Don’t Like the Ending? Make Your Own!

How to Make Friends and Influence Your Audience

As technical communicators, we need to realize that our resources are not limited to subject matter experts. Ultimately, the product we’re designing, whether it’s a video game, a short how-to guide, or a comprehensive software manual, is intended for an audience. Reardon’s article demonstrates that when an audience uses a product, they come to gain a sense of ownership over that product. No tool has been more impactful on this sense of ownership than social media. Users can now find other like-minded individuals online to discuss products like video games and create their own online knowledge base around the products. This helps to further compound that sense of ownership through communal building which can be a source of both great inspiration and frustration.

In the case of Mass Effect 3, when the users did not get the ending they desired from BioWare, they took matters into their own hands and worked together to create a modification (mod) that delivered the happy ending they wanted using a combination of BioWare’s own assets and their own work. An entire community joined forces to change a product to fit with what they actually wanted from it. Imagine an entire audience working together to change your product for their own benefit and working against your original vision! At first, it might seem disheartening, but I believe this could be beneficial to us in technical communication, as long as we can head off any outrage at the pass.

To elaborate, something I believe we all struggle with as technical communicators is balancing a sense of importance and purpose over our own work with what our audience ultimately needs or even wants from our product. We see the process of creating as something that should be kept away from the audience until it’s good and ready for them. Before then, we keep them at arms length in the form of personas and reviews. However, we should realize that our users can provide another source of information and improvement for the documents we create. Not only that, but the social and community building tools on hand allow us a unique advantage–our users can dive right into a product while it’s still being developed, both experiencing it immediately and providing their own changes for it. Also, we need to realize that once our product is released, it’s no longer truly our own. It also belongs to the audience who uses and appreciates it. Thus, we should acknowledge that their experience is just as valid as our own.

Finally, I had the chance to share my viewpoint with Dr. Wright, and he had this to say in response: “I would stress that this type of co-creation is going to happen whether we like it or not in our digital age. Therefore, if you want happy customers it’s far better to engage them rather than building a wall around your intellectual property. Bad reviews travel quickly on social media and hurt sales dramatically—and it’s usually your most hardcore fans who will being doing any complaining (also very bad).”

Resources

“Quest for the Happy Ending to Mass Effect 3: the Challenges of Cocreation with Consumers in a post-Certeauian Age.” Daniel C. Reardon, David Wright, and Edward A. Malone. Technical Communication Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 1, Taylor & Francis, 2017, pp.42-58. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10572252.2016.1257742


Viewpoint Written by Elena Ofenstein, Texas State University

Edited by Rachel Spradling, Texas State University


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