Thursday, September 11, 2008
Free speech for people who work on MMOs
So Mark Jacobs has a blog. And some people are unhappy about that. I think we can all agree that Mythic's way to communicate with their players is substantially different than those of other MMO companies. SOE and Blizzard are so tight-lipped, letting out only carefully screened statements, that they make the KGB look chatty. But is Mythic's way better or worse than the old way? Part of the problem is certainly that humans are creatures of habit, and blanket statements like "devs shouldn't blog about their current games" are often accepted just because it has always been that way. But if we changed our expectations, why shouldn't they be free to communicate their thoughts however they like?
Everybody has an opinion. So game company CEOs, developers, and customer service representatives have opinions too. The only possible problem there is how readers are able to tell if somebody is making an official statement, or whether he is just voicing an opinion. As the private opinion of Iain Compton I'd have to agree that death threats to GOA because their account site isn't working are "borderline sociopath". As the official statement of Iain Compton, English Community Manager, WAR Europe, I'd have to say that calling your customers "borderline sociopath" is bad PR. As the private opinion of Mark Jacobs, helpfully labeled with "in my opinion", I have to agree with him that Iain's remarks were "way out of line". But to other bloggers Mark appeared to be "throwing GOA under the bus" or "cock-blocking your community managers".
Me, I like Mark's blog (but then of course I've been bribed by him). I find statements like "I think I’d rather shoot myself in the head than do another ToA" very helpful is judging into what direction WAR will head in future expansions (Hint: Don't expect a PvE raiding dungeon expansion with epics.). But I do see the danger of everyone reading too much into every single remark. Even Mark jokes about it when he says "I personally favor destro (Suddenly the Net lit up, Mythic Devs favor Destro, Order become red-haired stepchildren, news at 11!) but I’ll play both I’m sure." Can you imagine Mike Morhaime saying which his favorite class or side in World of Warcraft is? That would be a headline in every single game blog and game site covering WoW!
Why can't we accept that people working on MMORPGs have personal opinions and favorites too, like the rest of us, and that this doesn't necessarily influence game design? These games are created by large groups of people, there are lots of checks and balances. Even Paul Barnett cannot necessarily get his favorite bears, bears, bears feature implemented for launch, even if there is a video of him promising it on the official website. Do you really believe that all 300 Warhammer Online developers suddenly say "lets favor Destruction in the realm balance, because Mark likes that side more"?
If we would learn to accept a more open communication from various game developers, in the end it would be us who would gain from it, by being better informed. I personally would prefer if there was one unique place where official statements were posted, like the WAR Herald, because you can't expect your customers searching every blog and game site for your official statements. But putting a copy of that statement on the Warhammeralliance forums for discussion, why not? Why should I be upset that Paul has a video blog and logs his live on Twitter? Wouldn't it be great if we could openly discuss game design with developers on their blogs? Wouldn't the genre be better off with more rockstars in full public view, instead of the omerta of other companies? We just need to learn that, just like rockstars, the devs are fallible. They might not be snorting coke and trashing hotel rooms, but they *will* say stupid things, and they *will* promise features that are never going to be implemented. But as long as we take what they say with a grain of salt, that is okay.