Earlier in March, Jagex did the unthinkable for an MMORPG company: It admitted it was wrong about something. If you’re used to the Blizzards of the world, you know that they seldom admit to making mistakes or misjudging their players; that’s why Jagex’s comments stand out.
In this case, Jagex offered a piece of honesty in saying its Wilderness zone just didn’t work. “[W]e’ve seen very little interest from players in actually wanting that kind of gameplay, with most either treating it as a nuisance, or just an opportunity for even faster, more aggressive spawns to kill,” the studio wrote, saying the Wilderness “was an experiment in whether PVM could achieve the same feeling of unpredictable risk, and the answer, at least for this version, has turned out to be no.”
Thank you! Thank you for coming out and being honest that an idea just got no traction. For this week’s Massively Overthinking, let’s talk about other studios that have done this. Tell me about the times MMO developers admitted they were… wrong.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): This is a great topic because, yeah, it’s quite rare for devs to admit this, especially “AAA” companies. Off the top of my head (and outside of GDC post-mortems where devs can finally spill the tea), I can only vaguely recall devs from Asheron’s Call 1 and 2 admitting to this sort of thing (like how mages and magic were too powerful or certain AC2 classes were broken). Blizzard probably did the same a few times with class balance in WoW and admittedly still does this for Overwatch 2. It’s rarely substantive, but at least it often comes with a plan on righting the past wrongs.
Somewhat related would be admitting to be at fault. That, I think, is far more significant. An example from a non-MMO company would be the recent Pokemon Switch games, which had a bunch of glitches, but all Nintendo could admit to was “that players may encounter issues that affect the games’ performance” and apologized for the “inconvenience.” That wasn’t admitting much, but at least there were reports of Nintendo reps actually giving refunds for digital sales, something almost unheard of from the company. On the more MMO-y side, Orna’s devs just admitted their recent quest event had mixed reviews, so not only will there be some stat changes to the quest rewards but the devs will put out a survey to help them gather data. These are examples from the big boys and indies doing it right, and honestly, the indies can do it so right!
Around the same time Northern Forge was apologizing for the Orna issues, Niantic simply mentioned that the most recent POGO Elite Raids had an “impact” it had to apologize for, but it made this four business days after the event ended, completely ignored the fact that these events had been a failure since October 2022 (which is why we haven’t had articles devoted to them since the second one), and still hasn’t given any indication of how it would be making it up to players. This is the worst way to admit to being at fault/wrong because it’s about as context-sensitive as you can get, avoids a history of getting it wrong, and attaches a To Be Determined apology. You can’t just say “sorry,” and we know corporations are allergic to really owning up to big mistakes, but at least have a plan to make things right when you do issue an apology, devs.
Andy McAdams: While not an explicit, “We were wrong,” I think Elder Scrolls Online and the hard pivot it did after launch was a pretty strong indication by action if not by talk that the studio was wrong with the initial launch of the game. Other than that, it’s actually pretty difficult for me to think of games where companies have openly admitted to missing the mark. Owning your mistakes is a sibling to Accountability, and we all know that companies in general, but especially game companies, are deathly allergic to anything even remotely resembling accountability.
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): The one instance that immediately jumps to mind is the World of Warships community contributor/Missouri event debacle from a couple years ago that led to a scrambled rework of the event, a letter containing a huge list of intended changes, and (some speculate) the removal of Sub_Octavian as the game’s executive producer (though that was presented as “moving to another opportunity”). Whether the game is in a better state now than it was at that time is a matter still up for debate.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): The first one that leaps immediately to mind is the time when the Path of Exile boss came out and said he’d approved a change without fully understanding it and apologized. “I… didn’t actually understand the impact of the change,” he told players. “It was mentioned to me in passing (that we were removing the league monster bonuses and replacing with just quantity), and I didn’t ask any more questions. I was busy, distracted, and should have sought more information. There was not sufficient time to playtest the change properly for feeling. It is unacceptable that I allowed a change like that to make it into the patch without a big chunk of time allocated to making sure the game still feels great afterwards.”
That’s how you do it.
I’m also remembering how Raph Koster admitted he’d been wrong about Ultima Online’s early PvP philosophy.
“The result [of UO’s PK environment] was an exodus driven not only by the more modern 3-D graphics of [EverQuest] but by the safety. Everything I had thought about the impossible admin load of having a PK switch with a large-scale game was disproven in short order, and players wasted no time in telling me bluntly that I had been drastically and painfully wrong. In the name of player freedoms, I had put them through the slow-drip torture of two years of experiments with slowly tightening behavior rules, trying to save the emergence while tamping down the bad behavior. The cost was the loss of many hundreds of thousands of players.”
“I used to think that you could reform bad apples, and argue with hard cases. I’m more cynical these days. […] I used to think that people were willing to act communally for the good of the community. Now I know more about the Tragedy of the Commons and the Prisoner’s Dilemma and think that people are mostly selfish.”
I can think of some devs who should probably learn from his experiments.
Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I don’t know if ArenaNet freely admitted that it messed up with this one, but when the Guild Wars 1 skill Smiter’s Boon got hit with a nerf hammer so hard it became an in-game meta reference, you know the company both messed up and laughed about it.
What happened was that this skill was an essential skill in all PvP, giving Monks double the divine favor bonus when using smiting skills. Divine favor gave extra healing on any skill monks used. Doubling that made it even more powerful. Since smiting skills were mainly for attacking enemies, though, it was mainly meant to be used with smiting skills that could also proc the divine favor bonus on allies. So they basically got a very good heal on top of very good damage without having to put points into… you know, healing magic. After so many nerf passes, it finally got a 90-second cooldown to remove it from play. The patch notes explained that the nerf was explicitly to remove the skill from the game. Isaiah Cartwright, the game’s balance lead, also explained the process of nerfing the skill. In a Reddit post. Ah, good times.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Final Fantasy XIV getting it’s full-on reboot seems like the largest apology ever cranked out by an MMORPG from a certain point of view, even if that apology wasn’t really expressly stated (to my recollection anyway; I can almost feel Eliot tut-tutting at me as I type this).
Beyond that I am extremely hard pressed to think of any sort of moment when a studio admitted it’s wrongdoing in an honest feeling way. And no, Star Citizen’s current meager statements related to it’s 3.18 troubles or other MMOs handing out baubles for server inconveniences don’t meet that mark for me. Those aren’t contrition; they’re damage control at best.
Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I’m the earliest days of Crowfall, it was built very much as a survival sandbox. I mean, it didn’t veer too far away from the sandbox side even at the end, but it was more reliant on survival features originally. One of them was having a hunger meter that players had to keep up with.
After many years of alpha gameplay including it, in 2019 ArtCraft realized that it just wasn’t a fun mechanic for the game. The devs kept some hunger statuses but changed it so that players weren’t constantly having to remove themselves from whatever task they were doing just to go eat.
Tyler Edwards (blog): As the site’s resident New World cheerleader, I’d say its history is composed almost entirely of the devs admitting they’re wrong. One could say they shouldn’t have made so many mistakes in the first place, and I won’t argue too hard with that, but I appreciate their willingness to change and learn from their errors.