already heard me talking about the DotA app on Facebook. You might be bored of reading about Facebook applications, but DotA is one of the biggest things I've ever been involved with, and it has been taking up a lot of my time. Funny thing is, of the three developers behind it, I'm the one that has contributed the least amount of time.

DotA currently has 52,716 users. In the past 24 hours we had an engagement rate of 32%. That's 16,313 people in there playing our game. And if I were to come back in a week and tell you the current numbers then, they would be much bigger. This is the snowball effect. We'll know if it has plateaud when we get there.

The measure of a community is not just about numbers, though. There's a blog for the game, which we had no part in. There's a begginer's guide which was written by some of the players and has its own Facebook group. There is also a Facebook group devoted to the Light Tavern, which is one of the subcommunities in the game… also started by players. All these things are new and have sprung up in the last couple weeks, part of the tremendous growth we've had. At some point in that time I realized, we have a community on our hands. And that scared me.

Before the weekend, we decided to implement some major changes in the way our DotA app works. For one thing, we doubled the maximum level from 25 to 50. We already had a handful of players who had reached 25, so it was a necessity. A side effect of this was that the thresholds for levels changed, so everyone was demoted across the board. We made some other changes which were not necessary, but which we knew would take the game in the right direction. We imposed level restrictions on items, which meant that even though users had bought some expensive items that were very powerful, they now would be unable to use those items until they reach the higher levels. We added more items to the game in the form of "scrolls" that give temporary stat boosts, just to make things a little more interesting.

We rolled out these changes in a hurry because this thing has grown faster than we expected and we have just been trying to keep up with that growth. In the immediate hours after it happened, it seemed like we might have messed up. People were mad. They were saying that we should have given them notice ahead of time, that we were making the game worse, that they had put in a lot of time for nothing, etc. It was scary stuff. Picture a mob of people with pitchforks and torches. That's what it feels like.

It's been a few days since the changes, though, and things have gone very well. I don't know if all the angry people left already, but the feedback has been good. The way I see it, the game is more "structured" now and that gives players more balance in the game. Imposing level requirements on items, which was the most drastic change, was also the best one. It's the one that made everyone mad, but it's also the one that added structure to a part of the game that was really ambiguous before. Users weren't sure of whether to save up for the best items or just buy lots of cheap ones; now they don't have to think about that… they can just play within their levels. So in the end, our numbers have continued to grow and we got out of that mess alive.

In short, I've learned a few things first-hand:

  • When you have a whole community built up, you are never entirely in control. People will take what you've built and run with it. They'll build new things around it that you never could have planned for. They'll join together and coerce you to do what they want. If you fight it too much, you'll lose the community entirely.
  • Sometimes you have to trust your instinct. Mistakes will happen, but as much as the users might disagree with your choices, sometime they are wrong and you are right. You just have to really know when this is, or else you'll be in a heap of trouble.
  • You really can't please everyone. We gain thousands of users every day and lose hundreds. Some people won't like our app and we have to live with that. As long as the growth is positive and the influx is orders of magnitude greater than the outflux, we're doing okay.

I'm sure I'll be learning more about these things in the coming weeks, and when I cross that bridge, I'll blog about it. Until then, tell your friends about DotA. I hear word of mouth is very effective.

Thank you for reading • Published on November 19th, 2007 • Please take a moment to share this with your friends