See? This is why a blog topic led me to wander through Animaniacs songs, there was a connection!
Not too long ago, Jennet of OtterDown spent some time talking about the inevitable failure of players trying to guess their game’s population. The entire piece is worth a read, but the gist is without the actual numbers in front of us, we are all just guessing based on personal bias. Like most things, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it just behooves us to remember that our guesses are just that – guesses based on a very small pool of information.
I’d like to add something to the conversation about another guess often made by players that we tend to present as Truth: The “everybody hates/likes the thing” comment. While it may seem obvious that no one player can speak for the entire game, I’m not sure we always realize how far off the ball we may be.
One thing to keep in mine is not even close to every player in any game participates in forums, blogs, streams, or other online community meeting places. Generally those on forums are the ones most interested in the game, or who have something they strongly dislike, or who enjoy the social aspect. Or, you know, just folks who like forums – they do exist. ^^ I suspect the same of other options on my list; many many players just play the game and feel no need to interact further. I have been that player for most of my life, and many of my offline friends are still that player.
Now, on the topic of complaints. I’m not trying to say forum complaints are invalid, don’t worry about that. I do want to mention that in general folks are more likely to give feedback when they are upset. I saw this in my career in retail management, and it’s something commonly taught in many business classes. For that matter, I can look at my own behavior; am I more likely to take time to talk to someone when McDonald’s gets my order wrong, or when I get exactly what I want? People prioritize, and unless they’re trying very hard to comment when things are going well (which I do think is worth the effort as a general rule), they’re likely to only make an opinion known when they’d like something changed.
I’m not even saying there’s something terribly wrong with that, there are only so many hours in the day and it makes sense to speak up when you have a concern. The problem is taking “many people are complaining in this space” to mean “the same percentage of overall players also have this issue.” Forums, streams, and the like are not a smaller but accurate representation of the entire playerbase, they are a self-selected subsection.
The next thing I try to keep in mind, is that we can’t help but base opinions on what we ourselves experience or see. Again, nothing wrong there since most of us aren’t psychic. The problem, again, is extending what everyone in your bubble thinks to cover everyone playing the game. To paraphrase Jennet, when you talk about all the people who have left your guild, do you also have the numbers on the guilds who showed growth? Or players who came back to the game after a change? New players who don’t participate in forums etc.?
I tend to think it is also important to keep in mind that no, none of us is psychic. I realize we all have ideas, and often previous experience on which we base those ideas, but I’m talking about presenting “because this, then this” arguments as fact. “Last time this happened in another game,” can certainly be relevant to the discussion, but hyperbole and assertions of what WILL happen do not come off as a discussion in good faith. If a player ends up correct, more power to them; I just don’t see the point of asserting even logical guesswork as fact.
I suppose I’m harping more on folks who dislike things, but there is also the other side. Just because myself and my friends love something in a game, it never follows that everyone else does or even should. I can disagree with a mechanic being grindy as absolute Truth, but I cannot tell another player how to feel about the mechanic.
Here’s where semantics come in, and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of poor phrasing myself. It’s easier to say I disagree with an idea, or that it is wrong, than remember to phrase my comment as a difference in view. I can think something is the best idea since sliced bread, someone else can consider it game breaking, and neither one of us is wrong for ourselves nor right for everyone else.
This kind of ties into my post about the “fanboi/fangirl” thing. Just because a person enjoys something you hate, there’s no reason to automatically label them a brainless fan. People like different things, it happens. No one needs to agree that something sucks in order for you to have your own thoughts and feelings on it. This goes both ways, trying to “make” someone like a thing or hate a thing are both equally obnoxious.
The next step after all this is to remember that a game cannot be perfect for everybody, it’s just not possible. Any change is going to make some players happy, leave others neutral, and annoy still others. In a similar vein, no matter how easy myself or others find an aspect of the game, it is never fair to tell someone struggling that they are wrong and it is objectively easy. It is possible to give help and advice without implying that the player’s own experience is incorrect!
The game’s team generally have a wider perspective than the players, and they get to make the calls. I have left games before because they changed in a way I did not like, BUT in those cases other players liked the changes. I think it’s valuable to keep that in mind. The best choice for the game is not always what I or any other single person would prefer.
And really, that’s my point here. I am not trying to tell anyone what they can or cannot say, that would be foolish and presumptuous of me. Constructive feedback can be very helpful, and folks can’t know what players don’t say. What I am suggesting, is that there are a whole lot of fallicies to fall into while discussing games and I find it useful to be aware of them and attempt to avoid them when possible. At the worst, if something I say is pointed out as an incorrect generalization I can take the time to rephrase rather than getting defensive.