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.