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Why do people love to exaggerate and how does it influence the way that we communicate?


Ok, this is going to be one of those philosophical debate type of posts about an element of community communication and talking with your players from my perspective as a developer and an ex community manager. So consider this the disclaimer, I tend to think quite a bit about how communication works and how it might work better, and that means I occasionally have the odd topic that sticks in my mind and prompts a question or two I think worth exploring further.

Let's get one thing out in the open first, we almost all exaggerate sometimes. Many of us I am sure do it every day in one way or another. Sometimes it is for comic effect, sometimes it is to show off, sometimes it is to labour a point, sometimes it is to try and win an argument. We have been doing it for as long as we have been recording history, and probably long before that as well.

In the context of community communication though it can have some fairly polarising effects and lead to some very negative feedback cycles. What does this mean on forums? Do we as developers even create scenarios and settings that prompt, or even worse, encourage this behaviour in our communities? Let's take a look...

So why is exaggerating bad for feedback?

If we accept that we exaggerate all the time, why does it create issues for communication and forums?

There are two main impacts of exaggeration that I see regularly. One effects the general atmosphere of forum environments, the other directly effects the feedback that we as developers get from public channels like the forums.

To take the more obvious one first. If you exaggerate, and in particular if you take it to extremes, then you only serve to make yourself sound foolish and anger other users, and prompt them to either respond in kind or to attack your logic. This usually leads to a downwards spiral of negative comments. People generally I think do accept that there are other opinions, outlooks and preferences, but one thing they hate is being spoken for by someone with an opposing opinion. So when you use phrases like 'everybody thinks' or 'everyone knows this is true' you are immediately going to put those who don't agree with you on the defensive. You can't possibly speak for everyone, you probably even can't speak for any kind of a majority, and that is something that many forum addicts seems to struggle with.

The main issue is that when you exaggerate you immediately belittle your own opinion by casting things in absolutes that people know aren't true. They might be willing to accept that something debatable happens now and again, or under certain situations, they aren't going to accept things if you try and claim something that they know isn't true because they have experienced the situation themselves. This happens a lot in class and balance discussion in particular. It collides here with the different play-styles as well, especially the min/max type of player who will gladly say that any given template is the 'only' way to build to a character, and from his purely scientific assessment of numbers that might even be true. That approach will instantly aggravate other players though who don't only assess the worth of a character by the math of their build, or might have different opinions as to what should be min/maxed, the point is that by using the absolute state and coming across as trying to say yours is the only valid opinion you will instantly invite people to disagree even if they might not have originally cared to wade into the debate. People always like to correct other people on internet forums, so when you give them obvious ammunition you are just asking for them to respond.

Secondly, the inclination to exaggerate can honestly have a very negative impact on the developers ability to analyse your feedback and identify the cause of any possible issues that are reported.

If a user is reporting an issue and says 'The issue is happening all the time' and when asked for details actually exaggerates the frequency of the issue it can actually make it less likely the issue will be identified. The user might think that if they are exaggerating the issue and it is seen as serious then it must be fixed faster and prioritised right? Actually it sometimes ends up being very counterproductive. The user may have a valid issue, but if it is only happening once every hour for example or less, and they exaggerate and complain it happens 'all the time' or 'every few minutes' or 'lots of times an hour' and that gets reported back to the code or production team, they will start looking on that basis. When they then don't see anything with that frequency it means they have to down prioritise or dismiss that users feedback or that specific report, or hope someone else provides better information. The frequency and circumstances of an issue is one of the most important factors in helping to identify when something might not be right. So giving exaggerated feedback can actually really damage the quality of feedback.

Likewise, as in the previous case between players, you also have the fact that if you exaggerate, in particular into absolutes, and the coder or designer looking at your report knows that it isn't the case then they either will presume it might be an issue with the user misunderstanding the game mechanics or they will dismiss a possibly valid issue as not being able to be reproduced because it didn't turn up in X attempts when the report indicated it happened a lot more than that.

It is understandable when encountering an issue that people can get frustrated, and trust me, the developers get just as frustrated and want to resolve issues as they occur. The need to get your point across shouldn't be more important than actually making the point accurately!

Do the developers contribute to players feeling the need to exaggerate?

You will often see players and members of your community acknowledge that they are quite possibly exaggerating, but feel that it is the only way to get attention. Sometimes there is definitely a validity to this. If we as developers don't communicate with our users regularly and chose to only respond when there is a forum 'fire-storm' that you can't afford to ignore then we are setting an expectation that people have to create a lot of noise before a subject will be responded to.

It then shouldn't surprise us when people skip the whole 'give constructive feedback' phase and go straight to the shouting.

While it isn't ever really feasible to answer each and every question or topic on the forums. It is possible to have a good balance and try and maintain a level of visibility that means people don't feel that only the 'hot topics' get an answer. If we don't answer some of the constructive questions and subjects in the first place, or ask the users to not exaggerate when they do it, then you really can't blame people for trying to out-do each other in the first place.

Now the challenge is that we probably aren't able to resolve or answer all the possible questions, queries, issues or disagreements that can come up. Indeed some of those solutions will probably even be mutually exclusive of each other. We can still ask people to be constructive though! If you try and maintain the communication, even when some of the users might be exaggerating, I firmly believe we can keep the channels more open and more constructive. It definitely requires a little more patience, and a thick skin on occasion, but to me that effort is worth it if we can get better and more rational feedback without as much exaggeration.

So what can you do?

The main thing that you as a player or part of a community can do is to not exaggerate as much. Be more accepting of the fact that there are other opinions and that things are rarely 'black or white' and accept that someone's opinion can be different than yours and still be valid. In effect exaggerating usually only serves to make you sound unreasonable anyway. You can't possibly speak for 'everyone' and something is rarely the case 'every time' or for 'everybody'.

Just think about it when you post, maybe acknowledge yours is one of many possible opinions. Be accurate when you report issues. If it isn't happening all the time, don't say it is, try and be as constructive as you can.

It is definitely something that is many ways deeply ingrained in forum culture but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't discuss it and understand why we do it and actually come to see that there might just be better ways to achieve what we want to achieve, from both sides, with a slightly different approach to our posting.


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17 comments

DreamingDreamer said...

Some good points there. There is nothing more annoying in the forum world that someone saying that something you have experienced for yourself did or didn't happen just because my experience was different to theirs. I think many think "If I am not having fun, then no-one must be having any fun", sad but true.

Openedge1 said...

Another option is to just not post on the forum and leave the game...thus not having any feedback whatsoever.
This I feel is happening more to some very specific MMO's that seem to be dwindling in population.
I think the exaggeration ends up coming from those who feel that everything gets explained away, then when this or that issue the user is seeing continues to exist for months and months, you end up with the user feeling the need to be heard.

Why would a person not shout when the quiet is deafening.

I truly see your point. But, when the final result of negative feedback is the closure of such threads on such a basis that the predominance of positive threads become the norm, the negative effect on the community is twice fold.
The feeling is that the company is just sweeping the dirt under the rug.

Good post...yet, I always feel that the side of the poster is never taken into consideration when I read these.

Craig Morrison said...

@Openedge1

I am very much trying to consider both sides, because you need to in order to understand what happens in communication. I was also a user, player and poster as well...thats exactly why I also mention the challenges and areas where the developers effect the situation. I do write though from the point of view I have now as someone who deals with online communities in a professional capacity, so it's natural that will come through.

One of the points overall throughout all these types of musings is that I understand why people go down these roads...and some of those reasons are valid and reasoanble and can be mitigated or improved by improved communication, some of the reasons are also unreasonable and born from unrealistic expectations...those are much harder to mitigate...and some are just purely people trying to 'troll' because they see the forums as some kind of little meta-game all to itself ;)

You would be amazed how many times I meet someone in person who turns out to be prefectly sane, reasonable and constructuve when you talk to them face to face yet are objectionable posters on the forum...and they just shrug it off as 'that's just the forums, dont take it seriously'

So all these posts are is to bring up and discuss some areas where there are community subjects that I find interesting to think about, and discuss a little further!

You also raise the very point I was making in the original post. We as developers cant possibly answer every query, question or topic...and then in effect that can also get exaggerated in some ways into 'the developers never talk to us' even if we do (even if we can always talk more) and that often puts the devs on the defensive too. So I do very much understand when a given player feels strongly about a specific subject that a lack of an answer, or indeed a negative answer, then they might also get frustrated.

That is another element for another discussion though. Sometimes players and posters don't actually like getting the honest and open communication they asked for, in particular when the answer was negative. Should a developer be honest when the user's issue won't be addressed, or not addressed for some time, or should they just stay silent and leave the hope open? Personally I prefer the honest approach, but it is also true that approach brings with it challenges all of its own!

Jake said...

I am not sure what the answer is. I am not sure that there should be official forums for any MMO personally. The develpers are put in a can't win situation all the time. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't because of the stupid sense of entitlement that exsists in our society these days. Every single person that posts expects that the devs are at their personal beck and call, and most probably don't even understand how dangerous it is to exaggerate.

I have enjoyed the games I have played far, far more when I have purposefully avoided reading any official forums. Forums are a black hole for either pragmatic assesment or positive thought and only ever focus on what doesnt work rather than all the wonderful things that do work. I really don't understand why developers persist in having them.

Niko said...

Honest postings where issues are not exaggerated and facts and feelings are separated is the best way to go. Also non-hostile attitude does pay in the long run. It is just like when dealing with any institution/company/group - if you approach them with cooperative attitude and keep tone non-confrontational, you will get your point across easier and help faster.

An example: Hospitals. I have received faster, better care when I have been friendly. And my mother got things sorted out for herself and good care much faster than normal when she was friendly. This does not mean that either one of us is silent on things that are not working there or mistakes made, but we don't raise our voices and we instead offer the chance for the people we deal with to feel themselves heroes for doing what they should do it anyway... and thus they do it faster for us. I bet they know it too, but still go with it nonetheless.

It really is basic psychology, and I love to go with it. I'll rather let others foam at their mouths, get arrested and get thrown to the end of the line.

AmandaP said...

That is exactly the way I feel Nico. I never understand why people get angry, aggressive and attacking the developers. Frustration is ok, guess we all get frustrated, but the venom some people put into attacking people on gaming forums just beggars belief sometimes. I will always try and keep my feedback constructive and have faith that it is heard.

Anonymous said...

You're right, players exaggerate because they don't think they're being heard. But you're missing the point: why do they need to be heard so badly? Cathartic release. They want to bond over frustration, pleasure, disappointment, hope for the future.

Therefore, giving substantive answers to everything is actually the worst possible tactic: at best, that ends the conversation when most forumgoers are really there to vent/chat; at worst, your substantive response disappoints someone and just increase the rhetoric.

What community teams lack is what counselors call "active listening": proving that you're listening without judging (with techniques like: restating people's comments; nodding or smiling at appropriate moments; etc.).

On the Internet, active listening looks like this: Collecting players' feedback (without comment) into compilation posts (perhaps in biweekly editions, like the Advocate reports, to leave room for future comments); posting in player threads with a question(s) or request for clarification (without expressing an opinion); starting and pruning official feedback threads on very specific issues; focusing on communications to players that are short, insightful (e.g., by rephrase the heart of the issue), and frequent.

Exaggeration is not a threat. Hyperbole is part of modern culture. And most gamers come to forums seeking a cathartic release, like sports fans shouting at a ball game. It's when the venting and hyperbole begin hurting the game's image or the quality of feedback that you need to do what psychologists do: active listening.

--Prima

AmandaP said...

I don't think that is always true Prima. Most MMO games have very slow development cycles and just compiling feedback just doesn't cut it for most people. His own forums over on AoC do that, at least in the euro forums, and they do it a lot. There are weekly threads exactly as you describe but they do nothing to make people any more constructive.

Exaggeration is a bad thing, and while you may be right, hyperbole is part of modern culture - that doesnt make it right. Lots of negative things are part of modern culture that we would be much better rid of.

If an MMO dev could just do that whole 'active listening' thing and get away maybe they are better. I would say SOE do that a LOT with lots of 'we are listening' and never any answers and players by and lareg see them as the worst community focused company out there. Likewise I think Turbine take that approach and personally I prefer the extra communication devs like Craig provide. Maybe you could argue that it doesn't actually make much difference and maybe he shouldn't bother.

An MMO forum is not really that similar to fans screaming a sports team for me. Sports fans also cheer the successes of their teams. I rarely see MMO forum posters do that :p

Anonymous said...

I like communication from devs. On AoC's forums, people like Craig/Silirrion and Didek in particular contribute a lot of substance. But Craig's comment was that "we can't answer everything" and he's right. My point was, that's not what's missing. Players may claim it is, because that's all they know to ask for. But in truth, there's a middle ground of "presence" (the active listening) that cuts to players' more immediate need: being heard.

Look at the class Advocates on AoC's forum. They engage the players, ask questions, make lists, freshen stickies. Just like that, they perform a valuable psychological role even though a) they are still very much players and don't even always get along with their own classes; b) they get no benefits from Funcom; c) their communication with the devs is (by design) one-way.

You can't stop player concern about an issue with anything except substance from devs. But I think you can reduce the volume and hyperbole with a motivated, interested, engaged community team that "massages" player communication on a daily basis.

--Prima

Waldgeist said...

@Prima

The problem is that the "Community Team" has a lot more on their hands, than just reading a couple of threads and answering them. The active listening approach takes a lot of time to be effective. In our case there is one CM per language, for all games. We have to read the forums, check press, chat with press-fans contacts, fanpage admins, ourselves to organize, we have meetings, we have to translate, we have to write newsposts, manage the portals, create graphics, prepare CROMCASTs, follow up on CS problems, answer tons of PMs, ... the list goes on and on.

Somewhere in that list all time of the day is eaten up and it becomes nearly impossible to follow every thread with an active listening approach. That's why it often boils down to having a thread explode to X pages within 1-2 hours because you simply have been either reading another very long thread and answering to it or some of the other tasks on the long list has taken your time away before you see the thread even...

It's sadly not always as easy to apply 1:1 psychology to a mass.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently playing AOC, and i cant agree that communication is always as it should be.. there is always room for improvment.

I read AOC forums on a fly, current state of AOC and AOC forums makes it even easyer to catch up current issiues and peoples questions, i can agree that posts like "where can i find trader" is something that devs shouldnt need to answer... But more game breaking issiues should have more attention then they currently do, meaby dev's are reading and they are taking notes but as long as community doesnt get any replays they dont feel that they are heard.

I have posted several times current issiues in game, and i was on my way 3 times to cancel my account due to lack of communication from dev's but Mr. Craig managed to put in few words about it somehow and on a right time so i havent done it.

But still i cant understand why it should be so hard to post few comments every day on forums. It doesnt take that long and you are actually talking to people that are paying for your product.

I worked 8 years in community managment, we had huge companys as costumers. I still remember that i was very busy with one very big company who would pay us big if we managed to sign off deal with them for 1 entier year, im not gonna say any numbers but it was huge, at same time we had a lots of smaller companys witch we allready signed contract with. Needless to say big company got all of our attention we kind of forgot about small companys, when it was time for re-newal of contract with small companys they refused due to fact of lack of communicaion, we lost 5 small companys witch granted us same amount of money as 1 large. It was a huge loss for us since we have been working closly with small companys for years, somehow we managed to establish them as our costumers again, and now they are beeing watched and taken good care off, that doesnt mean its more work but it's enought for us to talk to them regulary just to show that we care. They are happy and we are happy.

So dont forget about small people, they are the once who are payin bills. If you dont have time for me, why should i have time for you...

Adamo said...

Hello Creg,

There are a few points to consider:

First of all:
You are (representing) a company. If company does good work it will be loved - if not, then it is very hard for people to find good and nice words.

I think this is not such a big secret, but it could be seen very well as a cind of "consequence".

A consequence, that is actually a clear and concrete reaction of things that happen - or not.


See, people pay for some product; they have a certain introduction or idea of it, to "satisfy" certain needs with it. Ok very often things are different then, but mostly pll can deal with it in some way. What people absolutely cannot accept then, and as a company it should be avoided is, to make mistakes.

And one of the mistakes, that a company never should do after that what funcom was delivering at release (missing dx10, missing content) is do not touch bugfixing enough.

So how can it be,

- that bugs exist over one FULL year? (caps to underline expression here)

- how can it be, that professions do not get attention for serveral month - knowing that they became useless since first gemsnerv.

- how can it be that a bug like "walking through walls" at bk-fighst still exist since MONTH (caps to underline expression)

Well, I think a company can work more succesful when it is able to understand their customers, and know (or learn) their needs.

People do not want you to bring "world-peace" as you know. But simply expect good and excellent work, fitting to one of the most expensive fees on the whole mmo market - that's all.

You see, there is no reason to waste time with researching and analysing exaggerations; this is not what your customers want your team to do - very often the simpliest answers are the just best...



best regards,

Adamo.

Adamo said...

It means "Craig", can't edit here, sry.

Craig Morrison said...

@Prima

That type of communication is very important too. No denying that. As Waldgeist mentioned though it isn't always a straight comparison between one on one psychology and managing a relationship to a group. You definitely take the relevant parts though.

@Adamo

I write this blog in my private capacity, and my own personal outlook on subjects that fascinates me both professionally and personally - Game Design and Community communication.

I try and avoid answering game specific questions here. The forums and the support channels exist for that but in general yes there are some issues that linger (although not all the ones you mention I think are valid but that is another discussion not for this forum) and it is usually don to prioritization. What is most important to on player is not to another and vice versa and there will be areas where what most concerns you personally might not get the priority you personally would give it because we have to work on things in an order that makes the most sense to the project as a whole...that does indeed come from understanding our customer and learning what issues effect them. You are 100% right there and what we learn from doing that is exactly what does drive the prioritization process and decides what gets looked at and in what order. like I said though, that isn't a discussion for here.

I can assure you what I write here doesn't prevent any work being done on the game ;) The team work hard each and every day to improve the game with each and every game update.

@Jake

That's an interesting outlook. It is true that forums can be more negative than positive but I do think they serve a valid purpose and can be a worthwhile feedback avenue...even if we have to filter the wheat from the chaff.

@Amanda

I like the twist on the sports fan analogy. You might be right that maybe they aren't as vocal as they should be about what's good with the games they play (and presumably care enough about to post about). I think many would, and those I meet in person generally do, but it isn't the done thing on internet forums!

Karsten said...

Great article Craig! Sometimes i almost love the AoC community and developers more than the game, because it is fun in itself to watch the game develop in a direction controled 50 % by the players(atleast so it can seem).

Fun to read about your view on exaggeration in general aswell, because it's so true :-) I will recommend this article to everyone... doh.

Adamo said...

Why not wondering about finding such lines in a blog about "exaggeration":


"The team work hard each and every day to improve the game with each and every game update."

:-)

Just a joke, I believe they work hard, but I don't believe they are enough to meet up "any" schedules. (Yes, we now there IS NO ETA as a cind of prevention)

Let's see when 1.0.6. actualy will meet testlive (before 2010?)...and if it's going to rescue aoc...


all the best.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Waldgeist: I was being a little abstract in my use of the term "community team." I think the type of "active listening" presence that I described could be handled to a degree by volunteers. The example I used earlier was AoC's Class Advocate system: players who are deeply invested in an area of the game (their class, in this case, but theoretically it could also be PVP, Raiding, Questing, etc.) who have the authority to create stickies, post reports in a private forum to the devs, etc. Even the class advocates who haven't bonded with their constituents have still focused players' hyperbole away from game issues, which are themselves are often just red herring for players' normal MMO angst (boredom, frustration, etc.) One could argue that player volunteers aren't always objective enough to manage substantive content (e.g., choosing which balance thread to sticky, etc.), but I think a structured effort such as (to use another AoC example) AoC's Followers of Asura program (volunteer GMs) -- guidelines, private discussion of moderating decisions, moral support between the FoAs -- would elevate the a volunteer forum program to the point where having Advocates for all sorts of game areas (PVP, Raiding, Questing, etc.) would be feasible for tempering player hyperbole.

The role -- real or perceived -- that players have in MMORPG game development is probably the most overlooked reason that players seek out the genre. Yet the communication with players is archaic. Game devs/publishers treat betas and forums as nothing but marketing tools (and maybe they are; the point is, players don't see them as such: that's where the frustration starts). So most games are like petty banana republic dictatorships: the citizens come to believe that rioting is the only way to get change.

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