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How much transparency do you want?

It's come up time and again, and it's always an issue that's fascinated me -- how much information on how World of Warcraft is designed do we actually want? Some of us would be bored to tears by a technical discussion of the whys and wherefores of a design decision, while others would be absolutely fascinated by it. I'm sure no one's forgotten about the era of the 'Ghostcrawler experiment' and the sharp rise of communication from the game's developers. Today we have quite a bit of communication from people like Brian Holinka, Chadd Nervig, Ion Hazzikostas, Owen Landgren and others. I've always felt that it was a very good thing overall for the game to have that channel, with the devs taking time to explain design changes and what they mean. The question becomes, how useful is it to you, and how effective is it in getting players to understand the why behind changes?

Frankly, I think we all know that for every player who reads and absorbs dev interaction in the spirit in which it is meant, there's another who uses it simply as an excuse to blame said person for ruining the game. This goes back to before the time when devs were the ones delivering the news, mind you. I remember the days of Tseric, and the way the forums made him the villain in their self-generated narrative.


That impulse still exists, and when devs try and address us with the facts as they see them, the rationale behind their decisions, it can still come forth. What's worse is, sometimes the devs are wrong - sometimes a decision doesn't work out like they'd hope, or they make a mistake in how they implement an idea (the Burning Crusade version of rage normalization and the Cataclysm healer revamp come to mind) and unfortunately when that happens the players often become suspicious and hostile when a new version of that idea is implemented. It's understandable, but that reaction prevents an honest dialogue. Does the good outweigh the bad?

I'd have to argue yes. To a degree, the players who will lash out and blame the devs for the game not being the way they want it would never really be satisfied - they're seeking an outlet for frustration. sometimes understandably so, sometimes not. Their reaction doesn't change the fact that for many of us, it's very helpful to know why changes are being made, even if just in a general sense. Knowing that changes are coming to itemization, that certain stats will be going away or introduced, knowing about the itemization squish is helpful and it's a lot better than the old days when a stat like Expertise could just happen and we were all left wondering what is this, what do i do with it after the fact. Any player who lived through the days when the Edgemaster's Handguards were the best gloves in the game for any raiding DPS warrior or paladin remembers how often in vanilla nothing was explained.

It's true that there are times when we get a lot of information we can't really process. To a degree I feel like the recent healing and health changes fall into that ballpark - paradoxically, we learned just enough about the changes to upset and confuse us without learning enough about their context to provide us with a real idea of how they're going to work. The Dev Watercooler could only give us half of the picture, and posters like Watcher didn't really make it that much more clear - it may just be the kind of thing we can only really grasp when we start to see it. The whole team did their best to explicate, but I don't think it helped. That's not to say they don't do a good job.

That doesn't mean it can't be done better. Right now I'm pretty hopeful for dev/player interaction, as the era of twitter has improved accessibility and damped down some of the trolling and vitriol, with multiple developer voices answering questions and explaining things in addition to the hard work of the community managers. The forums still exist and are still very useful for long-form posts and responses, but twitter's immediate back and forth has led to us hearing a lot more from a variety of voices working in various parts of the game's development. And that's all to the good - having a range of voices prevents the vitriol from accumulating around one target. As good as it was to have a person out there, having only one person meant that he was the lightning rod for all unhappiness, even for things he had no real part of or control over.

I'd argue that we currently almost have the kind of transparency we'd want - multiple people talking about their various parts of the puzzle. What we need now is probably a touch more forthcoming, but you can't build things without taking the steps.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, News items

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