Saturday, September 26, 2009

Do devlopers like it when we rage quit? [a rhetorical question]

Player versus Developer has a post up that I quite enjoyed. He talks about how many MMO developers pretty much ignore feedback from players and simply do what they think is best for their game. If you follow developer blogs, you'll find that one of the strengths of a good developer is that they are willing to set part of their player base on fire to realize their core goals in terms of audience (i.e., amputating limbs to save the patient). Mike Darga has a great piece that touches on it. What really caught my eye was a quote within the post: "Learn to recognize which parts of your game and playerbase aren't important."

Fairly chilling advice from a player perspective. However, the most successful MMO developers undoubtedly are the ones that execute this well. Of course it's better to have a core vision that works 100% right from the beginning. However hindsight is always clearer than foresight. Over the course of a successful MMO, changes both massive and minor will be needed. Any change will alienate some proportion of the player base. I get this, and I don't knock designers for making tough decisions.

All that said, I find it puzzling that many developers don't try to do any damage control at all when they make big changes. It's as if they are so isolated from their community that it seemingly doesn't occur to them that (a) players will notice a change and (b) it will really really piss them off if it affects a core mechanic that they enjoy. From a bottom line perspective, the worst that can happen is that players will rage quit over a change. Yet MMO developers often fail to take any action to limit the proportion of their player base this reaction encompasses.

The absolute worst thing a studio can do is spring a major change on the player base without any advanced notice. Yet I see developers do it over and over. For example the nerf to PvP gear in Warhammer Online (I rage quit over that one), the defense nerf in Champions Online, and most recently the swing speed nerf in Dungeons and Dragons Online. All of those changes were patched in with little, if any, advanced notice. All of them were major changes that fundamentally altered a game. In each case, it was only after the community went absolutely ape shit that the developers deigned to even comment on the reasoning behind the changes.

Regardless of what a developer does, they are going to lose a some of their players whenever they make a change. However, it seems to me that explaining the reasoning behind a change and warning players that it's coming ahead of time can be the difference between "Eww, I don't like this...but I guess I can cope" and "What the mother!@$#...are you #@!$ing crazy?!?"...rage quit.

Think about it. You can manage player expectations, or you you can hit them in the face with something that utterly defies their expectations. Which do you think will provoke a stronger response?

8 comments:

  1. I think the thing that drives my crazy is the lack of a responce in situations like you mentioned.

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  2. @Jayedub: that's a good point. Hitting your players with a big ass change without warning is stupid. Refusing to even cool (some proportion of) them off by explaining the logic behind the change afterwords is beyond stupid.

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  3. I want to go back and retroactively agree with Mark Jacobs. Game forums are the worst way to communicate with your players. Ghostcrawler on the WoW forums and now Daeke on the CO forums (at least recently) have shown that being more forthright with the community really does help, but they need to target people who don't want to wade into the cesspool.

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  4. @Anjin: I basically agree with you. Forums are not a good place to get user feedback because the guys that hang out there are usually jaded and bitter. They also aren't a great way to communicate with your users because very few of them will ever hit the official forums.

    The pre NGE NGE was Trials of Atlantis in DAoC (in my mind at least). After they lost a good hunk of their players, Mythic started taking community management pretty seriously. I took a break for a long while after TOA, however when I did start playing again (around the time of catacombs), they had the best community management tools in place I've ever seen, and all without any official forums.

    For example, if they wanted to get feedback from users on something, they would put a poll on the login splash screen. Thus they got feedback from 100% of the folks that logged rather than ten angry ass hats that hang out on their message boards.

    They were doing a lot of fairly obvious CM stuff at Mythic under Sonya's tenure that I have yet to see any other studio do. It really went a long way towards making you feel like a valued customer rather than a victim of developer whim.

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  5. Thanks for the plug Yeebo.

    I probably shouldn't have brought up this topic before I had a chance to do a full writeup on it, but let me just make a couple quick comments.

    Nobody wants their players to quit, and it's always a bad thing to make any of your players unhappy. However there are lots of good examples of games spreading themselves too thin or disregarding a big group of players in favor of a small group of players.

    The NGE is the example that's been beaten to death, but for good reason. That change tried to a potential audience that the game didn't even have yet, alienating the players that had stuck with the game.

    I was amiss in not making this more clear, but the way to make sure you never have to make these decisions with a live playerbase is to make them up front, before anybody's even playing. If you know that PvPers aren't an important part of your game before the game is even in production, it's much less likely you'll ever run into these problems.

    Honest marketing is another big thing for me. If you know that your game isn't a PvP game, isn't a solo game, isn't a crafting game, etc, all you have to do is make that clear up front. By trying not to disappoint players who ask sensitive questions, developers are constantly dodging questions and giving people false hope.

    If you decide which hypothetical players are and aren't important long before the game ships and market the game honestly, then you'll never have such a divided playerbase that you have to make those kinds of tough calls. This hopefully also means you won't see so many players /ragequit.

    I hope that clears up my meaning a little bit. I like my players. It's just that the relationship works best when everybody knows what to expect from each other.

    Mike
    http://mikedarga.blogspot.com

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  6. Yikes my brief comments never end up being very brief.

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  7. @Mike: Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. Here's my follow up: http://mikedarga.blogspot.com/2009/09/designing-your-audience.html

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