How do you keep World of Warcraft's players happy?
Blizzard designer Ion Hazzikostas on the best approach to managing an audience of millions
Although World of Warcraft still has a subscriber base of more than 5 million people, Blizzard understands and addresses that community as a cluster of distinct minority groups.
In a post on the WoW forums, designer Ion Hazzikostas responded to discontent within the game's community regarding the value of certain in-game items, and Blizzard's perceived lack of interest in tackling the issue. Hazzikostas' reply highlighted the tension between the way a developer understands its audience, and the way that audience understands itself.
Hazzikostas started with an obvious but undeniably true statement: "It's exceptionally rare that everyone wants the same thing." However, this basic truth tends to get lost in a game with a large number of players, most of whom see their experience and their tastes as equivalent to the game's objective value to everyone.
"Almost every facet of WoW is an activity that caters to a minority of the playerbase," Hazzikostas said. "It is not a narrow game, but rather one that can be enjoyed in numerous different ways, by people with hugely diverse playstyles.
"A minority of players raid. A minority of players participate in PvP. A tiny minority touch Mythic raiding. A tiny minority of players do rated PvP. A minority of players have several max-level alts. A minority of players do pet battles, roleplay, list things for sale on the auction house, do Challenge Mode dungeons, and the list goes on. 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."
World of Warcraft is the sum total of all those subjective experiences, but its players often regard their own as definitive. This is magnified by the social and cooperative aspects of the game, which mean, "players tend to make connections with others who favour a similar playstyle... So when there's a change, or a feature, that is aimed at a portion of the game that isn't your personal playstyle, it's easy and in fact natural to have the sense that 'everyone' dislikes it.
"In closing, I know it often can seem like we don't listen. We are - just to many, many different voices."
You can read the full post over on the World of Warcraft forums.