The Daily Grind: How much should fan communities influence MMO designers?

    
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Let's protest by playing!

The other day I saw a comment on an MMO subreddit that I quite liked; to paraphrase, it basically stated that the system designers don’t care how many upvotes you get on Reddit and will not change their design as a result. And this is true. If you make a topic on a subreddit saying that, say, your favorite class in World of Warcraft should get 10x the health of every other class? You can get all the upvotes, but that will not result in a sudden health buff.

The question, then, is how much fan communities should influence these mechanical designers.

If the unofficial Star Trek Online forums are filled to the brim with people posting threads about mechanical reworks to photon torpedoes, that doesn’t mean those threads have good ideas, but it does indicate that there are problems with photon torpedoes. Or it indicates that a whole lot of people are unhappy about something, which might even be a case where the previously too-powerful photon torpedoes are now jut a reasonable option among many. You don’t want designers making knee-jerk changes based on these threads, but how much should they matter? How much should these sorts of fan communities influence MMO designers?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Bruno Brito

I’m interested in the other side:

Mark, you there? Can you give us a bit of insight on feedback taking and what’s worth and whatnot?

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Anstalt

As you are specifically referencing mechanical designers, I’m going to say that they should ignore the community 99% of the time.

Mechanics are based on pure logic. The designers should have worked everythign out using maths to see whether things are balanced or not. There should be very specific design goals and it should be easy to spot if something is working or not based on the metrics.

The 1% of the time these mechanical designers should listen to the community is when the community points out a mistake.

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Fenrir Wolf

In my opinion? Some, yes, but not directly.

However, I do feel that the structure used by many developers could use a looking at.

I’d suggest using rotating teams, each team with their own leader, for points of obvious contention such as story, gameplay, and balancing. This way, not only does this avoid one team experiencing the fatigue of having to work on this long term, but it combats biases and favouritism.

One balance team leader might buff their favourite class/race combination, only to see that’s been reverted and their least favourite buffed instead. This would mean that the team leaders would have to wheel and deal to reach amicable conclusions, rather than just one bias having ultimate power.

The same is true for the story. You should have writing and design leads with biases for every part of the game, then rotate between them as well.

Finally, you should have representatives which talk to the community to get a feel for the mood, similar to how ZOS does it, but once again you should have a team for each issue to avoid bias gaining control.

Basically? Bias is a big problem, and I feel it’s why most communities feel they aren’t listened to.

Veldara
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Veldara

As someone that’s been on both sides of that fence, it’s a tough question to answer. Speaking from experience, you as a designer will need to listen a lot of voices and find commonalities in what’s being said. Is the Necromancer’s zombies not doing enough dps? What’s reddit saying? What about the official forums? Youtube? Twitch? If they’re all saying the same thing and your theorycrafters within the community are backing it up with numbers, then maybe you should listen.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

I think it’s a two way street. The community needs to at least feel that they are being heard when it comes to the ongoing development of an MMO. The developers, however, need to have a vision and stick to it. The important thing is that the developers also need to have a clear path of communicating with the community on that vision and why things are being created the way they are, and why some things will remain rooted in stone in terms of design and mechanics. Unfortunately, many development studios are lacking in that regard and that is where a lot of animosity between community and developer come from.

I may not like the way a system is designed or disagree with a change that is made to the game, but if the developers are clear about why it is the way it is and honest about their decision, then it’s something I can live with. But they also need to be open to feedback and ideas from the community. Developers are human and humans can make mistakes (admitting when one has made a mistake also goes a long way towards community trust). Developers are gamers too. Sometimes the only difference between someone working in a development studio as opposed to someone sitting at home playing a game is really just a matter of access to the opportunity. There are many bad ideas that come out of a community, but there are also some good ideas as well.

I remember a time in the original Defiance when something was changed to one of the systems in the game and shortly thereafter, the playerbase noticed that whatever system it was (I can’t remember now) was not behaving as it should have according to what the developers said. For weeks, the community screamed (relatively speaking) on the forums that the system was broken and needed to be fixed. For weeks the dev team denied that anything was wrong. Finally, at some point one of the devs went back and looked at the system. He discovered that the system as indeed broken as the community had been saying all along. It turned out to be some sort of typo in the code. If the devs had just listened to the community in the first place and checked on the system in the first couple of days after the posting began, a lot of animosity could have been avoided and everyone could have gotten back to enjoying the game a whole lot quicker.

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Tzendrix of Leng

I think that you’ll find that some developers, like Digital Extremes (the developer of Warframe) can be quite receptive to their customers. I think this probably one of the reasons for their success with Warframe.

MagmaFist
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Kickstarter Donor
MagmaFist

I was going to give my opinion on this topic but then realized it didn’t matter.

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Bruno Brito

Perfection.

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Chris Ochs

Where I’ve worked we tended to listen a lot more to what the data said, what players were actually doing, then what players said on forums. Because the two often just didn’t match up.

For instance it’s common to see players saying ‘everyone’ likes or dislikes something. But players tend to group with like minded players, they don’t actually have any context for the player base at large. They talk to their guild mates and all of them agree on something, and that becomes ‘everyone’.

It’s also not uncommon for a feature to create strong reactions but still be liked by a lot of players. Causing more of the vocal minority to post about the subject.

What has worked really well is structured feedback like polling, and in game. Jagex does this really well. Not only is the data better, it makes players understand that what their circle of friends like or dislike, might not match with the player base as a whole.

So I think including players in the process is a win, it’s just what is the smart way to do it.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

Metrics are certainly useful, but they also shouldn’t be the be all and end all.

Sometimes many people do a thing or use a thing because no decent alternative exists, not because it is favourable which in metrics data shows it being really used or popular when in fact the reasons for that are entirely UN popular.

Raw Data alone is rarely a whole picture it has to be weighed alongside what the community are also saying in order to get the specifics of the situation relating to the data.

I think developers should ask thier communities or use feedback questionnaires or polls (although polls are fairly simplistic and do not allow for expounding upoon the reasons for why something is good or bad, works or not etc..) as you say more often in order to get a fuller picture of a situation rather than rely on pure data alone which as noted can be entirely misleading because it lacks context only figures.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

The Developers know the mechanics of building a game, and we know what we like to play and why as consumers.

As such it would be remiss to ignore either parties contribution to the whole and final details of a product.

Most of the games that have fallen flat on thier face have done so because they have failed to take any notice of what thier potential customers want or wanted and instead did thier own thing and in turn failed to garner any interest or income as a result leading to a games demise.

As with most things in life it is a balancing act of providing what is wanted with what can be done technologically and financially.

Bel
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Bel

I have what I think is a funny/interesting anecdote that relates to fans influencing the developers of their game.

I was reading a forum post for one of the MMOs that I play and I found this thread where the posters were discussing something that they didn’t like about the game (I don’t remember what they didn’t like). Eventually the community manager stopped by and told them that they had talked to the developers and the developers said that they were happy with the current state of things and definitely were not going to change anything. The forum posters completely ignored the community manager’s comment. They just continued their conversation. They weren’t arguing or insulting each other – they were just having a genuine discussion about something that they all agreed they didn’t like, but didn’t understand or agree on why they didn’t like it.

The community manager popped in a few more times to re-affirm their previous statement – there were no plans to change anything. And, every time, the posters completely ignored the community manager and just carried on with their discussion. After several more pages of posts, the community manager eventually came back and said that the devs had reconsidered and were going to look into some different options for addressing the issue.

I honestly don’t recall if the posters even acknowledged that last post from the community manager. But, I remember thinking how odd it had played out. By just having a friendly conversation with each other and not engaging with the developers at all – no polls, no pleas, no threats – they eventually got the developers to listen.