Expanding Developer Communication in the Modern Age
An article by our very own Dalmarus and one by our very own Lewis B highlighted two different views about developer communication and I’d like to start off by saying I respect them both. Yet, when you hear that phrase, you know there is a disagreement. I disagree with both of their opinions (in certain specific areas) and would like to take a moment of your time to share my own.
First, I’d like to say that Lewis has a great point - open communication should be king. However, like Dalmarus points out, not everyone is a great communicator. Just see fiascoes involving certain coke machine punching game developers before the Internet was as big as it is now. It’s a fact that being a game developers doesn’t mean that you should interact with the community and like Dalmarus says - they don’t have the time or energy to respond to everything the community wants to hear about.
However, I disagree with Dalmarus that we must adhere to the ways that game developers handle communication. Just because developers are bad at communication doesn’t mean that all developers are bad or that there isn’t someone who can sit in on meetings and report on internal projects to the community in an appropriate and well thought out way. Just because people have knee jerk reactions to “soon” and “hopefully” doesn’t mean that game developers should wait until a few days before a feature goes live to talk about it. Likewise, just because saying something a certain way causes the community to react in a completely different way doesn't mean there aren't better methods of sharing that information.
There is a way to communicate with the fans and bridge that enormous gap between the people who craft the game and the people who live in it. It’s not going to be some hard written ISO standard that people will follow through a flow chart, it should be what works for each development house. Maybe Ask Me Anythings are the most time efficient and productive way to get all the information out or maybe it’s having a 24/7 staffed twitter account that talks with people regularly. Maybe it’s developer blogs where choice developers highlight the projects they’re working on. Maybe it is forums and having developers interact or maybe it's a weekly video recap.
Maybe it’s a new and innovative idea. Maybe one game company could put web cams in specific meetings where developers are presenting projects to their teams. Some developers could have an entirely open process in development where the public can see all of their internal memos. Note to Kickstarter projects - these ideas are for you, considering the people who donate are more like “investors” who are buying into an idea versus a product.
Whatever method it is, game developers should keep in constant contact. The days of developers sitting in giant ivory towers looking down on the fans need to end because all it does it breed misconception and anger over game design decisions. A recent anime, Gatchaman Crowds, had a very good story based on communication. Some spoilers ahead, but basically all the users in Japan and around the world were using a system known as GALAX to communicate, sort of like a global Habbo Hotel. In the end, the biggest solution was allowing open collaboration with everyone in the world.
Players of a game should feel like they know what is going on and shouldn’t be surprised by good or bad changes. We should all understand the direction a game is going in and be able to comment and discuss upcoming changes and developments. We need to get away from this pattern where developers unveil a set of patch notes or some kind of write up on a future implementation that is 100% finished and coming soon and then having a huge negative reaction from the playerbase who have to deal with the implementation that's already gone through a long development cycle.
Think, if you will, what would have happened if Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis had more beta testers, more communication, more discussion and what if Mythic was more involved with the community? Would such a huge backlash have happened? Would DAoC continued to grow in numbers? I think so, I honestly do.
Betas are an entirely different story but another thing that I love about World of Warcraft. Blizzard understands feedback is king and pleasing the community is important, so they’ve gotten more and more open with not only discussing future changes but also allowing more and more people into betas to test the game. That’s a big deal to me and a proof of concept of how open communication is awesome.
I know there is a lot of noise out there and that back and forth is difficult, but coming up with a working method to at least provide the information is so critical. Back and forth is great, but the more information the better. This is the age of information after all. Even more important, while the vocal portion of a community does love to take things the wrong way on purpose, we can't allow them to ruin the game for everyone else. We need to teach people that communication is fun and get more people vocal.
Anyway, my point is simply this: our archaic system of developers sitting in ivory towers slowly releasing information and being fearful of over zealous knee jerk reactions needs to end. We don’t need to have developers follow some set rigid method of communication and not everything works for every company, but one fact is true: we need to be more open and more transparent with game updates, game news, future features, and the community as a whole must come first.