Communication 101 (again)

Recently there was a series of tweets between Mr. J. Feasel, aka Muffinus, and a couple of WoW players. The conversations are nicely summarized here by MMO-C.

In a nutshell, the tweets are an attempt at a fairly in depth explanation of Blizz’s thinking on RNG as a mechanism for rewards, and also on some raid philosophy. I don’t intend to comment on the merits of either side of the discussion in this post, rather my intention is to examine the meta aspects of the exchange. (Well, okay, one comment: I cannot fathom why Blizz clings to the fantasy that RNG is “exciting” for players. In what universe?)

First, the good side. I applaud Muffinus for putting himself out there and engaging with players who have legitimate points of view on these subjects. I give him additional kudos for trying to explain some of the background logic for the mechanisms under discussion, and for doing so as a thinking adult debating with another thinking adult. We need much more of this, on a regular basis, from devs who do not treat players like annoying small children. So, good on ya, Muffinus.

Now the not so good side. Here’s a tip, Blizz:

Twitter is not the medium for conducting in depth discussions on game design and philosophy. 

I don’t use Twitter much — mainly to follow breaking world events and contemporary cultural issues — but I have a couple of accounts and I absolutely understand its power as a method of communication. I also understand its limitations, and one of them is that 140 characters simply cannot convey complex thoughts or logic chains. (Unless you are a poetic genius like Boris Pasternak, who was able to express more with fewer words than almost anyone else on the planet, but that is just my opinion and at any rate a whole other discussion.)

But Blizz has for some reason latched on to Twitter as their preferred medium of exchange with players, and this is — not to put too fine a point on it — really stupid, not to mention frustrating for players with legitimate concerns. Why are they so enamored of it? I don’t know, of course, but I can hazard a couple of guesses. One is that it is quick and easy, devs can dash off a couple responses while they are waiting for the daily group decision on lunch. Another is that there is no requirement for sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, perfect spelling, all of those things engineers hate to think about.

And last, and most tinfoil-hattery, since initial tweets to devs from players are seen only by the devs, there is no need to answer inconvenient questions or address uncomfortable subjects, they can simply be ignored and no one is the wiser. This is the big advantage Twitter has over, say, forum posts, because if 100 people post to a forum on a particular topic and Blizz ignores them, others will see this happening. But if they get 100 tweets about a subject and ignore them, other players will never know. This also permits more latitude for Blizz to claim fuzzy stats along the lines of many players finding RNG to be exciting game play, or the like. On the flip side, Blizz is free to select a single tweet that mentions something they want to address anyway and make it seem like lots of players are interested in it.

Thus, I will make yet another futile plea to Blizz on communication.

Blizz, please institute some form of regular player communication for real player concerns and game interests. It doesn’t have to be Hollywood-production streaming, it doesn’t have to be the responsibility of just one dev, it doesn’t have to be Q&A format, but there needs to be some regular and serious interaction with your interested customer base. I know most of you are engineers and would rather eat worms than write, but you need to find some way to make this happen. Even in the desert of between-expansions, thoughtful communication can go a long way towards retaining players. 

Hint: Twitter is not it.

Suggestions:

  • Hire someone like Ghostcrawler to be the face of the game, who is not afraid to mix it up in the forums, explain why certain decisions were made, understand player concerns and possibly let the game design benefit from them, and if necessary make a few people mad for the greater game good. Whether we liked it or not, we always got regular feedback from Ghostcrawler.
  • Institute some regular feedback on Legion testing — not the bug reports, but some thoughtful observations on various facets of Legion development as it progresses. Once a month would be a decent time frame for this.
  • Institute some regular class columns/forums that address class development, balance issues, playability issues, etc. This could even be done in the current class columns, but it would take the form of a regular blue class status post instead of the random and often uninformative blue posts we currently have.
  • Do the same for profession development and status.
  • Give us some idea on your timing goals for Legion. When will a more traditional “beta” go live? Or will it? How long before the PTR? What’s the goal for final live? Yes, I know if you mention any specific time and fail to meet it, you will get a ration of sh*t about it, but you are getting that anyway and will get more of it as the months pass. Why not be radical and have a bit of transparency on the subject? Most serious players have some notion of  the complexity of new expansions and understand changes and delays.

I know I am a lonely voice crying in the wilderness, but I am a strong and loyal customer who is extremely interested in the whys and wherefores of this game, and honestly I feel like Blizz considers me nothing more than a cash machine.

Talk to me about the game I love, dammit, in some form more organized than cherry-picked 140-character obscure snippets!

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

2 Responses to Communication 101 (again)

  1. Amen and Amen. Communication 101 is indeed a class. I love the idea of a rep who fields questions, maybe a Production Manager or someone who knows how to speak to the public. Not Watcher, who is pretty vile and oily. I too see on twitter when designers (like Holinka) get snarky and ugly — clearly they never took Communication 101. I’ve been sickened to think of these poor designers being asked to have a public account like twitter, I know that in my job that I’d hate to have to defend my decisions to anyone except my boss and fellow collaborators; wanting my end product to speak for itself.
    I was encouraged to see The Devs as a twitter and players directed there for questions and answers but, but, it is not their job! They took a job to design and had the job description changed to add “face the public” and when that is added, you wonder if they should have hired someone else who was better at public stuff but likely less skillful at the core job.

    • Fiannor says:

      It is almost always a bad idea for tech companies to put their deep tech guys in front of the public. What most try to do is hire someone with the dual skill set of tech background and excellent communication skills. And there really are people who have such a skill set. The idea is that they are basically translators, expressing legitimate customer concerns to devs in tech language, and then translating the tech answers and limitations back to customers in less technical terms.

      Nevertheless, Blizz’s communication shortfall is not really in explaining deep tech, in my opinion. It is in their failure to explain the reasoning behind any of their designs, except in unsatisfactorily ridiculous terms like “class fantasy” or “immersion.” And I really don’t understand why the huge secret on what the targeted Legion milestones are, why not have some transparency about it?

      I don’t know what the job descriptions are for some of the Blizz tech managers like Hazzikostas, but if they include customer interaction, then they are failing at it. If those things are not in the job description, then Blizz needs to hire someone to do it.