Separation of Developer and Community

MMOs are a funny beast. They’re not like your typical game at all. Most games you purchase, play, finish, and put down in favor of the next thing. With massively multiplayer games, you’re bound to stick around for months if not years, and have an extreme reliance on the developer of the game to support it and add new things.

Player communities for MMOs usually center around a game’s official forums. Now anyone who’s ever been to a MMO’s official forums will the kind of places those can be. They’re usually rife with player complaints and insane suggestions, but also will have some helpful folks around to provide some answers to newer players having a problem with something.  All of this is how things typically operate.

A large chunk of making this system work is how developers and community converse.  In the average MMO, the sight of a bonafide developer talking freely in the game’s own forums typically never happens.  Communication is usually handled by community relations people.  Their jobs will usually entail keeping an eye on the forums and getting a feel for the “pulse” of the people, summarizing and reporting on trends of opinion of the players.  They can also be seen taking issues and getting feedback from the game’s developers and then coming back to the forums with some answers.

That’s as good as it gets with the usual MMO.  Why?  We’ll get to that shortly…

Back in the day when EVE was new and CCP was a smaller organization, the devs were right down in the trenches with the players.  You’d see them all over the forums, answering questions and even just shooting the breeze and having the fun with players.  You got to know the guys and girls who made the game, and they got to know you.  But at a certain point that changed.

The game’s success made CCP bigger along with the community.  And suddenly the problems that plagued other forums were happening in EVE’s.  A dev statement on something would find itself committed to memory and thrown back in their face later with a “you talked about this, now where is it?”  The sight of a developer response in a thread meant that everyone piled on to that post, ignoring the thread’s topic in favor of getting their own perceived issues with the game brought forward.

It’s somewhat ironic really, when the same community that wants more developer involvement presents itself as a hostile environment for such communication to occur.

Ever since the big “t20 incident”, where a developer was found to be cheating in the game, a massive amount of distrust with EVE’s developers has been present.  This kind of thing is in no way isolated to EVE, and happens to EVERY MMO.  The stakes are higher for EVE with this kind of thing due to the sensitivity of the economy and such, but also because EVE’s community is a singular entity — we’re not split onto other servers.

I use EVE as an example here because well, for one I’m pretty familiar with the game’s community.  But also, it’s been a nice case study for this, since it’s only taken the span of a handful of years for CCP to pull back from the people.  But it’s an issue that’s by no means unique to EVE, and can be seen in other forums for MMOs.

Maybe it’s the subscription based thing that gives some players a feeling of empowerment over the company that produces the game.  I don’t know.  It’s got to be a tough balance for any developer to take into account the reasonable wishes of its community while maintaining their own vision of the game.  It’s also tough as a player when you yourself might have an idea for what could be a cool addition, but you’re also not aware of all the underlying balancing issues that change might have.

Players need to realize that yes, the money you pay monthly does pay for the game, the wages of the developers, etc.  But you pay to play the game because you like to play it, and that same monthly tithe doesn’t enable you to push around the development team.

Developers on the other hand, have to realize that there are people playing their game, people who like like a game enough to want to be able to communicate with those who make it, for a wide variety of reasons.  That could be in the form of forum posts (informal or formal), two-way information flow (Q&A), developer blogs, etc.

Otherwise things tend to break down into an “us vs. them” environment, which is never a good thing.  Is EVE’s CSM the answer?  I think it’s a good step in the right direction, putting both developers and players in direct contact to the benefit of each side they represent.  Execution of that is crucial, and I’m not sure if it’s working as well as intended in its current form.

All I know is I miss the forums of the past, and lament that a part of EVE’s magic will probably never be seen again.

8 thoughts on “Separation of Developer and Community”

  1. Agree with you 100% Blinky!

    Funny that you put out this article today. I was going over the capital-ship-tempest-in-a-glass thread – all 30-something pages – and couldn’t notice the whole US vs. THEM point of views, and almost replied to the thread, but chose the wisest decision and moved on.

    I’m always flabbergasted by the whole “CCP as the mean overbearing developers and the player is always right” attitude. Don’t they just get it?

    CCP wants the game to be successful.
    CCP wants to be in business.
    CCP wants to have a happy, paying client base.
    CCP wants to do the right thing to ensure that the player base grows.
    CCP wants a balanced game so that everyone can get their carrot and the player base grows.

    That’s not too difficult to get is it? I’m only reassured when I remind myself that the forums are only used by 10% of the EVE population. Then again, there’s a lot of idiots in those 25,000 players.

    I miss the good ol’ days too…

  2. The problem is, as always, limited resources. A developer that’s replying to a customer is a developer that’s not programming. And EvE has definitely reached the point where replying to customers can be a full-time job. Hence, the community managers.

    But you can go overboard with those as well. EvE’s forum is not as bad as WoW’s forum, where the CMs don’t have access to developers and can do little more than to keep the porn away and try to calm things down. Employess will start to see the forums as a cesspool, and the customers start to see the company residing in it’s own ivory tower.

    What MMOs need is a hybrid CM. CMs that are tech-oriented and can read and understand design, implementation and policy documents. Assuming there is documentation, that is.

    In this particular case, there wasn’t or the documentation was too hard to find. The particular GM that moved those highsec capital ships might not have even been employed at the time when some other GM made a judgement call and allowed non-agressive capitals to stay. A good CRM system can help keep track of stuff like that, but ultimately it boils down to communication and documentation.

  3. Yeah, I do fondly remember back when the devs were actually involved on the forums. (And the amount of idiots was pleasantly lower…)

    I don’t really think it’s a matter of dev resources/time; I’ve always seen the dev responses as a bit of a coffee-break kind of thing, not a *job* per se. And there is no required dev involvement per player, after all – it’s not a linear ratio requiring X devs per Y players.

    As Blinky said, it’s the politics and marketing department. And people are such intolerable idiots. :/

  4. Your post hits a nerve. EVE has some characteristics by design that give it an edge compared to the competition, but also against time.

    The dev-to-player discussion need not be everyday or anything of the sort, as long as there is communication going on. True, the CSM is/was a good idea, but as a new player (that is not reminiscent of the good ol’ days :P ) I can’t really say I’ve seen neither “serious work” done, nor complete neglect. Give it some time maybe?

  5. Great post! While reading I couldn’t help but remember another very large MMO, SWG Online, that had the second largest player-base with an IP that just could not lose. If you played that particular game you remember the seperation of Dev and player, heavy-handed forum moderation, bitter vocal minority using very active forums, etc. In comparison, CCP has much more interest in EvE then my perception of SOE/SWG. And with that being said, I believe that SOE made such an example within the gaming industry regarding the development and management of SWG that other MMO’s had to stand up and take notice of how not to develop a game and interact with the player base.

    Yes, CCP is getting big and the player base is increasing, but I believe also that they are maintaining a quality game with sufficient interaction.

    I just found your blog, I look forward to reading your past and future posts. Take care, Winterblink, one of these days I’ll meet you ING and chat you up.

    -Media

  6. To date, there’s no other MMO developer out there that pushes the limits of what a massively multiplayer game can be like CCP Games does. That being said, I think it was inevitable that there would be distance between devs and the community, as the ranks swell on both sides. Aside from the t20 incident (and it still amazes me that he wasn’t fired over this) — that one glaring misstep — CCP Games has delivered on a great game. Certainly one with some weaknesses, but no game is perfect. More problems will always keep surfacing, but as long as they’re improving the game and communicating how/why they’re doing so, while assuring the players that their views/concerns matter, then they’re doing all they can and should do as game developers. If they can establish and maintain this balance, all will be well.

    On the other end of the dynamic, aside from the occasional forum jackass, the community is really one of the game’s biggest strengths. Certainly in-game there are a few tools in public channels, but most people I’ve spoken with during my time in EVE are intelligent and generally helpful; they really care about the game.

    I haven’t been playing as long as Winterblink so I never got to experience the game as it was in the beginning, on a closer level between devs and players. I really wish I could’ve been a part of that — it’s an aspect of EVE that newer players just can’t have.

    Some people are really down on the CSM, but I think it’ll grow into something significant given enough time. As the players, we may not really come to realize this for quite some time — and maybe not for a few more elections — but I really think this can work; true, lasting change generally happens slowly over time. My .02 anyway.

    EVE will continue on as a game well into the future, as other MMOs slowly wither and die out in the coming years. There are no other sci-fi MMO titles currently out that compare, and the new crop of competing MMOs to be released over the next few years still won’t be able to touch EVE, in my estimation. Things are looking pretty good for CCP and the players too. Hopefully they’ll be able to bridge the developer-player gap as it’s one of the key issues that affects the future of the game. This was definitely one of your better posts Winterblink. Keep it up!

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