In the further adventures of Blizzard trying to fix the mess that World of Warcraft has become, last week saw them announce the creation of a World of Warcraft Community Council.
They even created a minute and a half video to accompany the announcement, so they must be serious.
One of the common complaints about WoW from many in the community is the lack of responsiveness to player feedback.
This, by the way, is also a common complain for literally every MMORPG I have ever played, though some are more egregious that others.
In EVE Online there is a long standing tradition of CCP putting things on the test server, collecting feedback, filing it somewhere, then pushing the new feature to the live server only to have to address most of what was given as feedback in patches.
SOE used to be notable for listing to player feedback only after announcing something, then changing their mind in front of a live studio audience as its rebellion brewed in its player base.
Customer feedback is hard to deal with. It is often emotional, semi-coherent, and based on flawed assumptions about what is easy or hard or impossible to implement. And suggestion that begins with something like, “All company X has to do is Y” inevitable fails to understand the issue at hand in any meaningful way.
Customer feedback can be contradictory. One of my repeated observations over the years has been that there is no single feature in any MMORPG that is so bad that it isn’t somebody’s favorite aspect of the game.
And, finally, player councils are nothing new. Any number of games have had them in some form. I think EVE Online’s Council of Stellar Management is probably the most interesting, if only because the members are elected, an aspect that gives players something additional to complain about as large groups use their organization power to influence the results. But players will complain if then studio chooses the council as well. Complaining is kind of our brand at this point.
In the end though, all such player advisory groups have one thing in common: a complete lack of power to accomplish anything. My one big example of a council wielding some influence is when the EVE Online player base was mad about the Incarna expansion and the CSM sided with the players against CCP, and even that wouldn’t have amounted to anything if players hadn’t unsubscribed in significant numbers due to the expansion. To this day, if you go to unsubscribe from EVE Online, one of the default answers to the “Why are you leaving?” questions is “Because of the last update.” They want to know who is really leaving because of whatever they just pushed to the live server.
And, in this fact, the WoW Community Council will be no different.
So is this all window dressing, a promotional stunt to appease unrest in the player base, a way to deflect those who say that Blizzard does not listen to player feedback?
I do not doubt that there is some desire within Blizzard and the World of Warcraft team to figure out what would make the game more interesting and playable and popular with their audience. But how do you get there?
The Blizzard plan is to gather together 100 people with the following plan:
- Submissions are open to any player interested in taking part in the program.
- Once players are selected, they’ll be given the ability to post in a new discussion forum that is publicly visible to everyone.
- In this new forum, we’ll ask members to share their experiences and perspectives on anything in the game, and some topics may be started by Blizzard developers and community managers.
- Responses and updates from Blizzard will be posted there so they can easily be discussed by the entire community.
- A private discussion will also be setup for Council members to encourage direct interaction between members.
- Separate conversations between smaller groups of members and Blizzard developers will be encouraged to ensure players with differing perspectives are being heard.
Anybody can apply to be one of the 100, see the announcement post I linked above, and those chosen will be members of the council for a year, after which new members will be selected.
The rest of us get to watch what goes on in the special forum… and complain about it elsewhere… which kind of makes me think that the more interesting discussions, the ones that explore changes, will happen in the more discreet channels. (I will also be interested to see which member of the council gets doxxed first for saying something unpopular in the public forum.)
Blizzard will be setup with a new channel to get feedback from players. That is the easy part.
With “only” one hundred people to listen too, that will give them something less than a fire hose of angry customer noise to deal with.
But will that group of one hundred be the right one hundred. Will they be able to articulate things that will help the game?
And, will the Blizz side of the equation be able to spot those gems if they do arise?
The latter is probably the biggest hurdle. The problem is that game developers and designers are people with their own values and opinions and you don’t rise to a decision making tier in a company without holding some strong views, and all the more so in a bro culture that is self-reinforcing. In that position, the voice of even a single person reinforcing their vision probably outweighs a dozen or more expressing some other view on a given topic.
So the real effort will be on that front. We’ll see if the Blizzard has the vision and the discipline to find something substantial in the feedback that they can bring themself to agree with and work towards.