Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reply to Adam

Adam Holisky’s editorial at WoW.com regarding what he sees as an out of control negativity about Warcraft reminds me of this post from Broken Toys last February. Both Adam and Scott share the attitude that when someone says something you don’t want to hear, the proper response is to tell them to shut up. Adam’s confident post is the living illustration of the definition of positive: mistaken at the top of one’s voice.

The Benefit of a Vocal Minority

Adam starts his piece with a claim that a loud and obnoxious minority is harming the game. In particular, that it’s drowning out the sober voices of reason. Adam specifically states that even he agrees with some of the underlying complaints. It’s that he thinks the way those concerns are expressed is counterproductive.

Attacking means and not ends is almost always error. Lets consider some realities that we take as ordinary that once started out as the complaints by a vocal minority.

  • The American Revolution
  • The Abolition of Slavery in America
  • Women’s Right to Vote
  • Civil Rights

The list could go on and on. Almost every major change in American society occurred because someone complained loud, long, and frequently in an obnoxious tone of voice. In writing that I am not comparing the substance of the forum posters complaints to those noble causes. I'm saying that the best question is not whether the people on the forums are being jackasses. The best question is: are they right?

If the complaints are correct then they deserve a vigorous airing. In fact, I’d go one step further. I’d say that only where there is a free trade in ideas, only when there is an opportunity for all voices to be heard, can we possibly know if the answer is correct. Every human being is fallible. No single human being has all the correct answers all the time. It takes input from the entire group. The trolls of today are often the heroes of tomorrow.

Silence is the Wrong Answer

If Blizzard were to take Ghostcrawler off the forums or even shut them down entirely the real loser would be Blizzard itself. First, Blizzard would be a loser because it would lose an essential tool of positive feedback. Ghostcrawler himself has mentioned on several occasions the valuable feedback the developers have gained from the forums. Even if there are only 10,000 regular users of the forum, that doesn’t mean that having that resource isn’t important to irregular users like me. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If the vocal minority is wrong, shutting down the forums only makes Blizzard look weak and hurts the silent majority. If the vocal minority is right, then silencing those voices only makes Blizzard look arrogant and unable to admit its mistakes.

The second problem is that people won’t be silenced whatever Blizzard does anyway. If people have legitimate complaints (and Adam concedes they do) then telling them to shut up only results in them taking those complaints to other forums. 10,000 angry people with a genuine beef can do real damage to Blizzard’s brand name. It’s just not a smart strategy to have them wandering around the internet crying to potential customers. Better to have the vocal minority vent at the developers who know nonsense when they see it than have the vocal minority vent at the gullible public who get easily scared of anything new. As the old saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.


So I would implore Blizzard not to press the self-destruct button on the forums. The results are not likely to be what they want.

Where Adam is Correct

I think that Adam’s attacks on Warcraft’s vocal minority are inapposite. Yet I also think there is one aspect on which he is correct. A few months ago I stated that I thought the biggest problem with the forums as a means of public relations was that Blizzard had allowed it to become too much about a single personality at the expense of the brand. Because of Ghostcrawler’s significant presence on the forums the trolls often flock to his threads because they treat his comments as a form of PvP. So I am pleased to see that Adam also recognizes this as a real problem which Blizzard has failed to address.

In fact, I think that this is the real heart of the problem on the forums. Often people with something useful or important to say get drowned out by those who have come online to play “let’s outwit the developer” making the helpful people shout even louder in an attempt to be heard above the din. Adam’s post reminded me of the school teacher shouting at a rambunctious group of eight year olds to behave themselves. Of course that strategy is going to fail because as far as eight year olds are concerned being rambunctious is behaving themselves. If the teacher wants to get control he has to direct their energy into positive and constructive channels. The vocal minority, as far as I can see, don’t have any real interest in “running the game” anymore than students want to be the teacher. What they do want is to be engaged in constructive manner which has proven beyond the capabilities of one man, even a man as capable as Ghostcrawler.

Blizzard is the Vocal Minority

Sometimes in life in order to take two steps forward you need to take a step back. Adam's follow up post claims that players' freedom of speech ends where Blizzard's property rights begin. That's true as far as it goes but it doesn't go very far. Game developers don’t live in a vacuum; they are part of larger social and economic groups in which they participate and in which they are the vocal minority. All the recent trials of Blizzard in China are concrete proof. The recent issue with alcohol during Brewfest in the European Union indicates that this reality is not just for communist countries. There are no scared cows.There is no constitutional right to property in America. In fact, all the Fifth Amendment guarantees is that you will receive "just compensation" should the government decide to take your property. Anger enough of your customers and they won’t simply cancel their game subscription; they will complain to their electoral representative. Engaging your customers, all of them, even the trolls and the crybabies, creates an enormous reservoir of good will that may save the game development community someday.

In 1850 only a fool would have predicted a civil war that would lead to freeing the slaves. A vocal minority made it happen. In 1910 only a fool would have predicted that women’s suffrage would be universal in America within twenty years. A vocal minority made it happen. In a democratic society Blizzard has the power to run their business as they see fit by the leave of the community. Don’t trifle with it. One day that vocal minority that’s driving you nuts and wasting your time might be the same vocal minority that picks up the phone and tells their representative to keep their hands off MMOs. Maybe not. But there are no guarantees that the game of life will turn out the way the game development community wants. There are vocal minorities that exist right now that claim that video games should be banned because they are too violent or because they promote irresponsible behavior. When Congress comes along and shuts down the cash cow because of the agitation of the vocal minority that is anti-video game, game developers can’t wonder why no one spoke up on their behalf. They were the ones who told their own customers to shut up.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I disagree with almost everything you said, and I believe you did not correctly interpret the points Adam was trying to make. There is a good way and there is a bad way to express disagreement with something, or an opinion that is different from the "majority." Calling people names, shouting fire in a crowded theater just to cause a panic, and other inciting remarks are not the good way, nor are they right. People can disagree, but they should be responsible and mature when they do so, or they should expect to be ignored.

Klepsacovic said...

I was a bit disturbed by your bringing up legislatures. Companies who are not being unethical should have nothing to fear. If they do, it is the legislature which needs to be attacked, not the company.

As for the arguments of addiction and harm; anything enjoyable can cause this. We shouldn't blame the game, or blame the person, but instead see what it is in their lives that they aren't worth living.

@Anonymous: There is the problem that those who are most heard are the rude and obnoxious; the liars and deceivers. The honest and intelligent must find a way to get their voices heard, but not sink to the level of the stupid.

Taz said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with "Anonymous" and Adam. I don't believe that Adam or Blizzard ever argued for silence. Instead, they implored for civil discourse. If the vocal minority screams, "The developers are all stupid $%$Y*^&!" that is not helpful to the discussion of real issues within the game that Blizzard and the players want to address.

Just as many bloggers have a "disagree politely and I won't delete your comment" rule, Blizzard, as far as I can tell, maintains a similar policy. This kind of policy is not to silence the freedom fighters or oppress the minority, it's a basic measure to try to keep the discourse useful for all parties involved.

Perhaps I am being naive, but I don't see how Ghostcrawler imploring on the forums for polite posts that don't simply attack the developers' intelligence or throw insults at other players constitutes Blizzard telling "their own customers to shut up".

All that said, however, I do agree that silence is not the answer and that Blizzard would be shooting themselves in the foot if they shut down the forums.

Anonymous said...

I take it you don't actually read GC's blue posts themselves.

Basically, two points: one is that, no matter what happens, Blizzard will not lose the feedback from its forums. It has community managers hired for the express purpose of reading the forums and communicating what they feel are relevant points to the development team. Ghostcrawler is not a CM, he's a developer, he's on the forums largely on his own time and it has absolutely nothing to do with his job at all. If GC leaves the forums, the only losers are *us*, the playerbase. Blizzard still gets its forum feedback, but we lose all of GC's feedback.

Secondly, the reason GC is on the forums in the first place is for feedback, and when he reads a post like "Bliz is stupid and 90% of all WoW players know that you don't know wtf you're doing" he gets absolutely nothing that he can actually do anything with. If people post in a civilized manner, it is much more likely that GC can actually get something out of it.

Elnia said...

@Anonymous. Ignoring people is simply a passive way of telling them to shut up. Your claim boils down to the claim that "you have to tolerate me but I don't have tolerate you."

Taz. That's a circular argument. It boils down to the assertion that "those people aren't civil because civil is not what those people are."

People make that assertion all the time in many different contexts. My point is that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. It's easy to make that claim when you are the one in an "enlightened" majority. But the day will come when you are the one in the minority and then being told you're rude and uncivil won't feel so hot.

Jong said...

@ anonymous

I have to go with Elnia here.

I've had jobs in various service industries: fast food, office cleaning, millworking, and investment banking.

The tone of voices and violent words angry customers have thrown at me aren't any more civilized than those of forum "trolls".

McDonald's (or any of its affiliates) have never made a public statement that goes: Vocal minorities need to chill out. There are nicer ways to tell us the sandwich is too cold, ok?

I don't understand why the silents are assumed to be the majority. I have been dissenting silently with several aspects of blizzard's services.

Stabs said...

The problem with arguing, as Adam does, against trolls is that while many people would agree this is because we don't recognise ourselves as trolls.

As a passionate Ret Pally player with hundreds of hours of play experience under my belt I am uniquely qualified to assert my view.

As a skilled debate I can use such terms as "OMG BLIZZ!!!" and "BLUES SUCK!" secure in the knowledge that my subtly self-mocking irony and avant garde grammar merely accentuate the rhetorical impact of my well-thought out argument.

In conclusion: NERF TROLLZ!!111!!!! (I IS NOT A TORLL)

Stabs said...

@ Jong
"I don't understand why the silents are assumed to be the majority."

Ah, this is actually an advanced rhetorical technique known as Making Stuff Up To Prove My Point.

I am surprised to see Adam use it, I thought Syncaine held the copyright.

Stabs said...

@Elnia
"There are no scared cows"

I think this might have been a typo. There are plenty of scared cows after free egg nog is given out on Thunder Bluff.

David said...

I disagree - I think Adam's posts were on the mark and that a subscriber to WoW has zero entitlement to having an influence on the game. It is not an inalienable right to be heard and acknowledged by the maker of your entertainment content.

Drawing the comparison to a government, there is a big debate about how to fix the health care system in the U.S. at the moment.

Some of the people who are against the health care proposals say "We can't put these measures in place. It will set up Death Panels for killing off the elderly!" (rampant speculation and misinformation) "It funds abortions, which is against my religious beliefs!" (The separation of church and state is outlined in U.S. laws)

The people saying these things are in positions of power and influence in our government. They have the right to voice their views and do their best try to make their views part of the legislative process - that is American democracy at its finest (and its worst, it seems sometimes!). Opposing views and freedom of speech have to be tolerated in a democratic society.

Now you have WoW and its multitude of voices. Luckily for Blizzard, there are no laws that say "The user has the right to have a say on how Blizzard makes games." It is perfectly within Blizzards rights to do as they please with their forums.

And really, the recent shitstorm is about things like the shadow damage portion of one attack being unable to crit anymore, or tank itemization at best-in-slot gear levels giving some tanking classes a few percentage points more health or avoidance for certain types of fights. These are minor concerns compared to the fabric of the game as a whole. If the government had a public forum allowing the discussion, open to every taxpayer, of every line item in the health care bill, which is thousands of pages long, would the resulting chaos and back and forth be in the best interests of the nation as a whole?

I don't think you can say people have a right to design WoW by comittee and that its a natural inherent right as a subscriber to be heard on blizzards forums.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to write U2 a sternly worded letter demanding MOAR COWBELL in their music.

scrusi said...

Are we legally entitled to give our feedback to Blizzard? Obviously not, at least they don't have to read it. Elnia is right though that it benefits both the community and the developer when there is a healthy dialogue between the two - even if it's only to make the community feel like they matter.

I also have to agree with her point that there are better ways to deal with the problem than "be polite please" and "shut the fuck up."

Ghostcrawler was a step in the right direction but clearly isn't enough. If you have a look at Bioware's new forums you will actually see various developers posting on various issues and their posts are usually taken seriously. When the crab first started his PR work his posts had quite an effect as well, but seeing them come from the same person day after day after day took away some of his "street cred" and put him more in the corner of the PR guys.

Adam's post suffers from a severe case of making stuff up so I won't even go into that one. On a tangent though, I cannot agree with the implied "ends justify the means" in Elnia's post either. It's not OK to insult GC or Blizzard on the forums and it's not OK to "converse" the way some of these trolls do. These means are not acceptable, whatever ends they aim for.

Finally, there definitely are scared cows. I've seen them. ;)

Shy said...

The definition of civilized is shifting constantly.

Smoking was once one of the main ways to show you belonged to the upperclass. Today most smokers in the USA are looked at as complete and utter idiots.

If the majority of the people start believing that the way these forum trolls try to drive their point home is an acceptable way of communication, it will become the norm.

I sure hope that we won't get to that point any time soon.

I regard these manners as a form of abuse. And if someone were to talk to me like that in a face to face situation, I would most definitely not accept it.

In fact, depending on how violent someone would get with their words to me, they could end up with an official complaint of mental abuse.

But hey, maybe I am old-fashioned, and maybe the norm has already shifted.

And soon I'll only have to call people names to get respected and to get what I want.

Everblue said...

If the forums trolls treat discourse with GC as a form of PvP, as you assert, then it is not clear to me that they have any interest in improving the game, creating or adding to the warcraft "community" (whatever that means), or in fact doing anything other than venting or trying to score cheap points to feed their respective egos.

I read the troll threads (it is like car crash TV) and GC does his best but he shouldn't bother trying to interact with some of these people. They just want to attack him. The official forums (and also less moderated external forums such as MMO champion) are not moderated strongly enough and are therefore unusable. No one in his or her right mind would look for info on there.

Taz said...

Elnia-

You and I are having a disagreement right now. You think one thing, and I think another. We each make arguments for our case. In neither comment do we simply say, "Elnia/Taz is clearly a moron" and leave it at that. If we did, we would be (a) acting like the abusive vocal minority that Adam was talking about and (b) not providing anything productive to either of us or, frankly, offering any reason for either of us to change our viewpoint.

Let's pretend one of us is in the minority in this discussion. Neither of us has told the other they are being rude or uncivil because, let's face it, neither of us is. And per Blizzard's own description of their forum rules, Blizzard would not be calling us out for lack of civility either.

I bother to comment because I think you have an interesting, well-written post and I respect you as a blogger, but I did not come to the same conclusion you did. Why aren't you screaming and stamping your foot at me? Why aren't I doing the same to you? And if I did just call you a bunch of names and leave it at that, would you respect that as a valid-but-vocal minority and try to learn something from that and change the way you think about this situation? Or would you just ignore me because I have nothing useful to offer the discussion? I submit that you (and most people) would ignore random abusive ad hominem attacks as they don’t give you any information about what the attacker actually wants you to change.

That is the point that I am trying to make, whether successfully or unsuccessfully. Rereading Adam’s editorial, Ghostcrawler’s response to the forum issues, and your rebuttal, I do agree that Adam makes an error in not distinguishing enough between “vocal minority who disagree with Blizzard developers but do so in a constructive manner” and “vocal minority who disagree with Blizzard developers but do so by simply hurling abuse.” His main beef (and my response) are based on the latter.

Dave Cushley said...

The difference between the examples you list and the wow forums is that you are comparing people standing up for themselves at real personal risk to achieve something life changing to a bunch of people posting about game in a completely secure and risk free enviroment. I get sick of people comparing things like this.

A great many people who complain about the death of wow and complain continuously don't stop playing, they carry right on. If there really were issues as big as claimed, subscription numbers would dip, which AFAIK, they haven't.

Hugmenot said...

Let me first state your blog is one of only three I read every day and the views you express are generally kind and very reasonable in my opinion.

On this specific post.

I take exception when a writer compares "product feedback" to huge social cause. Such an hyperbole just throws oil on the fire in my opinion because the social causes tend to raise deep (and well justified) emotions.

We're talking about a game or more specifically, the type of feedback a company wants to receive for one of its products. Game feedback.

If you want to make your point, you may want to use examples of other companies which have discussed the type of customer feedback they want to receive on their forums.

Anything else is ridiculous in my opinion.

spinksville said...

I think that anyone (including Adam) who thinks it's productive to lecture people to try to persuade them to behave in a way that isn't human nature is on a high road to nowhere.

If Blizzard aren't happy with the quality of posts on their forum then they can hire more moderators and get all hardcore elitist jerk about modding posts.

If they don't, then people will continue to post whiny and desperate attention seeking posts to try to get their opinions through to devs.

Some forums can self-moderate but this isn't one of them, in my opinion. I don't really get why Wow.com is on a crusade about this.

Elnia said...

@Scared Cows. Yes, that is a typo. And an amusing on in this context. Thanks for pointing it out.

@Shy. That is a thoughtful point. I don't like that form of discourse any more than you do and have no interest in it becoming the norm. But I'm not advocating that we just tolerate it. I never said that. I said there are more constructive responses than "shut up".

@Hugmenot. I agree. I say that in my post. As a matter of substance the comparison IS ridiculous. I am not comparing substance, just tactics.

@spinksville. And that is the heart of where I am coming from. Adam wants to blame something on the community when in fact Blizzard is as much or if not more to blame. It's just cheaper to yell "shut up" than it is to hire people to fix the problem.

Chastity said...

I really, really hate the term "Vocal Minority".

All vocal groups are by definition a minority. In a community of eleven million the only way to have a vocal *majority* would be if you literally had *six million people* all making the same complaint at the same time.

The mistake people make (or if you prefer the rhetorical trick that people pull) is assuming that because the *act of complaining* is a minority activity that therefore the *complaint itself* is a minority complaint. These are two very different things.

And of course once you've identified the "vocal minority" you by definition identify the "silent majority" to whom you can ascribe whichever beliefs you wish.

Sorry, that was rambling and incoherent but gah, that sort of thing really annoys me. The only thing I find more annoying is "I know it's unfashionable to say this, but..."

Hatch said...

Love the post, Elnia. I thought Adam's editorial was obnoxious and wrong.

Anonymous said...

I don't think people understand. First of all, GC doesn't have to on the forums personally; it's not his job and not what's he's paid to do. And if trolls and people continue to post in a rude, uncivilized manner, then (apart from the fact that you shouldn't post like that) GC may decide that his presence hurts the forums more than it helps and leaves.

So where does that leave us? Remember now that Blizzard loses nothing in that case, they have CMs (like Bornakk and Nethera, to name two) whose jobs it is to moderate and read the forums and pass information back to the developers. But we will lose whatever insights into the development process that GC gives us.

Anonymous said...

Knew that my previous post would get deleted in to the Pink Pigtail Inn dead zone....

Calling out another writer for being out of line and off key when you all cant even let people, who read your articles, express their opinions... guess yours are the only important ones... .

Anonymous said...

^ supported by the fact that you have chosen to only respond to those comments that somewhat agree with you.

Larísa said...

@Anonymous: I was the one deleting your previous comment, not Elnia who wrote the article. It was clearly trollish and I try to keep the inn free from trolls. Disagreeing and arguing in an intelligent manner is a completely different matter. We're always up for a good discussion at the inn. Throwing out insults isn't what I call a good discussion. So feel free to post again. If you make an effort your comment won't be deleted, I assure you. Although it would look better if you could bother to at least use a nickname and not just "anonymous".

Kadav said...

Watch out Larisa! with a post like that, Elnia might write an editorial about you next! :-)

Anonymous said...

I didnt insult you.... I simply stated that, collectively, the writers of this website constantly contradict themselves. You blatantly point to things that bug you, then use them as defense in subsequent articles.

Larísa said...

@Anonymous:
Basically: if you don't like the beer we're serving at this inn, I suggest that you just go somewhere else, reading some other blog at your taste. This is for free and no one is forcing you to read it.

This said: yes it's absolutely true that there are contradictions in the +450 posts that have been published over the years. This depends on a couple of things:
1. There are two authors. Elnia and I don't always have the same view.
2. I contradict myself as well. The posts are born in the instance and they're reflecting my experiences in the game and the community. I'm not trying to present a coherent package of views that I want everyone else to share. Absolutely not. I write differently depending on which mood I'm in. As a person I tend to see things from a lot of different perspectives. That's why I like a lot of Gevlon's posts, while I equally like posts by Klepsacovic, who have views that are very much the opposite.

PPI is NOT consistent. And will never be. And it's obviosly you're looking for some other kind of blogging, so I definitely don't want to hold you here any longer. Move on to some blog you like. There are many to choose between.

Anonymous said...

Between the cowtippers, aliens and meatgrinders I think the cows have a right to be scared. :)

Anonymous said...

Blizzard is the creator of the game, and we pay them money to create the game. creating this giant average made up of the input from the active player is only going to make the game easier and less of a challenge in the long run, because generally speaking that active voice is dissatisfied with the challenges obstructing him from going further in the game.

relating this minority voice on game forums to more liberal cultural shifts in history is pretty assuming. the two are nothing alike considering the substance of the disagreements.