It’s time to fire up the blog and get to a topic that has been on my mind for a while now, and that’s “feedback jerks” in MMOs. It’s a long one!

What are they? Typically a feedback jerk is someone who is generally interested in giving input to an MMO developer, and they usually have a focused concern or two about something either recent or something overall about the game they want to communicate. On a benign level, this is fine. The problem is the method of communication, which commonly involves being as insulting as a Justin Bieber cover of a Queen song (please don’t Google it, I don’t want to know if that actually exists) or as vague as a Miss Cleo reading – and sometimes, both!

Community professionals have as their job the unenviable task of shaking out any and all feedback for the gems that are actually important to developers. You might notice that a word that Community people use is “constructive” when it comes to feedback. This isn’t for their benefit as much as it is for the community’s. The fact of the matter is, regardless of whether or not the feedback is jerky or not, it gets to the developers in the same way – so expending the effort to be insulting, pretentious, angry, or otherwise non-constructive is a waste. A Community person separates the wheat of a feedback post from the chaff of the post saying the developers suck.

Let’s take a look at a couple examples, shall we? I’ll show you what I mean with some stuff from ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2.

A word to the wise – you can make your titles as eye-catching as you want, but a Community person clicks nearly every thread and, after a decent bit of practice, is able to skim and scan for good feedback. The only thing your title does if it’s a jerky title is get it clicked and scanned slightly more quickly than something else, but unless there’s actual constructive feedback in the thread, it doesn’t help.

But let’s look at the post itself:

Buying gold, and 4 hours later you’ve got a max level toon, with full exotic gear… You can then go into WvW.

Isn’t this only slightly ridiculous. Giving people who buy the gold this advantage?

Ok, so I get that this is a thread about progression shortcuts, that there’s a concern potentially about microtransactions or gold selling, and its effect on WvW, a PvP aspect of the game. But what I don’t have is how there’s an effect that causes the imbalance, any examples of how it does this, nor any suggestions to fix the problem. I mostly discard the wording that this person thinks it’s “slightly ridiculous” and at best, it gets translated into “negative sentiment among players” – and that’s only if many, many other people in many other threads find the idea equally ridiculous.

Otherwise? All I have is an attention-grabbing title, an implication that the developers are bad at design, a statement of something being “ridiculous”, and probably a lot of people in the thread that have posted better feedback than the thread starter – and that’s not counting the posts that are just as vague or insulting as this one.

You might think that means that despite this, the thread starter made a good feedback thread, that somehow shaming the developers shocks them into better design – but what I typically find is that you get what you put into making a thread. Make a good, detailed, constructive feedback thread? Typically you’ll get mostly good, detailed constructive feedback – things Community people like and get actually passed up as good examples for developer reading. Make an awful, insulting, sensationalist thread? You get flames and other rule-breaking stuff that has to be moderated, a ton of posts that probably won’t go anywhere near a developer’s desk, and a headache from reading on all sides.

How about another example? I’ll break this one down in chunks and play it in slo-mo all Matrix-like and stuff, because Community people have learned that a skill to process tons of feedback quickly and efficiently is necessary in larger titles.

The developers have known for over a year the problems that WvW would have, and is having. Over a year. The Commander issues, maybe 6-8 monts, but they’ve known about it all for a very long time.

Ok, so you’re telling me something I might know, have in a spreadsheet or priority list somewhere, or that the team dedicated to the feature is aware of and actively working on, but perhaps may not be ready to post about. There’s an assumption that developers are somehow supposed to be able to predict how the live post-launch environment will treat their design even though pre-launch and post-launch are completely different, but that’s a mistake lots of people make. That’s fine, I don’t expect the players at large to know what’s going on behind the scenes. Perception is important.

But this sounds like a windup to me. A windup to a donkey punch that’s going to try to hit the developer in the gut. Where’s my football helmet, or more importantly, my coffee?

It just doesn’t seem like they are taking WvW Seriously, at all. Lack of Commander tools is a huge issue. I mean really it’s just horrible implementation. They wanted the game to be casual friendly, but are expecting people to scoop ice cream with a knife.

Ouch! Check out that left cross, even though I totally saw some of it coming.

The first sentence? I probably file away a mental note to see if sentiment about design priorities for the WvW system is equally as negative. But I totally discard the part about “not taking it seriously” unless in certain circumstances I won’t get into here. Why? I might know that the WvW team is talking about or planning big things coming down the pipe. I might know that they aren’t ready to be released to the wild. I definitely can’t talk about these features without running through the proper channels, but what I do know is that insulting how serious the team is taking their design is useless, feedback jerkiness. Away with you.

Moving on, I see Commander tool features are lacking. Good, I have at least some feedback. But “horrible implementation” and the analogy to “scooping ice cream with a knife” only makes me curious about trying to scoop ice cream with a knife sometime to see if it works good enough. It doesn’t tell me anything except that this person doesn’t like the current toolset, and more importantly, to find similar, better sounding posts with some constructive criticism about this concern. You know, stuff that doesn’t have snarky comparisons to devouring dessert with the wrong tool.

Also, the cost to WvW is unreasonable compared to PvE. There is no cost associated with doing events. In Orr you can do temple events, do mass zone events, and spend nothing other than repair bills and get massive rewards.

Ah! Here we go, some nugget of feedback to pass on. Concerns about costs in one game system versus another, with a few examples. They only span one half of the systems mentioned, and there’s no suggestions about what could be done to equalize cost, but at least it’s something. Unless in the most extreme of circumstances, there are some gems to be delved from pretty much any post out there. Like the stuff about Commander tools, I’ll probably try to see if this is a recent or long-standing concern and look for other threads or posts about it.

In WvW this is not the case, and they’ve known about it for a very long time. They just aren’t respecting the player base. This is why it’s important to have experienced gamers working for your company. I know Izzy is good, and experienced, but I’m not so sure about Habib. He needs to actually dedicate some serious personal time to WvW.

So what I see here is a reiteration of the point I already saw in the first part (filed away mentally already), and a negative opinion I can research (lack of respect – an opinion, but one I can see if the perception is more prevalent). Not much, but something. But the best part is this attempt to kick the developer in the metaphorical nads with a rainbow-colored clown squeak hammer. It’s just as silly as the weapon I just described, and just as effective in getting the team to understand what you’re trying to say. In case that wasn’t clear, it’s completely and utterly silly and the essence of being a feedback jerk. Why, you ask?

Because the person being the feedback jerk knows, deep down inside, that such accusations aren’t true, yet they say them anyway – to be punchy. To take a dig. To take a cheap shot.

I mean, is it really reasonable to assume developers don’t have or aren’t “experienced gamers”? The type that probably not only did everything in a game but de-constructed it to see how it worked and was designed?

Is it really plausible to say to a designer or a developer in a prominent posting position about a system they work with for hours a day that they need to “dedicate some serious personal time” to it?

I deal with frustration. I deal with anger even, and definitely with dissatisfaction. But I don’t deal with cheap shots. Most Community people I know don’t bother with them, either. Community folks are interested in feedback, not in veiled or blatant attempts to shame or insult the company or its work ethic. Those get filed one place – the garbage, never to be passed up anywhere in the developer chain, and if so, not in a form that is communicated by a feedback jerk.

So what’s my scorecard?

What Feedback I Got Out of The Post and What I Have to Research for Trending in Other Discussion:

  • Commander tools are lacking and cumbersome (no suggestions for improvement)
  • WvW system costs are imbalanced compared to PvE costs (with some PvE examples, no suggestions other than an implication to equalize)
  • Prioritization for WvW as a system is perceived to be low (no suggestions to correct this other than an implication to fix)

What I Discarded as Jerky and Therefore, of Little Worth Other Than to Research for Perception/Sentiment in More Constructively Critical Posts:

  • The developers don’t take WvW seriously.
  • The Commander tools’ implementation was horrible.
  • The developers knew about all these problems in WvW beforehand and didn’t do anything to fix them.
  • Habib needs to play more WvW.
  • The developers don’t have experienced gamers working on the team.
  • The developers don’t respect the player base.

One-third of the points in the post were things I found to be worthwhile and meaningful to deal with. Everything else? Not something I’d pass up in the form it appears in.

I’d rather that I have everything or mostly everything in the post to be worthwhile and meaningful – negative or positive – because that’s how the game gets better. When you’re a feedback jerk, all you get is the jerkiness filed someplace where it’ll never get to your intended target. The short-term satisfaction of getting a cheap shot in to developers or limited value in “angry customers get their way” isn’t worth it. Do all Community folks break down posts like I do? No – but I think what you’ll find consistent is that jerkiness doesn’t get you what you want.