Developers need to be protected and consoled in the face of user backlash, said Linda "Brasse" Carlson, director of global community relations at Sony Online Entertainment during a presentation at GDC Europe 2013.
"Developers are terrified of players," she said. In the face of negative feedback to updates, patches and even minor changes to their games "teams get severely demoralised."
"Players think developers are sharks who think they are out to ruin gameplay and dumb it down," said Carlson.
Carlson emphasized community management needs to help the development team in bridging the gap between players and designers, by protecting developers and being as open as possible with the game's community. This requires an "increase in reports of verbal and written threats and attacks against devs, a practice of zero tolerance of abuse, punishment by withdrawing participation, the guarding of developer's personal information and by consoling the devs."
However, developers need to be aware of how to communicate with the fanbase.
"There's no such thing as too much information," said Carlson. "There's an assumption that players won't understand or aren't interested. Players appreciate the information, it makes them feel a part of the process."
According to Carlson, this failure to communicate was one of the primary issues that caused a divide between the playerbase of the now shuttered MMO Star Wars: Galaxies. SOE introduced the "New Game Enhancement" update to the MMO in 2005, a major upgrade to the game that largely simplified its gameplay and features. The studio largely ignored its fans negative reaction believing this sentiment would blow over.
"It was a stunning lesson in how not to do things," said Carlson. "It was too much change. It was brought in all at once. Even after the event there was an idea that it would blow over [among the developers], but it didn't. There was so much anger. You cannot hide from these events."
Sony Online Entertainment, she says, "is still getting hate mail for the NGE update in Star Wars: Galaxies."
Check out our recent in-depth article on the recent plague of game developer harassment.