14 Apr 2011

Cheering the Armchair Designer

The Warcraft community is huge. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people writing, drawing, sharing or discussing something about the game every single day. That’s a staggering amount of people all talking about one game made by a single company.

Having such a vocal community can be a bit of a double edged sword. Whenever a change to the game is introduced it gets placed under intense scrutiny. Sometimes a change will be met with universal acclaim, while other times (although rarely for Blizzard) it’ll be met with disdain. Sometimes a change will be so controversial that it’ll split the community completely.

The most recent controversial change was Call to Arms, an attempt by Blizzard to reduce the time it takes to assemble a group for certain combat roles. While the aim is commendable, a number of bloggers (including me) noticed several flaws with the design as presented. We discussed it, shared it and importantly made suggestions about how to improve it.

Which made the statement that followed from another blogger all the more surprising:

“All the armchair designers come out of the woodworks, spewing diarrhea of the mouth about how much it sucks and blah blah blah”

Putting aside the argument about people being entitled to share their opinion, the thing that struck me was the outright dismissal of constructive criticism. Sure, we might not all be games designers or developers but you’d think that after playing games for so many years we’d have a fairly reasonable idea of what might work. It’s pretty arrogant to infer that just because you’re not on Blizzard’s payroll that your ideas don’t count for anything.

Besides, what happens if their ideas get picked up by someone else? I’ll lay odds that other MMO developers have the occasional look at Blizzard’s forums, looking for ideas and suggestions from players about how to improve the game. Ideas that they might be able to incorporate instead.

I really want to encourage “armchair designers”, for players to think about how their game works and how it can be improved. We’re not talking 3D rendering engines and network code here, but instead the tools and mechanics that contribute to how a game feels. Move beyond “this game sucks” and towards “this game sucks because of x, and this is what I’d do to fix it”.

Why would I suggest this? Because in the area of design ideas are like gold dust. It’s incredibly easy to become narrow-focused because of your experience, training or environment. Having a range of people from different walks of life and with different experiences offering up their own ideas is something that many developers would give anything to have.

Blizzard has a team of designers and developers steadily working away on implementing their vision of World of Warcraft – from adding new features to refining or removing existing ones that aren’t working so well. Part of that process involves taking feedback from players and acting on it where needed. If we can provide better quality feedback just imagine how it would help the whole development process.

I’ll be honest with you – I have a vested interest in seeing more gamers being more thoughtful about games. I want games to get better instead of stagnating or standing still. I want us as gamers to be more articulate about our likes and dislikes, particularly in describing why we like or dislike something and what  we would do to solve it.

As gamers we have a part to play in ensuring that games continue to get better. Armchair or no, our ideas should always be welcome.

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7 Responses to Cheering the Armchair Designer

  1. Klepsacovic says:

    Hear hear! I’m not an overly negative and cynical jackass, I’m an armchair designer!
    But more seriously, sub numbers aren’t a good way to measure the effects of single changes (unless those changes are cataclysmic), so the complaint/praise cloud floating around the blogosphere is another tool to see what people think.

  2. Winterhawk says:

    Comments and criticisms are indeed heard. I do occasional work with industry folks and know for certain that bloggers’ opinions about things like Call to Arms are getting kicked around and discussed. The shit-spewing variety, no — but the thoughtful ones, sure. That’s the whole nature of the “community” after all, and smart companies pay attention to reasoned criticism. So, bravo to the armchair designers! Keep up the good work!

  3. I am guilty of both the whine about a change, and also providing solutions and new options. I don’t like negativity without a solution at all, and the rare times I do it is because of the total frustration with the idea. Last example was the privacy of battle.net saga. To blow my own horn – the guild items and achievements were something I posted about many years ago, and I was very excited and pleased to see that Blizzard also thought these were good ideas.
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  5. lexicorro says:

    What players want and what’s good for them aren’t necessarily the same things.

  6. Ragnar Hej says:

    I can agree with that statement Lexicorro. But I think it applies more to less constructive posters on the forums. Many armchair designers, whose blogs I read, have shown to have quite an good idea about separating these two.

  7. Paul says:

    Lexicorro: similarly, what developers say is good for the game, and what is actually good for the game, aren’t necessarily the same things.