Kenichi's Revised Midterm

Original Piece

Introduction

Steam, which began as a simple way of updating a popular shooting game known as Counter-Strike, grew into a bustling community of nearly five million members who interact and communicate together every day. Through the use of its simple, easy to understand interface, Steam allows gamers to communicate in ways that would be otherwise unachievable in a traditional console setup, giving it a social factor that makes it truly seem like a unified community rather than just an online game store. John Swale’s, who initially coined the term discourse community in his work, “The Concept of Discourse Community,” outlined six defining characteristics that separate groups of individuals from true, interactive communities. By finding key traits and information that would justify Steam as deserving the title of a discourse community, I hope to show that gaming doesn’t have to be a lone affair but rather a group effort between individuals of a common interest.

Methodology

In order to organize my ideas and gain a better understanding as to how I should approach my research of Steam, I broke my research process into four distinct stages, which are:

• Observing
• Categorizing
• Analysis
• Linking

The observing stage involves scanning different forum posts, Steam features, news posts, and ideas that could potentially yield information that would be beneficial to use in my project. The information gathered, which could range from a simple word or name of a service to large posts of game guides and walkthroughs, could then be further broken down into the different subcategories that Swales used to define the term discourse community. I called the next process categorizing as it involved me mostly evaluating where a certain piece of information would fit the best in one of Swale’s six defining categories. Sometimes, an idea or feature may have been found to be useful but rather unexplainable as to how it would fit in an overarching category, as was the case with me attempting to use a game’s voice-chat feature as a form of communication. Since it only involves specific games and doesn't serve as a consistent form of communication, I had to leave such ideas out of my project since they would ultimately cause issues in the next stage, which was the analysis section. In this stage, I would try my best to prove or come up with reasons as to why this information is useful in this category. For example, when I was trying to prove the use of the Steam Greenlight feature, I could easily come up with reasons why it would be considered a form of feedback, such as the fact that it allowed users to interact directly with the games they liked and could inform Steam as to what kinds of games users are most interested in, allowing Steam to better cater to their community’s primary interests. Thus, I could gain a sense of why this idea or concept was important and how is suited for a certain category. Finally, I would link the idea to the overall picture and see how it would support my primary idea of how Steam is a discourse community, thinking of ways it would combine with the other facts I had listed to achieve this end goal.

Results

1. A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common goals.

To get a sense of what players truly look for when playing a game, I began to examine several Steam games known as Warframe, Team Fortress 2, Anodyne, Cave Story +, and Bastion. Using these five games as reference points, I went to the community hub of each game, which is basically a forum in which those who have purchased the game can ask questions/give feedback on certain parts of the game, in order to observe the similarities in player goals each game possessed. Looking at the various topics different individuals created, I found that most if not all of the posts were made with the sole intention of beating the game, with roughly eight out of every ten posts being about asking for help in a particular point in the story or a question regarding how to achieve a goal necessary for completing the game. The remainder of the posts I saw involved players offering to team up with someone else in a multiplayer game, or consisted of a walkthrough/guide made by players who have already beaten the game. Though each of these posts from these game communities might vary greatly in their intentions, they all share the common goal of ultimately completing the game.

2. A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.

The community hub, again, served as a major proponent for the way Steam players interact with one another when playing a certain game. Official game updates and content, as well as important announcements regarding the game, can be seen on the main section of the community hub, giving members of each particular game community a means by which they can receive updates on the status of the game. Furthermore, sales and other special promotions advertised by Steam, as well as news on Steam in general, can be found on the main page of Steam under its own subheading. This is particularly useful to Steam players who often wait to buy their games during a Steam sale, in which many games are anywhere from 60% to 75% off. Thus, regular announcements through this medium allow members to keep up-to-date in the various activities involved in Steam as well as in their own respective Steam games.

3. A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.

A major means by which users participate in order to make Steam a better experience is a program known as Steam Greenlight. In this program, games made by indie game developers who lack the funds to publish their game on Steam are submitted in order to be rated by those within the Steam community. Those who are interested in the game and would be willing to buy it would vote for it, and those who dislike the game would explain their own reason why they game is bad, including advice for fixing/changing the game before the greenlight period for the game is over. This allows users to give specific feedback as well as decision as to what kinds of games they would want to see be produced, allowing users to play an active role in shaping Steam’s game library.

4. A discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.

Since Steam is involved in the business of selling games, I initially thought that the only means by which Steam communicates in order to further its aims is by promoting their top-selling games through advertisements and giving status-updates as to what they are doing to improve the Steam experience. However, I have found that Steam utilizes a specific kind of interface, known as the Steam overlay, in which those who are playing a particular game can immediately open up a semi-transparent window in which players can read updates, chat with friends on Steam, as well as overall engage in various Steam-related interactions. This genre of communication allows players to connect with friends as well as browse guides/forums without having to exit the game or change windows, providing a unique genre by which players can interact with Steam while still enjoying their favorite games.

5. In addition to owning genres, a discourse community has acquired some specific lexis.

After lurking through different posts and looking at the Steam UI overall, I have found several words or phrases that may not possess the same meaning to someone who isn’t a dedicated member of Steam. One such phrase is a means of advertising known as “Midweek Madness.” This phrase, which would undoubtedly confuse non-steam players, basically refers to the discount of a Steam game on Wednesdays. This deal usually expires the next day, and can involve the selling of random titles for discounts of 50% or more. “Greenlight” is also another specific lexicon that refers to the community approval process an indie game must go through in order to get a spot on Steam’s game roster, since they only want to advertise games that the community would be interested in as well as support good game developers who lack the resources of a major game company. Lastly, the term “workshop” might invoke thoughts of wooden workbenches or small repair shops to those unfamiliar with Steam, but in reality, the Steam Workshop refers to a player-run modding community in which prospective players can create and upload their own modifications to a particular game, giving users the ability to customize the way they see their own game without affecting the rest of the gaming community.

6. A discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise.

Many of the players I have seen on Steam vary in terms of how long they have been a member and how active they are. Since the company who runs Steam, Valve, has been around since 1996, many members who have joined at the beginning of Steam’s initial launch possess an intimate knowledge of how the Steam community works as well as specific items/experience on popular Steam games such as Team Fortress 2. Many of the members I have seen have a variety of difficult or even impossible to obtain items that they received in the past, giving them a significant boost of expertise over new members. This can often also lead to many veteran members giving some duplicates of their prized possessions to novices of the games, or showing them specific ways of playing that could greatly aid them in the future. Thus, this mix of veteran and non-veteran members allow Steam to function as a discourse community in which members can gain advice from fellow experts who possess a significant amount of knowledge on a particular game.

Discussion

Based upon the results of my project, I can conclude that while Steam may lack the sort of unified and easily apparent forum or newsletter that most discourse communities provide and comprise of individuals who may or may not share the same goal, it also has many features that would inevitably qualify it as a discourse community, overshadowing the “gray area” in Swale’s argument. Since Swales initially introduced the term discourse community using general terms that wouldn’t apply specifically to a certain genre or medium, I believe that there is other qualities that should either replace or add on to some of his characteristics. For example, when evaluating whether or not Steam comprises of individuals that share a common goal, I think that as long as the individuals of the group gain the same sense of enjoyment out of playing the game, it doesn’t matter what the end goal is simply because they are fulfilling a shared desire, which itself may qualify as goal. In addition, the many features and mediums through which Steam allows users to interact with one another as well as leave useful feedback to Steam itself shows exactly how interconnected Steam is, not just between the members of its community but also between those in charge of running Steam and those who use it. This form of connection is only possible in a community whose member’s care about the subject rather than simply using it as a means to land an interview, make a good resume, etc. Since it is a common and voluntary hobby rather than a professional forum, I believe Steam exceeds other groups whose interests are strictly professional simply because it is a matter of personal choice to join Steam rather than a professional one.
Conclusions/Recommendations

In closing, Steam possesses many of the qualities that would illustrate it as a discourse community under Swales’s definition, possessing interesting forms of communication and features that separate it from other gaming communities. Though there are some discrepancy’s between Swales’s definition of the term and what I found, I believe that the other qualities I found make up for or even exceed this initial definition as they provide an even clearer sense as to how a discourse community should function.

Revision Proposal

1. Audience

Describe your imagined audience for this piece. Why is this audience interested in the topic you’re discussing in your piece? What’s their stake in the conversation?

My audience for this piece should be those who created it, or the moderators who are in charge of developing/improving the Steam client. I believe that by discussing which features truly make Steam be more of a discourse community and pointing out key ways in which Steam helps foster a sense of communication between its members, I can provide vital information that Steam developers could use when trying to figure out new ways of engaging or supporting its members. In addition, I could use the results I found as a result of my study to suggest new areas of development that could address some of the issues I had when trying to prove that Steam is a full fledged community, providing a basis
for which they can improve the service they offer.

2. Key Questions

Your piece should attempt to answer three important questions for your audience. If possible, each question should start with a different question word:

What is the Steam community lacking in terms of features or other services?

How can you make Steam a more social-oriented network?

Why does it matter to improve the way the Steam community intercommunicates?

3. Writerly Challenges and Concrete Goals

I want you to set yourself three concrete goals for this piece of writing. These can be goals related to structure, argument, form, or style. For example: achieve regularity in your paragraph length, use quotations with in-text citations, remove all mechanical errors, use an anecdote or story in your introduction, or write primarily in the active voice. These can be very specific to what YOU’D like to work on. For each goal, briefly explain:

1. Write more concise and idea-separated paragraphs

  • I think this goal is very important to strive towards since knowing when and where to end one point and begin another can not only make it clear which points I am supposed to focus on and stick to the said point, but also allows the reader to smoothly flow from one core idea to the next without being lost in a sea of text.
  • If I achieve this goal, my piece will have many more individual paragraphs/sections whose main topic or point is unique and easier to digest, rather than "mega-paragraphs" with a complex array of ideas and information.
  • If I don't achieve it, you could expect to see a Pangaea of text in which many of the points lack clear organization although they might make perfect sense, confusing the reader and preventing them from understanding otherwise basic or important concepts.

2. Expand upon the link between Steam and Reddit

  • This goal would allow me to further support my purpose of conveying important community aspects to Steam developers, offering a possible avenue in which they could strengthen the community through the use of a large social forum such as Reddit.
  • If this goal is achieved, my overall purpose of giving Steam developers interesting and efficient ways to improve the community would become stronger, giving one possible avenue for which they could expand upon/increase the well-being of the community.
  • If I don't achieve this goal, then my overall argument would probably still be pretty strong, however, I would lack any methods of expansion outside of Steam, which would have ultimately supported my goal.

3. Attempt to clarify/explore a new explanation for Steam player's goals

  • In my midterm, I had particular problems with trying to find a common goal amongst Steam players, since there are many reasons for why a particular person would want to play a game. Although most players would most likely play games for personal enjoyment, I couldn't necessarily use that because the idea is to find one common goal that all Steam players have. Instead, I am planning to modify Swale's idea of a discourse community and instead state that since many players are joined together in the community with different goals, this makes them a strong community since many players interact with one another despite having differing interests. Basically, to get someone who is only interested in gaming to collaborate/play with someone else who is aspiring game developer trying to understand game mechanics, you would need a strong community since a weak one would simply cause players to not interact with one another/explore communities more appropriate to their interests.
  • If I achieve this goal, my explanation of Steam as a discourse community would finally be complete and wouldn't lack the "grey area" I had to state with the first point. In addition, it would better convince my audience of how Steam functions as a community and thus build my credibility, allowing many of my suggestions to be the direct result of accurate observations of the Steam community, rather than simply what I feel Steam should have.
  • If I don't achieve this, than my description of Steam as a discourse community would not be complete and might dissuade my audience as to whether or not I truly know how Steam functions.

4. Genre Models

Since I am planning to write my revision in the form of a letter, here are two letters whose overall form/purpose mirrors what I am aiming to achieve:

Open Letter to People Who Make Games

This letter allows me to gain a better understanding of how to make developers in big-name companies such as Steam more aware of possible ways in which they could improve the community without coming off as a crazed fan who may state outlandish or biased desires rather than approaching the situation from a more professional and formal tone. It sets up the overall argument well, relating back to how the consumer may feel when buying games and citing profitable/business-oriented reasons for performing certain tasks instead of simply stating moral reasons.

An open letter to all video game developers and publishers

- Approaching the situation from a more personal/gamer-oriented standpoint, this also gives me an idea of how to not only convince my audience through hard,cold facts but by stating the reasons why a member of a community might feel about being a part of Steam, citing personal reasons through the use of a formal, well organized letter instead of a large, disorganized blog or forum post.

Revised Piece

Dear Steam developers,

There are many reasons why an individual might want to play a game. Some might play a game to relieve stress, while others might use it as a means of meeting new people who share similar interests in games. I, too, have my own reasons for playing video games. However, regardless the intent behind playing a certain game, the gaming community can greatly expand upon the sense of enjoyment offered by video games. By engaging players and allowing them to enjoy games as a group instead of by themselves, a good gaming community can bring interest back into games that would have become stale or boring a long time ago. Steam is a great example of such a community, as it already contains many features which integrate its large player base with its games. However, I believe there are many ways in which Steam could improve the methods by which its players interact with one another, and that by doing so, these methods could make Steam’s community much stronger and thus make Steam a more interconnected and efficient means of gaming.

An interesting term coined by John Swales known as “discourse community” helps describe how Steam functions as a community by giving a set of qualities a community should have in order to truly be considered a community. Allowing users to contribute to the community, be notified of developments within it, and have a common set of goals, are some of the characteristics that a community defined by this term must have. In fact, there are many features offered already within Steam that support this definition. Some of the many features that Steam employs as a means of engaging the community are the Steam Greenlight system, the forums hubs for each game, and the Steam overlay. These features are an integral part of what makes Steam a community as they give users a way to contribute to Steam as a whole while keeping up-to-date with Steam’s latest developments and projects. Steam Greenlight, for example, allows users to actively choose which games they would like to see and thus gives them a say in how Steam should function as a whole, giving them a means by which they could give feedback as to what games Steam should emphasize or promote in the future. In this sense, Steam functions as a community in which one user’s active participation can influence what he or she wants to see or experience from the group, thus extending it beyond a simple game store that one uses to only purchase games. Furthermore, the definition of Steam as a community can also be attributed to the fact that despite the many different reasons why Steam players play certain games, the fact that they can put aside their different purposes to actively work together and form friendships is a testament to just how powerful of a community Steam is. The different goals of each player thus matters very little to the way Steam players socialize and interact amongst themselves, and show that Steam is capable of creating a community that varies in interest but is unified in terms of social connection.

Based upon this information as to just how much of a community Steam is, you may be wondering why Steam would need to improve, since it has already reached the level of a strong community. The reason for this further need for improvement stems from the fact that although Steam’s playerbase has increased drastically since its initial deployment as an update client for Counter-Strike, the amount of those socially active within the community hasn’t. Many of those who recently joined Steam, such as me, find it difficult to truly become a member of the community because there aren’t any direct means of doing so. Those who have been with Steam near the day it was first launched have been a part of the community since the beginning, and thus have played an active role regarding Steam’s development as well as given the opportunity to participate within the community for a much longer-time span. However, players that have joined Steam within the last year often buy games and play them alone simply because they don’t know how to properly join the community without having to navigate difficult-to-understand forums or fast-paced chat dialogues. Thus, I propose several solutions that would make Steam more concise and player-friendly while simultaneously increasing the overall appeal and versatility of Steam.

Some suggestions for improving the way players can become integrated into the Steam community involves the use of a system in which players can play paid multiplayer games to an extent for free if they team up with other Steam players in the process. Not only does it help individuals who are on the fence as to whether a certain game is good or not, but it also allows players to connect with other players before they actually buy the game, giving them yet another reason to play it in addition to the games own appeal and playability. Another feature would involve an addition to the Steam overlay system in which a sort of “help wanted” section would appear. Basically, new players who lack experience with the game could post questions or ask for in-game guidance from those already established within the game, who would in return receive small amounts of monetary compensation to their Steam wallet. This mentor/help system would be akin to Yahoo! Answers and would ultimately foster connections between novice and experienced players, as well as give players who have already beaten the game a reason to join the community and still be a part of the game without losing any interest in the game itself. Finally, another interesting way would be to expand upon the existing Steam subreddit on Reddit.com, either by allowing users to view Reddit posts relevant to the games they are playing or allowing members of both Reddit and Steam to see whether or not their close friends on Reddit have a Steam account, and vice-versa.

Though you may not exactly follow or believe in many of the ideas I have presented in this letter, I simply hope you understand that Steam is a complicated community with many features that could be expanded upon to make it one of the most comprehensive gaming communities today. The methods I have proposed are ideas to go by when considering how to really get a player into the Steam community, and could fundamentally change the way Steam’s playerbase functions. Thus, you, the developers, could really improve Steam by treating it as a city in which its citizens are the Steam playerbase and the infrastructure are the features by which Steam incorporates methods of communication.

Sincerely,
Kenichi Yamamoto

Revision Self-Assessment

1. Describe your process in composing this final revision project. Looking at the final product, tell the story of how this piece came into existence. Track us through all of the important stages in the development of your ideas.

At first, I had no idea as to how I would revise this piece. Going away from it a bit and looking at it again about a week or two later when I had forgotten much of what it was about, I tried to envision myself as being a new reader who did not know anything about the project in order to get a sense of what audience I could choose or ideas I could explore. I initially decided to try to revise it into a formal, well-documented report on Steam's status, but found it difficult to incorporate the various video game terminology and ideas on discourse community into a useful formal report. After being emailed the video comments on what was good and bad about my midterm, I took one of Lucchesi's suggestions and decided to make my audience be a group of Steam developers, since they would undoubtedly benefit from the information on Steam's communities and could readily make changes to the client that could gear it towards being an even more social platform. With this information in mind, I then set out to create the revised piece, using some of the articles I listed under the genre section of my revision proposal as a sort-of template and inspiration.

2. Explain the writing choices you made in this piece that were most successful. You will have to define “success” for your own particular project. What did you do to make your final product successful as a piece of writing? What productive approaches did you discover in this project that you’d want to repeat in future tasks?

In my view, my "success" was transforming my midterm piece into something that could readily be used and understood by developers who were looking to improve the community. By choosing to focus on a very specific audience (Steam developers) and choosing to explain and utilize some elements of a steam discourse community rather than all of them, I was able to make a more concise and overall effective letter that wouldn't bog down the developer with technical terms and English lexicons that may cause him to lose his interest. I think that focusing on one specific task or audience rather than a whole range is a concept I would like to follow from now on, as it allows me to fully address my points rather than only address some and not all due to an expansive audience.

3. Explain the writing choices you made in this piece that were less successful. Where did you take unproductive approaches and what repercussions did these have on your final product? What would you do differently if you had more time?

Initially, I tried to use a series of rhetorical questions to prompt the reader to understand why having a good community is important, but I decided that such questions would only dissuade the reader from reading further instead of supporting my point. Furthermore, I tried to incorporate the concept of a discourse community in my letter, however, I had trouble doing this efficiently as I could not find a solid way of inserting enough information in order for the reader to understand, while simultaneously not putting too much technical information as to overwhelm the reader. Thus, if I had more time, I would most likely try to find a better, more efficient means of conveying this idea of a discourse community and how Steam fits as one, as well as using this defined term to better explain how Steam functions as a community.

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