There's more to online gaming than just games and servers; there's also a very large collection of people to take into account, people with questions, problems and opinions that have to be dealt with; something that Microsoft's Major Nelson (Larry Hyrb) and Machete Betty (Mckenzie Eakin), and Infinity Ward's Four Zero Two (Robert Bowling) know all about.
After a brief round of introduction and the ironing out of a technical hitch, Panel attendees were treated to a brief musical number by Eakin, who sang Jonathan Coulton's "Still Alive" on Rock Band, but replaced the lyrics with new ones, which was not only entertaining, but was also quite educational as it outlined the philosophy of the newly set up Xbox Support Twitter feed, which Eakin is the 'Sky Captain' of.
After some fairly enthusiastic applause, they opened the floor up to questions. With Bowling on the panel, there were plenty of questions about Modern Warfare 2; in fact the first person to pick up the mic decided to use the opportunity to voice his less than positive opinion on the game, which earned him plenty of boos and a few heckles from the crowd. Bowling also touched on the recent antagonism between Activision and Infinity Ward, saying that morale was good and that there was no need to worry about the franchise, because IW was more than just Ward and Zampella.
Given the rare opportunity to ask Hyrb, Eakin and Bowling questions directly, the topics were pretty varied, ranging from DLC to twitter tools. The panel was asked how, as prominent tweeters, they handled issues that couldn't be fixed instantly, like patches and bug fixes. Bowling said that he was in favor of letting consumers know as soon as he could and that while he had no standard timeline, he was very keen on letting people know the stages that a fix was going through to reassure them that things were getting done. Major Nelson also picked up on the subject of support, saying that when he started using Twitter in 2006, he used it to enter into a dialogue, and now used the official support Twitter feed to get track issues and provide a better service.
Bowling was asked about how he dealt with complaints about the price points for downloadable content in MW2 and explained that it was actually Activision who set the process, and it had hired a Twitter person to handle those kinds of questions. Major Nelson said that the people who complained were often a vocal minority and things that were priced incorrectly just didn't sell, and added that there was a section of the community who would never be happy unless DLC was free.
With all the 'interesting characters' on the internet - also known as 'crazy people' - the panelists often receive strange tweets, but when asked what the most outrageous tweet he'd received was, Major Nelson said that his outrageous ones tended to be more disturbing than anything else, and that he'd received death threats in the past. Bowling's weirdest tweet was a more innocuous affair, but still kinda creepy. He related the tale of being recognized - but not approached - while buying a DVD and then receiving a tweet that read "how'd you like that movie at Best Buy?"
All the panel agreed that while building connections with people via Twitter was wonderful, that the their favorite moments were when they could have genuine conversations with people, and that being crazy was a good way of not being heard. "We don't say 'oh's he's being outrageous' it must be a big deal" said Nelson.
As Eakin's twitter feed was the newest, the question of how to build an audience on the service was directed at her. She said that it was no easy task, but that getting mentioned on other popular streams like Major Nelson's and Bowling's was a big boost, but that it was also important to keep that audience. Bowling concurred with her, saying that he tried to keep his connection with his followers as personal. He also agreed that getting retweeted was a great way of getting your name in front of people.
Nelson said that used twitter as a window into his life and just tweeted things that he found interesting, that he was honored by the position he was in and wanted to share little stories with people, saying: "Be real, tell the stories, have fun". Bowling agreed that the small things were often as important as the big headline stuff and that it isn't necessarily what you have to tweet about, but more the way that you tweet it.
When asked how she measured the success of Xbox Support, Eakin said that they used a lot of the same sort of metrics that phone support used, sent surveys out to people who used the Xbox Support twitter feed, but that they had different metrics for determining reach, which wasn't as simple as having a high following count. Eakin said that her team used tools like Tweetdeck and CoTweet, and services that searched the Twitterverse for keywords and that connectivity between the Support team was vital. Bowling had a different strategy because he is a solo operator and doesn't have a team behind him, but that using twitter on his cell phone was vital.
One thing is clear from all the answers, Twitter is a very potent tool in managing a very large community and one that will continue to see a lot of use. If you haven't joined the Twitter revolution yet, you're likely to be missing out.