You simply can’t deny the fact that there’s an “us vs. them” attitude happening between game developers and game players, and that it’s hurting the industry as a whole.
I mean, let’s face it, all you have to do is take a quick look at almost any game’s forum and you won’t have to look hard to find posts tearing down developers, whether it’s calling them lazy, untalented, greedy, or any number of other names, it’s going to be there.
On the other side of the coin, you have developers making comments either privately or worse yet, publicly, that players don’t know what they want. I’ve spoken to a number of developers over the years who have told me that they’ve stopped reading forums and comments all together, citing the abuse taken at the hands of players. The most public of these incidents came in an official explanation from then Mythic head Marc Jacobs on his decision not to host official forums for Warhammer Online where he cited not wanting to subject his developers to the kind of abuse that forums can provide.
While this isn’t a new phenomenon by any means, it is an issue that has compounded over time, bringing us to a point where neither side really trusts the other. Any time an individual player has a problem with a change or development in a game, it is immediately blamed, often without any analysis or forethought, on incompetent developers. Likewise, legitimate player concerns are getting less and less developer attention because “players don’t know what they want.” When one is constantly under attack from a group of people, it becomes not only easier but almost a matter of survival to tune it out.
Currently, the solution to this problem seems to be that the lines of communication are being slowly choked off as development studios begin to retreat back within themselves, releasing less and less transparent information to their players both in terms of their forums and third party websites and relying instead on strictly regimented and non-interactive marketing strategies to disseminate their information. While that’s happening, players are becoming less and less trusting of the information that they are given, complaining that each and every tidbit released is meant only to hype the product and effectively “pull the wool over the eyes” of the gullible.
In my opinion, this has all primarily come about because of a lack of understanding and transparency. For our part, players on the whole have never really understood the development process and how a game actually goes from the super-awesome put-it-all-in ideas that are floated about in the pre-development stages to the comparatively pared down versions of the game that make it to launch. We have no real idea why features are cut, we just know that they aren’t there in the final release. With that in mind, is it really any wonder that we get upset when the final product isn’t what we were expecting? It isn’t a far leap from there to blame the faceless people behind the scenes.
Conversely, I think that developers, who often get lost in metrics and other statistics when making their games, forget that while looking at and paying attention to the larger numbers may be good business, it isn’t necessarily good customer communication. In fact, it’s terrible customer communication and results in the individual players feeling alienated and angry. Players are individuals with unique tastes and should be respected on that level, not treated as simple statistics.
In both cases, the ultimate solution is to remember that both sides of the equation have human beings behind them who will react in ways that we’re sometimes not going to like.
I’m not saying that there’s a solution right around the corner to any of these issues. I’m not even saying that if we try really hard we can re-capture the kind of communication that made MMOs stand out in the video game crowd. What I am saying is that if something isn’t done, good-natured and healthy MMO communities might become a thing of the past.