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Tales from the Neighborhood: The Influence of Players on Game Design

By Jessica Cook on June 16, 2015 | Columns | Comments

The Influence of Players on Game Design

It has been a strange couple of weeks for World of Warcraft players. First there was the brief mention that flying would not come to Draenor, and the ensuing frustration from many players. Just as that tempest started to calm down, Blizzard came back with a blog post explaining that the producers were revising their plan. Players will be allowed to fly in the new expansion zones, but only after completing a meta-achievement that involves gaining reputation, completing quests, finding treasure, and more.

Of course when there’s drama and major news for any MMO, much less one of the largest ones, the blogosphere is on the case. Much virtual ink has been spilled in the past week on the subjects of the viability of in-game flying, proper avenues of communication between developers and players, and if the current compromise is satisfactory for more WoW subscribers.

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Developer Vision Faces Off Against Player Experience

Wilhelm from The Ancient Gaming Noob put together a short list of blog posts about flying in Warlords of Draenor, and shared his own thoughts on the issue. One of his statements in particular inspired an entire second round of blog responses from the community and a lot of deep thought:

For me, the great unanswered question in all of this remains how much control over their game should a developer be allowed, whether or not the dev’s view of how their game should be played should trump the player’s view, whether MMO studios be dictating a “right way” to play and should players accept that or not?

It’s a fascinating question and one that seems particularly apt when looking at the debate over flying in Draenor: how much of an MMO belongs to the players, and how much should be left in the hands of the developers?

On the one hand, the developers and publishers are professionals, with years of training and experience.  They have a high-level view of their game that few players could begin to understand. The game exists only through their hard work, and they have actual numbers and analytics to know what effect design decisions actually have on players.

A game is the work of developers. It’s their profession, their vision. Arguing that developers should be forced to implement the decisions of their players even if they disagree seems short-sighted at best and a little mean at worst.

On the other hand, the MMO genre in particular only exists with a critical mass of players. A healthy server population is essential, and MMOs rely on player-generated content more than most other games. Players volunteer hundreds of hours to running guilds, creating content guides, and telling stories through role play. They craft goods to fill the Auction House and create epic battle stories by facing off against each other in PvP.

It’s the hard work of developers that create the framework of an MMO, but arguably it’s the players that breathe life into the game.

So when you have a situation where the vision of the developers and the demands of the players go in opposite direction, whose opinion should carry more weight?

My personal inclination is to give more credence to the developers in a situation like this. I think often we players feel like our individual experiences are representative of the entire playerbase, and for the most part that’s not true. Most players don’t read blogs or even visit sites like MMORPG.com. They probably don’t read the official forums or follow developers on social media. Developers and publishers simply have a better high-level view of what is happening in their games than the players.

That being said, I think that if a developer’s vision goes off in a direction that players don’t like as much, they should absolutely share their opinion in the designated channels and stop playing (and paying) if they remain unsatisfied.

It’s an interesting issue, though, and one with no easy or set answers.

Around the Blogosphere

The most recent developments in WoW’s Draenor flying saga and Wilhelm’s thought-provoking post both fuelled a number of bloggers this week.

Bhagpuss from Inventory Full took the topic and related it to a previous similar debate in the world of literary academia in his post “Flying in Draenor: An Academic Question”. This is a lengthy but extremely interesting bit of writing, and a good reminder that questions of author intent have been discussed before in other creative mediums and aren’t just a gaming problem.

Rohan from Blessing of Kings reviews the new meta-achievement solution in his post “The Flight Compromise”. He notes that this solution plays nicely to the common belief from players that the more effort one puts into getting a reward, the greater that reward is. WoW players have been talking about how important flying is, so having to do an impressively long chain of events to obtain the skill makes a lot of sense.

Since we’re talking about the blogosphere’s response to the new meta-achievement I feel I should include my own contribution from my blog Herding Cats: “Blizzard Convinces Players to Accept MMO Attunements”. In the past WoW players (after The Burning Crusade) have been extremely dismissive of attunements, complaining that they are gatekeepers and just grind for grind’s sake. It’s a little amusing from the perspective of an attunement fan to see that there’s not a lot of difference between an acceptable meta-achievement and an unacceptable attunement chain.

In non-flying news, the epic Steam Summer Sale started this week and Psyche has created a list of “Games You Shouldn’t Miss in the Steam Summer Sale”. The list covers a lot of great games in a variety of genres, and if you’re wondering what to buy you should definitely check it out.

Finally, Azuriel from In An Age has a couple of interesting questions for us to ponder: if you were going to jail for the next 10 years and could only take one (offline) game with you, which would you pick? If you found that one easy to answer, consider this: if you could only play 3 online games for the rest of your life, which ones would you choose? Azuriel makes the very interesting point that the games we think would last the longest are not necessarily the ones we’re enjoying right now.

And that’s the news from the blogosphere this week! If you know of a blog post that you think should be highlighted here, leave a link in the comments or let me know on Twitter at @Liores.

Jessica Cook / Jessica "Liore" Cook is a longtime MMO blogger, fan, aficionado, and community goodwill ambassador. She hosts the MMO podcast Game On, and writes the weekly column: Tales from the Neighborhood. You can read more at www.lioreblog.com.