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.