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BadSpock's Logical Conclusions.

My random thoughts about MMORPGs. A bit of critique, suggestion, debate, and insanity. Enjoy.

Author: BadSpock

We're Wrong

Posted by BadSpock Wednesday January 16 2008 at 3:25PM
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Just saw this, "You're Wrong" over at The Escapist Magazine by Dana Massey

Thanks to MMORPG.com user paulscott for linking this in the forums - *LINK*

A lot of people don't like to click on links, so I'll re-post the article here for ya'll to read, and please do read the whole thing!

"

"You're Wrong"

by Dana Massey, 21 Nov 2006 6:02 am

You're wrong and should be ignored, but don't worry, you're loved.

If you're reading this article, you're likely a hardcore videogame fan. You read message boards, and you're not afraid to tell developers what they're screwing up. I'm here to tell you that if you're a member of a specific videogame's community, your opinion should be ignored. Your thoughts must be digested - it's hard to ignore loud screaming - but discarded.

It sounds harsh and definitely won't be a popular opinion, but the most dangerous thing a developer can do is listen to his hardcore community.

The hardcore can and have led developers astray. Before a game undergoes production, developers write what's called a design document. Detailing various technical and operational aspects of a game, it functions as the team's battle plan, but it's hardly a static document. It is fluid, evolving as development progresses. It is on the strength or weakness of these documents that good or bad games are born.

Too often, though, perfectly good games get confused, turned around and bashed over the head by those who claim to love them most. It's tragic, really. They enter beta, with all their bright ideas and shiny new toys and then some 14-year-old screams, "This sucks!" At a company with strong leadership and vision, this is read, digested and considered, but rarely do they succumb to the mighty weight of one 14-year-old and a few of his buddies. At a not-so-steady company, a post or 10 like that can be fatal.

Welcome to a world of reactionary development. Every time the community screams, the developers shift focus and try to put out that fire. Suddenly, the game is no longer in development, but rather in commercial service, and this is wrong. Testing phases are for testing and there is no way to say with any idea of accuracy that something truly does suck until all the spices are in the pot.

Games are huge undertakings. Clever designers, like good cooks, need all the different ingredients to work together for the final result to be appetizing. Like cooking, you cannot just go "voila" and have the whole friggen game there. It takes time, it takes massaging, it takes patience.

You, my hardcore friends, lack patience.

The hardcore, for the most part, play games in beta the way they'd play any old game they got from Best Buy. They try to get better, they try to win. When they find something boring, they scream and yell. Yet, for some reason, those egocentric screams are fatal.

It is extremely hard to build a work of art while people piss and moan about how much they hate it. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci with a group of art critics in his studio as he painted the Mona Lisa. He'd end up with a brown canvas. When too many people are yelling contradictory opinions, and developers try to accommodate them all, they get a brown canvas; something that is entirely innocuous, but completely pointless. These are also known as unremarkable or - dare I say - bad games.

Yet it happens every day, and I blame the increased importance of online communities for the current dilution and sameness of so many games, especially in the MMOG genre.

So, the skeptic may point out that I am basically suggesting developers ignore the very people for whom their games are made. Not exactly.

I suggest only that game developers ignore their hardcore fans. By hardcore, I mean anyone who uses videogame-related message boards. Like it or not, the people posting are not a representative sample of your community. There's a reason no one believes that girls play videogames despite constant studies saying the opposite. They have better sense than to dive into the acid culture that exists on most videogame message boards. They'd most likely just get asked if they're "hawt." There goes half the audience from that sample so many game developers listen so intently to.

I am all for interaction between developers and their customers. The Vanguard development team implemented feedback forms in their beta test that asked people what they thought of what they just experienced. It's a snazzy little trick, right there in the client. That is good feedback. Kind of. The only problem there is this: Only the hardcore beta test. How many vaguely interested Wal-Mart shoppers camp forums waiting for a beta sign-up? Not many, I would wager, but it is these people that end up paying the bills and it is they that developers need to keep happy.

Videogame developers need to avoid the temptation of showing off their toys until they're totally painted. Bean counters won't like it, but beta tests should not exist until the game is nearly ready. They should not be about development, only polish. If studios want to know what prospective players think, they should learn some lessons from other industries and show it to representative focus groups once it's done.

The nefarious trick for videogame developers is to ignore their community without telling them. It's evil, it's underhanded, but if you can still fool the hardcore into buying into your brand, so much the better. In order to get them, they need to think they were only this far away from getting their names in the credits.

It can be done. The trick is to have smart community relations people. These are people who can rationally use a message board to talk to players. There, they post, they discuss and they explain. They let the community know they're reading and that they're not wasting their time.

In reality, though, the community better be wasting their time. Community management is public relations when it's at its best and cause for reactionary development when it's at its worst.

Developers must learn to stick to their guns and see their visions through. Half-finished products are always going to inspire hate, and no mater how much it stings, making drastic changes in response to community complaints invites disaster. When the hardcore yell that something "sucks," developers must learn to tell them how much they love them and tuck them in for the night.

"

So thank you Mr. Dana "Lepidus" Massey. Lead content Editor for MMORPG.com

So are you telling us that no dev should come to this site and listen to any of us? :)

I agree.

We're the mob. The loud, vocal minority.

Our arguments, our forum posts, and our blogs only matter to other MMORPG.com users who read them. Same goes in any official game forum.

Hrothmund writes:

I read through the whole thing. Nice read, not!

Mr. Massey should examine his viewpoint a bit more objectively. Of course the developers and production/customer care teams will and should listen to their respective 'hardcore' communities. Ignorance is one of the things I truly detest, and I wonder why it is not one of seven deadly sins. Ignorance is what causes most of the conflicts, both great and small, around the world. If people could relate to each other a little better, this world would be a much nicer place to live in.

 

Back to perspective, no the 'hardcore gaming community' or the gaming comminty in general should not be ignored. I would assume most people have the common sense to take what they read on these boards in moderation, reflect upon what is written and see if that changes their opinion in the slightest. Granted, we are foaming-at-the-mouth zealots without even a speckle of common sense but the average IQ is still hopefully above 50 here(hehe, pun intended).

Wed Jan 16 2008 4:12PM Report
Sornin writes:

This is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Or, in less archaic terms, completely tossing something away because some parts of it need to be tossed.

This post's argument is this, essentially:

"Sometimes developers listen to hardcore fans and implement ideas/changes that they should not."

So... yeah, and this means they should ignore everything? Why? This is a simplistic argument that does not allow for a middle ground.

I certainly agree that the community of gamers should not control a game's development, but at the same time, the community of gamers is who ends up buying and playing the game. A developer worth his salt should be able to separate valid concerns and good suggestions from the crop of bad ones, which I admit are plentiful.

It should not be a case of total compliance or total rejection. If a beta tester makes a valid point, listen. Why would you not? If you genuinely feel the game would be better for it, it should not matter what the source of the suggestion is.

It is not really reactive development, it is smart development. Though the author claims design documents are not static, he seems to not believe that himself. He speaks as though deviating from it at all to address player concerns results in catastrophe. Developing a video game is no different than any other project, where seldom does our initial plan end up being exactly what we do. We change our minds, tweak it as we go, and yes, listen to the opinions of outsiders, who often are able to see things more objectively than we can, or who at least offer a different view.

For example, I occasionally write short stories, usually fan fiction. Before I write, I outline the plot, do (literal) character sketches, and think of any themes or metaphorical devices I might want to use. Then I write it, revise it, and revise it again. Still, though, I cannot be my own critic. I cannot accurately judge the story's appeal, since I wrote the story for others, not myself. I get others to review it, tell me what they think, and make revisions based on their feedback. Only after my target audience likes the story is it finished.

This does not mean I change everything for them - I am discerning.

How are video games any different? Developers are not making the game for themselves, but for gamers. It only makes sense to ensure they like it. Of course, just as I am with writing, they need to also be discerning. Listening does not mean you need to address every bit of criticism.

Anyway, Mr. Massey's article is rather disappointing, especially considering his position. I hope that developers' minds are more open than his lockbox of a noggin, and possess the ability to listen to feedback and separate the good from the bad.

Simpletons, fascists, and radicals separate the world into black and white because it is easy, but people with reason understand there are no strict divisions, only shades of grey. Mr. Massey seems to be advocating a black and white perspective on development feedback, which is a stance I can never side with.

Wed Jan 16 2008 7:01PM Report
RudedawgCDN writes:

 

The reason dev's get in the trouble they do is by not listening to their "core supporters" - who do you think pays their bills? How do you think the investers recoup their investment?

For every game that has failed, all you have to do is look at that games forums and see the outcrys from it's biggest supporters.

I would argue the exact opposite. Game dev's get in trouble because they stop listening to their core audience.

You make the assumption that all hard core video game players are 14 yr olds.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Wed Jan 16 2008 7:54PM Report
Hexxeity writes:

Not surprisingly, the gamers here don't like to hear what Mr. Massey is saying, even though he is 100% correct.

If you think you are the "core" anything, you are wrong.  By definition, if you are here and you are posting, you are NOT the average customer, you are NOT in touch with what the average customer thinks, and you are most certainly NOT paying anyone's bills.  It's hard for people to understand that there are tons of people who do not think the same way they do, but it's true.  Suck it up.

Another important point is, if you are not working for the development studio, you don't really know what the end product is supposed to look like.  You know what they've told you, and you know what you WANT to see, but you don't know what the overall goal is for any given game system -- ever.  The only way to create a good game is to have a solid vision of the end product, and to know what can make it into the final release and what will have to wait for an expansion.  If the vision isn't working, the developers will know -- without being told -- and adjust.  The chances that some random forum troll's random idea will mesh with the actual vision are infinitesimal.

The most hilarious misconception a lot of forumites have is that they actually come up with fresh, new ideas.  Believe me, developers read forums ALL THE TIME -- and not just on fan sites.  They talk to each other and to other developers.  They discuss ideas and work out which ones work in what situations.  It's part of their job.  So any complaint you have, or any dimly humming lightbulb you may experience, will 99 times out of 100 be very old news to a good developer.  True, that one percent can be important, which is why they pay attention, but that is the exception, not the rule.  If you run around thinking you are the exception, you are in for a miserable life.

Reactive development is exactly the thing that has slowly been destroying City of Heroes ever since Statesman left.  Positron simply doesn't have the backbone to say no to the vocal "core," and the game has suffered greatly for it with every update.  It was apparent during the City of Villains beta that too much weight was being given to the forum opinions, and the trend has played out to the point that CoH is a more vacuous and tedious experience than ever.  And believe me, I know that's saying a lot.

Wed Jan 16 2008 8:57PM Report
NetSapiens writes:

the article is an over-simplification based on an original thought that had merit.

I do agree with the basic idea being presented, but I think it has been oversimplified. There's much more to this than a simple, sinlge article can convey.

Thu Jan 17 2008 12:25AM Report
BadSpock writes:

You have to take the article for what it is.

Obviously devs don't and shouldn't completely ignore their community.

Should they take anything we say with a grain of salt? Oh yeah.

BTW, I'm kind of pissed somebody with a "cute asian girl" pic (that's probably a fake) and a blog where the posts make no sense what so ever and are written like a child is now more popular then any other blog (except AoC dev blog) simply because of the pic of "cute asian girl"

ya'll are cheap, shallow, bastards ! :)

Thu Jan 17 2008 3:07PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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