Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
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Philosophy

March 16, 2011

The Value of Community Self-Sufficiency

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Written by: Vixsin
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Back in the days of Nintendo, die hard gamers intent on beating Super Mario Bros on “hard mode” or trying to get into the hidden dungeons of Zelda learned that there was one way to fix any bug in the game—to blow on the cartridge. It was self-sufficiency at its best; there was no tech support, no online help forums, and no one but those within our own phone books to ask for additional assistance. Skip, skip, skip ahead to new generations of consoles, and the mentality stayed the same. When our weekend gaming group would get together for Saturday nights of Goldeneye tournaments we had two die-hard rules: no throwing stuff at the Frat’s new big screen and no playing as Oddjob. When we upgraded to Perfect Dark games, the X-ray rail gun was strictly off limits. And when I logged into MW:2 online for the first time, I joined a server which had one steadfast rule—no Martyrdom. Through the years there was not one developer that I thought to reach out to with these complaints of imbalance or to question about class design—until World of Warcraft.

For as much flack as Blizzard receives for their perceived lack of community involvement, without deferring to expert research I think I can safely say that they are one of, if not the only major game studio that engages its community in ongoing discussion. The WoW forums, although having a bad reputation for trolling and general whining, until recently provided the only true avenue by which Blizzard could rapidly disseminate information to its community. With the upgrade of the battle.net forums and the institution of blog posts, Blizzard has stepped even further forward in terms of information-sharing and discussion. But, amid all this hand-holding and sharing, I feel obliged to ask … is this type of interaction really good for the community?

Positive Consequences

The marketing side of me unequivocally says yes—Blizzard reaching out to the community is what has enabled them to become adored the world over. If nothing else, this very blog is a testament to the kind of loyalty and attention that they’ve managed to garner from those gamers who now call WoW home. Instead of hiding behind closed doors or tech support forums, Blizzard has a long-standing policy which not only has them using informal forums as a means to disseminate information but also as a means to (somewhat) openly share their design philosophy and their perspective on changes in the game world.

This inclusion approach that WoW takes with its customers has a number of benefits:

  1. It encourages players to identify with game designers and think of them on a “gamer” level; these are the guys who sat next to us at the DnD tourney or LAN party.
  2. It provides reinforcement that Blizzard listens to its community (again, the concept of “we connect with you”)
  3. It means players are more likely to come forward with suggestions (which means Blizzard benefits from the combined rationalization and imagination prowess of their entire player-base)
  4. It also means that players are more likely to report quality of life issues which will impact the continued success of the game (which is important because Blizzard’s profit model is based heavily on subscription fees).
  5. It reinforces the service relationship that Blizzard is in. (Remember, buying a single game in a store is a product-delivery system, but Blizzard ups the ante by providing both a product and continuous service.)

I’m sure there a multitude of benefits that extend beyond the ones listed above, but even this small excerpt shows that the benefits of community involvement and interaction are substantial as each one is directly tied to the longevity of the company that it’s taken 20 years to build. To put it into basic terms: the cooler we think Blizzard is, the more likely we are to continue funding their efforts. Which, in turn, means that we get more cool games from the company we like and they’re able to continue to be successful doing something they love.

But, if that’s the case, why is there such a backlash against Blizzard on their own forums?

The Negative Side of Things

As much as I appreciate the sort of dialogue that goes on between the community and the developers (and calling it a dialogue is being very generous), there is a distinct downside to all of the efforts aimed at getting the player base to buy into a game like WoW. In fact, in the past couple of months, I think Blizzard has actually started to take stock of some of the negative effects of its policies that have blue posters daily roaming the forums, chiming in where they deem it appropriate or timely.

Pulling from a recent post of Bashiok’s (man, I love that guy) about why there’s been a decided lack of crab presence on the forums since the Christmas holiday:

These forums have always been about players talking to players. We don’t want to foster the expectation that it’s going to get a blue response if someone tries hard enough (lol I’m replying to a thread calling for a blue). While GC added a lot to these forums (and I say ‘these forums’ because he only posted in the North America forums) we think we can reach more players, particularly those in other regions, more directly through the blogs, or concerted Q&A’s.

He went on to address some of what he identifies as the problems of using the forums as the conduit for information:

While forum posts do lend themselves to that conversational approach, they actually have a lot of downsides to them from our perspective of attempting to get clear and clean information to the players. They aren’t very visible is really the first and maybe biggest problem … Forum posts also tend to be fairly quickly written by one of us without much in the way of peer-review, and anything written off-the-cuff like a reply to a thread can tend to be more precarious than a more substantive outlet that has an official process of review and correction before its posted (like the blogs). (Source)

Although I don’t personally agree with his first point about the forums not being visible (possibly because I myself am glued to Bluetracker and thus can’t imagine a world where everyone else isn’t), I wholeheartedly agree with the second. As someone who sometimes takes half an hour to craft an email response to an inquiry submitted via LiG5, and still frets that I might be sending out misinformation, posting quickly in a forum where you words will be dissected and interpreted is akin to playing Russian Roulette—one misstep and you will pay the price.

But more so than the qualities mentioned above I think there’s one negative consequence of forum interaction that Bashiok didn’t touch on (maybe because there’s no tactful way to address it with a customer)—entitlement, and along with it, arrogance . If there are ailments that I think too many WoW players suffer from, it’s these two qualities. You see it in the lectures heaped upon the forums, the blog diatribes against “lazy” or “incompetent” developers, in the threads created for the sole purpose of “educating” Blizzard about their own game. Because the true downside to encouraging players’ feedback isn’t that you receive too much of it, it’s that they begin to believe that you, the recipient of that feedback, are required to listen to it. And as evidenced on those same WoW forums, they get downright pissed off when you don’t.

Further, in a community setting, a personal sense of entitlement sets players in competition with each other. Like siblings vying for a parent’s attention or employees seeking reinforcement from a boss, when there is a higher power to seek approval/acknowledgment from, collaboration and support are a long ways from most people’s minds. Divisions become more apparent, group think sets in, and we see the sort of “we’re better/worse than those guys” bickering that’s all too prevalent these days. It’s only when there is a lack of potential intervention that our nurturing skills really kick in; we learn to adapt and change circumstances ourselves. Whether it’s dealing with the fact that Noob-toobing is bloody OP, or that Nintendo cartridges were prone to getting dusty, we either give up entirely or devise a means of coping.

While Blizzard may maintain that “Every Voice Matters”, (and note here that there’s a distinct difference between a well-reasoned voice and a high-pitched aggravating whine), the fact is that no one is more invested in WoW’s success than its creators. They are invested more than you on your Season 4 Gladiator, level 72 hunter, or Dragonslayer; they are invested in the game because their jobs depend on it. They are the ones who hold the data, they are the ones who know the math behind the classes, and they are the ones who, at the end of the day, are accountable to the company’s shareholders for the success or failure of their investment. So as much as I’d like to identify with Mr. Greg Street, aka Ghostcrawler, the fact of the matter is that he is way above me. And as much as I think Resto Shaman need buffs, or cooldowns, or awesome laser powers, it is his opinion that matters, not mine. (And you know what, that’s fine by me, because I can’t say that I’d be all that open if one of the Blues tried to give me advice on federal grant compliance.)

Walking a New Road

With the launch of a new forum community and a new “official” Blizzard blogging platform, the WoW team has a fresh slate in front of them on which to define the community interaction that has been their hallmark. But in contrast to years past, I think that interaction needs to become one more focused on information delivery and less on reacting to players’ thoughts and posts. As delighted as it would make me to see a blue icon crop up in any one of my threads, as much as it would inflate my ego to legendary proportions, it would only serve to reinforce the idea that a player can grasp the enormity of a situation and the implications of change. And the fact of the matter is, we can’t; we can only guess.

Despite the fact that it has been said time and time again that the forums are a place for players to interact with each other, as long as developers post updates and content-related information in player threads, the forums will be a place where players will flock to try to begin conversations with Blizzard. The problem is that, at least in the past, actions have spoken louder than all those blue words telling us what the forums are really for:

We’re not looking to you guys to be our QA department. We’re not asking you to balance the game or even solve problems for us. If you want to offer feedback, great, that’s what these forums are for. (Source)

We made this topic for players to discuss the issue between themselves, as that is mostly what the forums are for. (Source)

These forums are for players to discuss the game with other players. This is supposed to be a environment in which constructive discussions and helpful advice can be found.(Source)

You are welcome to provide your feedback regarding any aspect of the game in the appropriate forums. Our Community Managers or Developers may be able to answer the post there but mostly there forums are for players to discuss the game with other players. (Source)

The community team in specific uses these forums for sharing information, interacting with a portion of the community, and taking feedback from players to our developers. They’re also a place for simply building a broader sense of community of World of Warcraft players. (Source)

… though we do gather feedback from across many forums, and sometimes post here and there, the forums are primarily here for people to discuss between each other. This is even more so the case for the class forums, which exist for players to discuss their class with other players, post and read guides, share tips and generally help each other to become ever more proficient at their class. (Source)

These forums are here for players to discuss the game with their fellow players. Though our Developers and Community Managers collect feedback regarding the game and do greatly appreciate it, not keeping a thread open on the subject doesn’t mean that they are not perfectly aware of the feedback on the subject. (Source )

So ultimately, as much as I appreciate the thoughtfulness and the genuine desire for customer interaction that blues display day in and day out, I think it’s time for Blizzard to take a step back from their community. The interactive policies that applied when the gaming community was smaller aren’t the same ones that hold true when they’re dealing with a 12-million plus audience. But the qualities that define Blizzard, that set them apart from other gaming studios isn’t their blue-posters, it isn’t their forum interaction—it’s the gaming experience that they’ve created in WoW, Starcraft, Diablo and other games.

If forums are about player discussion, then I maintain they need to be lacking the blue text that we’ve come to associate them with. If you want players to stop vying for blue counts in their role/class forums, then you need to make sure they have nothing to vie for in the first place. More so, I think Blizzard needs to set about defining itself as an expert on its own game, and it won’t be able to do that while still seemingly pandering to the whims of the forum community. The formal means that Bashiok mentioned—blog posts and patch note releases—are a great place to start to send the message. And as much as players will complain about the recession of blue posts, the fact is that the recession will empower players to be self-sufficient once again.

It may take us a while to figure out how to blow dust off of a digital download, but I’ve no doubt that we’ll manage it in the end … but only if we’re pushed into doing so.






11 Comments


  1. Ah the memories of blowing on cartridges (and into the console itself) and Oddjob being off limits. Reminds me of how we used to play four on Mario Kart on my moms 16 inchs tv-screen. Nowadays I think 22 inches is too small for myself.
    Zinn´s last post ..Pointers for Successful Raiding


  2. Suindara

    I love how you go beyond the game discussion, I have to say that personally I hate the community; I’m brazilian and right now I play on a “very brazilian” server, there’s hate and trolling, from all sides. I’ve played on other servers, where most players were americans, another one most were canadians, and yet another one with ppl from everywhere, an american server with europeans, there are lots of crazy ppl. Trolling and hate are server wide, that’s the community. Ppl suck.

    I’m eagerly waiting for Diablo 3 so I can take “mmo” from my mmorpgs.

    I also hate Ghostcrawler, he lied to me once, on the foruns, long time ago back in the Naxx/Ulduar days he said resto shammies would get buffed and made me oom. Bad crab!

    Enough, so much hate… :D

    I feel an incredible urge to clap every time I remember that in Greedy Goblin’s Guild they don’t use Vent-like communication and they are forbidden to chat personal stuff or even emoticons in gchat. I really feel a bit sorry for anyone who’s job is also reading and answering WoW’s foruns.

    The current Dev Team made foruns more useful, I think that’s awesome. I do think they care about fair questions and QQ alike, but they try to filter and not to feed the trolls, of course.

    I understand your point about they should take a step back, but as you said they have a 12-million audience and it’s their jobs, let’s remember we play WoW, but they have a scary task to keep that number and maybe increasing it. It’s common right now they go to the foruns just to throw a joke, not necessarily bad, but maybe a little bit too much.

    In my defense: I’m almost drunk but couldn’t resist a fresh post. :)


  3. Linda

    What I think is frequently overlooked is that “listen to your customers and your potential customers” is very, very different than “listen to your forum posters” Blizzard may do well to do the opposite of forum posters or PTR testers want. I claim the % of forum posters who care about arena is higher among forum posters than among current players than among potential new customers. 70% of trial characters never make it past level 10. Blizzard is not going to grow from 13 to 20 million subscribers by listening to forum posters.

    It is good to know what the most vocal small minority of your players want but that should not be a major source of input.


  4. Can I just say that the image of a group of kids huddled around the “blower” really took me back >.>

    I agree that the forums see a lot of mis-use, and in part, it is because their is an expectation that we *might* get a positive response from a representative. If players accepted that the conversation was among fellow players and not between players and developers, I think we’d all be a lot happier.

    I was very excited with the “blog” addition to the Blizzard site: while the game’s focus has changed and shifted over time, having a place where developers can update us with a clear message on future development without the stigma of being dissected in a forum posting (which may or may not be easily found) is a great improvement.
    Windsoar´s last post ..Haste &amp Mastery- A Discussion for Restoration Druids


  5. Bear

    I’ve long thought that much player dissatisfaction is driven by the patch/update cycle. There was no point in asking for tweaks to abilities in Super Mario Brothers because there was no expectation of change. You bought the game and that was it. Blowing on the cartridge would clear up graphical glitches, but it wasn’t going to make you jump higher or run faster. In WoW, the devs demonstrate that they could make us “better” and the blues talk about changes to the game in a way that makes it feel open ended. So instead of enjoying what the game is, we tend to focus on what’s lacking and qq on the forums.


    • Suindara

      That’s true, but for Blizzard that’s great, players may think “ok, I’m nerfed right now but Devs will notice it at some point and fix it, so I can wait a bit and not quit playing”. The game holds our interest not only because the world changes, new raids are added, but also because classes changes through time, small changes almost every patch keep ppl interested.


  6. Animayhemz

    Trolling is a problem with our society as a whole not just the WoW forums. The angry minority has the megaphone and the content majority is silent. Not to get all political but….. Take the smoking ban in bars in major cities as my favorite example. Do I smoke NO, did I care about being around smoke in a bar certainly NOT it was expected, did I mind the banning smoking not at all. There was a minority who complained over and over again to get smoking banned and now you can’t even smoke outside in Times Square. Applied to WoW do I really care about coming in last on the healing meters by a few percent as a resto shaman? No, I am not going to level and gear anothe character and the people I play with aren’t in the super elite world 1st raider miniority. Did I mind the recent resto shaman healing buffs and the new Spirit Link Totem certainly NOT. But there was a minority of people who were dropping the Shaman class and not including Shaman in their raid comps etc etc and that spurred the changed.


  7. Law

    If you remove the Blue presence on the forums, then you abandon their only effective use (not that that’s the wrong decision).

    I think no matter how you slice it, at the end of the day Blizzard execs have that classic obligation to their shareholders, and they would be negligent to not play this “every person has a voice” game.

    Letting WoW succumb to the whims of populism will kill it though, and that’s probably not in the interest of the shareholders either.


  8. Dakeea

    One thing that I think hurts a little is that it seems like blues are posting much more frequently. I joined in BC, and I can remember when a blue posted in each class forum with patch changes disguised as conversational replies to disgruntled threads– that was the most blue activity that was seen for awhile! Of course, I wasn’t following blue tracker at the time, but I did do a lot of bouncing between forums.

    Now though, it seems they’re a dime a dozen. I agree that actions speak louder than words; doesn’t really help to tell people ‘now now children, you’re supposed to talk to each other’ when that stupid johnny got to talk to the teacher (parent?), so why can’t I too?

    One of the unintended sides effects from having a population boom I guess


  9. One thing I like to tell myself:

    To be fair to everyone, you must be fair to no-one.

    It’s true i have not gone onto the Forums in a long time, I’d prefer to get my information via third party websites (Like yours, which I have now bookmarked and fed into my RSS reader). The incessant whining, complaining, cries to fix this or that, It gets infuriating. Now that I have actually seen that Bliz is taking a step away from the forums I may come back and start reading/posting on them more. However, what will most likely keep me at bay are the trolls (no offense Vixsin) and the hate that still linger in those forums. Any attempt at being helpful or generally a nice person is frowned upon, and quickly responded with “Your idea is no good because of (insert hypothetical situation here, or maths they have done wrong)”

    Thanks for reading,
    The Doctor is OUT
    Zeuss


  10. Shokker

    Very much an interesting and considered read, as per usual ^^

    There is one point I would be interested to hear your view on, which is that while the community-implemented fixes for, in particular, imbalances in games (thinking MW2 here), had fairly small impacts on an individual’s gameplay. In your example of Goldeneye, which brings back a fair few memories, everyone agreeing to not play as Oddjob still meant that you would all have similar experiences in gameplay.

    I would argue however that this is not the case in WoW, where the most common complaint on the forums always seems to be about class performance relative to other classes. In this situation, assuming a player is skill-capped, the self-sufficient way of fixing the imbalance would be to change class, which not only has the potential to incur far greater inconvenience than say joining a specific server would on MW2, but also results in a significant change in gameplay.

    However, this is, as far as I can tell, a fairly rare measure taken outside of all but the most cutting-edge of guilds, but these situations do arise. For instance before our 15% buff I was considering a change of class or spec as I felt that playing at the top of my game wasn’t sufficient for our guild entering heroic modes (as a 10man guild the impact of having 1 underpowered healer was more apparent than in 25).

    Thus I would argue that, despite the waves of anger they must weather Blizzard’s interaction with the community is still very useful. Sorry also for the lengthy post, I tend to go on a bit.



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