Communication with your Community

Posted: March 21, 2008 by Xeavn in General Game Concepts

I want to talk about developer and community interaction and communication. What are the pro’s and con’s of communicating with the player base, and why is it even necessary? What have other games done in the past, and what would I as a player like to see in the way of communication?

I think the whole idea of having to communicate with the players of your game is still a somewhat new idea to most of the developers and game development companies. It is largely my belief that it has been at least somewhat brought about by massive multiplayer games and the subscription model that comes with those games. In the past if I purchased a single player game such as Master of Orion 2, my only expectation was to be able to install it, and start it up and play. If for some reason it didn’t play correctly on my computer, I might go as far searching their website for a patch or posting in a technical help forum on the games website, if one even existed. In the long run though I just wanted to play against the computer, and maybe a few friends online. I figured after patching most of the obvious bugs the developers likely moved on to a new project. If there was going to be any new features, new units or cool new ideas it was going to come in the form of an expansion pack.

With the rise of MMO’s and the subscription model that seems to come with most of them, a lot of players have begun taking a larger interest in the development and changes that go into the games they play. I think that part of the reason for this is that they want to know exactly what they are getting from the subscription that they are paying. The idea as I have always understood it is that by paying a subscription I allow developers to continue working and making changes to my favorite game. Another reason that players are so interested in the changes and additions to the game is the amount of time they put into building and creating their characters and leveling them up. In any given single player game I usually played for somewhere between 2 weeks and a month before beating it, getting bored and moving on. I have been playing Everquest 2 for nearly a full year on and off. I played World of Warcraft for at least a year before leaving. I played Eve Online for at least 6 months. When you put that much time into a character or characters you want to know about the changes that are being made to the game. These are changes that could potentially affect your characters.

One of the responses to this increased interaction from the player community has been the addition of official forums from most of the development companies. This gives the player an opportunity to at least post their thoughts and opinions on current game mechanics, proposed upcoming changes. It also allows them to interact with their fellow players who have a similar level of obsession with the game. The downside is that is also gives the player a place to get upset, and say all sorts of rude things if they don’t like the changes that have been made.

So why should the developers take the time to communicate with a player base that likely will have a section that disagrees with every decision that they make? Well this isn’t any easy question to answer, and I know that I wouldn’t want the level of attention to every change I made that the developers receive. When it comes down to it though, for most dedicated players this is our hobby. This is what we do when we get home from work. We log in and raid, run quests, help guild mates, or run instances. These are the same players who are taking their own time to write about the games, and the same players who are parsing the numbers to understand how the mechanics behind the game work, the players who are reading the forums and asking and answering questions. I think most of us want to see the game succeed and do well, but we don’t have the power to do anything beyond voicing our opinions.

So what as a player would I like to see in the way of communication from the developers and the development company behind them? In any given game I want to hear about the direction the developers are hoping to take the game. What is your vision for the game you are working on. What do you want to see happen? I think the best thing you can possibly do as a developer is show the players that you are as passionate about the game as they are. You have the power to make changes, and likely are making changes. I am sure a majority would love to hear about it. Sure you might get some responses that disagree, but you would get those later when the changes go in anyways. My favorite example of this is Eve Online’s Dev Blog. They post about a couple times a month, and talk to the player base about where they are taking Eve Online. It might be something important to everyone who plays or it may just be a topic that interests a certain subsection of the player base. It gives a great glimpse into what it takes to develop and build an MMO though, and it lets the players get excited about upcoming features. I for one am still hanging onto the promise of Guild Halls in EQ2, and even though we know next to nothing about them, I like knowing that they are planned and hopefully being worked on.

Another great feature that I see all the time in Beta’s but never seems to get carried over to live is a bug list. I for one would like to know that falling through the floor in ‘Zone A’ is a known bug. This means that I don’t have to bug it when it happens to me, and it also means that I can more easily avoid known bugs. After all who wants to fall through the floor if you can avoid it? If certain bugs aren’t getting fixed then at least we know it isn’t because the development team doesn’t know about it.

So what would you as a player like to see in the way of developer communication? Do they think they give us plenty of information now, or would you like to see and hear more from them? Do you think it would cause more issues than it would solve?

  1. Pantheros says:

    Personally, I think the more you communicate, the more you are likely to avoid problems. If, like you suggest Xeavn, have a “known bug list” not only can you not waste yours and the Dev’s time by knowing not to report the bug, you can more easily identify (and report) if someone is taking advantage of a bug. No one likes to run into a bug, as more times than not it either prevents you from doing something you should be able to do, or hurts your game play in some other form.

    Of course, you probably could look at this from the point of view that too many cooks in the kitchen… Being as every change or proposed change will be just torn to shreds by the opponents to such changes. But also, you would likely get a lot of constructive (and free) input. Let’s face it, we don’t all think alike, some of us prefer to know and crunch the numbers in a game, while others are just happy to play along as long as they don’t run into some huge glaring problem.

    A problem may arise, however, if all the devs for a given game do not participate at comparable levels. You may end up with a Dev from one class who is quite open about sharing what’s happening, forthcoming changes, looking for some player input, etc. While another Dev may be tight lipped about the whole process and just skims the forums for an overall feeling from the community without much actual interaction.

    Overall, I think that communication is key to a healthy society, and these games are their own societies. The Devs and Company are like the government, and we the subscribers are the citizens. If the population is unhappy with a government, they can vote to change it. The same holds true in the gaming community, although instead of voting with ballots, we vote with our subscriptions.

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