That article is a joke (but it's WoW Insider, which makes a habit out of creating columns out of tripe). Yes, obviously feedback matters. Obviously they listen to feedback. But that doesn't necessitate any applause. When they discount feedback (even after listening to it) that was well reasoned and highly supported, they should offer better explanation (if they want to keep their community feeling like communication is valuable). They should be judged based upon the context of the time, and right now the context does not look good.
The statement in the article about Blizzard not following the directions of people who shout the loudest on the forums is a strawman argument (and one that, sadly, Blizzard reps and Blizzard fans like to fall back on). No one thinks that they bow down, or should bow down, to the wishes of the guy who posts in all caps and with cursing about how his class needs to be buffed. But obviously that's not the issue people are identifying as "failing to respond to feedback," and to act like that IS the issue reveals a discrediting bias in the writer (again though, not surprising, since it's WoW Insider, where the bloggers LIVE for those moments that they gain enough favor to interview Blizzard staff).
Forum trends are just not that difficult to spot. And the large trends tend to be pretty representative of the in-game opinion. As much as people like to talk about self-selection, more often than not the "vocal minority" is only a minority because they're vocal, not because their opinions about what is good or bad are out of sync with the general population - that is to say that the opinion which appears to be the majority on the forums is often the majority in the game, and the minority on the forums are also the minority in the game (again, this is talking about large forum trends). Probably the only area in which self-selection has a highly skewed result is class balance arguments, for obvious reasons. Outside of that, the skew is minimal, and failure to act on widescale feedback is worthy of criticism.
The two best examples of that are recent: CRZ's and dailies. In the case of CRZ's, the article makes the extremely unconvincing point that CRZ's were a feature developed based on player feedback. Well, no, not really. It was a feature developed to save money on server costs, but spun to the playerbase as being a positive feature to make the world feel "alive" again (cue eye rolls over the people who think "alive" means smaller chance of getting rare mobs and loss of nodes for professions while people continue to not group up for quests because it's faster to just solo the solo content most of the time). The problem? First, the "feedback" about how the world was too empty was never a notable trend on the forum to begin with. And the ones who did complain about that tended to see server merging rather than CRZ as the appropriate response. The best you could say about Blizzard's reaction to feedback here was that they used it to determine how best to make a cost-cutting measure sound like a positive development for the game.
That decision made the player communications even more irate. The players thought their task was to convince Blizzard that their feature was not fun and detracted from the game, and became pretty certain that feedback was useless and ignored when the surge of negative feedback for weeks resulted in nothing but comments about bug fixes and vague promises of upping spawn rates. Was it useless? No. But it didn't carry the weight that common sense would tell you it should carry if the subject under discussion is what is fun rather than what is cheap.
Dailies are another prime example of course of this same trend. A decision by Blizzard motivated purely by the belief that creating chores for players to do every day makes it more likely they will stick around in their subscription. It's not about fun there, it's just about tying a reward to a grind that slowly - extremely slowly - gets done on a day to day basis. They're hoping that the joy of the reward will make players stick around longer than they otherwise would. Of course the game has always had grinds, but the level of reward and the tying of grinds to solo content has never been at this level, and it kind of stumbled over that line from, "hidden grind through enjoyable gameplay" to "boring grind where players are all too aware they are in a grind and can't wait to get the reward so they can never do that boring content ever again."
Lots of negative feedback again. And the response? Silly "gotcha" comments from Blizzard supporters about "dailies not being required" with some nodding from the blues. Oh yeah, that definitely makes feedback seem worthwhile. Again, I don't think the feedback is useless or not being taken into account in some fashion.
There have times in WoW's history that I have actually held them up as an example of doing a good job in providing steady communication with players and taking feedback into account. In many ways, Mists of Pandaria does that. But I view that as their response to feedback on other issues that was probably delivered a year ago. People who wanted more challenging dungeons got challenge modes. People who wanted something between dungeons and solo got Scenarios. When looking at the questing structure (NOT counting the daily quests), you can see how they split up storylines a little more to give more flexibility to player travel across zones (something I saw many people supportive of in the past, though some linearity is still good to have and players like to have arcing stories).
At present, however, it's difficult to be anything but critical of how they are handling the feedback on dailies and how they handled the CRZ feedback (I use the past tense because CRZ is something that was pretty well set in stone). Everything should be judged based on how long it would reasonably take to respond to the issue raised by the feedback. With dailies, it really would take almost no time at all, but instead we are waiting for it to be addressed in 5.1, and even then only in a half-hearted way that has not dulled the negative sentiment from the players much. (A token to increase rep gains after revered means little to people primarily complaining about how long it takes to get to revered, not to mention that the complaints also strongly center on the inability to gain the rep outside of dailies; and the double rep gains for alts has not removed the dread players feel at working on all those rep grinds with their alts - account wide reputation for alts being the far more sensible solution, with a restriction for Horde and Alliance only reps only translating to other Horde / Alliance characters and a few notable exceptions made for neutral factions opposed to each other such as Oracle and Wolvar or Aldor and Scryer).
Anyhow, I've rambled, but to sum up, it really comes down to two things. Does feedback matter? Yes. The article is right that it does. And should Blizzard be criticized for how they have discounted feedback in their actions recently? The article seems to take a very defensive stance for Blizzard, and I think it's just not correct in that stance. I think Blizzard is well deserving of criticism lately for that. (Though the criticism chiefly belongs to the decision makers, not the forum representatives of Blizzard).
You make some good points, Tolvard, and I appreciate that your post is well written and mostly constructive. The primary issue I have with your post -- since it's overall very good -- is that you make huge assumptions about our "hidden" motivations for implementing CRZ. Even if the guesses you're making are logical inferences based on observations you've made, you absolutely declare your statements as fact when you're clearly a reasonable enough person to understand that you couldn't possibly know with certainty how we made the decisions we did.
11/15/2012 03:00 AMIt was a feature developed to save money on server costs, but spun to the playerbase as being a positive feature to make the world feel "alive" again
Posted by Torvald
You're just not correct, and you have no basis for comparison to even begin to understand any financial motivations behind the implementation of CRZ.
That's my biggest problem with a lot of the negative feedback I see on hot issues like CRZ: Not that it's negative, but that people usually need to explain the unknown by formulating what I'd define as straight-up conspiracy theories. And they spread like wildfire. We are probably in part to blame for it, but sometimes all the insights and behind-the-scenes facts just can't be shared in a meaningful way with the public. There's just not a lot to be accomplished by engaging with people who say such changes are financially driven (i.e. cost efficiency > gameplay or customer concerns), or that they provide the path of least resistance for us in terms of our production pipeline.
We come off looking very defensive purely by nature of responding to a fallacious, hyperbolic, or incredibly presumptive argument. And, yet, that somehow tends to validate a conspiracy on the forums. This is an extreme example, but I'll use it since it was posted in this very thread:
not gonna read your propaganda, you own wowinsider and they never criticize you when you do a crappy job
your platitudinous tripe is just orwellian speak
there is no point to feedback, you don't respect anyone's opinion on this forum, and you never acknowledge your faults
there's also no point to public test realms, you ignore all feedback given to you in those as well, their only point is to flesh out bugs, not to criticize your game design
you guys are just terrible at your jobs, and too proud to admit it
Most people probably (hopefully!) understand that this is a major leap into the deep end of connecting dots simply because those dots exist in the same space and time. And the people who truly believe this type of stuff are going to feel validated if we A) defend ourselves purely on the basis of liking things like truth and facts (even you used the term "spin" to describe this); or B) remain silent because the endless tug of war that could result is a colossal waste of organic material.
Anyway, don't get me wrong. Your criticisms are well founded. I'll keep them in mind as I continue discussing the larger points of contention in the community with our developers and executives.