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The Quinquennial (or sometimes more often)

Various thoughts on online gaming, often pulled from articles I've written for other sources.

Author: Quizzical

Developers listening to which players?

Posted by Quizzical Friday January 9 2009 at 3:30AM
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It is commonly said that game developers should listen to their players. Fair enough. It is taken as a corollary that developers should do what their players want in game design. That is often absurd.

Suppose that some players in a game wish to be able to attack other players whenever and wherever they want without restrictions. Other players in the same game want to never be attacked by other players except when they’re willing to pvp. For some of these other players, that would be never. One could argue that the developers should listen to both types of players, but they cannot simultaneously do what both wish.

Some games have separate servers with different rule sets for this type of thing. That can only go so far, however; there could easily be hundreds of separate issues that divide the playerbase. Separate servers for each combination of what various players want would result in giving everyone his own server. That itself would be highly objectionable to many players.

Going with a majority doesn’t work, either. The majority of the players in many online games will want about the same things. If developers in each of those games do what the majority of their players want, they’ll end up making effectively identical games. As a developer from Chain of Command memorably put it, if he simply went with what a majority of the players wanted, he’d turn the game into a poor clone of Red Alert. There’s nothing wrong with having some games that cater to the lowest common denominator of what many players want. But for every game to try to appeal to exactly the same subset of their potential players would be folly.

It actually gets worse than that. Going with a simple majority could easily result in stripping out the features that are the game’s very reason to exist. Imagine a lot of players picking up Darkfall without knowing much about the game, objecting to the free for all pvp, and convincing the company to take it out of the game. Imagine the same players picking up The Chronicles of Spellborn, and insisting that the company remove the skilldeck and not make players aim.

Rather, when designing a game, the developers must have some vision of what the game is supposed to be. Certain fundamental decisions about game mechanics must be set in stone, even if a majority of the players disagree. Players who don’t like the choices the company made can simply go play some other game instead.

It is critical that these decisions be made very early on. After release, it’s too late. Indeed, during beta is probably too late. If you design your game to appeal to players who hate grinding, and then a year after release add a ton of grinding, you alienate your existing playerbase. If you design your game to make pvp completely consensual, and then a year after release, make it so players can attack other players without consent in most places, you likewise alienate your existing playerbase. The same would happen for many other such seismic shifts—and also for the reverse of any of those decisions.

One could ask why the critical importance on some game mechanics being unchangeable. Three words: New Game Experience. There are players who like the “New Game Experience” of Star Wars Galaxies. Likewise, there are players who like the item mall in EverQuest II. Had those game design decisions been in place and public knowledge at the start of open beta, they wouldn’t be a problem. In contrast, to make such radical changes years after release is a slap in the face to players who put so much time and money into the games precisely because they wanted a game not to have those things.

That is not to say that developers should never make changes that players request. The best case is players suggesting little touches that make gameplay a little smoother or more convenient. Players can also provide valuable feedback on the relative difficulty of various content, or other play balancing issues. This doesn’t necessarily even have to be as the players intend: if there are class forums, and the forum for one class doesn’t have quite a few posts decrying the class as woefully underpowered, then that class is probably massively overpowered, and needs to be nerfed, and hard.

Player feedback can be great for bigger decisions, too, provided that they don’t fundamentally alter the game. If there are several reasonable possibilities for where to add new content in a game, a developer could do much worse than to pick the one that most of the players want. The key is a clear, public delineation of what is fundamental to the game and will never be changed, as compared to what is open to discussion.

DJXeon writes:

Developers mainly design a game to a theme so that they are not identical the last mmo, catering for the majority of players that like that particular theme makes sound economic sense.

All successful mmorpg's often cater for carebears & hard core but the two don't mix so there are some that are happy with a smaller niche market  that only cater for one type.

Having a vision & sticking to it is important.




Fri Jan 09 2009 4:35AM Report
kremath writes:

They listen to the carebears.

Fri Jan 09 2009 10:53AM Report
hidden1 writes:

Carebears are infesting the Earthrise forums like cockroaches, requesting things like extravagant housing, pet system, and corpse meters/duration so that dead players can spy on passing pvp'ers, and the worst offense of all, requesting no corpse looting.  Earthrise is an MMORPG with a heaving emphasis on Guild/Clan pvp faction play, where it even wants guilds to fight over territory for the best mining rights... and what do the carebears do as soon as Earthrise has Beta sign-up?   They swarm in like locust into their forums to try to not influence but imo, force the developer to change their initial foucs and vision of the game.  Don't believe just read through the Earthrise forums... Carebears, ruining games before their born. ugh.

Fri Jan 09 2009 11:29AM Report
qombi writes:

Wonderful blog enjoyed reading it. I agree with most of your points. I feel developers are swayed to often in MMORPGs by audience suggestions. I think the developers have a vision they should go by it not change the game to be like some other game the players have played.

They have to remember people play the game for the reason to begin with that it is a good designed game, and naturally a lot like to complain about difficulties they are having accomplishing game goals or perceived imbalances and the forum makes a great place to vent. Over all these players are mainly venting and their suggestions and comments should not influence the developers to make major changes to their game design. Now if the developer notices something that isn't working out like they intended that is different.

They should try to get it to be exactly like they envisioned. Let people have a forum to vent, that is good. Take the suggestions and comments with a grain of salt though. Players think they know what they want but ultimately destroy many good games that were original great (EQ, WoW, etc etc)

Fri Jan 09 2009 1:14PM Report
ghstwolf writes:

hidden1- having followed the game for a good part of a year, I doubt the whiny "but I don't want to PvP" nonsense will go anywhere (same for looting).  Housing- has been a post launch goal for at least 6 months.  Pets- are confirmed as at least little robotic companions, and the Nathurians could make organic pets a reality.  The corpse meter/duration- LOL I'd give them that, as a gear upgrade that take the same slot as more useful upgrades like stealth detection .

Fri Jan 09 2009 2:50PM Report
FC-Famine writes:

Very nice writeup. I hardly ever get a chance to reply to the many good blogs but I feel I have to reply to this very good post.

As community manager I have to deal with feedback every day with my position. I can tell you from my personal experience that it’s not a very easy task to deal with. That’s because it is hard to choose which feedback to base your changes on. It’s something that’s very hard to do and something that that requires a lots and lots of refinement.

Overall, I think you should consider the sources of where your feedback comes from. Although you didn’t cover it in your post, you should also have to consider all other sources. Just for example you have community forums, in-game community, e-mail submission, and of course the many customer support channels in which you attain feedback from. All these difference sources in return also contain very diverse types of feedback that are both hidden and visible to you.

In the long run my task is to ensure what feedback I find gets to the right people. It’s hard deciding what really goes where because ultimately designers don’t have enough time in a day to read 100 pages of complete feedback. I think the best way for anyone is to have filters in place like the community managers. People there to pick the top concerns and wishes and make sure they get thrown at the developer heads as hard as they threw the design at the players.

Once you have come that far then it’s really up to the designers to pick and choose what to do. Yet again, not a simple task to do but that’s why it’s good to consider feedback as influence. Influence over a direction, a change and even over a termination. I wouldn’t go as far as saying feedback shouldn’t be considered for major changes but it should at least have influence in the equation. There will always be people there to ensure a change best fits with the direction the design follows while other times fitting with the creative freedom of the designer. In the long run it can all play out or it can blow up in your face but that’s what makes creation fun in the first place.

Sat Jan 10 2009 12:55AM Report
Ziboo writes:

 It's always easier to know what you are getting yourself into when you start a game as far as FFA pvp or instanced pvp, etc., or grindfest to get to end-game, vs  . . . rather than have it added or turned upside down after the fact.  A bit of research goes a long way!  People have the option to beta test, try free trials, read the forums, etc., before playing so it shouldn't be a huge surprise what a game is about - educate yourself!

I can't imagine how some developers are working now.  You look at the success of WoW (based on player subs), and it would be a bit difficult to not want to duplicate that success. But if you pick a niche market which ffa pvp tends to be then you do need to stick to that and not constantly sacrifice to the carebears.  I thoroughly enjoy the rvr in Warhammer, but world pvp isn't there.  I don't feel a sense of danger when I'm questing - I feel that more in WoW questing as there are contested areas and you can be attacked almost anywhere.  

As far as changing based on player input.  The squeakiest wheel isn't always the most representative of the vast majority.  Player feedback is helpful, but can somone read the feedback of 1 or 2-11 million players? Or do you assign a random number to x posts and he must represent y number of players?

It would be hard to sift through the endless forums, emails, blogs to stay abreast of the player bases feelings, wants and needs.

Personally the deal breaker for me is game mechanics.  Slow fps, lag spikes, disconnects, broken features, unfinished feel are more likely to have me quit a game than anything else (AoC).  

If I choice a game based on pvp, or crafting or exploring than I accept it the way it is.  I might complain a bit (LoTRO's map - ugh!), but I try to think of what the developer had in mind with this game and does it fit with what I want to do.  Fortunately I have the luxury of playing a few MMO's and can play the one that fits the mood!


Sat Jan 10 2009 8:14PM Report writes:
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