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Feb 01, 2005



It's a sign of frustrated feedback loops. The players have issues they want to see addressed, and want to see some sign that the Powers That Be have an awareness of the issues and some intention of doing something about them, someday.

--Dave (yes, it's old hat, but Blizzard went out of their way to avoid hiring people with experience in MMO design, operation, or customer service, and is having to learn it the hard way)


I think we have already seen the genesis of early representative forms of government, via programs like DAoC's Team Leads, SWG's Correspondents, etc.

I'm still waiting for any one of the big MMOs to adopt the rights doc though.


Dave wrote:

--Dave (yes, it's old hat, but Blizzard went out of their way to avoid hiring people with experience in MMO design, operation, or customer service, and is having to learn it the hard way)

I'm sure they're beating themselves up over their horrible failure of a product daily. ;)



I do not see this as a step towards the emergence of democratic MMORPG rule. I see this for what it is on its face:

The natural result of absolutely horrendous communication between developer and player.

There are virtually no official responses to threads on the official forums. There are threads with hundreds of posts that get no official response.

This is, of course, when you can even login to the official forums. The most common occurrence is "Login Server Down."

There are a handful of major bugs and some severe problems with a few game features that are borderline untenable. Some of the big ones:

* The Warrior class.
* Travel times and excrutiatingly slow griffons.
* Looting bugs.
* Mail bugs.
* Daze. Daze. Daze. Daze.
* Armor dye
* Bag space for hunters and warlocks
* Fear/Sleep/and other PvP crowd control
* Nerfs that make no sense (like soothe, a priest spell, was nerfed to uselessness due to a single location in one instance where it could be used to great advantage. The actual encounter could easily have been fixed instead).

I mention these because they are issues for which there are countless threads, each with hundreds of posts (frequently hitting the max limit and breaking the thread) talking about the above issues. The majority of the time there is not even an official response of any kind.

In game tickets are almost never answered.

Emails to support are ignored or responded to with laughable results.

This broken feedback loops causes anger. Players would rather be told "Sorry, that feature will never be implemented" than be left dangling with no information.


Blizzard stated a bit ago that they're looking into the Warrior and Warlock classes in particular. I'm not entirely sure what more communication concerning the Warrior class would have sufficed to prevent this protest. Furthermore, in response to the protest a Blizzard Rep./GM (Kalgan) posted a lengthy message on the official forums. (See here.)

I well imagine Blizzard is quite busy at the moment. Server stability, increased capacity, battlegrounds, class balancing, European launch, Korean launch.. that's a lot to tackle, especially with a fledgling MMORPG and a fledgling MMORPG company. I imagine as that list diminishes more and better communication will be forthcoming.

Personally, I'm disappointed with the protest. The game is barely two months old (if that) and people have decided that the most pressing thing Blizzard needs to do is address their class to the exclusion of all else? And the best way to emphasize this point is by stressing a server and "causing trouble?" Childish in my opinion. Childish too to many other Argent Dawn Alliance citizens I've spoken with.

Had the protest taken place another month or two down the road, I might be more agreeable with it. However, Blizzard has barely had a chance to wake up, shower, shave and grab that first cup of coffee. The time is not yet ripe for civil disobedience.


I remember way back in '99 protesting in UO for an Australian UO shard. To my surprize, the message got through and the Oceania shard was launched in 2000. So I guess sometimes protests are a valid way of getting developer attention.

In SWG I largely ignored the Wookiee protests despite playing a Wookiee for almost a year, but it did seem that they also had a large part to play in the developers buckling to the pressure and introducing Wookiee armour.


People have the right to assembly and freedom of speech, but within limits. You cannot, for example, congregate in my house to exercise your rights without my permission. Virtual worlds are not public spaces in which nature compels us to operate, but more akin to places we visit as guests. In the real world, civil rights are much more vital, because we inherently lack the ability to 'cash out' of this world and move on to the next as soon as we are fed up. The WoW protest, like the others that came before it, are symptomatic of players who cannot recreate in the specific way they want to. On the big scale of things that matter, this one ranks quite low.

On the point of virtual statehood, I can't see players being accorded any rights that are any less imaginary than the notion of getting 'killed' in-game.


I hate the notion that players will be suspended for gathering in large numbers in a game that is often referred to as Massively Multiplayer. I understand the issue of servers crashing. However, with all the brain power at Blizzard, banning is their best solution? That smacks of laziness.

Perhaps I remember UO circa 1997-99 too fondly, but we had so much freedom back then. Now I've given Designer Dragon grief in the past for the infamous statement "House break-ins are a creative use of magic.", but can anyone imagine a developer saying anything close to that now? Or players able to kill and loot other players? Or requiring reagents to cast spells? Any number of things in UO now make you shake your head in amazement at how OSI got away with it.

Even in EQ we can look back and say, how did they get away with XP loss and deleveling and forcing guilds to share mobs? Those Verant guys must have been sadists.

So what does that tell us about the genre now? Is it that we are better off under the notion that anything that forces a player to alter his playstyle is bad? Or that easy = $$? I don't know. I do know I'm glad I played UO and EQ when I did.


> --Dave (yes, it's old hat, but Blizzard went out of their way to avoid hiring people with experience in MMO design, operation, or customer service, and is having to learn it the hard way)

Your 'sign' says it all :)

There's terror and reaction. If destroying the world and banishing people are not terror and reaction, respectively, I don't know what would be.

Nope, sorry. This 'terror' argument came up on the silly comments of my site, something that I'm watching with amusement but I wouldn't expect *here*.

'Terror' presumes fear. A protest is, AT WORST, annoying. The servers ALREADY go down happily because (of broken mechanics and untested servers) peoples already gather in Ironforge or try to form PvP raids.

Where's the difference between a large raid, a normal crowd at the Auction House and a 'protest' with 200 or so gnomes?


Personally I had a lot of fun at this event. On the other side every protest is about a dissatisfaction and a disservice.

You do not go protest where noone can see you or where you cannot have any impact. It's *obvious* that you go in Ironforge because it's there that you can force a consensus and where it's possible to obtain the attention.

Then this event was interesting because it brought up many interesting topics. Here it's a discussion about a meta government, somewhere else is a discussion about the communication with the devs and in another place becomes a deep discussion about the gameplay problems in the game.

The natural result of absolutely horrendous communication between developer and player.

I agree. I'm just frustrated because, despite these problems are rising, the best perceived way to solve them is just about walking backwards.
So 'we' are losing these occasions.


What's kind of interesting is that a server-crashing protest could, in theory, be enough to establish a cause of action for trespass to chattels.

Obviously, this is purely theoretical because you don't sue people without cash. At the same time, there's a clause in the WoW EULA that, if upheld by a court, could theoretically be an "instant injunction" against any protesting accounts.

In all reality, that's just nerdy law scholar fun. It won't really happen.

IMO, there is no reason for players to get upset if the game company won't let them organize. It's not too expensive to put up your own website these days, organize players there. The company has no obligation to support the meta-community. It would possibly lose PR points, but that's not the point.

That's when players should vote with their wallets.


> Blizzard stated a bit ago that they're
> looking into the Warrior and Warlock
> classes in particular. I'm not entirely
> sure what more communication concerning
> the Warrior class would have sufficed to
> prevent this protest.

Speaking from personal experience as player and developer, I know exactly what "more communication" would have sufficed.

Bear in mind that apparently the warrior was quite enjoyable in beta. But a series of last second, major nerfs right before released destroyed it.

They made the classic mistake that far too many MMORPG developers make:

1) They nerf too hastily.

2) They nerf too drastically, requiring scale backs.

As a developer, I will often consider a "nerf" (I dislike this term, but it has become so well known that there really is no better word) for a year or more before actually implementing it.

Also, I do not think nerfing in an MMORPG should follow the Machiavellian doctrine as written in "The Prince." While it may be right for a ruler to do everything bad all at once, so as not to drag it out, this is not true for nerfs.

See-saw nerfing and un-nerfing is extremely destablizing and infuriating. This is especially true when the nerfs always happen fast but the "un-nerfs" take months or years.

This is totally backwards.

> I well imagine Blizzard is quite busy at the moment.

Well, boo hoo. Sometimes you have to work hard when you are making $100 million a year. Honestly, I wish I had their problems.

> European launch, Korean launch.

They already rushed the US Launch because they wanted the green (and to be out when EQ2 was out). If they intend to rush two more launches then I certainly have no sympathy for them.

> Personally, I'm disappointed with the protest.
> The game is barely two months old

Again, as developer and player this kind of thinking really ticks me off.

I don't care if its 2 seconds old. If the game is released it should be in better form than this.

This is one area where DAoC truly showed brilliance. The game worked great from day 1.

WoW *STILL* barely operates 2 months and almost $50 million later. That is ridiculous and inexcuseable.

> However, Blizzard has barely had a
> chance to wake up, shower, shave
> and grab that first cup of coffee.

That sure isn't stopping them from taking everyone's money.

The game will barely work for weeks and then they'll throw a 48 hour credit to a few servers. Ridiculous.


Hey, if you're truly that pissed off at Blizzard, "vote with your wallet" and drop the game.

Which begs the question, if things are as horrible as you make them seem, why haven't the players been leaving in droves? Why is WoW *still* so popular and populated? I think it's because things actually aren't *that* bad. It's not bad enough to make me leave. Not bad enough to make my guildmates leave. Not bad enough to clear out Argent Dawn and make Ironforge non-lag-laden. So they must have done something right because the game is still in great demand and selling off store shelves despite the problems.

The "early" or "rushed" release is a poor argument. IMO, SWG was *MUCH* worse at launch than WoW was. Took SOE about 1-2 months to fix the bugs (and I'm talking MISSING SKILLS here) BEFORE even looking at class balancing. (Which was when the nerf bat started swinging.) Comparatively, WoW at least worked as advertised.


Mithra> Virtual worlds are not public spaces in which nature compels us to operate, but more akin to places we visit as guests.

Lawyers: what's the status of a disruptive assembly of Disneyland workers or shopping mall clerks within the confines of the amusement park or shopping mall? What about disruptive assemblies by customers?

It's a wierd case. We don't usually see consumers protesting changes in products. People don't normally act entitled to having a certain product or service provided. I guess the closest thing would be people who rallied against the change to Coke's taste, or against the cancellation of favorite shows. So I wonder if any court has heard arguments about whether customers have similar rights vis a vis companies, as do their workers (and shareholders).


In this instance, I don't think it really matters what rights players have. Developers of an MMOG should want players creating their own events like this. Is it a problem that the WoW servers can't handle the load? Sure, but that isn't the customers fault. Don't punish him for doing what ideally should be encouraged, and at the very least as natural to an MMOG as swimming is to water.

I agree you can't have people gnomes crashing the server as a result of their protest. Yet, out of all the options on the table, why did they choose to suspend people? Why didn't they teleport these gnomes out into the ocean or to the top of the highest peak in the game. Or put them all in the arena in Stranglethorn Vale and announce to the server, fresh level 1 gnomes in the arena have at them. Or put them in a jail like instance. UO had a jail, and it was effective.

And whatever happen to the ability to squelch players? Verant use to do this all the time. I remember lots of East Common malcontents got "Squelched".

I can't think of a worse way to handle a harmless (content wise) ingame event than to suspend the players.


"Lawyers: what's the status of a disruptive assembly of Disneyland workers or shopping mall clerks within the confines of the amusement park or shopping mall? What about disruptive assemblies by customers?"

I think this really comes down to the difference between the law of real property and the law of personal property. Private, physical locations can revoke your license to be there and have you removed. If you refuse to leave, you can be arrested for trespass. Because this conduct takes place on real property, damage is presumed.

The law currently considers servers to be personal property. The most analogous tort would be trespass to chattels. Trespass to chattels requires a quantifiable damage to the chattel in order to to be actionable. eBay sued a company known as Bidder's Edge, an auction site aggregator, for trespass to chattels. The decision in most casebooks came down in 2000. The BE search bots submitted hundreds of thousands of requests to eBay's servers a day. This was enough to trigger the tort.

Of course, with today's server capabilities, the bar may have been raised a bit insofar as server requests/day are concerned.

Until the law recognizes virtual worlds (no matter how nominally "worldlike" they are in a game design sense) as real property, most of this is purely theory. Certainly, a virtual world is not unique in the sense that individual plots of land are unique. Assuming frequent data backups, a virtual world could be deleted and restored from backup. You can't do the same with real land.

Until the idea of unique property changes, I doubt we'll see virtual property considered as more than the servers upon which it resides.

To that extent, we have to analyze the rights of game companies to block player protest as part of their right as service provider/licensor. At the risk of belaboring the point, I think this all comes back to the prevailing idea that the EULA is king.



If Blizzard was smart they should have just beefed up that server for one day to handle the gathering and then just ignored them.


Blizzard did "push" people out of IF. People kept going back in.

I don't remember the specifics but I do recall some cases dealing with malls and whether they were public or private spaces (as relating to protests I think). That distinction determines peoples' rights on the property in question. If I remember, I'll look for it tomorrow (aka later today).


Oh, crikey. Doesn't anyone pay attention to Jessica Mulligan?


It's a bit of a stretch to assume that the protest caused a sever crash. Those servers crash very often even without any large assemblies.


(copy/pasting a comment from the Slashdot mess)

Isn't the point of protesting to get noticed? I'm pretty sure a GM coming on and telling the protesters to stop destroying their server is a reasonably easy way to tell that you have been noticed.

So why the fuck didn't you log off like they asked? For god's sake, did you expect to march until they fixed the "problem" right then and there? Were you expecting a goddamn midnight blitz of programmers to swarm down upon the server machine and magically make it all better? You made your freaking point, what do you want to do now? Destroy the server because of your class envy? (nearly every other post was about how Rogues were so "uber l33t").

And what's this crap about "I pay for the game I can do whatever I want"? I thought we were out of elementary school, kids, I thought we knew better than to piss off the park ranger and then try to piss ON the park ranger when he told us to stop chopping down the goddamn trees.

You can't honestly expect any type of "fair use" policy to apply here people. You're destroying other people's right to play who may not give a flying fuck about your class yet you expect that you should be treated quite the opposite when it comes to YOUR right to play (i.e. the GMs shouldn't kick you off).

From what I see, your issues have been addressed...so...find another outlet guys:

http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=w ow-warrior&t=85008&p=1&tmp=1#post85008


Hey! No yelling and screaming and swearing at Terra Nova.


Take it to GrandTextAuto...


Official boards are an absolutely worthless form of official communication.

They breed resentment and hostility on their face. They give the most space and attention to the agendas of the angriest and most unreasonable (those who create repeated threads with the most confrontational content spurring post counts).
They create a resource sink where the value of a contributor is inversely proportional to the amount of time and money it takes to service that contributors needs (bad posters clutter, repost, flame, etc).
And attention given by way of developer interaction only breeds further resentment in every player group who did not get attention.


Right on weasel, hence, I don't visit the forums on any MMO anymore except the trade forums :)

P.S. Didn't mean to repost such a flamatory comment full of interesting language but the post does seem to get the point across well :)


matt >> I'm sure they're beating themselves up over their horrible failure of a product daily. ;)

Good point, but I've already heard rumblings along the lines of "Why do we need experienced people? WoW didn't have any and they are swimming in cash."

WoW is not a bellweather, a foreshadowing, and trend marker, or anything else like that. It's a well-polished EQ clone benefitting from the huge growth of the MMO market. But money types chase the big money, and WoW, with no MMO experience on their team, with a very derivative game design, with production values that raise budgets past the $40M mark, is the big money.

So I felt the need to point out that lack of experience is not an asset. We're replaying much of history here, and it's getting damned old because it's the 4th time around (more if you start your history lesson before UO).



Dave - So I felt the need to point out that lack of experience is not an asset.

It's high time someone pointed out that the WoW team does, in fact, have several people across several departments with previous AAA MMORPG experience. This is in addition to the experience Blizzard already had with running an RPG over Battle.net. I'm not going to name any names, but if you cross reference between the WoW credits and other major MMO titles, you are guaranteed to find at least a few names in common.


Dave Rickey: We're replaying much of history here, and it's getting damned old because it's the 4th time around (more if you start your history lesson before UO).

That's funny. I remember saying this about UO.

In Amy Jo Kim's Killers Have More Fun in Wired's May 1998 issue, Johnny Wilson goes for the jugular and I get to be the good cop:

Now, Wilson resorts to the classics to express his deep unhappiness with UO: "Ultima Online begins with hubris and ends in Greek tragedy. The hubris is a result of being unwilling to learn from others' mistakes. The tragedy is that it could have been so much more."

Wilson's assessment is typical of the gaming-industry élite. Randy Farmer, virtual-worlds pioneer and senior designer at Electric Communities, says, "Unfortunately, Origin seems to have ignored many of the lessons that our industry has learned in the last 10 years of building online worlds. They're making the same mistakes that first-time virtual-world builders always make."


Regarding making the same mistakes: except for a few resources currently available, teams rely primary on experience. By experience they may have known certain dangers and may have a few ideas about how to avoid then, but still couldn't avoid them.

Regarding the protest and law: can this action be viewed as a DOS attack and fall within the realm of some security laws?


I don't know. If I call a group of friend and we keep refreshing this site to swamp it, can it be considered a DOS attack?

Blizzard capitalized on its ability to craft wonderful single-player games. World of Warcraft was developed exactly following their already consolidated procedure. But it's after a release that their plan doesn't work anyomre.

What matters is how they develop the game *now*.


Oh, Slashdot too launches DOS attacks so.


"Regarding the protest and law: can this action be viewed as a DOS attack and fall within the realm of some security laws?"

I'd say that, at best, it would be like a trespass to chattels. Problem is that each individual doesn't do the harm, it's all of them at once. Unlike past trespass to chattels cases involving online resources, the actors here are many, thus creating the problem. In the past, it has been one company/individual that acts, causes harm, and is smacked.

I guess you could blame the original organizer.

But why?

Do you really think someone will waste the cash to file a lawsuit, just to get an injunction? Most likely not. Money damages are too hard to calculate for something like that. And even if you could quantify money damages from a server crash, I highly doubt you'd be able to get it out of the losing defendant.


Samantha >> It's high time someone pointed out that the WoW team does, in fact, have several people across several departments with previous AAA MMORPG experience.

Actually, would you mind naming a few? MobyGames lists that 9 people also worked on UO:LBT and 8 (probably mostly from the 9) also worked on UO:AOS. And 2 worked on Dark Age of Camelot and DAoC:SI, Phillip O'Neill and Koren Buckner. Strange, I don't remember seeing them at the design and operations meetings...? Oh, that's right, they work for Vivendi and got credits for the packaging and such.

All the other names I've managed to find with other MMO credits are similar, a bunch from the Korean VUG branch, some more from the European group. Who is the most senior person on the *actual* development team for WoW that has worked on other MMO's, and what was their position on that other team?

With over 200 people in the credits, it's not surprising that some of them have had pieces of paper from other MMO's cross their desks. But I don't see anyone in a position of authority (or even significant influence) that has been there before.

--Dave (and no, Battle.net doesn't count. We can discuss why not if you like, but it starts with the totally different expectations from subscribers vs. box purchasers)


"Which begs the question, if things are as horrible as you make them seem, why haven't the players been leaving in droves?"


When a refund is not an option, you demand performance.


Dave, from what little I know of the WoW team, there are several people with strong experience there. For example, Tom Chilton has several years of experience leading a successful design team on UO -- I guess he's one of the 9 that you brushed past to get to the two from Vivendi that you know and could safely exclude. I believe Blizzard also picked up UO's customer service lead and a few other designers and engineers. Given that there are that many there with actual MMOG experience, I don't know how you can say that they have no experienced people on their team.

I'm not sure what your goal is with this, but I have to say this sounds like sour grapes more than anything else. I've been on teams where there was little MMOG experience and seen what happens when execs and devs don't get the difference between developing and deploying single-player games and MMOGs. WoW isn't perfect, but it sure isn't an example of that.


Posted by: Greg | February 2, 2005 05:55 AM:
Oh, crikey. Doesn't anyone pay attention to Jessica Mulligan?

Rarely, it would seem. Of course, since I generally get paid wads of cash to be ignored and my personal Frustrat-O-Meter burned out years ago, it usually more humorous than painful to watch.


Oka, it did come out sounding worse than I meant it to. I genuinely had not heard of anyone with experience having been on the team, and everyone I knew had applied hadn't even gotten as far as an interview (that didn't include me, BTW). And you'll have to forgive me for not going through the whole credts list, I checked names at the top, then went through the Korean/European VUG list on a hunch. There's nearly 300 names there.

Okay, then flip it around: If they did have the experience available, why are they making the same old mistakes?



And to address the "sour grapes" issue: I have a lot of admiration for what Blizzard accomplished. This is what an EQ-like game always *should* have been, it's "EQ Without The Suck", *finally*. It's somewhat disturbing how much money it took to do it, but it's still a hell of an accomplishment.

What I'm hostile towards is not Blizzard, but the investment market's almost inevitable reaction to what Blizzard has wrought: They are going to want to hear how we can outdo Blizzard, and make the same game, but bigger, better, and shinier. I'm not sure that's possible, and I'm pretty certain it isn't without jumping to the $100M+ range of budgets. And even if someone handed me the $100M on a platter, I don't want to make that game.

With the simulataneous success of *two* EQ clones, it's just going to make things that much harder for anyone wanting to make anything else. And in fact, it's also pretty damned disturbing to hear EQ2 referred to as a marginal failure because it's only the *second* fastest growing American MMO of all time, its 300K in the shadow of WoW's 600K is already being dismissed as an "also ran".

That's what I'm feeling feisty about, not anything the WoW team did.



I'm with you Dave, but it's not just the investment community's fault. The same attitude is prevalent in the media and on sites like Terranova, where they paint anything that doesn't compete with whatever the biggest Western success is as a failure or an 'also-ran', as you called it. That's stupid. It's not universal or constant but that's the underlying attitude.

EQ2's level of success is, in my opinion, exactly the same whether WoW has 10 subscribers or 10 million. It's not a race to be #1, because being #1 doesn't matter. Nobody's kids get sent to college by being #1. They get sent to college by games that return a profit, and except insofar as one game may take potential players from another game, the success of product A really doesn't matter in terms of the success of product B.

One of the guys that runs f13.net asked me a silly question awhile back after reading a press release referring to one of our games as a text MMO. He objected to it being called an MMO, and asked something like, "Wouldn't you rather be at the top of the text MUD ladder than at the bottom of the MMO ladder?" My answer was, "What are you talking about and why should I care? Whether we're at the top of this ladder or the bottom of that ladder doesn't affect our lives."

P.S. Did WoW really cost 40 million to do? That is indeed pretty depressing. As you know, we failed to raise a meager 10 million last year. 40 million is just....depressing.


WoW showed great promise, and at first it looked marvellous and shiny and new. But every day brings more evidence that it is only another buggy, unfinished, undocumented product. That customer service is dismal, and communication from the developers nonexistent. Worst of all, the class balance and aggro management are both seriously borked. Are mmogs so inherently expensive, time consuming, complex, and unpredicatble that nobody will ever get it right?


MMOGs, by definition, operate within the connected space of the online medium. Said a different way, everyone who plays a mmog can use a 1:many communication technique, like forums, blogs, email, to complain about it (or praise it). Imagine if WoW had a 99% satisfaction rate (truly amazing for any product or service). Assuming they have 600k players that would leave 6,000 people unhappy. Do you know how much noise 6,000 unhappy people can make online? (unfortunately for you, I think most of you do know). So all this noise being made by the 6,000 people obscures the 594,000 people that are satisfied. And now imagine if a more reasonable 10% of people were unhappy. That would be 60,000 voices clamoring for attention. And yet, 540,000 people are still happy.

My main point here is not to defend WoW, or any other game, but only to point out that what is different is that mmog customers can be extremely noisy. And I’ve been shocked to witness in other games how many of these noisy people actually stay around. In the end, all noise considered, they believe the product is worth their $15 a month. Only when people really walk away, like they did in Sims Online, do you have a true problem.

If I was running a mmog, which I’m not, I’d simply invite the unproductively noisy people, and you know who they are, to move on. That’s right, stop buying my service. I’d point them to a nice selection of other games where it would be my sincere hope that they found something more to their liking. And then I’d run back to all those happy people that give me money every month to buy my service.


Dave asked pithily, "If they did have the experience available, why are they making the same old mistakes?"

I'm not sure they are. That is, there are a bunch of things the WoW team has done exceptionally well that other games have fumbled. I agree that WoW is likely the shining apex of what has become the standard FRP-esque model of MMOG gameplay. Any improvements in this narrow niche will likely be embroidery on what's been done, not ground-breaking paradigm-setting innovations.

That said, let's remember that designing, developing, and deploying these games/services is still something of a black art. Game production is far more chaotic and unknown than any other form of industrial software that I know, and MMOGs are on the far end of that range. So it's not surprising to me that there are rough spots in WoW's deployment. Despite their capturing the essence of the fantasy environment and gameplay (as imagined thus far), it's going to be awhile before MMOG development is down to 'paint-by-numbers' that people just nail.

"[Investors] are going to want to hear how we can outdo Blizzard, and make the same game, but bigger, better, and shinier. I'm not sure that's possible, and I'm pretty certain it isn't without jumping to the $100M+ range of budgets."

I agree with Matt on this one: being #1 isn't what this is about. Attracting customers and achieving a strong ROI is. So, FWIW, I'm pretty certain you're wrong. :-) Now, I wouldn't want to be in the process of creating yet-another-fantasy MMOG just now; WoW is going to cast a long shadow (and market growth aside, I'm not quite as sanguine about the growth of the MMOFRPG niche as othes like Mark Jacobs are). But I'm pretty certain a AAA MMOG title -- one that attracts many customers and gives a strong multiple ROI for investors -- can be made for significantly less than 10% of the astronomical figure you named. Of course, doing so requires un-thinking some rather deeply entrenched assumptions about MMOG design and production... but any time you get to the "throw more money at the problem" stage, that's likely the case.

I don't contest, btw, that raising money to fund a MMOG is insanely difficult. I don't believe WoW significantly helps or hurts in this regard -- the market-opening signals Wow's success sends are counterbalanced by the familiar market-saturation predictions. Moreover investors are for the most part a skittish lot, and games are still seen as frivolous, faddish, and chasing after the same narrow market base.

On a slightly different topic, Mikyo said above that "communication from the developers [is] nonexistent."

As David Reim points out, I wonder - is this necessarily a bad thing? What makes us think that having developers post to a message board is a sign of success or even a good idea? IMO this is something that inevitably leads to heat, thrash, a sense of entitlement and dissatisfaction amongst a small coterie of self-styled elite players, and takes the devs away from their actual work. Tell me again why this is a good idea?


Now, we have once again bemoaned the failure of game operators to learn the lessons of the past. But has anyone else noticed that this thread adopts the same old paradigm for these events: it's a customer service issue. It's about communication with your users. It's about deft management of a business service.

There's a smoking gun here. When you see people working within a paradigm and getting into trouble repeatedly, maybe the paradigm is at fault.

By that reasoning, Blizzard did not do better than UO because they can't. They (like the other commenters here) are trying to solve a customer service issue. They view the institutions of interest aggregation that lie between the public and the policymakers as customer service operations. But the problems here are not customer service problems, they are problems of statecraft. Social justice concerns ('balance' in the MMOG context) can't be dealt with as a customer service issue, because they don't arise from single customers. They arise from a community, and the thing that needs to be done is not to satisfy people, necessarily, but rather to convince them that decisions have been legitimate and fair. "We did it to keep our profits as high as possible" is a proper justification for all customer service decisions, but it gets an F as a justification for decisions about social justice. People will stay mad no what you do under that kind of a justification.

Legitimation of state decisions is a thorny problem, and I don't know what the answer is here. I just believe that the business, company/customer mindset is something of a block to progress with this particular set of essentially political, state/citizen problems.


I like David Reim's comment above. The dissatisfied players are inevitably more vocal than the satisfied ones. Yet, knowing that, all we concentrate on is the dissatisfied minority.

I still don't understand why, apparently, so many are so upset with WoW, citing bugs, customer service, class balance and aggro (to pull from Mikyo's comment). Server stability, sure, that's unforgiveable. But the rest? Everyone I've run into in WoW has been happy with the game. Yes, we gripe about lag and the server going down every now and then but we keep playing and keep enjoying. Maybe it's because I'm now towards the higher end of levels but I honestly don't hear much griping.

If you rely on the message boards (official, VN, whatever) as inidications of player unrest, balance that against in-game vocalizations and population. I suspect the number of very unhappy customers is far overreported.

And I have to say, as a WoW customer myself, I am very satisfied and happy with the game.

As for customer service, I agree with Mike Sellers. I'm not sure a lot of communication is necessarily a good thing. Blizzard has told us what their future plans are for the game, e.g. Battlegrounds, Warriors, Warlocks. They've even given us a very good idea of what the Battlegrounds will be like. Daily or weekly reports from them would, imo, be redundant and useless. In fact, as far as server maintenance, stability and server-specific problems, Blizzard's communication has been exceptional. If there's a non-lag problem with the Auction House, the server is being restarted or there's planned maintenance, Blizzard posts it on the Board and often provides a text box at the login screen with such information. I never saw that in DAoC and SWG. Doesn't that count as a good thing they've done? An improvement? (Come on! Give them some props!)


Edward, very perceptive comments on the difference between customer service and neo-statecraft. As an industry we still treat MMOGs as "massively single-player" in, among other areas, how we view customer service (note the singular "customer") ignoring important aggregative effects -- and then are surprised at the vehemence spun up on a message board or in in-game civil disobedience by naked gnomes.

I wonder if the next wave of successful MMOG customer/community experience managers will come from areas such as the foreign service rather than from the phone banks of old-style single-player "service."


Why should the developers communicate? Firstly, the game is so poorly documented that we aren't sure how badly bugged it is. Nobody seems to understand how it was supposed to work in the first place. Secondly, the rules change with every new patch, and nobody seems to know what has been changed, or how it was changed. Finally, the company is banning people for "playing in a manner not intended by the developers". How am i supposed to guess what the developers intended?


Those are examples of poor communication on a variety of fronts, but that doesn't mean communication from the development team is the solution. Communication should come through, well, communicators: most likely an individual who acts as a press and PR person and a community relations manager. Such a person puts a face on the game without giving the players the false idea that the devs will answer all of their questions now and forever more.


I'd have to agree with the point of view that this is a matter of governance and not a matter of customer service.

Any group of developers which is percieved as being receptive to the community is bonud to draw more subscribers. Maintaining that receptiveness and communicating with the community give players a greater stake in the game.

There may be a great many developers who dislike the sense of entitlement that brings to people, however as a player I am naturally going to maintain interest longer in a product I that I have a personal involvement in.

Ultimately a more representative game will have a longer lifespan and a greater inital interest the the same game with a draconic, non-communicative development team. From a revenue standpoint it would seem to be in the developers best interest.

Currently I'm part of the silent majority. Once I find an issue as important to me I will become for a time part of that vocal minority and I sure won't want to be disregarded.

With those points made, I still think a distinction needs to be drawn between communication with the community, and arguments with individuals. Also, at the inception of a project the players aren't true stakeholders. That is only gained at the point where they have real experience with and participation in the product.


Mythic used (and as far as I know, still uses) three independant channels of communication, which operated at three different levels.

First was the CSR's, who dealt directly, one to one, with the players, and to the extent that it could be codified into consistant policy dealt with their complaints. CSR's had sharply limited authority to deal with problems created as the result of bugs, and none at all to deal with balance or content concerns, but they did have a channel via their management directly to the decision making process, and if something was eating a lot of CSR time, we generally found a way to deal with it.

The second was the Community Relations Manager, who acted as the public face for the game and company, received the emails, posted to the public message boards, and took player's questions to the development staff and posted the answers to the official website. They also acted as an ombudsman for players who felt they had been mishandled by the official CSR channel.

The third was the Test Community Coordinator, who was part of the Product Quality group, not CS or PR. They worked with the Team Leads (a few dozen players who volunteered to gather information and make recommendations concerning particular areas of gameplay), with the players who had access to the private Pendragon Boards (a few hundred at most), and the rest of Product Quality to identify, verify, and delineate issues brought in from the players (including the in-game bug submissions and the Team Lead reports) so they could be prioritized and addressed by the development team.

The closest DAoC ever got to a player revolt was the "Lurikeen Uprising", when a bunch of players created first level characters en masse to call attention to Hibernia's status as the "red-headed stepchild" realm, always the last to be addressed for anything. The organizers of that event went out of their way to *keep* it from crashing the servers, having been assured that we were able to see how many of these characters were created and would actually be looking.

When it comes to player<-->developer relations, perception *is* reality. If the players perceive that their concerns are ignored, they will look for ways to get attention. Even if their concerns *aren't* ignored, it's the perception that counts.



This issue is both an issue of customer service and an issue of governance. Where Edward points to statecraft, Dave points to perception management, and others point to key areas like community management or PR, management of client/citizen satisfaction must deal with "advocates with clout." These five-percenters may wield power that can bring down companies and governments.

I read a recent article (I forgot where) that report on the power of blogs to spread the word that you can pick a Krytonite bike lock with a Bic pen. Sure 99% of owners are blissfully unaware of this "cheat", but they are sure glad someone told them. This cost the company only $10m, but is a big chunk of the company's revenue.

Regardless of the reputational need to "fix" the cheat, product warranties ensure a certain level of performance. So, where are Service Level Agreements? Are we there yet?



Given the history of this genre, I'm surprised any experienced player would be complaining about WoW's release. The latest MMORPGs I've played (CoH, EQ2, WoW) have been surprisingly good compared with almost any MMORPG other than DAoC. They are far from perfect, but I've gone from being one of the complainers to thanking my lucky stars that I'm able to play a game far, far more stable and feature-complete than UO or EQ1 or AO or SWG or AC2 were in the first few months.

Yes, there are exploits in WoW. Yes, there are dupe bugs. Yes, I know about a few of them. Yes, some of them were there in beta and still aren't fixed (as far as I know--it's not like I try them every time I log in). But I'm not finding this knowledge any more widespread than other games, nor am I finding the bugs any more numerous. And when I think I've found something, I try to duplicate it once to make sure, then I report it, which would keep me from getting banned in an ideal world...

I'm not sure if no MMORPG has been able to track user actions and individual items and trade, or whether developers simply haven't bothered to make use of this information. Some kind of "disaster recovery" program needs to exist so that those who exploit can be discovered quickly and punished more fairly (i.e. they have their ill-gotten goods removed from their characters or incur XP debt to ensure they recieve no reward for misbehavior). Social network modelling has some promise here, to separate those who thought they were trading legitimate goods/money from those who were knowingly participating in an exploit.

>Mikyo said:
Finally, the company is banning people for "playing in a manner not intended by the developers".

I can't think of any large MMORPG that does not do this. It's unfortunate, but I can't see an easy solution. Players (rightfully) don't want to be banned arbitrarily. Developers (also rightfully) don't want to spell out precisely what is forbidden, as this is equivalent to telling players how to exploit.

However, I firmly believe that exploits are ultimately the developer's fault and all first-time offenders should recieve a warning and perhaps a suspension, not a permanent account ban. If you repeat an exploit after you've been warned, of course, you can no longer claim ignorance of the law.

>Dave Rickey said:
The closest DAoC ever got to a player revolt was the "Lurikeen Uprising"...

Speaking of which, how come all these protests happen on an RP server? More specifically, why do they always happen on my RP server (Guinevere, Argent Dawn, etc.) right when I'm trying to make a new character? And how come I never hear about them until I'm surrounded by short, naked people? It's usually followed by me switching sides and trying to kill as many Gnomes or 'Keens as I can...

On a more serious note, I thought DAoC's Team Leads (and similar or copycat program's like AO's Professionals) were a great idea. I didn't always get the impression that their advice was taken seriously, but it's a good way to filter some of the noise out of the community.

The "Community Manager" in most games also has a "suggestions" box, usually an email address or web form of some kind. I found this to be the most useful means of communication, and the most likely to be read. I know they were at least skimmed since I got non-form letter responses from Sanya (DAoC) and CZ (AO) from time to time. Which is not to say they ever followed my advice...


Edward: governance and/or customer relations ?
Obviously both, yet with a twist:
you seem to assume in both your initial entry and comments there is a natural slope towards elected representation and statecraft, with a hint at democracy as final stage of a universal social organizations' evolutionary process.

Sounds like a classic case of attempted litteral translation of "RL" concepts into the construct that a MMORPG is.

However sound and widespread (or not) a "RL" practice is, it will not automatically prove the best and only solution in a different context, and online worlds are on more than one level different.

Obviously there are many similarities, starting with the population, which is entirely made of immigrants from RL (most of which retain double-residence), and these must be factored in when pondering governance issues.

As most MMORPG games are - by nature - transnational in their userbase, I suspect your assumption of all players' sharing the same exact set of universal tastes/prejudices about social organization/justice and governance is flawed, and it may actually be easier for players to grasp the special flavour of local rules were they to depart more obviously from the Euro/US social/legal/cultural grounds.

Maybe it would be worth examining what could happen, were designers and community managers to devote some effort into building from the get go different sets of expectations by their userbase, and see whether adaptation to a different paradigm can be fostered by design rather than force-fed through ban-bat and OOC statements.

...and I'm not referring to hardcore RP conventions, nor consensual conscious RP-zen, here, just your average novel/movie type of mood-setting craftsmanship combined with consistent design.

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