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.

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