Are Blogs Impacting the MMO Industry?

bloggerEventually every MMO blogger worth their salt ponders the impact that blogs have on the MMO industry as a whole. Of course we’d like to think we are somehow making a difference and it’s an admirable goal in a world where blogging has become a big part of the Internet and is intertwined with the social networking movement. Today, it seems that everyone has a blog. And why not? It’s a great way to revel in one’s passion for a particular subject or hobby. It’s also useful to have a permanent record of one’s writings as opposed to the black hole that is otherwise known as discussion forums.  All of us who blog in some way do so because we feel that our opinions *matter*.

The question is: do our opinions have any impact on the people in the MMO industry that can effect real change?

Why We Blog

Most of us who blog like to feel that what we are writing will have an impact on the MMO community. Nothing can describe the feeling that one gets when you discover that there are other like-minded people out there who feel passionate about the very same issues. Whether it’s a discussion about the latest nerf to your class or some small esoteric part of your favorite MMO that you really enjoy, it’s reassuring to know that other people are in the same virtual boat as you. Blogging has become a great community building activity that helps keep fellow enthusiasts in-touch and motivated about their MMO.

Now it’s all fine and well to look at blogging as something that helps bring a sense of community to MMOs albeit in an offline capacity but what about the importance of blogging having an impact on the MMO industry? Is there any evidence that MMO devs are reading and listening to the opinions expressed on the literally thousands of blogs our there? Should they care? Should we care if they don’t care?

The Reality of the Video Game Industry

I remember when I was putting in 12-16 hour days in the video game industry. Back then my focus was so intense on my current project that I really didn’t have the time nor the energy to read other people’s opinions as I do today. It’s not that public opinion didn’t matter, it’s just that it wasn’t a priority. Sure we cared about game review scores but we found ourselves absolutely loathing professionally game reviewers. After all, how could they possibly understand what it takes to make a video game? In the end you don’t need the distraction and inconvenience of other opinions (especially from outside the industry); if you are a developer the only opinion that matters is your own and your bosses.

During my time working in the industry, my own blog shamefully suffered during those 2 years. I would go months without publishing any articles. Somehow keeping a blog updated wasn’t a big priority when you are giving every ounce of your energy to the creation of a video game. Back then I recall thinking how irrelevant blogs and discussion forums are to the whole grand scheme of things. I used to think of the public: talk is cheap…you really want better games? Make them!

On the occasion when I had a few minutes of free time, I would dutifully skim through various discussion forums and official MMO company websites but that was about it. Therefore I can honestly appreciate devs who work for MMO companies like Blizzard who aren’t very vocal on discussion boards or blogs. Yet given the social nature of MMOs as opposed to single player video games, failing to build in time to allow your devs to communicate with the public each month is a terrible mistake.

Blogs Are a Good Predictor of the State of Your MMO

After being out of the industry boiler room for a while I have had the luxury to re-think some of my positions. I would venture to say that to the discerning reader there *is* great value in what is being written in blogs and in the comments in the blogosphere. Often big trends and glaring problems usually surface on blogs months before the MMO company is even aware of what is going on. Bloggers have a unique perspective in contrast to the typical over-worked MMO dev in that they are a fresh pair of eyes unsullied from the rigors and demands of working in the industry.

While the average employee slaving away at a video company can’t be expected to spend 4 hours a day reading and discussing issues on forums or blogs at the very least MMO companies should be hiring people who’s sole job it is to be taking the temperature of the community, the commentators and the pundits. These employees should be giving feedback directly to the people in power so that issues can be addressed before they spiral out of control. How often have we seen companies ignore the warnings of beta testers on their forums and ship an MMO that is doomed to fail? Too damned often.

Don’t Ignore Your Community

Video game companies need to understand that MMOs are an entirely different creature then a single-player video game that you sell once. Never before has an industry ever had such vocal customers who are so passionate about the products and services that they consume. As customers, we should be heard instead of “managed”. Woe to the MMO company that fails to listen, consider and acknowledge all of the voices in the community. Case in point: the official Blizzard Wrath of the Lich King Profession forums. Months went by before a Blizzard rep even bothered to post on those forums. The forums themselves were a terrific repository of expert players offering sage advice to Blizzard. As for the Blizzard lead dev responsible for professions Jon “Where’s Waldo” Lecraft he’s been conspicuously absent. The last anyone has heard from him was a Blizzcast earlier this year. Who knows, maybe his face will soon be making an appearance on California milk cartons?

Digression – People who are involved in the creation of video games are a very opinionated lot; they are not easily swayed by the opinion of the “street”. You have to be ultra-opinionated to survive in the industry as failure to have an opinion that you can logically defend will end up in you being steamrolled by the alpha males during the endless stream of meetings that one must endure during the course of an average week. An interesting aside in the industry is that the more you get paid, the more your opinion seems to matter. People who have entry level positions don’t really need opinions — instead they are the worker bees that implement the opinions, ideas and dreams of the people in executive positions of power.

Rolling the Dice With Opinions

I wish I could definitively say that blogging has an impact but I’m really not sure as it would be impossible to measure without some actual evidence. One would like to think that in a perfect world that a well expressed idea *will* have some kind of appreciable impact; it’s the chance we all take as bloggers. Sometimes we get lucky and we strike a chord with the community, sometimes we strike out but that’s ok too. My heart goes out to many of the posters on official MMO forums who write with such unbridled passion — they earnestly hope that their post will hit pay dirt, grab the attention of a “blue” (WoW player lingo for “company employee”) and get their issue addressed. Some do get lucky and the devs seem to wake from their sleep-deprived stupor and actually implement some changes.

Concluding Thoughts

All of us who dare to put pen to paper whether real or electronic do so because it’s a part of human nature to express oneself and want to be heard. As bloggers and posters, we need to be realistic. While what we do may not be changing the MMO world with great fanfare, we are making an incremental grassroots impact nonetheless. We need to be satisfied and delight in those small sparks of recognition for our observations.  Just knowing that our opinions are out there for the world to read and evaluate keeps me blogging. Often I will get comments and emails from my readers expressing how much they enjoyed the article. For me, that’s all the impact I really need.

-Wolfshead

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