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FriEd: Whaddaya Want: Fan Involvement, Part 2

Updated Fri, Feb 13, 2009 by Shayalyn

Whaddaya Want?

Fan Involvement in Game Development, Take 2

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by Shayalyn


After reading my last FriEd, in which I ranted that developers don't listen enough to the desires of their fans; Ten Ton Hammer's esteemed John “Boomjack” Hoskin commented to me that he believed the majority of gamers don't actually know what makes a game compelling. (Not long ago, Boomjack used his daily Loading... column to lament about the lack of bathroom facilities in MMOGs, so it's obvious that the man knows compelling, or the lack thereof, when he sees it.)

I'd have to agree--gamers, on the whole, don't know what they want.

Now, hold on to your righteous indignation for a second--while I do agree, I agree conditionally. The reason it appears most gamers don't have a clue what they want is because, as I said last week, there are two types of fans who express themselves when it comes to games in development; I'll call them the Vocal Majority, and the Thoughtful Minority. Unfortunately, the Vocal (and largely clueless) Majority, by their nature, manages to complain the loudest. Let me give you an example:

When World of Warcraft was in development, any number of the forums I frequented were full of the Vocal Majority loudly proclaiming, and in no uncertain terms, that the game would suck. Why? Many reasons: the graphics were too cartoon-y; WoW was just for clamoring fanbois who thought Blizzard could do no wrong; and, last but not least, after EverQuest, Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot and Horizons...the last thing the online gaming world needed was another fantasy MMO.

Five and a half million World of Warcraft subscribers later, I think it's safe to say that the Vocal Majority were wrong on all counts. Apparently Blizzard had a pretty good idea of what would make their game compelling. Whether you like the game or not is immaterial--Blizzard has whipped it out, laid it on the table, and used their numbers to prove ultimate superiority.

Another reason I'd have to agree with Boomjack is that, as I stated in last week's column, those who yell the loudest seem to know the least. In my travels through various Dungeons & Dragons Online forums, including the official forum, I see a good many Vocal Majority types chanting, “This game suxx0rz!” (or any variation on that theme). It's those people who ramp up the signal to noise ratio and make it difficult for the voices of real fans--folks with a sincere interest in seeing the developers produce a solid game--to come through.

And what are some of the Thoughtful Minority saying about DDO now? They're saying exactly what they've said all along. When the game was in development, they called into question whether a lack of solo content in DDO would result in discontent among the players. Some were more than willing to go along for the ride with Turbine and see if their plan to make a group-only game would work out, placing their faith in the devs. Others expressed doubt that a group-dependent game could cut it. Should Turbine have been listening more carefully to their concerns? I'll let you decide.

And this same Thoughtful Minority also suggested that 10 levels, even with 4 ranks per level, wouldn't be enough to satisfy the power gamers, and might prove disastrous. They worried that the end game would come too soon, resulting in boredom. Would Turbine have done well to listen more carefully to their thoughts and speculation?

There are two factors that work against constructive fan involvement in game development: 1) fans really don't know the industry well enough to know what works on a large scale; and 2) he who shouts the loudest tends to be the only one heard in a crowd, and unfortunately those loud shouters tend to have very little to offer by way of valuable insight.

The challenge lies in getting game developers like Turbine to hone their listening skills, and filter out the noise. That's the only real way to make use of fan input. And it shouldn't be that difficult to do. You can spot a member of the Vocal Majority easily enough by his low forum post count, his decided lack of language skills, and his inability to express his concerns in specific and constructive ways. Time to start tuning out the static.





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