Listening to player feedback...

I couldn't help myself today when reading this thread over on Massively and had to jump into the resulting thread with an answer or two on the subject of how much developers listen to player feedback. Those of you who read regularly know that it is a subject close to my heart, and I can rarely resist an opportunity to discuss this subject with people.

The question at hand...

Do developers care about player feedback, and why do game forums usually bemoan the fact that they are 'never listened to'?

It was a good discussion, the type I really like to see and take part in, lots of interesting and constructive viewpoints on the subject.

The funny thing is that the developers usually feel that they are pretty much always already listening and reacting to player feedback. Almost every change that goes into the game comes off the back of a player suggestion of some variety or other. From speaking to other developers over the years, I have rarely heard anything different.

The perception problem we often face with this subject is two fold really:

The opinion divide

Firstly, there are a lot of opinions out there, and while the proverbial 'you' as any given player might feel that X, Y or Z is the 'most needed' there are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, (or even millions if you are Blizzard) of other players who might have other opinions. So just because any given feature wasn't something 'you' (or the group of 'you' represented by a portion of a forum community) asked for, it doesn't mean it wasn't asked for.

The 'what I like' bias

The second issue is that there is always an inherent bias when it comes to class requests that the devs have to shift through and figure out the actual situation by research and playing because the 'forum view' of any given class is usually a pretty partisan, biased discussion (in both directions), and often presents us with a 'no win' situation community wise, as whoever we 'please' we end up displeasing someone else who thought their issues were more important (even if we will get to them later and it's just a matter of priority)

Boiling it down...

So really, given all the different opinions out there, that situation - where doing X makes Y happy but angers Z - is pretty much true for everything a developer does. It takes different flavors, but it is usually consistent. It might not be at the feature in question that raises someones ire specifically, but it may be that any given group feels the resource should have been spent on something else.

It has been the case as long as I have been involved, release solo content, and the team players complain they need more, release PVP content and the PVE players claim they should have been preferred, add role-play features and the hardcore brand them a waste of time, add raids and the solo crowd feel hard done by. So what you usually try and do is to at least balance the schedule of releases so that over a period you have added something for as many as possible...and of course that only applied to your game, if you cater to that wide a variety of playstyles, but most MMOs do to some extent. The more niche your game is in terms of mechanics, the easier it becomes in theory, as you have less interests to cater for...

A Community would face the same issue as a developer...

Any situation where players got to choose, would also face exactly the same issue. A community allowed to make it's own choices would probably very quickly learn that 'their' viewpoint was not necessarily a majority. (Especially if the game in question was not home to a specific, clearly defined, majority interest and was split between hardcore and casual, PVE and PVP etc)

That is often the hardest thing to explain to any given section of a forum community.

We do listen

So honestly, player feedback is usually driving virtually every addition we make. I can't remember the last time we added a feature that wasn't somehow born from player feedback. The problem we face with this particular topic is usually the diversity of interests attached to a game, and finding that 'right' schedule of additions to try and please as many people as possible is genuinely one of the toughest challenges we face as developers.

Do we listen too much?

One of the questions asked in the thread revolved around whether developers should listen at all, and should focus on 'their vision'. I think some games definitely do that, and much depends on the team and individual involved. It is important that a dev team isn't just trying to do everything players ask (otherwise, as a few pointed out you would end up with the type of car that Homer Simpson designed), but the two things aren't mutually exclusive of each other.

In our case we generally take player feedback as an inspiration for the area upon which we should focus, or an area that needs improvement, and then the designers set to work on it. It also isn't really about not wanting to innovate either, it is more that a players perception may not account for any number of things a developer has to also consider, or any set of technical considerations they have to account for etc

I firmly believe though that there is a happy medium to be found here. After all, it is players we are aiming to please, surprise and delight, so we do base our efforts on what we think people would be interested in, and then try to make it as fun and interesting as possible.

Wrapping up...

So player feedback is always one of the most important ingredients to the decisions on what to put into that just might not be 'your' specific feedback as it were...and even if it is the primary influence, it is often just that, an influence, rather than a directive that we as developers follow. It is one ingredient that gets thrown into the mixing pot when creating content.

...and finally...

Lastly as an aside to the entire conversation, as an ex-community manager myself, I have always loved the idea of a truly community driven game. A game where players got to vote on its features might be really interesting. While I am not convinced that a great game would come out of such a set-up (I fear it would in the end suffer from a little 'design by committee'), and it would probably be very hard to get funding for as a professional project, it would never the less be a great experiment in community building. I played a few Neverwinter Nights module 'worlds' not long after that game out that tried just that with some interesting would definitely be cool to see such an endeavor on a larger scale. I am not sure I would want to make it, but I would sure as hell want to play it...


Pascal said…
I think developers in general listen. Those that don't end up with a declining community and eventually a dead game.

But part of the problem may be in not saying enough. Developers will generally have a vision for their game; which will incorporate a wide range of player feedback. All the players see though are the patch notes with the first steps towards something.

Of course, you have the problem that as soon as you tell players anything they'll hold you to it until Armageddon with a fourteen page PDF on the fine print.

You guys just can't win :)
Anonymous said…
Who let the trolls out?!? Who-Who-Who?!?!

We’ve talked before about how the typical forum community for a game is really a poor sampling of the players. Mostly people only go there when they are passionate about something. And most people only get passionate about things they think need to change.

I think one thing that game development companies could get better about is closing the feedback loop. I’ve always thought that the companies behind the games I played were listening. And sometimes I could see how input from the community was used. But other times something would come out that completely flummoxed those of us calling for the change.

I think that rather than just a patch note saying “Rebalanced the damage done by the Assassin’s Backstab Surprise attack”, a description of the process could help. Something more like “We investigated the issues that people raised about the relative power of the ‘Sin’s attacks and decided it made sense to change the cool down rather than the damage.”

Now nothing is going to fully satisfy the trolls. Like you said everyone has an opinion and those who love to post walls of text with all the mathematical proof that their analysis and solution is correct won’t be happy unless their solution is adapted en toto. But I think it could help.

The other issue that I’m not sure the general forumite will ever really get is how much time and effort is involved in some of these changes. Most trolls will post their grievance and then if the fix isn’t implemented in next week’s patch they start swinging the “dev’s don’t care about the players” torch.

Listening (as well as playing) will definitely help developers understand what the issues are. But if I’m playing a game and the unwashed masses are pushing the dev team hither and yon, it’s probably not a game I’ll play for very long. I like to know that the team behind the game has a vision and are working to achieve it.
Brendan said…
I agree with Pascal on this one, you guys probably cant win regardless of what you say. Someone will always hold it against you one way or another.

I have a friend who is really boggled by the fact that any gaming company willingly pays for there to be forums where mostly people knock the game. The irony is that those players are often the most dedicated fans, who pay the most, who don't realise the harm they do with their negativity
Richter said…
Oh come on, you know you want to make a game like that. It would be a kind of evul vindictive dev punishment for players - "See how hard it is now you biatches" :p
Arcalimon said…
Nice post Sil, I may consider myself part of the community that is trying to interact with the Devs, i posted several analysis on the issues linked to my class, not because I feel the unstoppable need to whine and QQ but just because I do honestly feel that, given the actual state of the game, there are some classes which are stronger than anyone else, and other classes that are far below the line.

Speaking for my self of course, and related to what i saw and read on HoX community boards, our concern before the "lack" of adjustments to our class, there's always a priority list and for sure there may be other things on the list, what we are suffering about it's the complete lack of information, we don't know what the team and what the HoX devs are thinking about the class, we don't know if they agree with us or if they don't and in this case why they don't.

Many of us (with occasional QQ I must admit) it's concerned by this and is failing to understand the principle that brought us to some revamps, which were probably justified anyway.

But on the other hand, I as a person, I really cannot expect the devs to keep a constant touch with the community, they are employee like I am, there's not enough time for the chit-chat in a regular working day for an employee :)

On this topic my conclusion is:

The Advocate system was a great Idea, but I strongly believe it will be even better if the Advocates are the communication link between Community and Devs on a double channel, hearing something from my Dev is something i would really be please of :)

Have a good day everyone!

Iheaca said…
Not really a surprise, having lead more than 20 Live Action RolePlaying Games (LARPG),this even sounds strangely familiar. That's also the reason why I comment and send feedback on a regular base.

Now from my perspective, game developers also face another issue which is the pace at what patches and fixes are done as well as the content.

As soon as you start articulating a change, it is expected soon (Crom house). Also when an issue is known, players expect a quick fix (combo-skiping, aggro issue, Bori grind, AA balance issues (DT - VoM, Conq bad gold perks, 1% increase for healers vs 2% for DPS increasing gap). All these issues messaged out should kind of get all put on a tracking board were you mention the issue, outlook for a fix, comments on challenges you face. A simple dashboard could help solve a lot of QQ.

You did communicate a lot which was great. In the last six months, you have been more absent from the boards. The updates where more formalized within letters, which are perceived as less candid.

As communities love to provide input and you kind of leaked the fact that you have an expansion in the pipe, why not create a survey on what players would like to see. That does not prevent you from doing what you want, but drive enthusiasm of a demanding community.
Arcalimon said…
@Iheaca: surveys are to be considered carefully.

I'll explain why, let's take an almost impossible example:

Survey: Which is the class you would like to see revamped the most?

It's obvious that here the upper had will be of the most played class in that moment, if for example in Aquilonia we have 38 active HoX (and HoX is almost untouched since 1.5) against 50 PoMs (and PoM is the class which has the biggest benefit from AA --> instant repulse, shimmering invocation, Soul of Mitra usable while moving for instance) PoM will result to be the class which is in need of revamp by the vast majority of the participants due to the fact that they have the highest numbers :)

Surveys are a good instrument but should be used carefully, in fact i was quite disappointed by the last survey, results were absolutely number driven especially on the class section, most played classes having the upper hand on everything :)
Iheaca said…
@Arcalimon: Conclusions are to be considered carefully, not the survey. But I think we kind of agree directionally.

Imho, surveys and dashboards would help to get feedback in a more structured way that prioritizes issues and set expectations. If a very popular class needs some love it is normal that it has priority over others. But I think that Funcom has certainly a good understanding of their class mix in game and uses surveys more for qualitative assessments rather than absolute numbers.

But my point is that if an expansion is planned, why not try to get some input. Simple things like which area, what type of content, what would be AoCs next step ? Obviously they should not share results, but this would involve the community and could be from that perspective a great motivator.
Anonymous said…
IMO if the dev's would have really listened to the players feedback, AoC wouldn't have been in current state.
I am speaking from a hardcore PVE point of view with over 300 days overall played on my chars, in 2 and half years.

Here is some raw "feedback":

The new dreamworld engine wont address the current quit AoC trend, it wont bring ppl back. Also the new solo instances/ Khitai group dungeon(s) will only satisfy the hunger for a month or 2. IMO a revamp on the craft system ( which was killed by expansion) a revamp and maybe the introduction of new gems (epic ones, who could occupy 3 slots?) adding a HM to every single old world instances, that could reward ppl with a chance in getting either a weapon, armor, alchemy or gem recipes. Suggestions that' aren't new, suggestions which require MINIMUM development effort (HM on every old world instance) but what could keep ppl busy for a long time (see AoC 2009).
I have no clue about PVP but I guess a lot of suggestions were made there as well.

There is no need to keep re-inventing the wheel with each patch.. adding more variety in items/recipes/gems (the epic gems occupying 3 slots, could really revive the T3 crafting, which currently its pretty silly, with marginally stats at huge costs).
Now this was a sample of RAW feedback from a PVE-er who is with funcom since the beginning of AoC, and is an officer in a well established guild on CROM, who can't justify the monthly payment beside the friends created in-game, who can't keep guildies playing even with perfect T3 clearances and running HM's daily.

My conclusion: if nearly every suggestion comes for am player in 1 from or another, then the problem is with the management who prioritize them.
Wood said…
It's not always so much about listening to the players as much as it is letting them know that they've been heard.
Feeling ignored is a shitty feeling you know, especially if ones concerns are brought to the table for the benefit of the game.

What a lot of players want to know are some very simple things;
Why do fixes take so long? (Crafting, comboskipping, exploitable instances to mention a few, but there's many.)

Why stick strictly to a structure that's clearly failing in so many ways? (Bori. And yeah, the survey.. As most of the pvpers left the game as a consequence of Bori the ones that was left, the pve'rs, was obviously was happy with Bori. It was after all pve it ended up as.)

Why put so much effort into the dreamworld engine when there are so many other things that obviously would have brought back more/kept more players? Is it simply a fire extinguish to prevent more players from leaving? After all, the vast majority doesn't have any performance issues in Khitai, so the dreamworld engine wont do anything for the majority of your playerbase, but sure, the few with issues will be happy. Personally I'd say that all your work on the dreamworld engine seems like a waste of time as my game is running fine, and for 98% of my guild the impressions are the same, it's not performance issues anymore that makes people leave. (Apart from in sieges..)

The old core of trusty customers have been hearing about the dreamworld engine for a very long time now, I hope you understand what it means if it doesn't deliver.

I can for the love of Crom not understand your priorities. As a company it's usually about making money, but it just doesn't add up anymore. Unless the time you spend on developing the dreamworld engine now actually is meant for another game, and it makes perfect business sense to put the development on the aoc account...

But back to the point; let us know that we are heard! I'd rather get a straight 'no' than complete silence.
Bryson said…
I'm amazed you don't moderate out some of the comments here. People will complain about anything, all the time, regardless of what you do.

I think the team and you have done an amazing job fixing the absolute mess you inherited with Age of Conan. Personally I have never seen a more communicative dev team, but there seems to be no pleasing some people :P

Damned if you do, damned if you don't ;)
Anonymous said…
heh about the dude with the prioritizing thing, he is 100% spot on...the most "lol" example of all times is how they manage to change in each patch the patcher window GUI...they don't touch the outdated game UI but the patcher window get's new look on each major update...just coming from TL and noticed it got changed again..simply lol.