Tobold's Blog
Saturday, June 27, 2009
A hypothetical vote for change

Imagine you took 10 random MMORPG players, and asked them to participate in a series of votes. In the first vote the players would be asked whether MMORPGs are already perfect, having the best possible design, or whether they could be improved by some changes. The most likely outcome of that vote is all 10 players voting for change, because everybody has some idea how to improve MMOs.

So now you ask everyone separately to put to paper their specific proposition on how to improve MMORPGs. And then you run a second series of votes, where every player gets to vote yes or no on all of the 10 proposals. And, surprise, surprise, you'd find that every single proposal would be voted down, most commonly 9:1 or 8:2 against.

While that vote is hypothetical, the result can be predicted from existing and easily observed reactions: Just take any blog, including mine, or any forum thread, where the original poster proposes some change, and you'll always find the naysayers outnumbering those who agree. The only posts and threads where people can agree, are those who are either just complaining without offering a solution, or those who are just offering a nice-sounding catch phrase as improvement. That not only is depressing for those bloggers and forum posters who took some effort to propose something, but it also has a range of other negative consequences: Game designers reads those blogs and forums, and decide to stick with what is already there, because obviously MMORPG players are against change. And forums quickly descend into being dominated by negativity, because any constructive criticism is booed down.

For new games this also feeds the hype to disappointment cycle. People asked me what I thought about the chances of SWTOR to succeed, and my opinions on the planned improvements that game promises. But that is a typical case where right now we only have a few catch phrases, like "storytelling as the 4th pillar", to which most people can still agree. And when the game arrives, and we'll see the details, people will start turning against it. SWTOR might be a very successful game, but probably has better chances with a new generation of players who never played an MMO before than with the jaded veterans of WoW or earlier games. Just do the same hypothetical vote test again: 10 out of 10 players will vote for "improved storytelling", but every specific proposal, e.g. using cutscenes including your character to tell the story of every quest, will be voted down for various reasons, like "too long", by the majority. MMORPG players are extremely conservative and impossible to please.
I post on the alla ffxi suggestion thread frequently, and I don't see this. Usually if people are negative, they bring valid points why-like we don't need yet another job, we already have too many at 20, or that this suggestion is overpowered.

When it comes to specific in-game situations, players are often more advanced than devs. They can't see the long picture always, but the kind of people that can reverse engineer the formulas you use for enmity in game generally have a good grasp on your specific mechanics.

If you mean punditry in general, well, the MMO genre really isn't broken. Too many pundits want to reinvent the wheel, and suggest some pretty wild changes that probably would hurt more than help.
Good post. I think what you've brought up is a very important fact about how people react to change in general, not just in the MMO player community.

Another problem that causes a lot of strife between people working on design ideas is that people tend to think others are idiots and incapable of doing things well or right. This leads to interminable arguments between sides that constantly point out nearly trivial or trivial flaws and claim their opponent's entire argument is dead in the water. Such "discussions" end fruitlessly and have little use.

It's important to remember: the people who are worst at estimating their level of knowledge and ability are those who are worst at that action.

We need to have more confidence in one another and instead of shooting down propositions left and right, offer solutions to the problems that you see or try to show why exactly an idea just can't work. We can try to forge a community that can move new ideas towards reality, or we can be like just about every other community and wallow in ego aggrandizement. I try my hardest to do the former, and I think my blog speaks for that.
@evizaer: I believe the exact opposite. Every single new idea should be challenged, and I don't believe in the existence of a "perfect idea". If your community can't find anything wrong with your new idea, you're probably preaching to the choir.

Good design a choir does not make. You need the minor squabbles that a dissenting group provides to completely flesh out ideas and point out all the bad parts you probably glossed over during your flash of inspiration.

But even moreso, you should be prepared to defend such ideas. Odds are, if you can't defend your idea against a bunch of anons, you probably haven't thought enough about it idea in full.
I think you're right, but I wonder how much of it is due to conservatism and how much is due simply to people having different tastes. Mainstream MMOs are designed to appeal to the widest possible market, and part of the way they do that is by eliminating any features that could possible offend. They're sort of like McDonalds: Almost everyone would agree that McDonalds food isn't as good as it could be, but any specific change (making the food more spicy, reducing fat, making burgers bigger but more expensive) might well be voted down.

When you say MMO players are impossible to please, I think you're right if you're talking about them collectively; no one game will satisfy everyone. But MMOs might be able do a better job of satisfying individual players by becoming more diverse. Not all restaurants need to serve fast food.
The good news is that this only confirms that the majority of people know very little about game design. This is why they come up with a bunch of terrible ideas that wouldn't be fun in a game. Fortunately, nobody is forcing developers to listen to them.
Actually I think you are too negative, Tobold. You need to consider that people

1) don't write a lot if they agree

2) tend to address only what they dislike about a proposal. If you look very carefully you can usually see quite some opinions that are shared by a majority.
Perhaps most MMO players are satisfied with how things are done. I know I am.

I've played MMOs for a decade now and I like the standard model. All I want from a new MMO is new scenery. The gameplay I already have is just fine.

I think the reason most ideas for how to change MMOs get a bad reception is that only people currently dissatisfied with MMOs feel the need for them. The rest of us are pretty happy with how things are, and moreover most of us have had experience of some of these clever new ideas in practice and seen how anti-fun they turned out to be.
People are good at agreeing on general ideas, less so on specifics. General ideas will always sound beneficial and conducive to our preferred way of playing. Specifics may reveal things like "easier badge loot" or "nerfing alchemy to reduce consumable costs." When specifics come up then we see exactly how we are affected, so the alchemists who would be all for lower raiding costs don't want to see the flask market destroyed.

The same works with things like more storytelling. We want more stories, but do we specifically want to sit through cutscenes or reading long quests (without the TL;DR section)? We're not often willing to do what we need to do to get what we want.
While developers might read and occasionally get influenced by blogs, I really doubt that it has a big impact on any decisions. It is just some opinions.

Looking at player behaviour in-game, doing data mining would have more impact. Number do not lie, but interpreting them in the right way can be challenging.

Also input from official forums/channels (after heavy filtering) might have some impact also - but probably seldom to the point that any proposals are taken as is.
Well for starters, anytime you sit people down and require that they make binary answers to non-binary problems you'll almost always get skewed feedback. For instance if we made that a rating scale of 1-10 per idea, chances are the majority will sit in the 4-7 range across the board. People may use hyperbole, but we're seldom truly motivated by it.

Honestly, if your posting an idea with the thought that it won't be criticized, you're in the wrong field. Criticism is a valuable tool, it's like people play testing a mental model of your design. Your own field of view is colored by specific limitations, while other people's are colored by very different limitations.

One of the things I've found is that it's terribly hard to communicate between different fundamental concepts of what an MMO even is. There are those that take any suggestion or idea and immediately attempt to puzzle out how it would work in say Everquest for instance. That feedback though isn't actually very helpful if you had meant it to work in a framework more along the lines of Shattered Galaxy. It's usually not even that what their saying is wrong, it's just not applicable because a different framework may work under an entirely different rule set.

Also, just because people disagree with you doesn't make you wrong. Not understanding why they disagree with you could be a sign your missing something though.
It's the whole idea of people wanting the game that is perfect for them again.

An example of why people can't agree? In aoc I play on an rp-pvp server. There was a big discussion between rp'ers and pvp'ers this morning, where both sides basically told the other to reroll. And with reason actually. The rp'ers were so vehemently against random pvp, they should be on a pve server. And the pvp'ers didn't belong on an rp server. Toss any idea to both of them and it will get voted down by at least half...

Game design is a bit like politics, no matter what you do, it will be wrong.

Oh and, rp-pvp servers can work. But I think the target demographic for them is just too small.
I know it was only an example but I would love to see my WoW character in quest cutscenes. That was one of the things that FFXI really did well.
@evizaer: I believe the exact opposite. Every single new idea should be challenged, and I don't believe in the existence of a "perfect idea". If your community can't find anything wrong with your new idea, you're probably preaching to the choir.

Every single new idea will be challenged. I don't think that is going to change.

I'm not saying "implement every new idea", but instead I'm asking to work on new ideas constructively instead of beating them up simply because they are new. A significant part of that post described unproductive discussions--I'm advocating the community works towards productive discussions, not unconditional acceptance of new things.
I think what bothers me most about negativity is how often it is directed towards ideas that would have no effect on the players who are so opposed to them. For instance, I would like to see a PvE server for EVE Online. I'm far from the first to suggest this, but that idea has met with a lot of negativity, in some cases seething nerd rage. Why? I don't want to change the server that's already in existence, I want a brand new server that would not affect the first server in the slightest. I can't stand arena PvP in WoW, but I'm perfectly content with the feature existing because I know I can simply ignore it.
Samus: But that WOULD impact the original server... Because there would be a bunch of people moving off onto that one, or even restarting.

And with a whole lot of PvEers disappearing, the original server would feel very different I'm sure.
Baktru, you're just arguing that a certain portion of the current population also wants this. "We can't do that because some of the players would like it." This is the kind of argument I'm talking about. Now you expect not only the game to be catered only to you, but you expect people to play the game they don't want for the indirect benefit to you.

And what is the exact critical mass for EVE Online to be fun? It has over 300,000 subscribers now, but it used to have around 150,000. Were things really so barren and unplayable then and a flourishing, perfectly-populated utopia now? Should the population be capped then, to prevent overpopulation from this perfect number?
Fortunately, the masses aren't always right, so you can rest assured that not "all" of your ideas are bad even though they get voted down by a majority ;)
@Samus: Well... If there were a PvE EvE server, I would ALSO start over on that one. I'm pretty much a hardcore PvE player ;)

I was just pointing out a flaw in the reasoning that opening an extra 'PvE EvE' server would impact the existing server. And not only because the number of people might go down, but also because the people staying and the people going would be different demographics. The flavour of EvE original would not exactly be unchanged.

And well... Nobody likes platying in a barren MMO, I think, but the first time I tried EvE a couple years ago it didn't feel empty then. It doesn't feel empty now. The number of concurrent players I see hasn't changed either, but that has a lot to do with my timezone as well. I actually do think EvE could handle having a second universe, even if it were under the same rules I might migrate. After all, I've never done much more than dabble in EvE so I don't stand to loose that much.

Then again, one of the selling points of EvE is apparently that everyone is on the same instance of EvE. *shrug* I don't see why though.
I have to echo what Nils posted.

People are far more likely to make posts about things they disagree with and far more likely to remain silent about things they agree with or just don't care about.

If a developer wants the community's opinion they need to implement a poll that everyone must respond to such as on the login page and not rely on forums. Forum posts would only be useful for shaping the poll to determine what questions to ask.
Like someone mentioned, in-game cutscenes featuring your character aren't new. FFXI had them and it's a 5+ year old game, and Aion has some.

So this example fails as far as "voting for change" because it's been ratified already. I agree with what neispace said, it is just punditry. There will always be a large number of people who dislike things one way, and it has nothing to do with change and everything to do with people being different and not liking the same things. Some of this is an age gap where as Blizzard said "we're not here to write novels in quests because kids just click through it."

How easy would it be to implement cutscenes in a way that bothers no one? Make them skippable. People who don't want to waste time and just get to the grind can do their thing, everyone else who wants story can watch them. Simple. Both sides get what they want.

I also disagree that the MMO genre isn't "broken." What does that even mean? Before WoW no MMO was close to a million subscribers purely from the west. Does this mean that harsh death penalties, super long grinds, and camping for (quest) mobs was ok? Making changes and taking chances is called innovating, and it's a good thing. The general public seems to agree, as WoW has so many subs compared to past games. And one day there will be an MMO that surpasses 20 million subs, and it will likely be the result of changes made to the genre.
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