It’s Your Job.June 23, 2008
A little while ago on the Champions of Stuff blog, the author noted that Jeff Hickman and Josh Drescher looked tired and a bit peeved at being asked about server population balance, a question they must have fielded dozens, if not hundreds of times, as well as dealt with internally at EA Mythic quite extensively. COS passed along their answer, as well as a hopeful plea for the community to stop asking about this issue ever again. His thought is that if a dev has answered a question enough, WAR fans should let it drop and move on.
I disagree — but not, as you may think, to be a jerk, or to give the WAR community license to be jerks to the devs. In fact, our launching point for today’s discussion should be focused on the relationship between an MMO dev team and the community:
- The Dev Team cares about their product, passionately. They care about the community — for both the future survival of the game (in terms of subscription numbers and cold hard cash) and for the encouragement and feedback that keeps them enthused about the project they’re working on daily. They are on the receiving end of a litany of both praise and abuse, but their hands are tied in responding to a lot of the abuse, criticisms and complaints (because down that road lies the stuff PR nightmares are made out of). They are tasked with both making a game and evangelizing it at the same time, a weary proposition that has its ups and downs. They are privy to info that others do not, make the big (and little) calls, and are the captains of a ship the rest of us pay money to board.
- The Community cares about the product, often passionately. They care about the dev team — some idolize the team, some have valid criticisms, some see it as hype to filter out, some see them as people like you and I. The community often lacks full disclosure of all facts and relevant information, yet is not restrained in any way from loudly speculating, judging, criticizing, praising, nitpicking and investigating. They have a loud voice that can be used for good or bad. They have the money that can make a game succeed or fail.
The waltz between the dev team and the community, in many MMOs and other games, is well-known and -documented. If the community generally treats the devs well, the devs are more apt to open up and go the extra mile in sharing privileged info with the community. If the devs falter or are perceived as faltering in their job to not only create the game but properly promote it, rebukes will be delivered quickly and promptly, using next-day FedEx delivery.
I personally can’t imagine the role the devs are filling right now. Pre-launch is a tremendously stressful period for dev teams, as both the project itself and the hype machine demand so much attention. In the internet age, where new tidbits of info travel near-instantaneously across the world, fans are always starved for the next piece of news — or barring that, the old news retold again and again and again.
I can sympathize with Jeff and Josh, but I cannot absolve them of their responsibility to do their jobs. Fellas, keeping us informed is part of that job. It’s part of the duties you agreed to when you signed up for this role. You may not like it, it may get extremely repetitious, but at the end of the day, it’s your job to eat them bees. (ref: Penny Arcade, NSFW).
You see, even though a lot of what they’re saying about Warhammer is out there already, not everyone’s read it. Not everyone knows where to look, because, to be honest, there’s no one receptacle for every fact, feature and design choice for WAR. They might say something about server population caps 20 times, and to them, each of those 20 times is more tedious than the last. They might feel like they’re robots reading off a teleprompter. Yet for Jane Waaagh, who stumbles upon this quote for the first time in an out-of-the-way blog, it might be a total revelation for her. Or Joe Waaagh, who is curious about the issue, is looking for an answer without having found it before. Are they to be faulted for not being search detectives, or as informed as all of us? Or are they to be communicated with, as potential future members of the WAR community, given respect with an honest answer sans sarcasm?
It’s just how the industry goes — it’s how a lot of industries go, actually. You get out the word, and then you get it out again, and again, and again, and again. Now I might not be a MMO dev, but I do know what this is like. I am a minister, and part of sharing my faith is saying the same thing, over and over and over again, to the people I minister to. It takes a lot of persistence and repetition to get something through to most people, and as frustrating as it might get sometimes, I don’t just grow crabby and chuck a Bible at them, telling them the question’s already been answered and why oh why didn’t they do their research the first time? People often need courteous help pointing them to the answer, so we’re patient, and we accept that what is obvious to us might not be to others.
A lot of people bagged on a guy who, at the Baltimore Games Day Q&A session, asked about the Skaven (I think) as a playable race. In my opinion, a lot of people got huffy and elitist over a guy asking a question that had been answered hundreds of times before and was fairly obvious to most everyone in the WAR community. Yet how do we know that it wasn’t obvious to him? How do we know he never heard the answer before? And how does that make that guy feel about the WAR community — or the devs — when he’s treated like crap for his ignorance?
In addition to all this, some of the questions that the Mythic dev team gets a lot stem from the community being unsatisfied with the answer. This might be because Mythic cannot (for various reasons) fully answer the question (yet), it might be because they haven’t gone into as much detail yet as they should’ve, or it might be that the question has no answer as of that moment. So it’s okay for the devs to give the short answer, as long as they know that the community will not give up asking until a future point at which they will be served an answer that fully satisfies. If it’s a very vital question that concerns the future of the game in a big way (like the server population balance issue), then I think it’s the duty of the community to keep after the devs until the full truth is revealed.
I see COS’s point, however, and it’s not invalid. The community has the potential be annoying and rude, and there’s a point where we need to step back from asking, over and over, when we’ve heard the answer and know that it’s unlikely we’ll get more right now. We should do our homework first before asking questions, even though our homework won’t always catch everything. We should do a lot to inform within the community, person-to-person, and in doing so take some of the info sharing load off the devs’ shoulders. Give them a break, sometimes, and they might do the same for you.