Monday, July 18, 2011

Dev Interaction with the Community

Blizzard recently ended their "Ask the Devs" series of community interaction. In Ask the Devs, the community posted questions and the questions were voted on. The 10 or so questions with the top ratings for each topic were resented to the devs and the devs gave answers.

It was an interesting exercise in community management. However, Ask the Devs is generally regarded as unsucessful by both the Blizzard CMs and the community.

Let's take a look at why Ask the Devs failed. It was a worthwhile experiment, but I think that there are two major reasons why it failed.

First, the vast majority of questions were thinly-veiled versions of, "My class sucks. When will you buff my class?"

That was not conducive to interesting answers.

The second reason is that asking good questions is just plain hard. A lot of the time, it is difficult to ask a good question unless you already know the answer.

For example, let's take a question like, "Is Blizzard planning to change the paladin healing model?" If the answer is No, this was a very pointless question. But if the answer is Yes (as in pre-4.0), all of a sudden the question is extremely interesting.

But the playerbase doesn't really have enough information to know which are the interesting questions and which are the boring questions.

This was the biggest strength of the previous interaction between Ghostcrawler and the forums. Because Ghostcrawler knew the answers, he also knew which questions were worth answering.

Of course, that model was not sustainable, and Ghostcrawler's presence on the forums tended to warp them, as everyone started trolling for blue responses.

The new form of Dev interaction, the development blog posts, also have weaknesses. In particular, they have a tendency to be at "too high a level". Ten thousand foot overviews are generally not interesting. Specifics are interesting. The best Dev blog was probably Ghostcrawler's line-by-line explanation of the patch notes, which was about as specific as you can get. Even the ten thousand foot overviews can be greatly improved with concrete examples.

But dev blogs are probably an art, and something that needs to be learned. The gold standard of gaming dev blogs, in my opinion, is Mark Rosewater's columns for Magic: the Gathering. A dev looking to communicate with her game's community would probably be well served by studying how Rosewater did things.


  1. This feels like a post that ended too soon.

    The final paragraph mentions that Mark Rosewater's dev blog was great, but doesn't give any example as to why. I have never heard of Mark Rosewater before, how am I suppose to relate? Shouldn't there be some sort of elaboration here?

  2. The most important dev interaction with the community is the game itself. If they mess that up, all the sweet talk in the world won't help.

  3. Though I fully support the communication with the community, it's not exactly turning the tide on making the WoW forums any nicer a place to be.

    That being said, at least they communicate at various levels with the players. The Dev blogs are for the people who really want to read and understand intricate details about the game, and aren't for your average player who just wants a quick answer to a question.

    Then again, given the myriad of things you need to know in order to accomplish anything at endgame in WoW, those intricate details people might be a larger group than we may believe.

  4. You are right that sometimes the Dev interaction with the community seems to be from an awfully high perspective.

    I find that the interesting details come from players themselves. Whether it is in game play or in the form of personal blogs or forum discussions. Unfortunately with these sources you tend to have to weed through some Troll type digs and unhelpful comments.

    But between the developer interaction and discussions within the player community, there is really some interesting dialogues happening.