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Everyone's A Critic

Jaime Skelton Posted:
Columns Player Perspectives (Archived) 0

It's a stakeout!

There's a World of Warcraft blogger - who I won't name here, although many of you know his name - who drove over 400 miles this week to Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine. Armed with 40 page full-color booklets on his raid design, each of which has cost him $27 to print (which, at a count of 32, is over $800 in printing costs alone), he set up a table outside Blizzard headquarters, begging for people to take his booklet. His goal was to get inside Blizzard's headquarters, and present his ideas for "the perfect raid dungeon" that he had designed, and hopefully nail down a job where he could begin designing the game itself in the process.

This blogger isn't an ex-employee of a game company, or a student of game design. His first MMO was Final Fantasy XI, and his professional experience is completely outside the gaming industry. He's a regular MMO gamer just like you and I. Although, maybe a bit crazier; most of us wouldn't spend over $1,000 to camp outside an MMO's company headquarters in hopes for a job interview.

MMOs have been around with us for over a decade, and consume a lot of our time. According to the Daedalus Project, players spend about 22 hours per week in MMOs. Comparable to a part-time job, those hours are spent doing something players enjoy and pay for through games, subscriptions/item malls, computers, and internet connections.

So it should come as no surprise that these days, it seems like every MMO player is a critic. If you work a job twenty hours a week, every week, sooner or later you're going to learn the infrastructure of the business, decide what you like and what you don't, and develop opinions on what could be better, and what clearly doesn't work. While you may not share those opinions with your boss, you're bound to share those opinions with friends or family.

Playing an MMO is only moderately different. Instead of a work activity, playing MMOs is a leisure activity, one we pay to do instead of getting paid. We are also far more removed from the infrastructure, and rely on the words of those inside the industry to reveal what's going on behind the scenes. Even then, we are often left yearning for more transparency and a little less rhetoric.

Make yourself heard!

The main difference between a part-time employee and a part-time MMO gamer, however, is experience in the field itself. The employee is not the customer; they know how to serve the customer and know the operations of their business. The gamer, however, is the customer - most have never done graphics, programming, scripting, or development. In terms of customer service, our opinions as gamers are nothing more than comment cards in the suggestion box: data collected, glanced at, and only the exceptionally insightful looked at.

And it's no wonder; read any forum long enough and you'll see that outside of the "QQ" crowd who follow the adage "Nerf everyone else but me," many suggestions are coated in too much selfishness and optimism, and not enough understanding of balance and core game mechanics. It's true, gamers have an intimate understanding of game play; we have the best understanding of quality.

But can that make up for a lack of knowing how to make an MMO? Honestly, it's hard to say. While it's clear to see that some companies value player data and communication highly, there's no solid proof that quantifies how much player feedback they use in their decisions. And let's face it, we're going to give companies our opinion whether they like it or not.

The point that I'm getting at is that all MMO gamers are critics in varying degrees, and that includes me. Like most of you, I haven't ever worked at a game company, and that makes putting my opinions in front of thousands of like-minded, opinionated people daunting. I'm just another player, one who's been immersed in the MMO lifestyle for over a decade, playing, testing, and reviewing MMOs. Throughout beta tests and live feedback, I've learned the tricks of how to be heard.

Want a better chance of being heard? Here are a few simple tips:

  1. Write intelligibly. Not only is good grammar and spelling extremely helpful in communicating your point, but so is thoughtful writing. Re-read your message aloud before you send it off via email or a forum post. Offer counter-points to potential opposition. Speak logically – don't talk with your head in the clouds. A well-written post will grab attention, even if its ideas are poorly developed.
  2. Don't assume your ideas are easy to implement. There are things behind the scenes you may not understand, like how server loads work or how complicated it is to program a customizable three-step dance routine. Admit what you don't know, suggest what you may think work, and be open to feedback that gives you more insight. When you do get more insight, revise your ideas to a new working model.
  3. Think of the “big picture.” It's hard to keep everything in perspective, and the more minute the change is you want to suggest, the probability you're going to overlook related issues grows. A change to one class can affect every other class; a change to a single PvE or PvP mechanic can completely alter the way people play the game. Consider the consequences, and address them.
  4. This place is 14% less secure than Blizzard HQ, honest.

  5. Treat every MMO individually. If MMOs were children, you wouldn't spank your second child, Billy, because he doesn't want to paint rainbows like his older sister Sarah. MMOs should be different, and they should be treated as if they are, even when a lot of similarities are present. Just because one MMO is more popular, more profitable, or in other ways “better” via your point of view, doesn't mean that another is worse because it is built differently. Draw comparisons to other MMOs only when it enhances your argument, and explain why the other game's system is better or worse, and what lessons can be learned while keeping individuality.
  6. It's never personal. Don't take a lack of response to your suggestion, or a response you don't like, personally. While this is the internet, game companies are businesses and your feedback is treated professionally. Don't be the customer who storms out in a screaming huff because you didn't get your way.

As for the blogger I mentioned? He was politely turned away, reminded that his best avenues were via portfolio building and resume submission, and that player content submissions are shredded for legal reasons. Keep that in mind if you were thinking about packing up and knocking on the door of your favorite game company.


Jaime Skelton