WoW Factor: The player council is not the solution to World of Warcraft’s ills


So World of Warcraft is going to establish a player council to offer feedback to the developers. What a terrible idea with already poor implementation and a generally negative vibe.

That assessment might strike you as a little bit negative, due in no small part to the fact that it’s pointedly negative. Like, on some level this has got to be a good thing, right? Sure, it’s kind of shameful that the game has only thought to do this after it’s been around for years, but the point is that it’s happening at all, right? Better late than never, isn’t that true?

The problem is that it’s possible for the implementation to be bad enough for “never” to be the correct option, and this whole idea runs into the very central problem that it’s based on bad logic and weak base assumptions. So let’s unpack this, starting by recapping exactly what the player council that Blizzard is proposing will actually do. Here’s a hint: not much.

While I’m not going to directly quote the bullet list that was posted in the original announcement, I encourage you to read through it just to verify what I’m already saying here. Regardless, I’m going to summarize the process that Blizzard is outlining. Council members will be granted access to a special forum visible to all, where some topics may be started by developers or community managers. There’s also the promise of vague facilitation of some private discussions without details.

The emphasis on “may” there is all me because that’s the crucial element. Topics may be started by official sources. There’s no actual strict plan for direct engagement via this council, just the possibility that you might get to bring things up directly to developers in forum topics everyone can view.

Herein lies the central and most obvious problem with the formation of this specific type of player council, which is simply a lack of any need for this format. The problems that WoW has at the moment are varied and sundry, but one problem that the developers do not have is a lack of feedback. Literally part of my job is keeping an eye on discussions about the game and what the community is saying, and I could (and have) outline the biggest pain points players are experiencing with relative ease. Between player blogs, the forums, community sites, and just listening to discussion within the game… the feedback is already there.

This is not salvation.

What Blizzard seems to lack is twofold. The first is effective (or sufficient) community managers to actually distill and provide a useful portrait of this feedback for the developers to unpack; this is in no small part due to the fact that Blizzard keeps laying off people not directly related to development. The second is a developer culture willing to listen.

Heck, we don’t even have to speculate on the latter; we’ve seen the same reports as you about the secret private Blizzard feedback forums and influencer channels that were open to Blizzard-selected community members and theorycrafters since the early 2010s, which apparently devolved into chaos over time as Blizzard became increasingly resistant to feedback. “We were given special instructions and templates on how to phrase our feedback so as not to annoy or hurt the devs feelings,” one participant says. “Most notably, it wasn’t allowed for us to phrase it like criticism and we were told to avoid words like ‘imbalanced,’ ‘broken,’ ‘overpowered,’ etc.”

You might argue that a player council is, at least theoretically, a chance to solve the former problem by providing people who will distill feedback and offer it to the development staff. That’s already skeevy insofar as it’s asking players to do a professional job for free, but the problem also comes down to the selection of this council. It’s entirely down to Blizzard who gets the job, and these people serve for a year.

Let’s say that I’m a relentless fan of everything that Ion Hazzikostas has done with the game and have no criticisms of anything except the lack of an official channel for advertising boosting runs. There’s no actual mechanism in place to keep Blizzard from selecting me as a council member, and I’m not beholden to actually providing any useful feedback for the team on behalf of the other players. In other words, without any transparency or player input, Blizzard has made a “player council” that is under no obligation to actually represent players. It’s just composed of players.

But let’s put that to one side and assume that the people who are selected are all actually representative of player feedback (which, again, is available in many different avenues already and doesn’t require the player council). I realize that having faith in Blizzard right now feels like a pretty massive lift, but just bear with me for a moment. Even if any of this is true, there’s no actual reason to assume that this will change anything about the game because it still comes down to whether the developers actually want to do it.

To use an obvious example, let’s look at deterministic gearing. It’s something players have literally asked for directly at BlizzCon live events during Q&A sessions, and the response has been somewhere between denial and active mockery. Having all the feedback in the world won’t make a difference if the people you’re offering feedback to don’t like what they’re hearing because they are holding all the cards and have all the actual power.

And once again, we’re stuck with a player council that’s useless because even with good feedback being offered to the developers, it’s being ignored. Which is where we are right now without any council.

Fine, whatever.

Between the selection process as it stands now and the sheer problem of the culture behind the designers, this feels less like a genuine effort to change an area wherein the game is not functioning and more like… well, a stunt. Blizzard gets a thing to point to where the staff can say “see, we’re listening, really we are!” without having to actually change its approach at all.

I’ve seen some people even suggest that this functions as a potential hate sink for Blizzard – that if issues aren’t addressed, the developers can claim the player council failed to inform them rather than the real issue being developer arrogance. While I don’t think this is entirely a successful venture even if tried (remember, the player forums will still be viewable, so others can see if issues are brought up), I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question, either.

When you consider that a project like this takes time and staff to run and effort to make into an actual thing, to boot… yeah, this feels like a needless stunt to get feedback that’s already publicly available without being hidden or difficult to find. And it’s unlikely to improve the quality or quantity of feedback the team already has access to, either. It makes players feel like something is changing while all of the practical issues remain fundamentally identical.

The worst part is that there are situations where this could actually work. Heck, even the current format could work if players had any reason to believe that Blizzard would act upon feedback received. Unfortunately, there’s just too much history in which good feedback has been offered but the developers have opted not to act for varied reasons, made even worse with the recent Hazzikostas interview in which he basically said “well, our idea about covenants was a good one, but maybe we should have changed our minds sooner.”

I’d like for the player council to work well and be a net benefit for the game. But at the end of the day, the problem is not that the developers need a mechanism for receiving feedback; it’s that they need incentive to act upon it. And this doesn’t seem to be the mechanism for making that happen.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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