February 14, 2009

Players hate change

I wish I could dig up some of the angry rants from 2004 when Blizzard first announced their hearthstones and rested xp during their beta. A lot of players were inexplicably infuriated at the idea.

Search engines eventually dug me up a juicy bit or two, but the fact that this uproar is almost completely forgotten now is why it's my favorite example of how players hate change. This feature is completely and absolutely accepted by every person who plays WoW now. If you tried to remove it, there'd be an even bigger uproar than the one that its implementation caused. And yet, when the feature was announced, many vocal players were completely indignant.

Timing is everything

I feel like I'm beating a dead horse every time I bring it up, but SWG's New Game Enhancements is the other huge example of how players don't like change. Unlike the previous example, it didn't blow over, and basically is blamed for killing that game.

The really sad thing here is that the NGE probably did make the game much more true to the Star Wars IP. My impression of the original SWG is that it was much more of a Raph Koster game than it was a Star Wars game. Star Wars is shallow pulpy adventure, and I think that's what the NGE was trying to move toward.

If SWG had been designed as the post-NGE game from the very beginning, it probably would have been much more successful. But letting a loyal playerbase get used to one type of gameplay and then pulling the rug out from under them was rightly seen as a betrayal and an attempt to sell out and be more like WoW. You've got to dance with the ones what brung ya.

Case in point: WoW's LFG tool

Blizzard doesn't often have failures of design, especially unredeemable ones. Identifying and correcting missteps is one of the key things that makes them a great developer. That said, WoW's Looking For Group tool has been an abject failure.

This feature has been designed and redesigned, first as local chat channels, then a global chat channel, then the UI with no chat channel, then with the global chat channel added, but only for people who were using the UI tool.

By the time they settled on the UI, the first expansion was coming out, and people had been using chat channels for 2 years or more already. All those players never adopted the UI tool, and because of that, new players quickly found that the LFG tool didn't ever find them a group, and quickly gave up on it.

These new players don't even realize why the tool isn't used, they just feel the peer pressure not to, and just start using the trade channel like everyone else does. Blizzard used to try and actually police those global chat channels and gag people who were using them improperly, but now they're past caring and well past the manpower to worry about such small violations.

A friend of mine, a great game designer who spent some time in the military, told me a story which sums up this phenomenon: WoW players are illustrating the wet monkey effect.

Summing up

  1. Players don't like change, even if it's for the better. Once that initial grouchiness blows over, they'll usually warm up to a good idea and forget things ever were any other way.
  2. Some changes are just too big to make once you have players. Maybe in a closed alpha you could get away with the NGE. Look at Valve - They redesigned TF2 3 times over ten years and that came out fine, because they did it before they'd let the general public play it.
  3. It's really hard to break players out of old habits with new features, especially if the old habits work better because of peer pressure. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some features just have to be in at launch.


Eolirin said...

Guild Wars actually did something interesting to try to break out of that "Wet Monkey Effect" thing.

Anytime someone typed 'lfg' into chat it automatically added them to the LFG tool. I'm not sure how much more the tool actually got used, but it was at least populated because it co-opted the way players were used to doing things.

So basically, if you want to change something that players have been doing one way for a while, you need to do it by subverting the way they're used to doing things.

Mike Darga said...

Ah, that's pretty interesting. I don't remember that but I'll go check it out.

Eolirin said...

Actually, I just took a look at it again, and it seems they've improved it quite substantially since I last looked at it.

They're also now putting trade requests into the tool whenever someone starts their string with wts or wtb, and it's even cross district for the zone you're in.