The Death of Forums and Message Boards
I grew up using forums. Some of my earliest online gaming memories are in the mid-late 90s when our house was one of the first to get a private internet connection because my Dad’s work needed him to have it or something.
My brother and I would log in and look up guides, cheats, and information about video games we were playing. I remember looking up all sorts of things about older games like Doom and even newer games like Netstorm, Diablo, Warcraft 2, etc. Forums were the place to go to find information because they archived real questions people were asking.
Some of the more popular forums were places like GameFaqs and Gametrailers. Then IGN came along and created a huge message board community, especially surrounding the Vault Network and MMOs.
I moderated the forums on the Vault network for a few years, and posted/hung on out them for half a decade. I was even sent to E3 to represent IGN’s Vault Network — essentially a forum community.
Forums used to be huge for games. The first big component of every game’s launch hype was building up that social forum community. It used to be the role of a community manager to peruse but their own official forums as well as other larger community or network forums to engage in conversation.
That’s all really not the case anymore. Sure, there are dedicated groups of holdouts. I know the Vault Network has survived in spirit through postcount.net. Other similar old school fan bases are still around. Some official forums still generate volume. Blizzard is a great example, but everything they do seems to be an anomaly.
I was thinking about what caused the declined of forums and where the paradigm shifted.
Obviously the big one is social media. I think the rise of social media networks has played the greatest overall role. The two big ones have played a unique role.
Facebook attached an odd personal element to the nature of communicating. We used to use aliases and hide behind pen names. Facebook connects you and your friends and their friends with updates and intertwines you all together. In a way, those most popular of networks has shifted many lurkers either deeper into the shows or out into the open to embrace communicating in a different way.
Facebook groups and official Facebook pages for games are a big hub. Even outside the gaming industry, Facebook groups are where it’s at. I have other websites and hobbies in other industries and we use Facebook groups to community. One of those industries in entrepreneurship and there’s no better way to communicate than a Facebook group. Not even five years ago that would have been entirely on a Forum or message board.
Twitter is like a micro-laser-focused message board. We have those 140 character messages that we post to our own private message board and to others. We use Twitter to community directly and alertly to developers. This exact method of communication used to happen entirely on a forum. In fact, to get official dev attention of this kind used to only exist on a forum.
We recently stopped using the Keen and Graev Community Forums because the forum community shifted onto Discord. Discord allow us to hang out and chat like an old IRC chat channel while integrating voice chat channels.
In a way, Discord’s “IRC-ish” channels are big message boards. We can upload photos in real time, integrate with our phones, ping each other, see what we’re all playing, share streams, and more.
The downside is that Discord tends to be more closed off and niche. It’s also a constant running feed and hard to organize.
Live Streaming and Video
Many game developers have shifted away from message boards and onto video streams. Their method of communication is now entirely in video format. For a short term this was happening on YouTube. Remember the videos from then-Mythic Entertainment? Mark and the team created hype-vids to communicate with us. Then we would post on gaming news sites in response to those videos.
That quickly evolved into live streaming. Now places like Twitch house FAQs, dev chats (live ones), and news announcements. Interaction happens literally live with a chat feed. There’s almost no need for a message board if the developers will answer your questions in real time.
The Era of Not Waiting for Replies
Ultimately, it’s all about how we communicate. Posting on a message board and hoping a developers comes along and commends — or that someone else does — is a thing of the past. We are all accustom to instant gratification. Customer service happens or a business dies. If you don’t reach out to your fans, they’ll reach out to you — and strangle you with your lack of response if need be.
I Still Prefer Forum Communities
Something deep inside still prefers forums/message boards. I love how they archive information. I like threads and organized information. I like the communication being grouped by topics. It’s so much easier and in a way faster for me to jump to a specific forum to find specific answers.
Forums, although often slower than social media or live interaction, benefit everyone in ways social media and streaming can’t. If one person has a question, it’s not quasi-privately tweeted to a dev or hidden in a Facebook group. If someone wants information they don’t have to look for time stamps to an hour long live stream. It’s indexable.
Forum communities felt closer-knit and personal than the Twitterverse or a Facebook. I can definitely see why people would say that social media expands that community to “everyone” and not just forum-goers… but it’s not the same.
While I sit here hoping for a resurgence of message boards, I know it’s likely not going to happen. We’re changing how we communicate. In some ways that’s way, way better. I love interacting with companies on Twitter and watching live streams… but it’s too bad we had to let go of the forum community.