Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Don’t Listen to the Players

So the title of this post is a paradox in so far as I am a player and game companies can only follow my advice by not listening to me. Well, sue me. What I’m actually talking about is developers listening to highly visible movements within their player base. Usually these groups are asking for nerfs or buffs, but non-balance related movements are dangerous as well. From my World of Warcraft times I remember that the forums were full of people whining about pretty much everything and only rarely would one of those topics get so much focus that it stood out in between the others.

In Starcraft II this doesn’t seem to be so. Everybody and their little sisters’ bed bugs “knew” that the Zerg race is underpowered in the game and that Terrans are far too strong. Reality looks completely different.

Starcraft II balance in the North American ladder as of 07/10/10. Yellows: Protoss, Blues: Terran, Reds: Zerg

Blizzard posted stats on the win rates of each of the races against the other two the other day, split up by leagues, and the results are – quite frankly – astounding. In the highest league (diamond), Protoss and Terrans go pretty much evenly against each other with a slight nod to the mighty Protoss. Zerg and Terran fare evenly as well (even with a slight nod to Zerg there) and only the Protoss vs Zerg matchup is a bit lopsided in favour of the Protoss. The lower leagues are a lot less balanced, but almost never in the way that common knowledge seems to dictate. As you can see from the chart, Terrans (widely known as an overpowered race) are actually in negative figures at pretty much any skill level.

Now, the Starcraft 2 ladder isn’t the be-all and end-all of the competitive Starcraft 2 scene and I’m sure that balance at the level of the real professional players (as opposed to people like me who play in diamond league with little to no skill at all)  might be different from what we can observe here. Still, for most skill-levels it is quite clear that Terrans are winning less than they should while Protoss are the real problem. It seems everyone was plain wrong.

The whole uproar in the community was pretty much a by-product of a few high-profile Zerg players complaining and everyone picking up on it. Blizzard even published a patch to address some of the issues that were mentioned (these figures are post-patch) but players still kept on (and keep on) whining.

What I’m taking away from this is that listening to your community too much can lead to disaster because players don’t actually know what’s good for them. So the next time your insightful and detailed suggestions get completely ignored by the developers of a game, think about the dross that these people would have to sift through to find the few gems. As a developer it is good to have an eye on your community, but always, always back claims up with your own data before reacting to their complaints.

  • I think it is awesome that Blizz posted numbers like that. I think gaming companies should do that a LOT more. they gotta have amazing statistic about everything going on on their servers since most of the stuff is easy to track. it would help them make their customers happy i guess. on the other hand i dont know how much other companies could get out of those numbers to develop own games.
    I think mostly the problem with balance is which group you want to balance for. there are many tactics that are really hard to defend against in the lower lvls but that dont contribute to the pro balance since on that lvl they are laughable at best. I still think a game should be balanced around the pros not the masses and you should try to improve yourself instead of wanting a balance that makes up for you own shortcomings.

  • PS: i think this is a really nice example of what a company can do:

  • Balance… is a beast. Terran – many will play that. But Protoss or Zerg, they are not… familiar. It could be that a lot more bad players play Terrans.

    What does this say about game mechanic balance per se?

    Example Star Trek Online: Klingons obliterated the Federation. Brutally. But why? They did not really have better ships, but they were only available as PvP faction and not right from the start (level 6 on a Fed needed to unlock them). They attracted pvp minded players.

    Nowadays Klingons have a really hard time against the same cruisers that they shot down early on. Because STO lost a lot of the ultra casuals, those that are still there know their stuff. And lo behold, suddenly the Feds are “overpowered”.

    Also, Guild Wars and skill balance for PvP: In the end they split skills between Pvp and Pve. Something they wanted to avoid. But both parts of the game were very different and to balance a skill for both became a problem. PvP related nerfs to skills were not well received by PvE players and PvE buffs rarely affected PvP or were impossible because they *would* affect PvP too much.

    The thing is many companies fail to find the golden middle. You must listen to player feedback, but you must also know when to ignore it. A forum whinocracy is the end of any game. I tend to believe a company that does not listen to player complaints at all would not do well, but probably still better.

  • Balancing the game for all skill levels is definitely a huge problem, but the split of the above data by leagues (and therefore skill levels) helps to remove that bias somewhat. I would be very impressed if a game company could ever find near-perfect balance on every level but there are a couple of methods for specifically balancing certain skill levels and not touching others. I might post about tat sometime soon if I manage to condense my thoughts on the topic.

    And I agree with you of course, Longasc, that walking the line between player feedback and your own ideas would be ideal. When I say “don’t listen to the players” I actually mean “don’t _blindly_ listen to the players”.
    scrusi´s last blog post ..The Case for Game Analysts