Power of the People?

Posted: August 24, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts, The Gaming Industry

If you aren’t going to say something directly to someone’s face, than don’t use online as an opportunity to say it. It is this sense of bravery that people get when they are anonymous that gives the blogosphere a bad reputation. 

-Mena Trott, Times Online, 12-06-06

Power of the People?

Read enough forums long enough and you’ll start to notice the patterns.  You’ll see posts on the same subjects over and over again.  Sometimes you’ll see multiple versions of what essentially amounts to the same basic idea being debated across several different posts on the same page.  Even within a discussion, you’ll start to see multiple posts from the same individuals basically rehashing their own arguments again and again.

As players, we take it on ourselves to try to not only suggest or critique ideas, but we try to do so loudly and often, as if post counts are an indication of strength. 

So why do we do it?

One of the most often cited reasons for continual postings on a subject is to “get the developers attention”.  There’s this thought process at work here which seems to feed on the idea that simply saying the same thing often enough and loudly enough will result in positive reinforcement.  If developers or community moderators actually respond (even negatively), this is seen as a reinforcement of the tactic – obviously someone in power noticed the post, after all.  This, in turn, leads invariably to more of the same.

A related, though different justification is often used which references some type of “fear”.  Someone posts an idea that someone else dislikes, and thus the repetitious posts come out decrying the idea in the hopes of virtually shouting down the idea.  This method often comes chock-full of personal attacks and name calling just to drive home the point on how “stupid” or “n00bish” someone must be to have come up with THAT idea.  A variation on the theme is the online team smackdown where multiple friends or allies come together to take turns decrying the idea, sometimes in an intentionally coordinated offensive.

Players resort to petitions or polls to try to prove to the developers (or each other) that a certain idea is popular/unpopular, to someone equate that popularity to the value of an idea.  It’s fallacious to do so, because obviously popular ideas aren’t always the best ideas – but that doesn’t stop us from trying, all the same.

I’m not above these tactics, though I’d love to say I am.  Just as many of you are constantly fighting the same battles over and over again online, I’m just as guilty of trying to speak my mind, even if I occasionally have to speak over others to do so.

Oh sure, I try not to fall into the muck all that often, and I certainly don’t seem to be moderated as much as many players (though it does happen from time to time), but that’s only because I’ve learned the rules of the forums I choose to post at (whereas many players seem either ignorant, apathetic, or even aggressively hostile toward such rules).  However, I’ll freely admit that when I post, it’s with an eye slanted toward my own ideas on what a “good” MMO should be. 

Most of us are guilty of this, whether we admit to it openly or not.  Developers know this, too.  They’re not nearly as gullible or stupid as many players seem to think.  Just as Saavedra gets offended when he sees advertisements for Community College courses in Game Design which depict developers as some ridiculous stereotyped caricature, so too do developers likely get offended whenever they are referenced by a forum poster who paints them in some sort of dimwitted light.

Let’s face it.  We all like to think we can do a better job than the next guy.  We all like to think we’re just brimming with incredible ideas.  I know I do.  Anyone one of my 11 loyal readers (hi Mom!) could tell you that I keep filling this blog up with tons of ideas that aren’t exactly cutting edge.

Why keep pontificating?  Why keep posting on forums?

Because once in while, we get a gem.  Once in a great while, we see one of those gems make it into a game.  Whether or not it was actually our ideas that in some way were a cause for such a feature to make it live, the fact that we came up with something before seeing it in development is enough to convince many of us that we’re generally on to the right track.  And seeing our ideas in action (whether or not it was actually our idea, or just a lucky coincidence) is a validation. 

And yet, even then, why do we keep posting and referencing the developers directly?

Personally, I think it’s because of the same reasons we like to sit around and talk contracts and slumps regarding our favorite sports teams and celebrities.  It’s a type of Monday morning quarterbacking that gives us the chance to feel empowered a bit over the metagame of MMO design.

What?  You don’t think game design is a game unto itself?  Of course it is.  Chris Cao actually made a comment about “playing the forums” last year on the Star Wars Galaxies official message boards.  As politically incorrect as it might sound, he wasn’t too far off base there.

There are a lot of us – myself included – who play the forums.  We play the metagame of MMO design.  Look at the influx of blogs over the past year or two on the subject of MMO design?  Did all of these bloggers come from within the industry…or are we on the outside looking in?

Long before blogging became a way for everyone’s voice to be heard online, message boards were typically the fastest way to find a voice with the developers of the MMO’s we’ve become so emotionally enthused about.  Why is it so important to be heard by the developers of these games?

Why, because the games change, of course.

Every PC game receives patches from time to time.  However, with most of these games, the patches are often optional.  If I don’t want to spend any munitions for my Airborne company to received Supply Drops in Company of Heroes, I just uninstall the patch.  If I don’t want my Terminators nerfed in Dawn of War, I just don’t install the patch. If I don’t want to see changes to my Panzers in Civilization IV, I just ignore the recommened update.

With MMO’s, this is different.  You want to play, you’ve got to patch.  It’s not optional most of the time.  The Monk you played last week won’t be the Monk you play next week.  The world shifted and the Earth moved, bucko.  Don’t like it?  Stop playing the game…

…or just head to the forums.  Where everyone has a voice.  Where you can directly vent your rage and angst against the people who altered the code and made you patch.

For many players who provide feedback on message board forums, this is the closest many of us get to player generated content for most games. In a virtual world where you often don’t have any real power over the changes that rock your fictional world, the forums provide an outlet.  And just as it provides a source whereby reactions may be posted, so too does it provide a location to proactively suggest further changes.  Of course, when your changes leave other players feeling similarly disenfranchised, don’t be surprised when they turn that angst back around and shift their sights toward you, instead of the developers.

As players, we may not be able to design an in-game quest, but we can potentially let the developers know of an idea for a quest which may or may not make it in game.  We may not be able to directly alter the mechanics of this spell or that, but we can sure make certain that our opinions on the matter are plastered all over the official forums for the developers to see.  We may not be able to ignore the latest patch if we want to play our favorite MMO, but we can definately raise our voice in frustration where we feel the developers are going to see it (and possibly react to it).

It’s seen as a power of the people.  In a way, it’s the ultimate activism.  You may not be able to physically drive across the country (or fly across the world) to surround their company HQ with picket lines, but boy can you let the world know about your complaint/idea right there within their online walls.

You may not be able to petition the king anymore, but at least you can shout at his virtual tower from the comfort of your living room, right?  If you don’t like a design decision, you can now shout out how someone should lose their job.  If you’re not happy with a particular game mechanic, you can insult someone for thinking of such a thing.  If you’re not happy with an idea or argument that another player has posted, you can just attack that player with all the words you can think of – and frequently several that require no thought at all! 

But does it make a difference?  Does it drive home the point?

When I attended the first SOE Community Summit for Everquest 2, I asked then Community Manager, Steve Danuser, how I’d been chosen.  I honestly couldn’t FATHOM how I’d been picked from the hundreds of thousands of players in the game.  Frankly, I was a bit intimidated by some of the other players who were there.

He told me that those of us picked weren’t necessarily chosen because we were loud.  We were picked because we “tended to have a higher signal to noise ratio”.  Now, maybe it was just the beer talking, but it sounded to me as if he was admitting to me at the time that developers read the forums.  At the time, this was a pretty crazy idea.  After all, there were tens of thousands of posts being made daily on the forums at that time.  How could the developers have time to read through them all.

My theory?  They don’t.  They probably get very good at skimming specific forums, and just like the rest of us, they probably pass along their favorite posts to other developers in the office.  Maybe they bring up ideas at meetings, or quote passages from particular posts with intracompany emails.

They may not constantly point out their favorite posts publically, but they’re just as human as the rest of us.  And since they are, they’re likely just as drawn to the drama of those forums as the rest of us.  But drama doesn’t power change typically – ideas do. 

In other words, the developers do read the forums.  They read lots of forums.  One or two occasionally read this blog (usually to find ways to tease me later), and I’d imagine that they might even enjoy wisecracks and forum drama as much as the rest of us do.  But in general, they’re probably spending their time picking through the posts which might seem to amount to little more than noise – bickering, drama, competitive my-game-can-beat-up-your-game posts.  They probably skip over a lot of it, because chances are they’re looking for signal, not noise.

Power of the people?  Nah…it’s not a democracy.  Think of it as more of the power of the signal. 

 …And as Mr. Universe reminded us, “You can’t stop the signal”.

You Can’t Stop the Signal

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Comments
  1. Cuppycake says:

    Probably my favorite article you’ve written Kenn. Good stuff here! =)

  2. kendricke says:

    Thanks. I’ve been sitting on it a while, and was finally able to flesh it out a bit today.

    Now, to get to those other dozen or so half-written articles…

  3. Cuppycake says:

    Speaking of you…

    You’re banned from ever taking pictures again. We never get to see the pics you take!! =(

    (Sushi bar/Hooters, my going away party..)

    GET ON THAT!

  4. kendricke says:

    Oh, they’re ready to post. I’m just waiting for the first royalty checks…

  5. Moorgard says:

    This was too long to read, aside from the paragraph with my name in it.

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