This has been brought up a few times on fan-run forums over the years, but I noticed that the discussion never really took off and there didn’t seem to be much thought from the OPs. It’s certainly something I’ve mused over several times as well.
I’ve always been a forum fan for any game I’ve played, some more than others. As such, I am personally in favor of official forums and can’t help but curiously suspect that the recently released GW1 support forums may be an attempt to test the waters.
There are lots of arguments against the idea. Many of the smaller Guild Wars 2 fansites may find themselves hurting if official forums are indeed implemented, which is always a disappointment. And the handful of large, established forums already serve the purpose of a centralized location for discussion.
That said, the general consensus seems to be why bother with official forums if we already have a place to go where Anet themselves take active part in?
Well, let’s take a look.
Population & Focus:
We should consider the inevitable jump in population during beta and then release. If GW2 is remotely popular, we’re talking hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people, many of whom will likely look for a forum community at -some- point in their gaming career. Guild Wars fans are a passionate bunch, but those of us who are active in the community still make up a fraction of what will (hopefully) be an eventually much larger whole. With that happening, splitting the community among different sites becomes a much better idea. Official forums will likely be a hub for a few things: lots of newbie discussions, servers, recruitment, and support; basically stuff fansites likely don’t want to or can’t deal with. They in turn can continue being optimal for more niche discussions: community events, news, pvp, lore, RP, speculation, trade, & fan creations.
Features & integration:
One of the things that makes a forum experience great is the integration of in-game information, something that isn’t impossible but highly unlikely to be done with a separately run fansite. The simple ability to easily display your actual character and his or her progress, updating retroactively, for instance is popular. Avatar, level, title, link to an armory (very hopefully a feature included), etc.
Recruiting guilds can link directly to a guild armory as well, certainly not replacing an official guild site but being an easy-access start to their efforts. Being able to hot-link to in-game tooltips for skills, items, mobs as well would be excellent.
Lastly, with all the apps, social networking, and extra features that Anet has hinted at for GW2, it stands to reason that many more of these can be directly implemented to a forum system. Communities are more than just talk, after all.
Interaction with Developers and Support
This is another important aspect of the forum experience. The community managers and a few other devs are all great at interacting with us via fansites, but with the inevitable waves of new players, it would be close to impossible to keep up with all the questions on account issues. Basically, Anet will likely have a dedicated support / IT staff for this sort of thing, and I find it highly unlikely they will be using a fansite to address these issues.
A more organized and flexible tracker for mods, devs, and the like would also be good to have.
What about a merge?
This is not an impossible scenario, either. The wikis were once independently run and eventually assimilated into the official Guild Wars web network. However it’s still an unlikely outcome since the number one contender would undoubtedly be Guru, which is independently owned and run by Curse.
All in all, I personally think official forums would be great, even if just limited to a few, technical areas. Many games already have (or have had) healthy communities with both official and unofficial outlets working and thriving at the same time. There’s no reason GW2 cannot continue this trend.
To the readers: I really want to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think official boards would be good? If so, what sort of features or forums would you like to see or not see? If not, why? Any other musings?
About the author: Izari’s one of those obsessive fan types who’s been playing Guild Wars since the first beta weekend in 2004. She’s been blogging about video games for almost six years and is thrilled to have fellow fans to write for and with about the game. She can be found on twitter and really likes coconuts.