Over the last couple of weeks, MOP’s Eliot has pointed his Vague Patch Notes column at some friendly (and amusing) advice for MMO studios, including when it’s OK to piss off the fans and when they should probably just stop talking. For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I thought it would be fun to take a page from the column and summon up some other advice. No one of us is an expert, of course, but together, maybe we can dispense some good-natured tips on how to deal with, well, us. What one piece of relatively general advice would you like to give to MMO devs?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Real simple: free in-game stuff. COVID especially highlights this, but also when you mess up, give out free stuff, especially if you’re making money off of microtransactions. Now, I know your financial people are probably feeling as they sensed a million potential sales cry out in terror, but hold up a moment. It’s 2020. “Woke” is a thing. People have gotten better at protesting, but worse, they’ve gotten better at dropping stuff and jumping on to the next hot thing.
When you give out free stuff to active accounts every so often, people stick with you longer. I’ve stuck with games for months after I was done playing them “just in case.” And honestly? There usually is one or two events that will get me reinvested. I played Fire Emblem Heroes for years before I stopped actively playing it, simply because it’s one of the most generous F2P games I’ve experienced, with fun content. And boy did I ever spend cash on that game!
But Nintendo also gives stuff out for mistakes I’m sometimes not even aware of. That makes me feel good. It means I can play the game without investing in critiquing communities to warn me about all the ways I’m being ripped off or taken advantage of (gamble-box mechanics aside). When I am aware of a mistake and the company does nothing except refuse to talk to players/press seriously (influencers are basically corporate reps imo), I’ll stop spending. Not just in that moment, but in the future too. I’m not alone on that either. I know some people will pay regardless of how bad you are, but those are whales who tend to drop off as soon as they feel they’ve wasted their time, rather than consistent spenders.
When you mess up and throw me a bone (not something I can get from basic play but little things that are more premium), I feel the company is serious. I know that that digital treasure chest costs you $0. It’s your bread and butter and you just shove some random stuff in there in hopes that I’m dumb enough to keep spending. But the fact that you did give me something a little nice makes it hard to stay mad. I know you guys can’t always say you messed up because someone will probably sue or something, but I appreciate it. I respect the gesture.
Not only that, but I’ll actually spend more, either at that time or later when you do an event I like. I know my games aren’t free, so I’ll pay for stuff for myself or friends to help support you, and I have friends who do the same. When you mess up and don’t own up to it, when I have to go through you customer service three times to get my $1 item back that your system bugged out and lost, I withhold my $10-$20 purchase next time I get the urge. I remind myself, “These guys don’t care. Make them earn it.”
So those $3 a week gifts to try to get me to keep playing? Not only do they work, but I pay you guys extra to show my support for you. Don’t underestimate freebies, especially when you mess up.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I wanna touch on one that Justin and I discussed on the podcast this week. By and large, you get the audience you cater to, so get it right and get it right early. Lay down the law on what behavior is acceptable, or toxic superfans will eat you and the rest of your potential audience alive and it’ll be too late to fix it.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m going to be honest, I don’t know that advice I give should ever be taken seriously, especially by folks who do a job that I have no experience in. But if I had to offer something, it’s to not be afraid of player creativity.
This isn’t shorthand for “make a lawless gankbox and call it ’emergent gameplay.'” I mean don’t get in the way of players making creative things with the tools given them. In fact, devs should encourage and expound on that. Whether it’s through creative tools like mission makers or map/housing locales, out-of-game things like resources or fanzines, or using abilities and items in-game to creatively surmount a challenge (within reason and EULA, of course), then let them have it.
Oh, also, bring back CC classes, for the love of crow.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Be players of your MMO. Be players of other MMOs. Try to look at the game through the eyes of people who aren’t developers and know all the systems through-and-through. Just because you understand your gearing or character progression system doesn’t mean it’s not an incomprehensible enigma to many of your players. Be accessible and be honest. And it’s always better to have a well-informed plan than to be reactionary.
Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): Hire the very best PR person you can find and put them between your team (including the boss) and your fans. You need someone who can take all the heat without taking it personally, and who can deliver news, especially bad news, to fans in a way that keeps them onboard. If they have a background in conflict resolution as well, that might come in handy. Make sure you treat that person or that team of people like the asset they are.
Sam Kash (@thesamkash): Developers shouldn’t take player comments wholesale, but they should consider and acknowledge what people say. Often players are smart and have good ideas. But just as often those ideas are shortsighted and aren’t helpful in the grand scheme of the game. What’s most important is to communicate and acknowledge the ideas that the community is generating. Maybe developers should set up petitions or polls; if enough of the playerbase signs off on a topic, developers can at least comment on it one way or the other.