Monday, October 31, 2011

Complaining players are like barking dogs ...

... they don't bite.

It is commonplace by now that players who complain are not as likely to quit as players who don't complain. What seems strange at first is not hard to understand: players who complain care. Players who don't, just quit.

Now, that doesn't mean that you should hit barking dogs. Throwing Pandas at a player who complains about immersion problems in WoW can absolutely convince him to rage-quit. And as I already explained in a prior post, cognitive dissonance is a powerful effect that is able to keep players from playing a game even though they might actually like it. The more often you tell other people that you hate pizza, the less probable it is that you buy a pizza - even if nobody watches.

That having said, ignoring barking dogs doesn't usually make them bite. Players who complain about balance problems or too much downtime or trash mobs or whatever, don't usually quit. The reason they complain is that they really like the game. They care. A MMO with a forum devoid of complaints is a dead MMO.

There is one complaint, however, that needs to be taken very seriously:
”I'm bored.”
This complaint is a Damocles sword; it can drop anytime.

This is the problem of WoW's questing game. Now, I'm certain there are a few players who like it, but I'd bet any amount that most players don't. Sure, some of them say that they never liked it. But don't believe them! They hadn't leveled their first toon if they hadn't liked the questing game!

I remember WoW's past. There were always complaints about the questing game: it was imbalanced, it was too slow, it had too much downtime, what have you. And there is nothing inherently wrong with tackling these complaints and trying to improve the questing game. But what must absolutely not be done is making it better by making it more boring. This is a critical mistake and it happened.

I complained about the LFD tool since it exists. And I think that I have a point when it comes to its deteriorating effect on WoW's ability to draw players into communities. However, I still used the LFD. And not just a little.

The questing game is different. It has become so incredibly boring, that I stopped caring. If there hadn't been a LFD, I had stopped playing much earlier - given the boring alternative. (Please don't quote that sentence out of context - thanks). As bad as the LFD was for the community, it has been a blessing considering the ridiculously boring questing since WotLK and especially since Cataclysm.

Blizzard didn't just make the questing faster and easier. I could arguably live with that. They made it boring. The amount of things that keep my mind busy while questing has been dramatically reduced. Once in a time it contained things like sneaking past mobs (even without being a rogue), trying to access chests full of treasure, hoping for useful drops, running away, evading packs of mobs and pats, killing fleeing mobs, etc.

Nowadays, I run to the arrow, I hit the highlighted mobs or click the sparkling *whatever* and then I return by following the arrow. It's so damn boring that I can honestly say that I didn't do it any more than necessary in my recent experiment - and even before that. No narrative, however brilliant, could convince me to level 20-90 by questing.

The fact that some players are really bad at the game and need to learn is true. But that doesn't mean that the game needs to cater only to them. Challenges that automatically adjust depending on the ability and mood of the player exist. It's not rocket science.

Stop thinking about how to replace the “kill ten rats” quests. This is not the real issue. The real issue is that killing ten rats can fail at keeping your mind busy. And if that happens, most players don't complain. They just stop logging in.


  1. There is one more tidbit that you need to figure in. A player that complains alot might mean that his complaints are being ignored. He might also get hit with the "hater", "wimp", "l2p", or other labels.

    Eventually that player also quits because his efforts to draw attention to a problem (it is real to at least that specific player) go no where. this then leads the player to feel left out and not a valued customer. Hence they quit.

  2. Not so much 'complaining' but 'threatening' I feel.

    A good military commander never issues an [unpopular] order they know they cannot enforce. Similarly, a gamer who makes threats of how bad it can/will be can do nothing to hold those up, outside of his/her own feet shuffling. They cannot enforce the threat with anyone else's actions.

    A threatening player (if you don't fix XYZ I'm done!) is like a barking dog. I would agree. But a complaining gamer is an involved (and interested) client, and should be taken seriously.

    My 2c. Cheers!

  3. I don't agree with your both comments. I think that even ordinary complaints can be safely ignored. I love to complain myself, but the only games I ever quitted are those I had long lost any drive to complain about.

    That doesn't mean that complaints should be completely ignored, of course. But if a 'fix' or 'streamlining' makes the game more boring in turn, it is almost always a mistake.

    Call me conservative, but in my opinion a player needs to like a game a lot to start to complain in public about it. Consequently, the stuff he is complaining about can't be that bad.

    The irony is: Only the most satisfied customers actually complain in public!

    This doesn't mean that some complains can't be used as starting points to improve a game. But they can't be more, really.

  4. Spot on.

    I only wonder how many player who liked the game and did complain about something, continue to complain when they get bored. I would assume that for most player it's already too late when they get bored. The moment they realize that they are bored they log out and are done with the game.

  5. A boring questing game is not actually that big of a deal. At most, you lose the players both uninterested in your endgame and without social ties. If we imagine Blizzard doing subscriber triage, those kind of players are probably not worth the development cost of saving.

    Brand new players will coast above the boring leveling on novelty alone; the people with social ties aren't bored (at most, they're barking dogs); the endgame-focused people rolling alts resent Blizzard for the 60-hour timesink when they just want to raid on a different toon.

    A possible option would be to rework the leveling for "unattached" players (and possibly socials), then offer a DK-esque higher starting experience either baseline or via cash shop. Then again, that might set a bad precedent.

  6. CCP would be thrilled to learn that their customers are all bark and no bite.

  7. Certainly, Mika. But I hoped to distinguish between beating barking dogs and ignoreing them. Announcing and then implementing stuff that players bark at can be fatal.

    But simply ignoring players complaining about the status quo, that exists since they began to play, is usually safe.

    (Perhaps I should not overstress this analogy :)

  8. Nils I based my comment on the US political situation and how people vote or tend to stop voting.

    it is well documented that voters who are ignored end up stop voting because they feel that it is useless.

    So if this behavior happens in one situation why can't it happen in others like playing games? both take a conscious effort to do, both take time to do, both take research or other prep time to do.

    Now if that involved person feels he is ignored or not catered to they usually stop putting in the effort. So I think my original position is valid.

  9. The main problem is that the quests are insignificant. It won't change anything, the story of the quest does not matter, and you'll end up doing 1,000 more just like it.

  10. I disagree, Sembiance. Of course I wished for more impact on the world and stuff like that. Who doesn't?

    But the main problem right now is that killing mobs in the open world is hellishly boring.

  11. To me, the quests are very important. To the point that I decided not to buy Cataclysm solely on the quest experience I had in the beta. And that's still the reason I haven't bought the expansion.

    I used to be quite the altoholic, but since the Shattering I haven't been able to level one single character for more than 10 levels. I've now given up completely. I'll likely quit playing when my current niche-gaming has run its course (I 5-man BC raids with a few friends all playing level 70 characters).

    Why would I bother buying any expansions when the questing is so utterly boring I can't level up through it? Sure, I could level from dungeons instead, but the LFD tool is another part of the game I greatly dislike and while it's still better than the quests, it would take me ages (doing one dungeon with no one even saying hi will keep me off of the LFD for a couple of days).

    Sure, I'm hardly the majority - rather a very small minority - but I still think it's wrong to say the quests are insignificant.

  12. I agree that a person complaining doesn't mean they are leaving, but I disagree that it means they won't.

    What makes a person leave the game (myself for example) is when something is done that changes their view of the game. This is how all relationships are essentially. You may complain about your spouse, but accept their faults and will not leave unless they do something that changes your view of them. It is sad that many (and I include myself in this) view a video game in the same fashion.

    It may sound silly, but for me it was the combination of the Shattering with them changing my draenei pally mount. I did the quest for that mount and it was a connection for me for when I first started playing. Many people on forums said that while we complained we would stick around, but the shattering plus the mount changes changed my view of the game.

    If pokemon and pandaren change someones view of the game itself (and for many it will), then they will leave. But by introducing these elements they are attracting pokemon players and they know this. They are hoping that they attract more than they lose.

  13. I should have been more clear.

    Players complaining about upcoming changes are to be taking very seriously (beating barking dogs).

    What is not as serious is players complaining about how things are! They like how things are - otherwise they had never become emotionally invested enough to even start complaining.

  14. "What is not as serious is players complaining about how things are! They like how things are - otherwise they had never become emotionally invested enough to even start complaining."
    What about if they were emotionally invested because of how things were? As an extreme hypothetical, imagine that yesterday you were having a ton of fun, then today they delete your favorite class.

  15. You should be afraid of barking dogs that you have hit a minute ago, Klep :)