Saturday, March 29, 2014

Are You Experienced?

Well, there's a question.

When I saw this tweet pop up in the week from the Warcraft Dev Formally Known as Ghostcrawler I wondered what had prompted the comment. It inspired at least one well-known WoW Insider Columnist to pen a response and as the week has continued it's made me consider what I'd deem as appropriate in terms of a 'relationship' with the individuals I am aware are making the game I write about. On a personal level I have a lot of trouble generally dealing with people to begin with, and when you can't be 100% certain of how you relate to people in Real Life trying to work out where things sit in a Virtual World can become even more circumspect. What I do know however, after a fair few years just being on the planet, is many individuals live their lives with a plan. You may not know what that is, or they may not obviously present this to you when you meet them, but deep down there will often be some kind of motivation.

When a Game Dev interacts with you directly on Twitter, there's a better than average chance they're doing that to promote their product.

This interaction may come for several reasons: you asked a question they wanted to answer, you picked up a mistake they'd not noticed, or you have highlighted a concern that is generally felt to echo across the wider player base. It should always be argued on Social Media that if you ask something and get an answer at all you should be very grateful: of all the thousands (potentially) of people who have done the same thing, you were the one who were lucky enough to get an answer. When players do this with Dev Blog Posts and general discussions where interaction with the individuals isn't as instant or indeed transparent (like for instance the upcoming WoW Source 'episode') the results are far less personal and have considerably lessened impact.

How we live 'relationships' in social media, especially with the people who make our games, is becoming a topic of some significance.

Details are everything.

There's lots of different types of tweets coming out of Blizzard right now. Some, like Chris Robinson's pretty much encyclopaedic list of what's happening with characters skins and when are fabulous for those of us who like a long-term viewpoint of what's in the pipeline. However, the very real practicalities of the game numbers, the actual nuts and bolts of the game are somewhat less simple to pin down, which is why you'll get far less detail from the people who, for many people, are more significant in the process of processes. What information comes when is precisely dictated too: I can understand however why, if one person in an organisation is able to give a level of transparency like this, it will appear frustrating to people when others can't. Note please I didn't use the word won't there, and that's a huge difference I think some people fail to grasp. Dev's aren't doing anything to spite you, or deliberately make you throw your toys from whatever moving vehicle you happen to be currently occupying. They're doing their job, and the fact they're prepared to share anything at all with you is something far more people should be grateful for than currently are.

What can confuse some people is the fact that not everyone in a Company will act the same way. In shock news, this is because they are human beings too. Social media allows accessibility, of course it does, but then it isn't just about you in the relationship, it's the person you're interacting with too that has a say in how things go down. Then there's other issues to consider: being a good Dev isn't about having a thick skin or being able to ignore criticism or abuse. It is also about what you are prepared to give back to the Community from your own approach. It isn't just explaining your intent, it's HOW you do it that matters just as much as the message itself. I had a perfect example of this in the week not from a Blizzard Dev, but an Everquest one. What this showed me is that sometimes, going off piste is a brilliant way not simply to show your intent, but to help build relationships with the player base.

My claim. Completely submerged.

Without going into details, I started playing in Landmark and encountered an issue, so raised a ticket. My friend Belghast also cc-d me into a Tweet which he shared with some of the Landmark designers, asking if there were a problem they knew of that explained my issue. Shortly afterwards EQ Director Domino (@pentapod) contacted me directly via Twitter and asked if I was in game and less than five minutes later, there she was in front of me, descending from the sky in my first ever 'approached by a designer' moment. I took her to my claim, she explained my issue, and the problem was solved. All this in less than 30 minutes, IN A BETA. That's pretty impressive customer service, if you ask me, and it also serves to demonstrate a few key factors in how games companies can use Social Media to their advantage. They are an instant way to address issue if you choose to use them that way. It has the advantage of allowing the designer to dictate the terms of their interaction, and can reap massive benefits if you pick people who won't then stalk you excessively for months on end and threaten to boil your pet rabbit [*]. The problem I suspect for many designers is how much of themselves they are prepared to release 'to the public' via Social Media, and what might happen if they pick the 'wrong' person to interact with. As with most things in life, it is a lottery. You pays your money and takes you choice, and with all things your mileage may vary.

Being in a relationship with anyone, however casually, always has its potential pitfalls. Not having relationships however will lessen your overall experience of life over time. Trust me on this. It is often better to feel something than it is to feel nothing at all.

Insert your own caption here.

In answer to Mr Street's question, you'll never totally mitigate concerns about game changes by talking about it, because a percentage of your audience just don't listen to begin with. However, those who do will, I would fancy, appreciate being part of the discussion process. What I think they would appreciate more is to understand why some people say more than others. Although I can grasp there will never be 100% transparency in certain areas of Warcraft's organisation, what might go some way to assuage the people who get upset about lack of information is to do what Mr Robinson has done: establish a timeframe and give people an idea of what to expect, even if that does not come without actual dates to accompany it. Obviously that is easier in some aspects of gameplay than it is in others. That much has become abundantly apparent in the last few weeks.

If you want to interact with your audience, the benefits I'd argue will ultimately outweigh the pitfalls. I don't think you need just a thick skin either, you need a plan and to know what to walk away. If you can conquer social media, the benefits will be many-fold, not simply for your organisation.

The trick, ultimately, will be learning how to manage relationships first, then the details.

[*] Everyone fears the stalkers. You just have to hope.


dobablo said...

I was thinking about dev-customer interactions recently and came to the conclusion that part of Blizzard's recent PR gaffs, are as a result of our direct communication with the people that make the game. I came to the conclusion that if you want your game to have well thought, professional and efficient communications then all communication must go through the marketting/media department. If you want want open and transparent communication with the devs then you risk messing around with expectations and more frequent PR gaffs.

R said...

From the perspective of someone who's more than admittedly anti-social media for the most part, I think they communicate too freely with the customer base. It's leading to a situation where there's an expectation of immediate responses and more transparency than any company should be asked to offer.

My preference would be more frequent, comprehensive update posts based on questions/comments that people leave with a lot less day-to-day immediate responses. Weekly watercoolers, basically.

I do wish that the users would spend less time slamming Blizzard and more time appreciating that they have the access that they do... what other industry has 10% of the amount of back-and-forth and customer service that the gaming industry does? Why is it that players feel comfortable asking Blizzard questions about class changes while few, myself included, would think to or actually ask Nissan why they feel it's necessary for you to purchase the leather package just to get lumbar support? And if we did ask, would we get an answer?

McDonald's got a lot of (not all positive) press, in Canada at least, for their recent Q&A feature... mostly because it's not something that's DONE. Yet Blizzard has been doing similar for a lot longer without ever getting the kudos.