The Daily Grind: How much power should ‘vocal minorities’ have over MMO development?

    
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My ability to remember when I should screenshot things is still terrible, but that's always been true.

Back at the beginning of the year, I saw a great thread on Twitter from a game dev who illustrated why listening to vocal minorities can sometimes spell doom. “We shipped Planetary Annihilation on Win, Mac, and Linux,” he said. “Linux uses were a big vocal part of the Kickstarter and forums. In the end they accounted for <0.1% of sales but >20% of auto reported crashes and support tickets (most gfx driver related). Would totally skip Linux.”

As an MMO player, I couldn’t help but think about MMOs that have strayed from their path because they listened a bit too much to vocal minorities either within the dev team or within the playerbase – even the alpha playerbase, or so the story goes for games like WildStar, which to most folks watching veered wildly off course from its original announced design into a hardcore raiding format that most MMO gamers did not want to play. I suspect you can see the effect in certain crowdfunded MMOs too.

How much power should “vocal minorities” have over MMO development, and when have you seen it go way, way wrong?

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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Scott Roy

Hurgh…. check the Hell Let Loose forums. There are people who are irate over the last test session, acting as though that one map is going to be the future of the whole game.

They complained that a heavily forested map caused them to miss squads of opposing players slipping past them and that the tanks were too susceptible to AT rounds.
Guess what the REAL battles of Hurtgen were like… but they have been vocal.

I do hope devs don’t give forum posters too much credit. haha

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Tim Anderson

Speaking as a game developer:

Vocal minorities are nothing more than whispers on the wind to us. The Linux thing is brilliant; we have also had a very vocal minority clamoring for Linux builds, but when we analyze the data they make up less than half of one percent of our total audience, which are by far and large PC users.

That, and our Linux users are plagued with bugs that our PC users never see. Same with our Mac builds/users. Fraction of a fraction of our audience, and plagued with bugs the PC users don’t have. At present, we are still building them so we can be familiar with the process of building out everything and analyzing data from the bugs, but at some point we will likely drop both Linux and Mac unless we see a significant surge in the amount of users who run our game on those devices.

We are far more interested in data-driven decision making, and our data does not come from vocal minorities. It comes from industry sources on top of our own data collection.

We have ideas, we then check those ideas against the industry, we check against our own data, and we then work on what coincides with our desires in terms of the game we are building.

We have absolutely changed some things along the way due to data. For example, originally we were going to rely only upon a bulletin board system within taverns as the primary means for helping players find groups with each other.

After a half a dozen consultations with industry leaders in the MMORPG space, we determined that the decision was limited in its scope. We knew we didn’t want an automatic matchmaking system, but we also realized that we were being too strict in limiting the “how” people were able to find groups.

The compromise was then designing a LFG/LFM system similar to what EQ1/EQ2 have in that players have a panel where they can list themselves as LFG or a group LFM, along with their specific class/archetype, and from there they can reach out and send private messages + arrange transportation.

Which then led to us adding something in we hadn’t originally put into the design: a limited teleportation/fast travel system to allow for players to better facilitate the “getting to” a destination, without compromising our desire for a large world where travel was meaningful and dangerous.

The vocal minority would have you believe that you cannot have a group-based game unless you also have an automatic matchmaker, similar to FFXIV or SWTOR or WoW. And yet the data shows the complete opposite: mass market games can benefit from having a matchmaker, but they are by no means mandatory for success.

The caveat to everything is that you need to have a system that fits the type of game you are building, and the audience your game is designed for.

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Fenrir Wolf

None. Though I think that the only majority that matters are those who pay their way, the rest are fairweather players who’ll just as easily move onto another game when they don’t get everything their way as they’re spoilt for choice and that entitlement inspires a certain stinginess with contributions.

So how about votes? And I think the only fair way to do this is to weight a person’s voice by how much they contribute. I mean, if you believe in an MMO, it becomes this bizarrely Socialist effort where you’re all contributing money for the continued health of your homeland.

I know that there are even closed species roleplay groups on sites like deviantART who do this, they’ll oft bandy money back and forth, to and fro, depending on whomever needs it.

How would we achieve this in an MMO?

I’ve brought this idea up many times before and I wish at least one MMO developer would try it out. Instead of having forums which — let’s be fair — only a tiny minority of the community bothers to visit as your primary means of having the community decide for you? Create a poll!

Place a link to the poll in the game’s launcher so that everyone has a chance to see it, make a big deal out of everything you’re seeking community input on. And weight the power of each vote on how much that person has contributed to the game.

I don’t think that’s unfair at all, those who pay their way should be catered to. In the past, the ones who’ve paid the most are second class citizens. It’s tiring paying for the raids, dungeons, and PvP arenas of others.

And every roleplayer whale out there knows this pain. It just gets really tiring. So instead of that, ask the players what they want. Communicate via polls, and then use those to decide the future direction of the game.

This way, MMO developers would be able to judge what their most profitable groups really think and want. They would be able to properly serve them and grant them the dignity they’ve been denied.

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Scott Roy

I would normally agree with this argument, except I’ve seen firsthand how a game’s development can be ruined by a handful of high paying donors.

Look at WWIIOL.
The Axis air game was NEVER balanced. The flight model for the 109 was borked for over ten years and while the Allied donors kept throwing money around, (and insults on the forums,) nothing changed. It still hasn’t changed, even though all of the Axis players have left.

They now have like 20 committed Allied players who demand better toys -and get them.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

I loved Elektra in Marvel Heroes, up until Gazillion listened to this vocal extreme minority of players. There simply weren’t many people talking about her on the forums, I don’t know the total number, but it was under 6 people total and the suggestions mostly came from literally 2 of them.

Gazillion listened to those two people and totally screwed up the character and made her so she wasn’t fun anymore. They took away her teleport because these two said her being able to teleport wasn’t realistic for her, but that ruined a huge amount of fun for playing her, and most of her moves were still based on teleporting so it didn’t even make sense without redoing all her moves (which they did not do).

“Sure it’s fun and she’s had it for years the entire time she’s been in the game, but we’re going to remove her teleport because these 2 people said it didn’t make sense.” Great, now she isn’t fun at all and we lost a huge power she had PLUS you’re doing it because these people said it doesn’t make sense but her skill moves are all still filled with teleports and you didn’t redo them at all! Now she really doesn’t make sense and isn’t fun to play anymore. Thanks for listening to those few vocal people and ruining it for the rest of us Gazillion, not that you’re still around to hear my “thanks”.

I really didn’t understand Gazillion listening to a couple of people and making changes. The vast majority of the player base just didn’t use their forum, but they wanted to listen to the few that did. Maybe this is one of the reasons why they thought the horrible Omega updates and changing the big open PC levels into narrow on track levels and dumbing the game down was a great idea.

They put the nail in the coffin with the Omega update, but they were killing their game with the “BUE” stuff listening to the vocal minority for changes they made there beforehand. Overall the character changes were extremely poorly received and a great many of them came from listening to the small minority that actually went to their forums.

Don’t just oil the squeaky wheel, take care to tend them all.

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Fenrir Wolf

Exactly. That’s why I proposed the vote system. Most of those who play an MMO really don’t bother with the forum. It’s usually a horrible, toxic place that’s best avoided.

And what you’ve mentioned is why I bounced off of Marvel Heroes fairly quickly.

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Santiago Draco

Vanguard is a perfect example and I fear Pantheon is going to be another.

semugh
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semugh

I have Planetary Annihilation on my wishlist just because it’s on linux. When I get some free time I’ll play it thru.

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Sally Bowls

I agree with the premise. Which is why my response to “didn’t listen to the Beta” is that the people who are playing a game a year or two before launch or so different than the target audience of a AAA game that one probably would be better off to do the opposite of what they recommend. E.g. WildStar

Although I agree with Bryan Correll: this argument is a rhetorical device that is only used when the author is in the majority.

Ignore Mac & Linus? I don’t play those. Ergo, Vox Populi! Majority rules!

What if someone were to ask that since the majority of Western PC MMO players are playing WoW and an even larger majority is playing a WoW clone, then shouldn’t devs ignore the vocal minority who want PC MMOs that are not WoW clones?

What if someone were to point out the majority of gamers and gaming revenue come from mobile games, should devs ignore the vocal minority who advocate PC Games?

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Fenrir Wolf

I don’t buy this. Linux users can punch way above their weight when it comes to contributions, I’ve seen it plenty of times. The only reason that wouldn’t happen is if they aren’t really that invested in the game, and in that case I can’t see why devoting resources to them would be helpful.

All we need to do is weight these things based upon contribution. Thus, if Linux users punch above their weight as they do with, say, Humble Bundle? They’ll have earned having development time focused upon them.

Being the majority or not being the majority has never been a good reason to be focused upon. Especially when it comes from a place of entitlement. That’s not how business works.

The only thing that does matter — and I feel you know this — is which groups bring in the most profit.

And that can be Linux users when they believe in the game.

If you can’t amass enough interest? Move along to the next game. This is what those of under-served niches like myself have been doing — and accepting the reality of — for the longest time. I have reasons for it, but I can’t bring myself to play as a human in an online video game.

Call it trauma, call it disgust at homogeneity, or call it whatever you like, really. I tend to just skip over MMOs whose only race choices are human, even if it’s one I’d like. I just simply cannot bring myself to identify online as a human being.

It’s mostly my autism. I’ve been treated like an alien or a subhuman troglodyte all my life. I’ve garnered a serious dose of bodily dysphoria thanks to all of the abuse I’ve had to endure over the course of decades. I’m not quite as enamoured with humanity as most are.

And yet, I accept that developers will do whatever they think is profitable. If they think I’m profitable and cater to me, I’ll give them as much money as I can until they stop respecting me for whatever reason. At that point, I’ll stop and move on. That’s how it is. That’s just the business of it all.

And I’ve had to become accustomed to that. It’s why I’ve accepted that I need to be a whale if I want to get what I desire. This is why many furries are this way as well, fully realising the value and potency of money as an equaliser. It really just doesn’t matter how big or small your group is…

It just matters how much you can pay.

And companies will target those who’re willing to pay the most. If you have the conviction to pay the most and you make that as obvious as you can? You’ll have at least a handful who’ll notice you.

Money talks.

~~ Edit ~~

To explain my position regarding my dysphoria a little further? I’ve been so disparaged by neurotypicals that, to me, choosing a human is very much the same as identifying as a dull, dreary, everyday, homogeneous, verisimilitude-fetishising, and oft bigoted neurotypical.

I emphatically refuse.

These fantasy races can be whatever and whomever I’d need them to be, and cut from a different cloth.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

They should have absolutely no power. The developers should definitely read the feedback of all users but then they should decide based on “how much potential $$$ will adding this feature bring after counting in all the expenses?”, not on which minority was most vocal one.

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NeoWolf

I would say it is less about numbers in a complaint/suggestion and more about the validity of a complaint/suggestion.

So as long as what people are saying IS an issue or worthwhile or VALID point then whether there are a hundred voices in agreeance or just the one it should not matter.

The points validity is always the factor that should matter most not the popularity of the point.

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Bryan Correll

They should pay extra attention to minority opinions in cases where I’m part of the minority.

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Fenrir Wolf

Noap. Don’t even. Not even as a joke. :P

Entitlement is a serious problem in this genre, where people expect everything whilst contributing almost nothing at all.