Liore is on vacation and so Dahakha kindly agreed to fill in for the day. You can find his blog, Star-Fired Beef, right here.
Anyone who follows MMO news, particularly the major MMOs, knows that the various companies competing for our time and money do some things, make some decisions, that are not highly regarded by the playerbase. The resulting explosion is inevitably, yet tiresomely acted out in two major steps. Ground Zero is the forums of the “villain” company of the moment and the accompanying social media (mostly Twitter, in my experience). This is where the direct, and often the most vicious, feedback occurs. The secondary fallout occurs on blogs and MMO news sites, where at least a little restraint is shown by the howling masses and where you are more likely to find the thoughtful, constructive critiques. Not that those don’t exist at Ground Zero as well, but they are regularly buried under the ravings of those who feel that politeness and respect are a sign of weakness.
The latest brouhaha is on over at ArenaNet, thanks to their announcement of the pricetag on the upcoming expansion. Ravious pointed out some of the ways that the developers – i.e. the actual artists, not the company as a whole – are being affected by the backlash. It is a sad indictment of our hobby’s community that this behaviour exists, of course, but is it made worse by the easy public access to individual employees? Or rather, is it beneficial for anyone except the haters for a company to encourage or require non-PR staff to have work-related social media accounts?
Why do it?
It seems like Twitter has prompted a massive increase in the number of developers who have a public face. I know that there was a sense of “greater engagement with our fans will give us good PR” at some point, and so there was a push by the suits to have the developers discuss their (as yet unreleased) work with the public a lot more than had previously been the case. Blizzard did it – I think Ghostcrawler becoming *the* name for WoW was a direct result of this policy. The ArenaNet team were way more open about their vision and what they were doing in the buildup to GW2’s release, and have continued to remain accessible to the public. SOE/Daybreak made whole Blueprints to emphasize just how much they were interacting with the community with EQN and Landmark. And most of the eagerly-awaited crowdfunded MMOs – Star Citizen, Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, etc – go out of their way to keep up a constant stream of communication with their fans.
The main benefit – I would argue the only benefit – of such direct public engagement is the creation of a more personal relationship with the player. The players get to feel like they are respected as people, and their thoughts and feelings are being taken into consideration when games are designed or changed. This presumably strengthens the bond of loyalty to the company and/or the product. But is it worth it?
Drop it like it’s hot
This all looks great on paper. And it probably works a treat as long as the players are mostly content or happy with what you are doing. But as soon as something controversial or unpalatable crops up, WELL. It instantly becomes clear (at least to me) that this policy of more communication, more interaction, more personal and instantaneous feedback is nothing but a way for players to elevate themselves. Instead of treating the developers as people, and having a civilised discussion, a negotiation regarding the design direction being taken, the players see this policy of availability as an invitation to dictate. To demand satisfactory service, as if the developers are their employees, not the studio’s.
It is easy to point to Community Managers and PR reps and press releases and say, “this is just the wall of corporate-speak, do the developers ever get to actually hear what we, the players, want?” But on the other hand, if the results of breaking down that corporate wall is having the developers treated like personal servants who can never get anything right, is it not better for that wall to stay up? At least for the time being, until we can find other, less overwhelming ways to facilitate more direct interaction between players and developers.
I would personally prefer to have less direct interaction with developers if it means they don’t have to put up with the bullshit that comes from the community via social media. A developer who is less stressed from having to deal with direct backlash from the public – and who is not driven to despise the people they are making a game for as a result – is bound to do better work, in my opinion. Leave the community interaction to the people hired for that purpose, and let them get on with their jobs.