Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stand by your game

Tipa over at West Karana has an excellent post about fans in MMOs helping their games out. (And for the record, most of her posts are awesome - I recommend checking her blog out if you get the chance.) She makes a lot of sense. If you really, really like the ideas behind the Age of Conan (or LotRO or whatever game it is that you like) then don't just bail on it except at dire need. Try to help them out. Fill out those bug reports. Inform the devs, politely and in clear English (or whatever language they speak), about the issues.

On the subject of error reports, there are a number of things you can do to make sure they're taken seriously. As a software developer, these are the things I take into consideration when prioritizing bug reports / complaints and it may help you help your favorite MMO improve. Granted these are the things that I look for. If the game company has a format they want you to follow besides this one then use theirs.

1) Take a step back. Is it really game breaking that the maroon shield of blocking is actually burgundy? Does the thing you noticed really matter in the grand scheme of making a better game? The devs have finite amounts of time to deal with many issues. Don't sweat the small stuff. When your game has reached a level of refinement to the point where there's only small stuff left, then start in on the little things.

2) Setting. Where were you when the event happened and what were you doing? In a town? In a field? Using a mailbox? If it was a mailbox, which one was it? (Orgrimmar in WoW, for example, has at least two mailboxes; Bree in LotRO has four - one by each gate and two in the AH.) If you were out in the middle of nowhere, try to get the location coordinates of where you were. At the very least, provide the time when it happened to you. Most games log everything that goes on and when so you'll be helping the devs narrow down on the events as they happened.

3) What was the expected outcome of what you were trying to do? Errors are deviations from expected behaviors so what you were trying to do matters a great deal. I expected to open the mailbox and read my mail. I expected to ride across the open field. I thought I would hit the mob for x amount of damage.

4) What actually happened? Do NOT say "it just didn't work" or "can you look at it" without providing more information. Once I was told there was a problem with a database and "could I just look at it." I asked for more information and was told again to "just look at it." So that's what I did. I confirmed that it was still a database. Given the lack of information in the original request, that was all I could really do without spending months of digging. If the problem really was an error, perhaps someone more articulate than the original requester would notice and I'd be able to fix the bug (if that's actually what it was). Give the developers ALL the information about the error that occurred. Was there an error message? If so write down the text as best you can. If something happened, describe it in as much detail as you can. "I got an error that reads 'object not found'." I expected to keep riding but was suddenly dismounted. I thought I would hit the mob for x damage but instead regened the mob's health.

5) Reread before you send. Did you speak in plain, clear, descriptive language? Did you put in all the information you have? Edit as needed.

6) Say thank you! Be sure to thank the developers. They don't get paid nearly enough and they also have lots of stress and crap to deal with on a daily basis. Don't add to it by being an ass.

Game developers have a mission to provide us consumers with an enjoyable gaming experience. Through our support, not only by voice but by our actions, have it within our ability to help them make our particular favorite games better. In other words: if your game of choice is messed up and you did nothing to try to make it better then you're part of the reason it's broken. If you did your best to help out and it's still messed up, then there may be bigger issues going on which may be out of your control.


Bildo said...

See, that's great in theory Khan.

And I agree with the SENTIMENT behind the idea.

But as a paying customer, I'm not going to beta test a game. If it's floundering, my time is much better served by unsubscribing and going with my money somewhere else.

Just for the sake of compasions since they're so damned fun, let's say the MMOG in question were a restaurant.

If I went to this restaurant and I was given a crappy meal, I wouldn't just tell them politely what was wrong with it, and then happily keep eating it and paying for it.

If said restaurant, time and time again let me down with the culinary skills, I wouldn't keep coming there and paying either.

I would take my money elsewhere.

Development houses, and more importantly PUBLISHERS need to learn lessons the hard way and that's by failing. Until we stop paying for unfinished games, we're never going to get finished ones.

But then, just as hard to do, is unsubscribing from an unfinished game you have fun playing. Take Age of Conan for me... it's a vicious circle.

Khan said...

Interesting analogy, but here’s the thing:

If the restaurant screws up and you don’t tell them, they won’t likely improve and they won’t have a chance to fix the thing that’s broken (the steak is overdone or whatever). Telling the restaurant gives them the ability to see that there’s a specific problem.

Just like in the restaurant example, game companies can’t read minds or know what gamers want unless the gamers pipe up and say so. If you really want a game to succeed and are finding things that aren’t working correctly then pitch in and help out. Don’t suffer silently and then leave.

I will concede your point about being an unpaid tester: if the game is so messed up that you can’t justify staying, I totally understand why you’d be inclined to vote with your money. At the same time, I’d probably post (either in the exit or to a dev forum or somewhere) what it was I found so objectionable. Who knows, perhaps your feedback could give them some improvements to put in and maybe they'll turn it into a game you'd want to revisit in a couple months.

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