Control

March 26, 2009 at 6:49 pm (Musings) (, , )

It’s been a while since I last posted and mostly that’s been due to real life stuff. I’m really having a great time in my new job and I have an awesome new apartment in a truly beautiful part of the world but I don’t yet have internet at home. This means that all my personal internet use has to happen at the office during times when I’m not being gainfully employed with actual work.

So, what do we have for you today?

I’ve been following (and sticking my oar into) a debate on Broken Toys about the rights of players ingame. It didn’t start out that way but somehow the to-ing and fro-ing over Blizzard’s new mod policy devolved into an argument about how much control players should have over the game they play.

Now I’d be the first to argue that players should have as much control as possible over the environment they play in but here we are talking about not just the ingame and meta game experience but the way that the game is operated.  And the answer to that is somewhere close to ‘none at all’.

Oh, sure you can have robust community feedback that informs design and production, you can give the players a platform to make their case and that’s all fine and laudable however the operator needs to have the casting vote. Sometimes it’s necessary to do things that your players won’t like for reasons that you can’t adequately explain in public. Sometimes your players are simply wrong and you need to give them what the game needs not what the players say they want.

MMOs foster a strong sense of investment in players by their very nature. Not just the ‘I pay you 15$ a month so you’d better listen to me’ type of stuff but also a deeper level of belonging that comes from fostering a strong community. People feel attached to the game and the communitythey play with and that sense of attachment leads naturally to a sense of obligation regarding the same. Between this investment and sense of belonging, perspectives are often lost. Worse, the situation can devolve to the point where the players feel the game owes them something.

The reality is one that companies are usually unwilling to point out. For the player it’s a game, for the operator it’s a livelihood. No matter how invested the player believes himself to be, ultimately he can walk away whenever he chooses and be no worse off. So, when a developer makes a decision, the only party that can really win or lose is the company itself.

Very often I’ve had to be the person who had to front bad news to a community. For a lot of those times there were very good reasons as to why that bad news had to happen. In almost none of those instances was it possible to properly explain the situation. Many times the decision was better for the game but worse in the short term for the players. You can’t ask people to lay aside their self-interest and do what’s right because 90% of the time they’ll pick the wrong option (the other 10% of the time is when they pick the right path entirely by accident).

I’ve said it before but people are generally bad at expressing what they want. They will point at a symptom and ask for that to be fixed without thinking about the underlying cause. Or they’ll work backwards from a premise to reach a faulty basis and insist on that. Or they’ll simply assume that their own short term self-interest is in the long-term interest of everyone.

This is why you should never listen to what people are suggesting but instead look closely at what they are actually saying.

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2 Comments

  1. robusticus said,

    aight. you used the exact phrase ‘robust community” so I bit. Umm… community, you mean, Norrath?

  2. IainC said,

    I never played/worked on/dealt with EQ so I doubt it.

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