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Rule #1 of game design: Don’t listen to your customers

By on April 12, 2010
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A video has been going round YouTube called “A message to Infinity Ward”. It’s six minutes long from a gamer who says he is an experienced, comitted player who has “played for 17 days”.

He points out a broken perk (I think he has a point on this one, based purely on the video) and then bewails Infinity Ward’s lack of response to its customers.

He asks "Do you have any respect for your fanbase or are you too busy counting your money?" He ends by saying "Fix this or fuck you."

Don’t listen to him.

Don’t listen to the fanboys who think they are so important.

Don’t respond to emotional pleas from a small coterie of self-appointed experts.

Don’t care that a handful of high-ranking players have quit in disgust.

UNLESS

your stats back them up.

Check your server logs and your analytics packages. See if these issues are affecting a tiny vocal minority or are widespread. Scrub the data, again and again, until you can find out what is happening to the whole community, not just to a few loudmouths.

The loudmouths might be your most important customers. They might be your own yellow canaries in the mine of your game, dying in their cages to warn you that your oxygen, your lifeblood, your audience, is running out.

Or they might just be loudmouths.

Without the data you won’t know which.

So go find out.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • Stan Beremski

    True….What we need is a more scientific approach to testing games. You need to code in quantifiable metrics that describe (with the right interpretation) the aggregated gameplay of large populations of players.

    In this instance IW could have fixed this broken gameplay if they had a log detailing per player per map:

    1) Perk distribution
    2) Kills / weapon type
    3) Avg distance per kill

    You just crunch the numbers (you could even do it in Excel using a PivotTable) to see that there is a big problem.

    I am not sure if developers use systems such as this to analyse their games…

    As for Bad Company 2….works flawlessly on my computer and I have to say…its an excellent game. Even if it suffer from the common FPS ailment; overpowered explosive weapons

    I agree with Nicholas when he says that devs shouldn't act based on an opinion from a single loud voice from the community without doing some testing of their own but in this case IW kind of screwed up and its so obvious.

  • zoombapup

    I prefer to think of it this way. Everyone who has a criticism has SOME reasoning. If the reason is valid then surely the criticism is too. Just because someone is a hardcore player at one end of a bell curve doesnt mean that criticism isn't worth investigating. If you only listen to critics who aren't so vocal, you might never find a completely unacceptable flaw.

    Think of it this way, if you were running a restaurant and a really regular customer came along and said you had poisoned him the previous day, would you consider him “at the extreme end of the bell curve” and discard his complaint? Or would you try and find the root cause of the problem? Similarly if someone was a one-time customer, would that affect anything? Not in my view, a complaint is a chance to improve your product, no matter who or what the complaint is.

    Now you can advocate that “fixing” this issue might actually harm someone else's experience, which is certainly possible. But that is an issue for a design/balance team.

  • vanr0x

    I'd be surprised if the data available is ever going to be able to show you what this guy has demonstrated. You might be able to pick out some trends but I'd bet that they don't have the analytics available to truely decode what's really happening.

  • No consideration of the audience is bad. But consideration of a small proportion of the audience can be just as bad.
    (And the headline was deliberately provocative, and it worked 🙂 )

  • Couldn't agree more, Rob.

  • I understand why gamers are frustrated, and I acknowledge that he has identified an exploit. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that data is a better source of feedback than a vocal individual.

  • vanr0x

    I'd say it's more common for a game to be dumbed down rather than ratcheted up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, just like real life, you'll find that in these games it's the top 1-2% of players doing 90+% of the killing. These very players discover the bugs, glitches and 'exploits' that can ruin a game.

    He's just shown you how you can make a map un-winnable by utilising legitimate in game options. To take the canary analogy one step further.. Gas, Gas, Gas!

  • ChrisBateman

    I completely agree that the danger of listening to a vocal minority is tangible… but the danger of designing a game without any consideration of the audience (the most natural interpretation of your title, putting the post content to one side!) is, to my mind, considerably more costly. And there are plenty of people working in the industry who still design by the principle of “players are just like me”…

  • Anyone who plays a game for 17 solid days (over 400 hours!) obviously isn't all that peeved by whatever terrible errors he's accusing the developers of!

    Not only that, but he's also obviously way up in a tiny, tiny fraction of a percentage at the leading edge of the game's player bell-curve, which automatically makes his comments suspect – far too many games have gone down the road of listening to those people at the tip of the bell-curve when launching updates and sequels, only to discover that the big, juicy hump of players in the middle drift away since the game has now been tuned to exclude them.

  • zoombapup

    Hmm, having played the COD series for a long time now, I think they deliberately have made the game that way. Your point about not listening to a vocal minority is a good one in general. But having recently played the completely broken Battlefield Bad Company 2 (I mean as in multiple crashes, disconnects etc) I can see the point where companies seem to not actually engage with their community at all. I remember a time when a friend was working at EA and they had “playtesters” bussed in by the hundreds, only these testers were just day hires from some temping agency. Thats no way to test a bloody game.

    So we're at this point where some of the worlds biggest publisher/developers are releasing huge franchises with broken games, either design or code wise. What is the recourse for that? I can understand why gamers get so frustrated.