Sorry, this is going to be one of my “here’s how I wish the world worked” posts.
I was originally spurred to touch on the subject (and importance) of developer communication by the latest game-as-service, The Avengers, but it’s a topic that becomes more and more important as some games shift from “we shipped it, that’s it, it’s done” to an evolving, long term experience.
The goal of a game-as-a-service is for the developers to build a lasting relationship with their potential customers. I feel that it’s especially important in the early days, when these sorts of games are at their more fragile and wanting for content/fixes, for developers to establish a rhythm of communication with their prospective player base, even when there’s no real news to report. And I feel that’s the part where a lot of devs derail; if they can’t offer exact, specific details or concrete announcements, they opt to stay silent, and I strongly believe that’s the wrong approach.
Even popping onto twitter or reddit to say “Hey, we’re still listening and working on stuff, and we’ll share details as soon as we can” is better than complete radio silence in my opinion. Because it imparts a sense attention that helps the playerbase weather any lulls in content updates or bug fixing. As a player, if you’re investing time in a game without a clear, finite “end point”, you want to know that it’s still alive on the other end; that your concerns are not being hollered into a void.
Crystal Dynamics was silent for a period of time after Avengers launched, as the community pondered about balance fixes, what a content roadmap might look like, whether certain things were even on their radar. When they finally responded, they had some helpful information, but it felt like they only did so because a large publication (IGN) reached out to them to get information. It was not a great way to handle communication with the players of a new game who just want to know they can expect attention to all the quality of life issues a newborn game might have.
On the other hand, while researching the framework for this discussion, I couldn’t ignore that the vocal playerbase for these games could stand to adjust their response/reactions a bit as well. Reading the through Reddits and forums gives a glimpse at some incredibly negative and abusive reactions to perceived inaction. The sort of vitriole you might forgive a developer for not wanting to wade in the middle of, creating a nasty cycle. While I thoroughly empathize with the desire to see your new game purchase evolve and increase content, and get new features, the timeline from zero-to-complaining about it seems to get unreasonably short at times.
Every time a game-as-service is held up as a success story, or a “how to do it” comparison (let’s say Warframe or perhaps Destiny in their current states), the vocal contingent seems to conveniently forget that those games have been out for years. They have had those years to grow and tweak and add on new content to get to the place where they are a bountiful example of “things to do.” And all of them started in the exact same rough, barebones place and went through growing pains of their own.
So there are some developers that understand the important of communication, and some that don’t. Likewise, there are some players that are reasonable with their expectations, and some that aren’t. And I think the healthiest community for these ongoing projects we’re calling “games-as-service” are when both sides work together to meet in the middle.
Yes, if a developer wants to engage a community long term, they should endeavor to verbally, and sometimes repeatedly express where they’re at and what they’re doing to improve the game, even if they’re vague about it. But the community should understand that these things take time, and that perhaps a game that’s intended to live 1, 2, maybe three years does not also have to be the only game you play. That you can play in bursts, sometimes seriously, sometimes casually, sometimes not at all. Play other things and then circle back around to touch base as the game evolves.
Typing this, I can already predict a myriad of responses. “I just wait and buy the game a year or two later, at a discount, after it’s been patched and had expansions.” Yes, excellent approach, good for you. But this argument doesn’t really apply to you then either, does it? These games can’t get to a place where they’re patched and expanded without the people that jump in at the start and play through the evolution, can they? As a non-customer you neither care about their communication nor are you one of the vocal contingent losing your shit on social media.
Or perhaps “Maybe the developer should just release a finished game then”, which is a wonderful argument (in fact, it’s a great subject for a discussion all on its own), but it ignores the concept that games like these, and MMOs, etc are never really “finished”. They’re intended to be grown and expanded, so given that caveat, who is to say how much or how little constitutes a “finished” amount suitable for release? If WoW shut down tomorrow, knowing the full breadth of content the game would eventually contain, could you objectively call its launch state in 2004 “complete?” It felt pretty good at the time, but in comparison now it feels a little basic and small.
Those arguments are both valid viewpoints in the right context, but I don’t necessarily feel they apply to the targeted argument I’m making.
So the TL;DR here boils down to this, without any “whataboutism” tangents: I am of the opinion that A) developers need to be proactive about communicating, even if all they’re doing is communicating about future communication, and B) Players that choose to board the train early on in the trip need to exercise some more patience about the fact that maybe some track is still being laid.