Between a rock and a hard place

While exchanging forum PMs with a player last week we had an exchange I found very telling and interesting in terms of the challenges developers face when communicating with players. I had been commenting on some threads relating to the balance between PVE and PVP gameplay and additions and that both were valid. The player had told me 'You can't possibly tell me what I like or dislike most' and I replied explaining that I wasn't trying to do that at all, that I was just pointing out that there were different playstyles out there and that we, as an MMO developer, had to try and balance the needs of many different playstyles. (much in the way I have discussed it here before) to which he then replied - 'That's exactly the same thing no matter how you word it. You are still telling me I am wrong in my opinion.'

Now that is something I will never do. Someone's facts can be misinformed, incorrect and false, someones opinion is theirs to hold as they please...however the comment highlighted something that I have seen more and more over recent years and that is the way in which online communities seems to really zero in on absolutes.

It seems that it isn't ok to disagree anymore. If you don't share an opinion then you are wrong. We seem to be living in an age where people want to categorise things as black and white, right and wrong, you and me, that two different sides of an argument couldn't possibly share common ground.

Perhaps it is indicative of the type of partisan opinion divisions we see in our society, media and politics in many places in the world these days. It seems that for many it is the norm that if you don't agree with someone the best tactic is to attack them, insult them or perhaps question their genetic lineage. (and it's not like the internet needed another excuse for that kind of behaviour in the first place)

Personally I find it a great shame. In making games like ours there is no real 'right and wrong'. Different players have different tastes and as long as we are aiming to cater for several different playstyles with any given title we will have that balance to strike constantly, and that means that one side or the other won't always get their way, or be the priority for any given update to the game.

Rather than take it constructively however and accept that the game is home to many different gameplay preferences, there are many that seem to think the best way to argue for their opinion is to detract from the other opinion rather then to support their own, and whenever their particular interest isn't the focus to complain about the others being pointless because they don't personally share that preference.

This leads to you getting locked in a cycle of negative feedback. Trust me, the developers are keenly interested in actually getting good feedback on how to improve the area of the game you enjoy most. Feedback like that is important and a vital part of the development process, we are very interested on hearing your opinions about the parts of the game you use the most and have the most knowledge about.

Developers honestly aren't that interested in hearing you complain about a part of the game you already admit you don't take part in or that the latest update isn't solely focused on your preferences. They are even less interested in hearing you say that 'the developers don't care about us!' when they have just spend three of the last six months working hard on updates for your preferences, it's just not in the current update, and we both know that it will come around again and be a focus of a future update. Exaggerating and being aggressive might be the 'in thing' on the internet but it is honestly counter productive in this context.

If you speak to players about what they would most like to see from developers it is almost inevitably 'more communication' and that is something I strongly believe in. However much of the will and motivation for doing so can be drained by the behaviour like that described above. In many ways if the developer feels that they 'just can't win' on any given topic they are less likely to interact. They feel that way because rather than wanting to engage on the topics that can be discussed or when they want to ask questions they can find themselves on the defensive about things that shouldn't even need defending.

Acknowledging that there are different preferences out there, and they are all mostly valid, and some are even equal in importance to your own personal preferences is a great way to start. It really, honestly, genuinely, truthfully is ok to have a different opinion. We won't always agree, one side won't always be right, and the other won't always be wrong. Hell, we won't always make the right call as developers either, but we will always be making the calls with the best intentions of improving the game. The ability to discuss things constructively with the community helps us make the right call more often, so the more constructive people are, the better it is all around.

Developers genuinely do usually appreciate it when they can interact with people on a constructive and rational basis and creating the environment for that is in your hands far more than you maybe think it is!

You are always entitled to your opinion, and to share it, but doing so constructively will always lead to better debate. Actual debate about the merits, pros and cons of any system, feature or piece of content is far, far more valuable for us to read than any amount of bickering about who is 'right or wrong'.
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