Learn to recognize which parts of your game and playerbase aren't important. Your favorite part of the game may be something the playerbase doesn't care about, and there are some players who care about things that it isn't in your best interests to focus on.I probably shouldn't have mentioned this in passing before I had a chance to do a longer writeup on it. That's a fairly sinister-sounding quote, after all.
So what did I mean by this? Why wouldn't I want to just always make all of my players happy all the time? The short answer is that's exactly what I do want. The longer answer is that if you end up with too many different groups of players who want opposing things out of your game, you'll eventually arrive at a situation where any decision you make will anger one of the player camps.
Aside from bugs and generally shoddy development, the biggest cause of /ragequits is developers and players not agreeing on what the game is supposed to be:
Players thought it was an RPG with FPS elements, developers shipped an FPS with RPG elements. Players thought the game was supposed to be mostly grouping with some soloing, developers preferred mostly soloing with some grouping. Players expected open world territorial control PvP, developers implemented consensual sport PvP.
These are very small differences in opinion that don't matter at all, until they matter more than anything and all your players have quit.
Just like every other aspect of the game, your playerbase must be carefully designed and crafted. Here's how:
1 - Know what game you're making, and for whomIf your design team can't agree on what the game's about, how can your playerbase possibly be expected to agree with your design team?
Your gameplay will determine which players will enjoy your game, and which players you intend to enjoy your game should be the driving force in all your gameplay decisions. It's not important whether you start the game with an idea of the players or an idea of the gameplay, it's just important that they both support each other.
If you wait until you have real players to start trying to make them happy, it's already too late. The game has to be tailored to the audience before the audience even exists. This can be challenging, but there are lots of shortcuts.
You can do it by treating some designers as spokespeople for the player groups you expect to have, you can define a set of archetypes that you keep in mind while designing, you can write user stories, or you can just try make a game for another game's audience and steal them.
It doesn't matter how do you it, but you have to figure out who your players will be and what game they'll want in time to actually start making it.
2 - Keep your design focusedFeature creep is arguably the worst problem in the game industry, as well as the software industry as a whole. It causes financial problems and scheduling problems, and it also causes a fragmented playerbase.
Sprawling game designs such as RPGs are the most prone to feature creep, which in my opinion explains why so few MMO gamers are actually happy. It's incredibly difficult to support divergent gameplay styles in a way that doesn't result in each style's features harming the other's gameplay.
For example, Blizzard has enough resources to put huge amounts of effort into both PvE and PvP, but even they barely pull it off. WoW players are constantly arguing over which type of gameplay that game is supposed to be about, or angry that one is receiving more content, better itemization, relevant balance changes, etc.
The best way to avoid feature creep is to make a firm choice as to what game you're not making, and which audience you're not trying to appeal to.
By adding every feature under the sun to your game, you might attract more players, but I can guarantee you that those players will be less happy. Think about whether you want to have a huge audience of unhappy players, or a small audience of happy players. It's a trick question though, because unhappy players quit, while happy players multiply.
3 - Market your game honestlyStop giving players false hope. If you know that your game isn't a PvP game, isn't a solo game, isn't a crafting game, etc, all you have to do is make that clear up front. Nobody wants to be the bad guy in the dev chat who tells all the nice crafters and all their nice money to take a hike, but it's much better than leading them on and then disappointing them.
If you feel ashamed to tell your players honestly what your game is about, that's a pretty great sign that you game isn't about the right things.
4 - Dance with the ones that brung yaOnce your game has players who aren't on your dev team, it's too late to change what game it is. You can only make it a better and better version of itself, even if you screwed up and made the wrong game.
Once players are playing your game, even for free, they've invested themselves in it. Players always talk about how they've paid money and deserve a service, but that's not actually what's making them mad. Once they've invested their time and attention in a game, they've given you something much more precious than their money and you've reached the point of no return.
Even when you've designed and marketed a game for a specific audience, you'll still have some players from outside your audience show up and try it out. These players will be mad that the game isn't a game for them, and demand that you change it. Sometimes you can accommodate them without alienating your existing players, but sometimes you just have to have the self-restraint to allow them to quit.
I'm hugely impressed by CCP's new game Dust 514. After being assaulted for years by complaints of EVE not being exciting enough, CCP didn't cave in and dilute their game to include those players who were outside of their intended audience. They made an entirely new game just for those players. This is a perfect way to make a new group of players happy, without that gain in happiness costing some happiness from another group.
Time to pick on poor SWGStar Wars Galaxies is an example that's been beaten to death, but for good reason. That game suffered from all of the problems I've mentioned here. It tried to support every style of gameplay there is, from politics and city management to crafting to avatar combat to dogfighting in spaceships.
It was seemingly designed for fans of every part of the Star Wars universe but the movies, and then inevitably marketed to people who had only ever seen the movies. Once its audience was distilled to only people who really liked SWG's gameplay and everyone else had quit, the devs decided to try and fix their mistakes.
They rereleased the game with a new design that would appeal to all of the players who had quit (who wanted it to be more like the movies), except those players didn't really care anymore. The loyal players who had remained rightly felt this was a slap in the face and began quitting in droves.
The new Star Wars game seems to have much more in common with the failed SWG revamp than it does with the original SWG. The funny thing is that this time around everyone is incredibly excited about it. This is because we can all tell what that game is trying to be, and hopefuly because it's being marketed honestly.
Nobody wants their players to quit, and it's always a bad thing to make any of your players unhappy. However, if you let your design get too diluted and your playerbase get too fractured, you'll end up in a position where it's unavoidable.
If you decide which potential players are and aren't important long before the game ships and market the game honestly, then you'll never have such a divided playerbase that you have to make those kinds of tough calls. This hopefully also means you won't see so many players /ragequit.