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MMOWTF: Behind the Madness

Just in case you can't get enough of my weekly published trash you can read all about the crap that never got it's own article. Enough the blog.

Author: Danmann

Conflicts of interest vs Devs that care about their game

Posted by Danmann Wednesday June 6 2007 at 3:48PM
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"No one can be free from bias, however hard they may try to compensate by applying professional standards of objectivity; for objectivity itself, subjectively appraised, must by nature be an unreliable yardstick" - Andrew Boyd


The recent allegations against CCP, creators of EVE (rigging in-game events and using their GM/Dev powers to further the interest of one player faction over another) caught my attention and I think it brings up a often unasked question: Should Devs be playing a their own game and if so, how involved in player politics can they be without creating a conflict of interest? Both sides of the question have merit, but this isn’t the news so I’m just going to tell you what I think as always.


For those of you who have participated in the early stages of testing or the ongoing testing of future content you might have heard the question raised from quite a different prospective; as in "What the fuck?!? Don’t these guys play their own game?" in response to a ongoing balance or game play issue. From a customer and QA testers prospective it might seem quite ridiculous to have to explain things to designers that anyone who has spent any time actually playing the game would know, but it’s an all too common occurrence that those at the top have little actual experience in the way things work at the ground level. That is not to say that designers are above playing the game they made, but I know from experience that when games are your job, they lose some appeal they might otherwise have had since anything you have to do is rarely as fun as what you want to do, even if they are the same thing.


I’m definitely of the opinion that Devs must play the game they create to have any sense of what changes need to be made and what choices must be made in order to help the game achieve it’s potential. There is no question in my mind that looking at a set of features from a design or marketing prospective is completely different, and sometimes conflicting, with the prospective that a player and customer will have on the decisions that will work best to help the game evolve in the long run. It’s often glaringly obvious when the design priorities are set by someone who has never even logged in, let alone encountered the same issues in the course of a normal game session and many changes to games might have been averted had the button pushers had a bit of game time under their belt.


There is an important difference however in enjoying the virtual world you create and continue to build and actively taking a hand in the course of it’s politics in the guise of a normal player. In a perfect world considerations like, greed, envy, bias and spite would have no bearing on a persons actions in game, but Devs are human just like us (Although sometimes I have my doubts about those guys from NP Cube) and despite everyone’s best intentions it’s impossible to not have a few examples of favoritism. The conflict of interest comes into play when you have people in positions of power in player factions with access to information that can be used to benefit their team. You can’t expect to have everyone operate on the honor system without someone stacking the deck: it’s the sad reality not just some kind of aberrant corruption of a perfect system.


Most developers aren’t that naive and so they take precautions such as monitoring employee accounts and restricting access to programs that aren’t required for their job, but really this is just another system that is open to abuse and favoritism. While it is critical that the Devs share in the ongoing game experience with the players to some degree, by doing so you open yourself to situations like the one CCP finds themselves in right now. Of course they can simply wield the mighty EULA like a blade and dismiss all charges without response. Instead they choose to address the concerns with an investigation. While some may consider it a forgone conclusion that they would find no wrongdoing, they have at least shown that they are able to admit when an employee is in the wrong in the past even if they only received a slap on the wrist.


Perhaps the best way to mitigate this kind of issue would be to allow those with out of game knowledge to only play on a separate server so that the effects of any kind of inappropriate rigging would only have a limited or negligible impact for your customers. While it doesn’t prevent Devs from creating an account on the sly anyway it does imply more serious repercussions for the offender. Most companies prevent their own employees or families and friends from winning any contest run by them so I don’t see how this would be an unreasonable compromise. The decision rests with each individual company and sometimes hard choices need to be made in order to protect your investment and maintain the integrity and customer support that most Devs work so hard to cultivate.


Ultimately players need to vote with their wallet instead of singing a sob story. I won’t ever play game that I feel cheats me out of my fair rewards, but for some players I guess it’s easier to be a victim than a martyr. It’s a shame to have real life things effect our games and hobbies since the goal is often to escape exactly that, but who said life is fair? Personally I rather have the Devs jump into the fray with or against me rather than make big decisions without a deep understanding of their game that only comes from hands-on play...I’m willing to roll with the consequences if they are.