Catering to a massively multiplayer online game community is never easy, but for Blizzard's World of Warcraft, the challenge is especially difficult. In a post on the WoW forums regarding the cost of new in-game items, assistant game director Ion "Watcher" Hazzikostas responded to an irate fan's complaint that Blizzard claims to listen to fan feedback, but then ignores it.
Launched in 2004, the incredibly diverse WoW universe includes different kinds of PVP, PVE, alts, role-play, dungeons, pet battles and more, catering to distinct clusters within its overall community base of more than 5.5 million players. When catering to a community with such different people, views, tastes and preferences, no single feature in WoW can really please the majority of players - apart from levelling up, of course.
"There are multiple viewpoints on nearly any topic," Hazzikostas writes. "It's exceptionally rare that everyone wants the same thing (despite frequent framing of 'no one likes X' or 'we want X' when giving feedback). And even then, there is a large silent majority that does not post on forums."
However, Hazzikostas says Blizzard has responded quickly whenever there has been a unified objection to any aspect of the game.
"Early on in Warlords, we changed Group Finder loot from Personal back to Need/Greed until we could iterate on Personal loot further, and the community overwhelmingly told us that was a dumb idea," he writes. "The change was reverted within two days."
According to Hazzikostas, World of Warcraft's expansion over the years and catering to different niche player styles is part of the reason why there are so many diverse viewpoints to any of the game's features and updates.
"Almost every facet of WoW is an activity that caters to a minority of the player base," Hazzikostas said. "That may sound odd at first blush, but it's true."
"Virtually the only activity that a clear majority of players participate in is questing and level-up dungeons, but even then there's a sizeable group that views those activities as a nuisance that they have to get through in order to reach their preferred endgame," he said. "And yet, taken together, that collection of minority groups literally IS the World of Warcraft."
Given the game's cooperative nature, players tend to form connections and form communities based on their play style. When a feature or update rolls out that isn't designed for that minority, however, "it's easy and in fact natural to have the sense that 'everyone' dislikes it", he says.
As a result, the WoW team at Blizzard has had to accept the fact that they can't possibly please everyone and any changes made will most likely displease a large number of fans.
"If we decided to focus on a specific playstyle and elevate that portion of audience above the rest, then we could certainly visibly and consistently address clear feedback from that group, but WoW would become a far smaller game in the process," he said. "Ultimately, the approach we take is usually to tailor different content and rewards that can feel special to different groups, rather than trying to come up with a lowest common denominator that isn't special to anyone."
Still, he maintains that the developer is listening to what is being said by fans.
"I know it often can seem like we don't listen," he said. "We are - just to many, many different voices. And it may be that a given change, feature, or reward is simply aimed at a different portion of the player base. Or we could be wrong and we haven't realized it yet. So please, keep talking."
World of Warcraft's upcoming expansion Legion, which has already proven to be quite divisive, is slated for release on 30 August.