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?