What the players want – who can say?

In a recent comment over here, blogosphere buddy Bhagpuss made an unsuspecting remark which at its core is a most familiar sentiment to all longterm MMO players, I’m sure:

[...]But that’s just what GW2 has become and, as people are prone to say, it is what it is. It could have grown into something very much more but apparently that’s not what the majority of players wanted so there you go.

I am going to blatantly take this quote out of its specific context and write a longer, more generalized post about it (sorry Bhag!).

What’s what the players want?

“What the players wanted” and any variation thereof is a commonly used phrase and reaction to MMO design, more often MMO design changes, that vexes me on a personal level. And oh, I have done it myself: how many times did I not do the “now reap what you sowed! (and I hope you suffocate on it)” fist-shake in gloomy retrospective whenever WoW changed for the worse over the years since 2004, in my very personal opinion? In a less considerate moment I’d love to blame all of you out there who are still playing for the state of the game. You ruined WoW for me or something.

But let’s get back to more rational debate. Every time MMOs change/evolve design direction the way so many have, the way GW2 has done from a non-commital “grind-and endgame-free” vision to what it is today, are we really in the position to say that it’s what the players wanted? If so, how do we know? More importantly, where would developers get such corroborated information?

(*)Not once in my 12 years-and-ongoing MMO career did I ever receive a developer letter asking me what I wanted. Not once did I receive a legit, official request or poll along the lines of “Dear Syl, please vote now if you would like to see achievements introduced to our game” or “…please let us know if you’re happy about another +5 level-cap increase with more gear grind at its end”. That would be spelling it out of course (and not a bad thing either).

Not once did anything remotely similar happen to me. And unless there is a secret society of select MMO players out there that receive these kind of emails when I’m not, other players don’t either. So, where and how exactly does the playerbase actively get to decide over an existing game’s direction? Surely not on chaotic message boards that no CM can effectively interpret and where it’s only ever the loudest voices that get noticed. Everyone should have figured that out by now.

DustSpeck

So maybe it’s the silent majority? Only, how does one speak on behalf of a silent group of people? Are they just “everyone else that is not on forums and twitter” that you therefore get to refer to easily for any given purpose since hey, it’s not like they’re saying anything to oppose you? Are we a homogenous mass of people just because we don’t scream and shout?

For me, it doesn’t work that way. It won’t do to retrospectively declare that things are the way they are because they went along with it. There’s a big difference here for me to actively shaping a process. To clarify: I’m not saying that developers should be telepathic and my main point is not to blame any particular group in the gaming industry for this situation (although clearly someone is to blame) – but you don’t get to tell me it’s what I wanted when it clearly wasn’t what I wanted and I never told you that it was.

Voting with your wallet blah

Here’s another catch-phrase I’ve come to dislike over the last few years: just vote with your wallet. The reason for my dislike is the simple truth of it and yet, it falls so horribly short in taking reality into account. I’m a part of a collective whose power is only as big or small as that same collective. I am also an enthusiast in a changing industry and on a wider scope, a human being in a constantly changing world. I’m not generally opposed to change; I’m constantly trying to evaluate which changes to embrace and which not to. Do I pay for an alpha? A beta? A collector’s edition? Do I pre-order? Kickstart? My head hurts.

I did vote with my wallet and unsubscribed from WoW at the end of WotLK, after a 6 years run of raiding madness. It has clearly made no impact whatsoever. If anything, Blizzard has become even less of a company I like to endorse than I did back then. But hey, I have the grim satisfaction of voting with my wallet, right? At least I don’t appear to be agreeing with this product anymore.

Whatever the silent player is supposed to do, I can’t seem to win. That’s why I object so strongly to the sentiment of absolute player/customer responsibility. As far as game design and development goes, the powers at work are way more complex and obscure than what any of us could influence. As much as players love to think they’re shaping games and as much as we love to blame others for when things turn badly, the much more likely scenario is that somewhere in an office, someone in a fancy suit with too many spreadsheets has figured out exactly which design directions to push in order to maximize monetization or subs or co-dependence. Sure, every once in a while a developer will ask us directly what we’d like on some social media platform, usually years or at least months before launch because that’s a good time to crowd-source and get cosy with fans. But videogame design is not a democracy, first and foremost it’s business and sneaky psychology.

wallet
BLAH

And players tend to go along with stuff. There may be some fluctuation but overall we are a flexible bunch when it comes to franchises we’ve come to love or where we’ve simply invested so much time already that it’s hard to leave behind the trophies and fancy dresses. Design directions don’t change over night either; they trickle down ever so slowly until we’ve all but forgotten where we came from and one small change at a time seems as harmless as the last one. That’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a way of doing business and shaping your audience to fit your product.

In summary to this conundrum I will say this: I never wanted achievements in WoW, the cross-sever dungeons or flying mounts. And I certainly never ever asked for an achievement tab greeting me at the login screen of GW2 – game of too many back items and weapon skins. I didn’t ask for that, more importantly didn’t vote on that. Maybe others did consciously and some unconsciously and I could blame that second group’s lack of action but it tires me to do so. As long as nobody is sending each and every one of their paying customers an official, transparent and individual request to vote on a game’s direction, I am sure as hell not going to take responsibility (or credit) for the way that MMOs are changing and neither should anyone else. Sorry developers but that one’s still on you!

(*) Clarification: I’m not saying I want these kinds of democratic player votes on game design; I don’t for various reasons. What I’m saying is since I am clearly not in a democracy here, you don’t get to share responsibility or retrospective blame with me democratically, either (let alone putting it all on players).

46 comments

  1. Liore

    These are not identical of course but there seems a certain similarity between:

    “Why are all your female characters wearing bikinis?” “Because that is what the players demand.”

    “Why are you removing all the fun abilites?*” “Because that is what players demand.”

    I give them both the same amount of credence, which is almost none.

    * I’m using one of my own pet peeves because I LIKE ACHIEVEMENTS. ;)

    • Syl

      Hehe I know you do! :)
      and these are perfect examples really. the whole ‘sex sells because men are the majority of all gamers’ (or something) lacks all touch to reality / the actual playerbase in many cases.

      • Rohan

        Eh, judging by SWTOR and the cartel market, “Why are all your female characters wearing bikinis?” “Because that is what the players demand.” is perfectly correct.

        You may not like it, but it appears to be a true statement. What sort of gear sells the best on the AH since transmog came in? Bikinis and other gear which shows excessive skin.

      • Syl

        Well I don’t know SWTOR’s player shop or which players actually use the shop. for all I know, there are five people left playing SWTOR or something ;) you can run around naked in other MMOs but it doesn’t seem to be a trend there, so maybe SWTOR’s other armor is just boring or something else.

        Here’s why I think the example Liore gave and yours aren’t on the same level: it’s one thing to offer extra styles in a shop and then evaluate the purchases of only those players who actually do micros. it’s another thing if a developer goes “we’ll only give our entire player base this type of body types because that’s what they want”. players tend to want variety, especially when it’s not on offer. it seems at least Carbine got that now or so we’ll see this upcoming weekend.

      • Redbeard

        Syl, you can run around naked in Age of Conan, and judging by all of the people who do just that in Tortage, it does seem to be popular among some of the F2P set. The players who are leveling beyond Tortage, however, don’t tend to run around topless quite so much.

  2. bhagpuss

    Heh! Feel free to take me out of context any time if the result is a good rant.

    My personal preference for MMO developers is the same as my preference for all creative artists and entertainers – I respect people who have the courage of their convictions, who produce work in a certain way because that’s what the work needs. I appreciate auteurs, tortured geniuses, mavericks and stubborn, bloody-minded obsessives who give us art because if they didn’t they’d die (or at least die inside). I buy into the whole romantic myth as far as creativity is concerned.

    But…

    I’m not at all sure how much any of that applies to video games in general, much less MMOs. MMOs are like studio movies; they are collaborative efforts produced mainly for financial gain. When art arises it’s in spite of the system not because of it.

    Movies have test screenings. MMOs have betas. The huge difference is that once a movie hits its release date it’s done, for good or for ill, while developers can keep adjusting an MMO forever. Imagine what movies would be like if directors, or more likely producers, could keep tweaking them according to each week’s box office returns, reviews, twitter…

    That’s what MMO devs do. They have incredibly detailed metrics that tell them what we ARE doing (which I’m sure is very different from what we say we are dong). They have forums where 1% of their customers tell them in detail what the other 99% are thinking (and while they may not believe that’s any more representative than you or I do, if those are the only voices that are speaking then those are the only voices that have a chance of being heard). They have Test servers where they work directly with the most obsessive/committed of their customers. They even have conventions where they get to speak to the playerbase, or a self-selecting segment of it, over a beer or several.

    The influence of any single player on the direction of the game may be minimal to non-existent but the influence of the players as an amorphous mass is huge and inexorable. It might be spitting into the wind to join in but if you don’t you guarantee your opinion won’t be counted.

    Looking at GW2 as a particular case, ANet launched with a very definite direction, pursued it for a couple of months, received intense and continued criticism for doing so and proceeded to vacillate and veer in all directions. I interpret this as “giving the players what ANet think the players want”. Very different, of course, either to giving the players what they want (because they have upwards of 4 million players and no two want the same thing) or giving the players what they need (which was what Anet thought they were going to do but found was much too hard). We live in a world of instant responses and “these are my beliefs – if you don’t like them I have others”. Why would MMOs be any different?

    As for devs not polling the playerbase directly, actually I’ve had that happen often. SOE went through a phase of polling Everquest players at login on a wide range of topics. You couldn’t play the game until you’d answered some vital question or other. Players hated it because it made them wait a second longer to get in and start killing. There were long threads bemoaning the time wasted to click through (without reading, of course) until eventually the polls were abandoned.

    • Syl

      I don’t disagree on the general respect for the artist or in this case the specialists. I am all for clear design directions and a developer’s more longterm view. that’s also why I dislike when MMOs keep changing after launch. This is to clairfy that my post really isn’t so much about wanting democratic votes for anything design related – what I am saying however is, since it’s not a democracy and not organized as such from above, I am not going to take either blame nor credit for what’s happening as a player. Especially not since as players we hardly ever get transparent information of what ‘our recorded actions’ do and HOW they are interpreted. If I live in a state that gives me no direct way of partaking in political decisions, then that state is responsible for where we are going. (I am much more likely to accept collective responsibility if it’s actually done as an open democracy, not the wishy-washy obscure way of interpreting some forum voices.)

      Transparency or comprehensiveness of data is a core issue. that’s also why polls probably didn’t work in the past; they ARE boring if players don’t get to understand the entire picture, repercussions and what each decision means_to_them. I would also need to understand what my vote means to the developer and how it may affect the game longterm, or it’s a moot vote. Of course that’s easier said than done but again, I am not really speaking for a democracy here, only responsibility where its due. You’re right about the masses of collected data in MMOs but what is done with them isn’t run by the player, not in any comprehensive manner anyway.

      As for GW2, I’ve simply not experienced this very clear outcry after launch. I’ve read many positive and negative posts in the forum. lack of endgame was a common thread for sure, still what we have now is what the devs made out of the various feedback. there was hardly a huge mass of players in agreement over “let’s have fractal grinds” and achievement tabs. that’s why you’re on the spot with pointing out how players can only really talk about the ‘what’ in simple terms; it takes devs to interpret the ‘what’ and figure out ‘how’ and that’s the major part of the responsibility.

      • Redbeard

        And the irony is that GW2 was derided for a lack of endgame, and WoW is now catching some hell for having ONLY endgame.

      • Syl

        I think WoW works fine as an endgame-only MMO. GW2 on the other hand could’ve pulled no endgame off if there had been more sandboxy elements to the game instead; but the housing never came, they ruined the economy with global AH and even managed to take the fun out of cosmetics with the silly transmutation system. Other than that there was nothing to do but repetitive events.

        If you go for either endgame or something else, you gotta do it well or your players will want everything.

  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Speaking as a token developer….

    Bhagpuss is right. Developers do ask people. Well “ask” isn’t the right word, they observe. Everything you do in a game is now observed and recorded, later to be tabulated and reported. As the maxim goes “actions speak louder than words.”

    Not to say that this is a perfect system. One problem is that metrics only tell you what people prefer from what is being offered; it can’t tell you what people would want if they could have anything. This is where the designer’s experience and instinct come in. A good designer knows what to test to see what people prefer. Of course, it’s often easier for a stressed-out designer to choose to do something like what other games have done rather than try to design new, untested, forms of gameplay. It’s easier on the ego to say “nobody could have expected players wouldn’t like that anymore” rather than “I designed something that wasnt’ fun.”

    The other problem is that it doesn’t tell you what works in the long term. The usual comparison is a kid deciding between candy and vegetables. The kid is always going to pick the candy, but the kid needs vegetables to grow up strong. A community can be like that, where they prefer something strongly in the short term which can be bad in the long term. But, sometimes if you don’t satisfy the short-term needs there won’t be a long term…. And, sometimes the road to hell is truly paved with good intentions.

    So, it’s not quite as simple as you make it sound, Syl. Yeah, it’s a rant not a scholarly debate, right? :)

    • Syl

      I would prefer to call this a solid discussion opener with some ranty bits thrown in for entertainment :) your view is different from mine by default but I hope you didn’t get from this that I was saying anything is simple – very much not so. there are complex dilemmas here not just for devs but players also which makes it hard to keep just one focus or suggest solutions.

      To clarify, this isn’t so much a cry for either getting more say (I really don’t believe players would ever create better games) or that developers are doing it wrong (I believe in your good intentions!); what it is however is showing why you can’t dish responsibility to the consumer when he cannot understand how his actions affect longterm game direction and his only voting power lies in obscure collective dynamics. At the end of the day, the devs call the shots and I don’t think that’s a bad thing – but they ARE calling the shots (or then investors are or whoever, just clearly not players). You can educate a player base and teach them “what they should want” as much as the other way around and surely both approaches exist to some degree in the world of marketing. you can also as Liore pointed out, completely shut out your audience. Whatever you do with the data, if you’re the specialist, take responsibility for the final call. that’s what leaders do and that’s all I ask for. you simply can’t share “blame” democratically if you don’t share power/knowledge/say democratically. :) see, I put a lot of trust in your trade in the sense that ultimately, you should always know better. if not, well we’re screwed.

      • Brian 'Psychochild' Green

        Well, my point is that you do have a say. It’s just not as blatant as someone calling you on the phone.

        I think the real problem is that if you have a group of five people and you make a change, there will probably be someone that doesn’t like the change. Now, multiply those numbers by 2 million and you get a feel for what it’s like for a WoW developer. Any change you make (including not making any changes) is going to be hated by someone. Your job is to maximize profits, which under subscriptions means maximizing players. So, the WoW developer has to make changes that keep the maximum number of people happy. Obviously WoW still has millions of players, so they’re doing a decent job. It’s just that some people with more refined tastes like you (and me!) aren’t necessarily going to be happy with the changes. But, the developers made the changes their data said they had to make to keep people happy.

        There’s no possible change (or lack of change) that would have kept everyone happy. So, a developer more or less has to decide who to upset. That means some people are going to get left out of the changes.

      • Syl

        No disagreement there! I am just…prickly when the onus of knowing what’s good for a game is laid on players. oh and I appreciate you assuming I have refined tastes, hehe! ;) Can you create our perfect game already?

        <3

      • Brian 'Psychochild' Green

        Anyone who cares enough to write about a topic, especially to the extent you have, has refined tastes.

        I’m working on it. Might be a few detours along the way, but my eventual goal is to create an MMO that people can’t help but stop and admire.

  4. Murf

    I agree with you. Frankly, “vote with your wallet” has long since struck me as being absolutely absurd. It’s a fun adage and bit of advice, but only shallowly so. It’s right up there with “be yourself.”

    How exactly does a company understand what less cash flow from people ‘voting with their wallet’ means? For example, I am boycotting EA, so I am effectively ‘voting with my wallet’. Assuming they noticed, how would they tell my objections to Origin, my problems with their uses of old licenses, or their butchering of games like SimCity aren’t just me being broke or turning into a pirate or dying off?

    They don’t. They need metrics to even begin cracking that code, and even then, I am insignificant on any scale. My opinion will never matter as long as all I do is not pay. Worse, since people believe this wallet-voting crap, companies take success as a sign from the People’s Republic of Consumerstan to MAKE MOAR YESTERDAY.

    There are areas where ‘voting with your wallet’ holds up, but those are on the extreme other end with indie titles and Kickstarters. Places where there aren’t millions and millions of dollars at stake and a publisher in the way trying to guide everything they can to maximum profit margins. Overall though, it’s a piss-poor idea when we are talking major gaming companies and MMO projects with huge amounts of money on the line.

    In those cases, ‘voting with your wallet’ is the equivalent of voting for a political party rather than the individual candidates. It’s a big blank check to do whatever you want with my ‘votes’ because your organization is too big to understand why I’m giving you those votes in the first place.

    With MMOs specifically, I think the genre as a whole has become far too dependent on market-driven design. Part of that is due to the fact that developers are inundated from both sides with demands. MMOs are a large investment, so publishers and investors want certain things done. MMO players are incredibly fickle and varied in their interests and they want other things done. It’s a giant mess.

    For me personally, I will always respect games that can sell me on the passion of their creators. That’s where most MMOs fail. They have each become so dependent on taking cues from one another to maximize their marketability, that companies have backed themselves into a corner. Launch a MMO without full PvE, PvP, and end game, that isn’t 100% balanced and bug free? You are dead in the water. Launch a MMO with all of those things? Congrats, you just produced a near exact copy of an already established game, but the graphics are better and you’ve got voice acting! … wooo …

    Companies love blaming players for this, as do other players. To me, the problem is developers and publishers with no backbone, dreaming up illusions of making gigantic profits. MMOs don’t work like other games. You can’t make a “complete” product at launch because there is no such thing as a complete MMO. The genre isn’t about the sprint – it’s about the marathon. In all their feature-rich blandness, new MMOs don’t impress me enough to hold my attention longer than a month or two if that. By then, I’ve hit cap, done all the content, had my fill of the various modes and am ready to move on.

    “Aha!” you may be now thinking, unconvinced reader – “Clearly the problem is you, the person burning through these games with no concern for putting down ‘roots’”, you add.

    You may be right, but I do think specialization helps prevent this. I didn’t start up World of Warcraft to achievement hunt, pet battle, do arenas, etc. I started it because it was the best PvE game on the market for a long time. I stayed with it for years because that seemed like Blizzard’s biggest focus while they added other features to enhance the package. Then those other features become equally, if not more important – the game expanded and in doing so seemed to also feel smaller.

    That’s the genre in a nutshell. It’s a lot bigger now, but too small for me to fit anywhere anymore.

    • Syl

      Lots of good points and I particularly like that last sentiment. A paradox to ponder further, surely….It reminds me a bit of the issue of how the world got smaller the more we discovered about it; you could say it’s much bigger now that we’ve grasped all of its extent but from an explorer’s PoV its imaginary or potential size has been capped. Another issue is clearly also modularization as soon as MMOs grow into big buffets, everything feels a lot less coherent. It’s impossible to build a credible roof over a “egg-laying woolly-milk-sow” (sorry, no better word in English!).

      That’s why I am all for more niche or specialist MMOs. Also this very much: ” I will always respect games that can sell me on the passion of their creators.” My post here is actually a vote for more powerful developers and decisive design, even if it may take a second glance to realize that. if it’s still gonna be a mess, at least then as a creator you can say you really made it your own mess and gave it your best shot. However, I also feel with developers that are effectively stifled by publishers and investors and whatnot. We tend to refer to them in posts because it’s simpler but I am fully aware the problem often lies with other parties.

      About voting with your wallet: the issue is precisely that whether you pay or leave, it’s never clear what exactly you vote for by that (also see comments to Asmiroth further down).

  5. Telwyn

    Turbine have just announced that there’ll be a shape-shifter “class” in LOTRO, the Beorning. That’s debatable on many levels (whether it’s a race or class for instance) but also an incredible shoe-horn attempt to justify it lore-wise. Is this a case of “what the players want”? The devs have also cancelled the much delayed housing revamp for this year, so many might say “why are we getting a class we didn’t want instead of the housing changes we’ve been arguing for years”? (the forums have consistently had more threads about housing than adding a new class over the last four years).

    It could be down to some poling of the playerbase I’m unaware of or informed by hidden metrics but I suspect it’s due to the devs perception of what will make more money in the short to mid-term…

    • Syl

      I was so incredibly disappointed to hear about the housing. That’s a very classic example of hard to comprehend delay. This has been going for years now?

  6. Tremayne

    There is a place where “voting with your wallet” and “surveying the players” comes together – the exit survey. You know, the one people fill in as part of cancelling a subscription. If I were a developer, I’d find that much more useful than “I quit!” threads on the forums because the survey is being filled in by someone who actually is quitting instead of just generating internet drama.

    Of course, you’re going to be losing some players anyway, and some of them are quitting because the game isn’t something that they want but you never intended it to be. However, I would keep a keen eye on any trends in those surveys, especially if my game was haemorrhaging players and I needed to plug the leak.

    Bonus thought – it’s a lot harder to get that exit survey information for a game that doesn’t have a subscription. Does this mean ESO and Wildstar may be more responsive to player likes and dislikes than most of their competitors? I guess we’ll have to see how much they both change direction in a year or so after launch,

    • Syl

      I agree that exit surveys are more interesting and probably more important too for sub games. I always try fill them out myself, even if some are horribly bad forms. I remember when I filled out my WoW exit survey….
      Wherever you get long term customers / employees, it’s worth looking at exit surveys even if emotion clouds some of them for sure. ;) I am in charge of exit chats at my workplace and I’m glad they’re actually face-to-face rather than just written.

      • Mariflor

        Final Fantasy XI Online, D&D Online, Dream of Mirror Online and I’m sure dozens of other MMOs allow class chgnaing. I’m not sure this is as big a deal as you think. In WoW, people can change their specs at will, essentially chgnaing their class (within bounds). Consider the WoW druid, who can be tank, healer, melee dps or caster dps and this is the #1 MMO on the planet. Forthcoming MMOs DC Universe Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic allow similar on-the-fly role changes, and the original Star Wars Galaxies had class chgnaing as an essential part of gameplay.Perhaps this is mostly an EQ issue?

    • Turapov

      Cryptic’s MMOs (CO, STO) and Guild Wars identify pyalers via handle. In GW all alts are also in the same guild automatically.Regarding class switching: Instinctively I am against that, but my stance has been wavering for quite a while. Classes that can serve all three roles of the trinity are absolutely en-vogue in WoW, even more so since dual specs arrived. This is already some kind of class change.But what if a fragile caster suddenly comes back from city dual wielding two giant-sized two-handed hammers? Instinctively I am about to cry: No, you can’T do that because and then I really have to wonder why I am opposed to it.I did it in Ultima Online. My main char was swordsman, fencer, bard, lumberjack/axeman, fencer This game had no classes, only skills/attributes/abilities. And well, I always had to start training new abilities from scratch.So I must say, I am rather for systems that allow class changes. But I have doubts they work out too well in the contemporary EQ/WoW mold of MMOs. You already mentioned the gear thing, but this could be overcome through buying new basic gear. Still, it would work much better if gear in general would be less class specific and rather role specific. I.e. Warriors could make use of weapons, but mages would rather want free hands for casting.Then there are also things like class quests and certain flightpaths (Moonglade for Druids e.g.). I think there are some problems for sure, but they could be overcome.I think it is just not wanted from the developers. They rather want us to play and pay one more month, to level the new char. But I could see free class change as part of the design in the form of pick your abilities like in Ultima Online in future MMOs.

  7. Electrolux

    When someone suggests you ‘vote with your wallet’ I suspect they really mean ‘go away’ but are trying to be clever.

    I apologise in advance if MMOs turn into insane grindfests punctuated by brutal permadeath mega-dungeons; I though they we’re ignoring me.

    • Syl

      LOL :D

      Voting with your wallet can definitely be a shutting up method, very similar to love it or leave it. Like others said, there *are* situations where it is still that simple but more often than not in our complex, global world it ain’t. As Asmiroth pointed out too below, just leaving doesn’t usually do anything.

      • bhagpuss

        I always took “vote with your wallet” to mean “use some sense and don’t throw good money after bad”. If you don’t like something, don’t waste time either paying for it or playing it. If that means that you end up not playing MMOs because you can’t find any worth getting your wallet out for then clearly MMOs are not for you.

        Voting with your wallet isn’t about educating huge corporations in how to provide you, personally, with a product or service that better suits you, personally. That’s not going to happen. It’s about educating yourself to make better choices.

    • Rizma

      I’ve asked this in G+ a few times and still wonder ocoliscnaaly: at what point does one become part of the community? Perhaps I’m in the minority, or maybe even out in left field all by myself, but I do not consider myself part of the community simply by virtue of playing a certain game. I consider myself simply a player.Is it only when I become active (whatever pace that may entail, or perhaps simply when people know you by nickname?) in forums? If I blog about a game, am I therefore part of its community? Considering how many bloggers are One Month Wonders, I’d have to vote that one down unless they stick around. My own theory (I’m stuck for the word I’m searching for so I’ll just use that) is that it’s not until you become known or build some reputation, for good or ill I suppose, within the game somehow such as global chat or what have you, that you are now in the community. That requires being active in the chat, and being someone that the server (those who don’t automatically disable chat anyway) wants to hear what you have to say, whether you’re being a Good Guy (or Gal) or the Uber Troll that they love to hate so much they can’t bear to ignore you.So are we to truly consider the live chat trolls part of the community or just some douchebag kids looking for negative attention?

  8. Asmiroth

    Just so we’re clear on this point. Vote with your wallet is just like voting. Not voting or not spending money means your voice has nothing. Spending money where you think is best is the point.

    So boycotting EA (which I do) actually has minimal impact to them but does allow a bunch of indies to make a living off my money instead.

    Minecraft (and the voxel craze) is 100% voting with your wallet.

    • Tremayne

      Asmiroth – seconded, and I’ve got a feeling I said something along those lines in a comment thread or on my own blog before, but I can’t find it to link. Nobody can see where you DIDN’T spend your money, but they can see where you DID spend your money and try to emulate whatever it was that drew your custom.

      MMO-wise, where most money has been spent is on WoW. Unfortunately, nobody has been able to figure out which bit of WoW is the one that attracts all the money so they’ve been emulating all of it.

      • Syl

        Agreed. although this is a more far-fetched comparison, I’ve had a similar discussion before about vegetarianism (which I used to follow as well). I have friends who don’t eat any meat because of animal treatment / industry meat and then other friends who buy specifically from local farmers to make a point against the industry meat. One can have long arguments about what’s helping more overall in this case but yes, just removing yourself from the game is usually a bad option. Boycotting WoW does less to change WoW than staying and lobbying for a better WoW (even if some players no doubt will keep telling you to love it or leave it).

        I think another important point was raised in some comments above too, namely the issue of why just spending your money still falls short as a vote since a dev/producer can’t really know ‘why’ you spent it. And you can only ever spend it on what’s already there; you have no good way of saying what you would rather spend the money on.

      • Clockw0rk

        I think this hits the nail on the head; we know that WoW is giving players what they want, just no one is able to tell exactly what that is. They can look at what players DO in WoW but that doesn’t always tell you what they want because of mixed success with throwing “more of the same” at them.

        With MMOs in particular it’s hard to vote with your wallet because the market for AAA MMOs is very small; they are so expensive to produce that there isn’t an option for everyone. So by choosing not to spend money, all you are telling developers is that there is some nebulous niche they aren’t meeting. It tells them nothing about the size or interest level of that niche, only that it’s there.

      • Brian

        One reason why class chnage seems like a heresy might come from the past. In D&D, it was assumed that your level 1 character trained a long time in order to get to the point that you were even capable of being considered first level. Most commoners were level 0 and significantly weaker than you were. Training your level in 1st edition AD&D was supposed to take 1-4 weeks. Training in a profession was supposed to be a long and arduous task, so setting it aside lightly seems wrong. Not that this applies anymore, but I think that might be one reason some old-timers don’t like it.Personally, I prefer skill-based systems. Lots of flexibility. Harder to balance, sure, but that’s what you get a good designer for.

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  12. Isey

    “In summary to this conundrum I will say this: I never wanted achievements in WoW, the cross-sever dungeons or flying mounts. And I certainly never ever asked for an achievement tab greeting me at the login screen of GW2″

    Well.. If none of those were your fault, can we at least blame you for daily gifts for logging in? You know, log in, get a box, get phat lewt – just for logging in? Surely you wanted that one!

    Great read, and great conversation. I believe many of us don’t even know what *we* want anymore. The only thing I can say with certainty is that I want “that feeling” I used to get when playing. That connection. How that looks with systems and classes (etc etc etc) I can’t tell you.

      • Galeri

        Many times I feel not part of the community. Simply becasue I don’t care enough to pipe up. I tried for a bit when I played EQ2. To get a bit active on the board, supply input, feedback and stuff to Devs. But I got the feeling that people like me, who normally are part of the silent masses, will always get outshouted by two kinds of people: the whiners that spam the boards and the bloggers who are part of the in crowd . So I stopped. Still part of the Community by your reasoning, I guess.What annoyed me the most is that Devs seem to not make the realization you talk about. To some extent they are in a tight spot though they will not get much feedback and stuff from the lazy people like me that can’t be bothered to lift their hands to type.In Eve though I feel it is a little different. Not only are the devs very passionate, they are also much more social and open. Both regarding talking and listening. Sure, there are the same problems here with the shouters and the in crowd, but to a much lesser extent. /soapbox

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  14. Doone

    Like others above have said about “voting with your wallet”, it’s less about boycotting and more about spending your money on something you want. Not every action by players ought to be designed to get the attention of developers. We have tastes too. I think “vote with your wallet” gets altered by the varying perceptions debating it. One person may only mean what I just said and the other might hear what you have said. Between the two, its probably best to assume it’s just a personal choice to play something they like more.

    Rants while quitting are useful if you send them to the developer or post it on their forum. They are a way to vote with your wallet and do the exit “survey”. As Brian noted, player behavior and surveys often can’t tell the dev what the player wants to see. A well written rant solves this problem.

    When I quit WoW I continued to write about why I quit for a while. When I boycotted WoW, it had nothing to do with the features of the game but the features of the company. Sometimes it’s not about lobbying against someone. It’s about making different choices. I think all the ways that players show their dissatisfaction are equally powerful, or else we’d have to decide that there is a single better way and there just isn’t. I think all the ways in which players protest are necessary to the “lobbying” effort, but more importantly they make room for indies to find their audience. So all in all, everything works.

    On a final note I want to agree that players bear no responsibility in the design decisions of devs. Like you I’ve seen some extremists (it’s rare really) blame gamers for the state of a game. That’s nonsense. However, this isn’t the players’ doing themselves when we look at the whole picture (I don’t mean players aren’t responsible for how they behave, but they are not often the origin of their inspiration to behave that way). Developers, like clockwork, couch their decisions in “the players wanted it” which makes it possible for those gamers to even feel this way. So in a way, developers dump responsibility for their decisions on their players …and then some of those players actually go out to defend it. It’s tricky to find the head and the tail on that snake, but they are there.

    • Syl

      At the end of the day, leaders must take the “blame” and specialists must take responsibility. It’s not easy to interpret player voices but then, as others have said too you can also stick to a vision and not falter. If the vision was great to begin with, this is most likely your better shot than keep changing a game’s direction. I feel so let down every time the early promises are nothing but thin air.

  15. Kanter

    Psychochild already spoke about this some, but I believe for a company like Blizzard what people are doing is probably quite influential on what they do in the future. However, I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing. I believe that when they look at the time people play doing daily quests, they see people spending a large amount of their time doing it so it must be good, however, I believe too much time on dailies leads to burnout. SImilarly, I still subscribe to WoW but don’t have a lot of time and I will spend a few minutes a day harvesting my farm. I am glad the farm is there, but it would be easy for them to look at the statistics and say “We need to do more like that” when really it is a relatively mindless task that I enjoy, but it is other time playing the game which is why I still subscribe.

    Having a vision of how a game will be enjoyable first and how the gameworld operates second I believe are the two most important aspects of a successful MMO. There can be peripheral parts of the game (like Archaeology or Pet Battling in WoW) that keep people playing, but without the core it won’t work and you can’t determine that core by reading forums, surveying people, or watching how they play. And this totally supports your premise that it is the developers / publishers responsibility, not the players.

    • Syl

      I agree that a vision is vastly important; and many games since WoW didn’t really have that because they were trying to re-produce someone else’s success instead of creating their own. While WoW has done much to open up this genre and bring more players onboard, it has definitely also caused us harm with its overbearing legacy.

    • Nantdar

      I’ve always wnated someone to do a MechWarrior MMO that would end up being sort of like EVE in that your character learned skills that allowed them to pilot certain mechs and use certain armors and weapons and other devices, but what really matters is the build that they leave the garage with. You have the potential to be any class , to fill any role, but you have to plan ahead and leave the garage built out for how you want to play.Except for it breaking with tradition, I don’t see any reason a fantasy MMO can’t be constructed in the same manner. Give players an underlying base of skills that allow them to equip gear, but the real game play elements (spells, attacks, defensive moves, etc) are an aspect of the gear not the character.I’ve always referred to this style of design as You are what you wear. And while I mentioned EVE before, I dislike EVE in that nothing I do in the game can increase my character’s skills. Only training time does that, and I find that infuriating. I can’t say, I’m going to grind out X skill on Saturday. Instead, I’m stuck with, X skill will be finished in three weeks, I’ll be back then

  16. Shintar

    Like Kanter above me already hinted at, the problem seems to be that a lot of MMO design these days is based on metrics. “67% of players do X every day, but only 23% do Y – clearly we need to make more of X and less of Y.” Participation in any given activity tends to be interpreted as “this is what players want” – and in a way that does make the players responsible – but of course this system is way too simplistic. Someone published an interview with a former SoE dev recently who railed against this quite heavily as well; I don’t know if you’ve seen that. Metrics don’t tell you how people feel about what they are doing. Dailies may appear to be popular on the surface, but lead to faster burnout. People may not run that new instance every day, but maybe they had an awesome experience running it that one time and it really added to their attachment to the game.

    To be honest, that’s another reason I enjoy blogging about what I play. I don’t expect the devs to be regular readers, but I’m sure that community managers do check out what is being said about the game in various places, and I want to give them as much context for what I like and what I don’t as I can.

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  18. Rodolfo

    Thank you. I have an intense dilikse of lumping or being lumped into an all encompassing mass of disgust, as I suspect every does. I understand that it’s not intentional all the time. Stupid like the general news media doesn’t even bother, but around here, I chalk it up to people being so passionate about their stance that their fingers are on fire, and they aren’t at their grammatical best.I consider myself to now be a part of the GW2 community . We know many others who do as well. Being in this position, though, is difficult: we may be aggregated as the community when talking about the boorish behavior in the chat, and I find that offensive. Of course, I also find the behavior of certain elements of the community offensive, and realize that it DOES reflect badly on the community as a whole. It puts me on the defensive for myself and on behalf of those who are good in the community when someone makes a judgement about whether or not to participate, based on the actions of a few, by corralling all fans under one, ugly umbrella intentional or not. But we’re not new at this. We’ve all played games which have had segments of community that have been known for their overt jackassery, and we’ve ignored it, brushed it off, moved on or fought against it. I don’t know why THIS case is different from the myriad of others, why THESE jerks are being used as a proxy for the WHOLE of the community . They certainly don’t represent me, or the people I respect and whom I know would agree with me on this. GW2 will have an excellent community, but it will also have it’s jerks. Your gameplan is a solid blueprint to ensure that the good parts of the community grow, and that the less desirable elements are marginalized.

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