Thursday, 29 April 2010

Power to the People...

I'd like to subtitle this post: "How can Developers collect, acknowledge and respect the wishes of their player base?"

Here in the UK it's Election time, I'm sure that unlike when this happens else where and we get flooded with information about it, no-one outside of the UK actually gives two hoots about who's going to be running this backwater of a nation before we finally replace Hawaii as the last state to join the union.

But it got me thinking, when might on-line games start to include, or be directed, by the political, social and hopefully interesting, wants and wishes of their player base?

CCP, the venerable creators of Eve-Online have included a player orientated elected representative body, the Interstellar Council, the members of which were once just lowly players, but whom were elected to office via the wishes of the player base at large. This, as it did here in the UK with the MP's expenses, ended up in some turmoil with allegations, and I believe admissions, of corruption by those elected to the Council.

The concept which failed with the corruption of those elected was in part sound, the idea of letting players appoint a representative and they be the player's conduit through to the developers is a good idea, but you never can tell the true motivations of such a person. History has proven that they are more likely to look out for their own interests than those of the populous at large.

But, someone had to take a step in the direction of MMO development to include political views, and all kudos to CCP for their attempts.

I feel though that whenever a candidate ran on a basis of a manifesto, they had defined that manifesto, they have set out their own agenda, much as politicians do throughout the democratic world. I don't think this model would, or could, work within an on-line game situation. The population focus is so narrow [just including one game world] but with so many varying ideas no one manifesto could include everyone's wishes, or even encompass the gist of very many opinions.

Instead I'd like to see the process turned on it's head, to see a manifesto put together by the player base and then a developer try to find the person to live up to those goals. Literally 'what the players want from a conduit to contact the developers' turned into a job specification and then that role filled by the right person. [Such a situation would only require a good communicator, not a good politician (oxymoron alert level 1)].

The CCP election was far too biased with in-game politics itself, much as the universe within the Eve Server is divided by the large alliances. It always was, and is, very politically orientated to meet the ends of the in game alliances and cartels, rather than the player-base at large.

So, you may ask, what do I suggest? Well, first of all, I do not suggest any MMO publisher out there hold elections to find the right person, they're never going to find them by letting some of the drongo's I've played in MMO's with vote for anyone... I know I sound like a dictator here, but hear me out... I'd have the publishers/controllers/masters of these games hold polls, or focus groups, to try and wheedle out of their player base what they, the players, want to talk to the developers about... be it, content, or balance, or graphics... or just the where the game they play might be going. To condense this down into a specification for a role, a job.

That is the key, a person to meet this very specific specification, to act as a communicator, to filter out the crack pots and give the developers a clear set of questions, or requirements that the player base have for their game and their get honest open feed back, or changes made, by the developers & publishers.

Unfortunately I think that this is a political system with very little back bone. I mean, what can a player do to invoke change in the game they play? The only leverage they have it to stop playing and cancel their subscription, or to stop buying their cash shop items. And unfortunately there's very little chance of anyone stopping playing their favourite game just to make a stand.

The only thing that could happen to a developer or publisher, if they chose to ignore the wishes of their player base in such a situation is negative press. The question is, would a developer like CCP, or Activision-Blizzard, or EA give a damn about some bad press?

So, I ask, would any publisher today be brave enough to acknowledge the existence of the player base, to recognise that they're not all just little dollar signs with a pulse. And for the developers of games to grant the player base something a kin to political rights about the game they play?

We the people would all stand up for our rights in real-life, why do we currently let our on-line experiences be dictated to us?

This is my first post from my newly set up Linux Box.

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