If we believe in the Utopia…

I’m currently banned from F13 as well but don’t feel any outrage since the intent was to “maximize” the effect of Mark Jacobs short attention span. With Shild incessantly trying to engrave in Mark Jacobs mind how the bonuses for Open RvR and faster leveling CAN’T be enough.

In that whole thread I wasn’t able to reply but they voiced my own thoughts, gripes and hopes for the game rather well. So I’m happy the descussion took place even if I wasn’t allowed to contribute.

There is one poster to whom I look with some affection. He has the candor and hope that I had long time ago, and explains things rather well:

I think the thing I’m looking for, which I’ve written about, is a lead developer for a MMOG who recognizes the peculiar character of their job in relationship to the customer base. I don’t think there is an easily comparable service industry. You’re the public representative of a team of people who combine the roles of political rulers, gods, authors, customer service, and seller of goods in relationship to their players/customers/citizens. I don’t really think any developer has understood how that melange of roles and responsibilities ought to impact how and when they talk about their gameworld. Raph probably gets closest to understanding what this means and crafting a public voice to go with it.

Blizzard solves this problem largely by hiding the decision-making layer of their live management away entirely, and leaving it almost entirely to an intermediary layer of customer service representatives to speak on behalf of the gameworld sovereigns to the playerbase. I don’t think that’s the right way to go, but they stick to it with some consistency and it functions fairly well as a result. If you think in terms of political sovereignty, it’s rather like a mysterious kind of royalty who appears only in glimpses in public, with decisions being shrouded behind layers of pomp and circumstance in the royal court. They do ok with this approach largely because they deliver a very polished, reliable product.

I don’t think you have that luxury if you want to hold steady at 500k subs, not the least because Blizzard also is pretty damn smart about undercutting competition in all sorts of ways, including public jabs designed to put competitors off their feed. But the public voice you’ve built up over the years isn’t a consistent alternative that will create loyalty in players through rough patches in the development of a game. I think a couple of other people have used this analogy, but I hear too much Smedley in some of what you say–too much promotion, too much all-is-well, too much Oval Office press secretary.

I think a consistent alternative to Blizzard’s remote, chilly inaccessibility is to take people inside the structure of your decision-making, to create a transparent kind of affect, to go for sustained honesty. I don’t think a single MMOG has helped its retention rates by saying, “All is basically well! We hear your concerns, and believe me, we take them seriously! Great things are coming, and great things have already come!” It just doesn’t work with your audience. They’ve usually played a lot of these things, they’re often pretty savvy about design issues.

This isn’t just about saying, “Players are right! I am sorry! We suck!”, either. Taking people inside the process of decision-making is about laying out the issues clearly, and not ceding to players your judgment about the right way to go on some of the tougher issues. On the RvR lakes, for example, you could say, “Ok, here’s what we’re thinking. We can tweak this and that in the short-term and see what works better. Our *design goal* is XYZ for those lakes. But we can’t do some of the things you’re suggesting, either because they are impossible given our resource limitations or our code base, or because we think they’re honestly not good ideas.” Etc. Really, almost no one has taken this approach, in part because they don’t want to demoralize their own team by appearing to criticize them in public. Or, if I can be brutal, because at least some MMOG designers don’t understand the problems and issues in MMOGs half as well as some of their most experienced players. I think you understand well enough, so why not work your way towards transparency, inclusion, straight-talking honesty?

What have you got to lose? The current approach to communication is really not going to get you over the problems I see you having *very soon*. I know I’m fairly close to unsubbing myself now that I feel I’ve seen most of the interesting issues that Warhammer poses for the MMOG form and its future. I generally find that in terms of whether I’m having fun or not in a MMOG, I’m right about where the consensus judgment falls–when I’ve unsubbed, I’m usually in the middle of a wave of unsubbing.

Indeed. If only I didn’t learn that what makes sense doesn’t usually get realized. Life would be too easy.

One impression I get is as if Mark Jacobs is the only one making the game. As if it’s him and then just slaves that execute what he wants done. He’s the president, comments the game design and even looks around the boards to find out bugs and then instructs the team so they get fixed.

As if no game can exist outside of him. As if nothing works if he’s not there poking at the cogs.

What happened to the rest of the team? It’s as if they don’t exist and Mark Jacobs did everything on his own. As if nothing in the game can happen without Mark’s seal of approval.

No one in the team has any opinions? No one of them plays the game, is aware of bugs, has plans on how to improve things? Is it a team of zombies? BRAAAAINS?

On the Vault, in the occasion of that ridiculously underestimated bonus to conquering keeps in ORVR, I wrote:

If it’s true that you are “working on it” in a substantial way, then TALK WITH THE PLAYERS. Don’t just push these ridiculous fixes that fix nothing at all and just (legitimately) sour the players. Giving 2000 xp for taking a keep isn’t an “improvement”, it’s a joke. If you are REALLY doing something more radical that needs coding then YOU HAVE to talk to the players, explain what you are doing and opening a discussion so that players can actually see where you are going and even anticipate the shortcomings (since it seems you alone can’t figure them out).

Bring those goddamned designers out. Make them explain what they are doing and why. Make them explain what they AREN’T doing, and why.

It is entirely a matter of being in touch with the game and then communicating honestly with the players.

No one asks the impossible, but it’s crucial that we agree on some basic points. Shild insisted in every way possible: there ain’t no risk of “enough”. You can’t overshoot.

What is needed is only the commitment and a more direct dialogue with the community. Not for a few hours or a couple of weeks. But in the longer term. What happened in that F13 thread should become the NORM.

Mark Jacobs is doing this alone now. As if he has the burden of the whole game on his shoulders. My esteem for him goes up when he shows he cares and seems interested in a serious, not superficial confrontation. The problem is that this dialogue shouldn’t stop here but should be instead intensified and improved in the longer term.

It should involve members of the team outside Mark Jacobs himself. This needs to be a significant part of the process in the everyday life of the project and not a sporadic, rare event happening just because Mark Jacobs decided to grant us some of his precious time.

And, to conclude, from the same F13 poster an insightful commentary on the reasons why PvE in Warhammer sucks.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Leave a Reply