"We Listen to Our Players" ...Really?
"We listen to our players" is becoming a mantra among MMORPG community people. From Age of Conan to City of Heroes, with each new patch some representative comes out and says that something was done because of community feedback. I contend that this, to some extent, is just simple pandering to the community designed to make us feel like we matter.
The developers have a plan for their game. It is poor practice to not know in what general direction you wish to take your product. You don't develop a millions-generating service by the seat of your pants or the will of the community (EVE may be the exception). Therefore, while the developers may use community feedback to determine which features get worked on first, or which low-hanging, easy-to-implement fruit gets plucked, anything radically outside of "the plan" likely won't get any attention.
On one level, the developers simply can't help but to add things that have been suggested by a player. Read the suggestion forums for your favorite game and you'll find a huge number of ideas. Players want everything, from "More content" to "I want blue fireballs"; anything a player could want from a game has been suggested by someone, somewhere. The developers know this, and so it is easy for them to say, no matter the feature, "Yeah, we're adding XYZ to our game - the COMMUNITY asked for it".
But let's say that the developers really do let players direct the course of their game. Would you really want the subscribers dictating the direction of development?
Subscribers are already paying a monthly fee. And if they've stuck around long enough to worry about making suggestions or filling out surveys, then chances are they will stick with the game no matter what, unless something like a Star Wars Galaxies style New Game Experience comes around. Anything new added to the game, as far as a loyal subscriber is concerned, is just a bonus. You don't want these people telling you what to add to your game.
Why? Because they've already been sold. Because there could be CORE problems with the game that, for some reason, the loyal fan chooses to ignore, or just doesn't see as a problem because they really like some other aspect of the game. You don't draw more people to your product by asking your biggest fans how to make it better. This is why you are often asked to fill out a "How can we make it better?" survey when you go to CANCEL a subscription to a MMORPG.
On some level, the developers DO listen to the players - if an outcry is big enough and general enough, then they'll have to act (like the issue in FFXI with certain Notorious Monsters). But as far as day-to-day development is concerned, I think it is dangerous to let your players have too much influence, but its ok (I guess) to make them THINK they have an impact - it gives us warm-fuzzies.
This is all not to say that player feedback isn't worth something. I've seen some really good player-posted ideas. All I am saying is that when a developer says, "We've listened to the players," that you should take it with a grain of salt substitute.