Sorry to say, but I really disagree with this approach. I think its a solution in search of a problem that doesn't currently exist, and that the forums would be better served with more topical pins in each relevant section, at least for now.
Forum feature to merge threads and upvote would also be good I think.
Indeed. Forums can't serve all purposes, it's fine for people to discuss topics among themselves, but it's not the right tool for massive feedback to a developer. Not as such, anyway.Categories we currently see
- actual problem reports (PR), duplicated since there is zero feedback to the users, so a) a user who reported the problem doesn't know whether it's been seen, overlooked by lack of time, definitely forgotten and drowned. Examples: the game doesn't start, hit points are not correctly computed, a quest is broken
- simple suggestions (same issue as bug reports, though it's less critical), by "simple" I mean it's quite obvious, quality-of-life issue but not a bug. Example: an inventory auto-sort button would be nice
- "controversial" suggestions, which tend to generate debates and very long threads, which new posters don't read so they just repeat what other said above, even if that was answered already. Those threads are duplicated because there is no resolution. Examples: we need 6-character parties, implement D&D 5E correctly, group selection
- mega "report-all-issues-here" threads with many unrelated PRs or suggestions: gathering everything in a single thread is probably the worst that could happen, since it's impossible to classify, to keep track of, and because people won't read posts above theirs. Those should just be avoided.
- communication from the devs or staff, that are very important in a forum, with proper use of sticky, separate thread for feedback, and so on. Example: release notes (sometimes found in multiple sub-forums, allow some people to reply but not all, ...)
- other discussions that have their place in a forum, and are discussions between users (here the forum is not used as an interface to the staff)
I don't know how many forum admins there are, nor how they percolate the useful information to the dev team.
Little feedback from experience: In another game, we used forums for the feedback, and moved the threads to a "known issues" sub-forum. Or after a while, better yet, we simply tagged the thread titles with the usual "[reported]", "[fixed]", "[won't fix]", ... tags. That more or less worked, but it was still a lot work for us admins, so we were a few to share the work. We had access to the bug tracking system and could give feedback to the users when we had the time. Of course there are always people who won't search first, so there were still duplications, but nothing to do with what I'm seeing here. And at least there was feedback on what happened to the PRs.
So, how to address the different issues? Duplication by laziness or lack of feedback seem to be 2 good candidates to address. For the threads, I'm of course assuming one thread per issue, which is summarized in the title (that's the most basic classification one can have).Suggestion of appropriate tools
- category sub-forums: basic partitioning of the issue at hand (avoid multiple levels and too many categories).
- upvote threads: if users have the same problem, they upvote an already-reported PR. They know the number of votes will drive priority, so it's in their interest not to duplicate.
- up/down votes for suggestions: same idea, will not avoid the "I don't read past posts" issue, there is simply no way around that, most people have an attention span of 15 seconds and can't be bothered. But at least, at a glance, one can see the trends, and some priority can be established.
- bug tracker: a read-only access will give all the necessary feedback. BUT it's quite technical. As an alternative, a maintained list of known issues, but by experience they tend to be too long to maintain in a forum.
- tagging PR: [reported], [cannot reproduce] and so on. At the very least, anything that tells the user that someone has seen his/her problem. This could be applied to the PR and suggestions, with or without the upvote system.
- bug report from within the game: the most efficient for the user, and with some drop-down to classify, perhaps a very useful help for the devs (since all details on the user's system and a screenshot can be included). Have a look at Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, from Owlcat Games, for example.
Then about the communication to the users. It's an early access, it would be good to be clear about what is expected from the users, to avoid pointless threads and discussions.
- when there are long and duplicated discussions ("controversial" suggestions, above): why isn't anyone from the staff giving some feedback? Examples like the "more than 4-char party", "deviations from D&D 5th Edition" generate a lot of noise. If the users know that it's on purpose, that it won't change, that it may change, that would help. Just ignoring the problem won't.
- idea of the roadmap: if peole know what to expect, there's less speculative noise
PS: those forums also have a few other issues, like no image upload, the cursor disappearing when writing messages, and an improper notification system, but I suppose it's possible to live with it. But again, when you start having many users, it's worth considering tuning and patching the system, or even replacing it with a more appropriate one.