Game devs learning from gamers (yes, I know it’s hard), part II

Good communication between gamers and devs

The original intend of the series of posts is to discuss the learning devs
can get from gamers, and look at the difficulty involved in the process.

A good chunk of it got sidetracked in the specifics of the first post in the
pair, so I don’t actually mean these to be read as a sequence. The first will
muddle the clarity of this one. And this one doesn’t want to really touch the
specific terrain that the first one did.

Here I want to give positive examples and discuss more what gets in the way
on the player’s side.

I want to be rather concrete and take concrete examples:

The trash debate in WoW raiding

An interesting example of the interplay of game developer and gamers is the question of “trash” in raiding.

First a quick explanation of trash. Trash is a colloquial word for mobs that are in a raid instance that are not special named mobs. They typically occupy the path between named bosses and may or may not respawn after a given amount of time.

In TBC raiding especially in the beginning, there was a lot of arguing and complaining by gamers about trash. Sniplets like “too much”, “annoying”, “time sink”, “respawn too fast” would dominate the debate.

In this debate we did have the devs comment on their choices. Jeff Kaplan
(“Tigole”) who is lead raid designer of WoW had the following to say to the
trash complaints of the gamers:

”Trash” Concerns

Equally interesting yet non-epic-dropping non-bosses (or “Trash” as he community likes to call it) has been of concern lately on these forums. In all of our 25 person raid zones we’ve made a number of bug fixes and tuning adjustments. For example, the trash should be significantly easier to clear in most cases – and take less time. Also, we’ve lengthened the time between respawn on a lot of the trash. Yes, trash will respawn in some cases. It’s a pacing mechanic and one that works well when tuned correctly. For example, the trash before the Prophet Skeram or the trash before Attumen the Huntsmen or the Maiden of Virtue works well. You get a couple of tries on the boss, and if you fail, you spend a short time re-clearing. Yes, there are cases of the trash respawning too fast or the trash being too difficult or too lengthy. Those are the cases we hope to fix. We’ve also fixed some bugs that were allowing the trash to respawn after the boss for a certain area was dead.

Basically Kaplan was confirming the gamer’s observation about the scaling of
trash and they responded to it. He also includes the motivation for trash
respawns, a mechanism that not all gamers feel is really necessary. But
overall Kaplan’s post reflects a desire to understand the concerns of the
gamers and make an effort to explain the function of the mechanism in the
game.

Later on during BlizzCon when they unveiled the plan for the second WoW
expansion, Kaplan presented a video of a fictitious raid instance that
consisted only of bosses without any trash between them. It was a fun way to
display the need for trash to create a build-up to boss mobs and make them
special and also make the context more realistic.

But at the same time Kaplan admits to more questionable trash designs,
specifically the magic immune trash after Curator and the length of the clear
up to Aran.

In many ways the exchange on Trash in WoW raiding has very good
qualities. The devs do see the core concern and make adjustments.

The video is of course more humorous than real part of the debate. I don’t
recall people really calling for no trash, mostly no respawns.

Kaplan explains the issue pacing. This doesn’t invalidate the gamer’s
observation that trash respawns aren’t really a fun mechanism, rather they
are a mechanism in place to achieve something necessary (pacing) in lieu of
having yet a better more fun mechanism.

In many ways I think this is a good example of gamer to dev communication and
a good example where game designers were open to observation of gamers about
a design. And the designers learned and adjusted.

In many ways this has qualities of good dev/gamer interaction.

That doesn’t mean that the phrase “Equally interesting yet non-epic-dropping
non-bosses” became a running joke in the community. Nor does it mean that all
comments were constructive.

“It’s so loud I can’t hear you”

A very real problem is indeed the noise floor and the sheer amount of
feedback that devs get nowadays. Another problem is that the gamers may have
sensible requests but they cannot be met easily for whatever reason (balance,
technical, time).

One of the biggest problem of raiding is how to accommodate diverse time
commitments. People often ask “what is the intended minimal time commitment
for raiding” even hardcores discuss how to “reduce the time investment“. Yet
of course the developers are torn between making raiding that withstands the
onslaught of raiders that will raid 6 hours a night 7 nights a week, and
raiders that would love to raid 3 hours a night 2 nights a week. That’s 42
hours a week vs 6 hours a week or a solid 7-fold factor in
time-investment. What is a proper mechanisms for pacing raiding that would
serve both settings and everything between?

The real question is not if the 6 hours a week players are slackers or
lazy (“free epix crowd”). It’s how to design a game that allows all people to experience content
and gameplay that in principle they enjoy.

A big problem is in fact spite. Some of the 42 hour folks in fact do not want
the 6 hour folks to see the same content. Why? “Because they didn’t deserve
it, they didn’t work for it”

So far there is still a prevailing attitude that buys into this spite. This
isn’t necessarily dev to gamer communication. It’s also gamer to gamer
communication.

“Carebear” is a player who does not enjoy adverserial player-to-player
play. Rather than this choice being neutral, some players will seek a
derogatory like “carebear” to display their disrespect for different
preferences.

In terms of balance some players will want to indeed have content to be tuned
exactly to their specific need, while at the same time have it tuned to make
it harder for others. This more overtly happens with respect to PVP where one
class may call for another classes nerf, and it may be hard to distinguish
the legitimate concerns compared to the ones that actually seek imbalancing
ones.

Case in point are hunters in arena. Hunters said as early as March 2007 that
hunters are grossly disadvantaged in WoW arena play. Only late in 2007 did
detailed statistics surface that indeed did show hunters least represented in
all top ranked teams. Only then did the hunter class see rather drastic
changes to their gameplay (see my post on deading the deadzone).

But of course the forums were filled with how hard other classes had it and
they were also filled with hunters who derided hunters who tried to point out
the problem as whiners. Even when the statistic appeared there were some
arguing that there just wasn’t skilled hunters and the distribution was
fine. Some of those were hunters.

For practical matters, the gaming community provides a tremendously noisy
environment where legitimate concerns are covered between lot of other not so
legitimate things.

In PVE the spite principle also holds. For example a raid group may have
passed a stage, or an attunement. Some of these raid group will heavily
complain when if attunements are lifted or content is retuned, even though
they long left that content behind. So remarkably the changes do in no way
impact their actual gameplay. It only impacts their self-perception.

For example in WoW TBC when it cames out both attunements and comsumables
were way out of tune. Despite that fact there were advocates for the
situation. Famously one of the top-tier guilds argued heavily on the Elitist
Jerks forum that the consumables situation wasn’t so bad and provided
screenshots to supposedly support the point. The shots however showed that
most players had multiple consumables on them, which clearly for that very
specific group was acceptable. But more importantly the out of tune state of
consumable favored groups like Death and Taxes. They could race away from the
rest easier because the rest had a harder time meeting the consumable
requirements.

The same was with attunements, even now Death and Taxes argues against
lifting attunements they have long passed on the Elitist Jerks board and clearly it now mostly
serves to slow down groups that are behind them. The easy argument is that
they are “slackers” otherwise and didn’t “deserve it”.

So some players do not only want a game design to be good for them, they also
want a game design to be bad for others. However clearly a good game design
does not cater towards spite of that kind. The consumable situation was
rectified and some attunement (though not all) was lifted.

I had a while back liked when Kaplan actually commented against the lack of
accessibility of raid game design
. Again a sign of insight into the troubles
here. For me this is a sign that a game designer if he has open ears and mind
can hear what’s in trouble even despite the substantial noise floor we have
and make good decisions regarding a game design.

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