Syl and Murf have been at it, both writing excellent pieces on the topic of the abscence of democracy in game design and voting with your wallet. Both articles take different angles, but are essentially about the same thing: the amount of say gamers have in the development process of the games they play. Because I have the urge to add my opinion to the discussion, let me throw in my two cents when it comes to the relevance of the “vox gameri”, or the voice of the gamers (Pig Latin ftw!)
I believe that the mass is stupid. Take a large group of people with different opinions and have them make a decision. In general, the decision will be made by either the most charismatic and / or influential party or the one who can draw the most attention to his opinion. I know this because we see this in everyday situations: political agendas are made by demagogues, and what we deem important news topics are the results of what is popular with the audience. The same goes for video game communities. You will notice the loud, attention-whoring members long before those with more articulated, well-formulated opinions. But will anyone care once the people who give their statements some thought speak up? No, because the loud, annoying and stupid mass has already received the attention it wanted, using its weight to stampede across the message boards and other media to push through what they deem “right”.
And here lies the problem with listening to your gamers as a game designer: you will never get a clear impression of what your players want. You might try to solve this through player councils like the one used by CCP for EVE, but then you’re bringing very real political agendas into the game. If you want to keep your seat on such a council, you see whichever problem has the largest support and start fishing for votes there. Even if you bring in an army of Community Managers browsing the boards all day long, you will never find out what’s best for your game. Sure, you’ll hear about what (again) the loud and vocal majority believes, but as I said above: the mass is stupid. A minor issue can be blown out of proportion by one very eloquent player, and before you know it, you are fixing problems that were no problem to begin with just because your Community Managers were chased by a digital mob with torches and pitchforks.
That’s no way for a game to evolve, and developers know this. Time is money, and the longer developers wait with making decision, the less money is made by pleasing your players. That’s why you see so much cuddling of the stupid mass: because they have the money the producers want. That’s why the big studios don’t listen to the thinking and rational minority: what’s a few lost armchair game designers versus thousands of rabid consumers? That’s a rhetorical question.
Of course, not every developer is in it for the money. Some still want to create art. And when you create art, you have a vision, an idea of your final product. Just as the painter knows which colors he wants to use, a developer knows what his game should look and feel like. Just like the painter, the developer will listen to critique and feedback from the people looking at his creation. But in the end, the artistic developer has a vision he wants to achieve. He might make a few tweaks here and there based on some insightful comments, but he always knew what he wants to make. No matter how often you tell a painter with a vision to use green instead of yellow, he will use that damn yellow if it makes his art the way he wants it to be. No matter how often you tell a developer to leave a certain feature out of the game in favor of more focus on what the game already provides, he will leave that damn feature in when it belongs to his vision.
So, big-money studio or low-budget indie game artist: one way or the other, the vox gameri is either the voice of a loud, dumb mass or the unheard, well-intended feedback from lovers of art. One way or the other, developers will not care much for it. Don’t feel disheartened by it though. We live in a time with enough choice when it comes to games, so when the developers of one game make stupid decisions, why not switch to another one? Maybe your voice will be heard there.
Probably not, but ignorance is bliss, guys. Ignorance is bliss.