Last week at W00tstock I knew several people involved with the show and a couple of people who were actually in the show. Being the geek that I am, I had hoped, but not expected, that these personal connections might be parlayed into meeting some of the headliners, particularly Adam Savage from Mythbusters or king of geeks Wil Wheaton. My friend Paul, who went with me to the show, created a little game called Guillotine, of which Wil Wheaton is a fan. This lucky situation gave Mike (our friend in the show) an excuse to introduce Wil to Paul in the crowded Moore Theater lobby just after the show. Wil had a hundred plus persons long line of fans to attend to at the time of meeting, so the entire encounter lasted maybe 45 seconds. The brief nature of the meeting was not a problem as the dude had pending business, and could not be long delayed. I don't think Wil noticed me at all. I'm frequently in sidekick mode when I'm with my mega talented friends, so that's no problem either.
Wil Wheaton says "don't be a dick"
The entire encounter got me thinking about why Adam Savage or Wil Wheton would want to meet someone. I have concluded that the accomplishments of a person are one way to define the value of a personal connection, when one of the people has a limited amount of personal bandwith available. Paul had created a game that Wil played and enjoyed, and that accomplishment meant that Wil would appreciate meeting him. If Wil was a huge fan of my game,Torches and Pitchforks, I suspect he'd have wanted to meet me as well. (It's possible he is a big fan, and he totally missed out meeting his game design hero, but I sort of doubt it.) The setting is a huge deal as well, as Wil had hundreds of fans to deal with. If we'd met at a party or over drinks, things would have been totally different.
As soon as more people want to meet you than your personal bandwidth can comfortably handle, you need to start filtering your connections. In the case of Wil, he had a few seconds for a special exchange with Paul, no time for me, and then he gave a long line of fans each a few moments. For the fans part, they had to stand in a very long line for their time. Everybody understood, and I think it was rewarding for everyone.
I have become a primary representative of ourWorld, as I communicate more often and more directly with more players than any other single person at the company. It's a huge responsibility because one false step can result in serious negative repercussions. The number and manner of contacts I receive is such that my ability to filter successfully has become more and more crucial to doing my job well.
Most of my filtering comes in the form of prioritizing and narrowing the communication methods I accept. I answer pretty much all firstname.lastname@example.org email. Players who send me Forum Private Messages get replies, but not timely ones because lately I've only managed to check the forums weekly. Players who send messages to my ourWorld avatar, itself a public figure in the game, tend to get ignored entirely and the avatar's About Me section says so.
Like Wil on the evening of W00tstock, I have to decide who, when, and how I can deal with different people and who I have to ignore so things don't break down. In most cases, I don't really know the person who's contacting me, so they wait in the line, just like the fans at W00tstock after the show. This is the role of the support Email address. It's fair and everyone gets a little virtual face time. Also like the meeting Paul had with Wil, the more one of our players brings to the table, the happier I'll be to set aside some special time for that player. In the case of our players, being a paying customer is the easiest way to bring something extra to the table. Volunteers, moderators, and playtesters get special consideration as well. I'd like to moderate the amount of time I spend handling the anonymous line of players and apply more of my time to the special members of the ourWorld community. I haven't been very successful at it so far, but I will continue to strive in that direction. I firmly believe that much of a community's strength comes from a subset of highly active members or leaders. In the case of a product like ourWorld, the strength of the community is directly impacted by our ability to support those leaders.
Just thought of this right this moment. All of the current communication options I have for ourWorld players feel like that crowded theater lobby. It'd be great I could create a setting more like a small party or gathering. That allows for better two way communication and stronger overall connections. Just an idea, but worth considering...