Ask Massively: Developers, players, and respect

Welcome back to Ask Massively We're pleased you could join us on the deck of the Massively yacht for today's edition. You should really try a mojito. It's the best.

In between drinks today, we're talking about respect -- the earned kind, not the given kind. Don't worry; I'm not talking about respect you have for us or even for each other. (We all know that's non-existent.) I'm talking about the respect game studios have (and don't have) for MMO gamers in general.

The question that prompted this discussion came in to our tips line from a reader named Ben:
I would like to see an article on how companies treat players and live up to their promises. I am mainly referring to Darkfall here because more than anything, I want to play the game, but I find the company hugely disrespectful -- always delaying launch at the last minute when it is set to go live, with little or no warning about a delay, when it should be quite apparent ahead of time whether or not the team can deliver.

On the 12th [of December], the team waited until after the deadline to announce that not only was Darkfall: Unholy Wars not launching but that it was being pushed back to possibly February and going into paid beta instead. [After that beta was supposed to start], North American players could not even patch the client through the lobby. I am extremely dissatisfied, but what can we do as players to make gaming companies live up to their own goals? It simply doesnt seem plausible to boycott games that are more like addictions.
And yet that's what you'd do for any other addiction, right? You'd stop. It might be hard -- extremely hard -- but the only way to cut yourself loose is to cut yourself loose.

Never understimate the efficacy of boycotts. Consider Star Wars Galaxies' NGE or EVE Online's monoclegate. Enough players abandoned ship after those two fiascos that SOE and CCP eventually turned those ships around, issuing apologies and regrets and alterations.

The point is, mass movements like these have a financial impact, and that's where you have to hit developers who routinely fail to deliver on promises: in the purse.

The nice part about boycotting in 2013 as opposed to 15 years ago when the first MMOs launched is that our options are nearly unlimited now. If you were playing Ultima Online in 1997 and were fed up with the constant lag and disconnections, you could quit, sure, but there were no other MMOs to play, which is why we all kept right on playing. Now? Hundreds of massively multiplayer online titles exist, several of them sure to be fairly similar to your favorite haunt. There's always something else to play while your pet game gets its act together. And if it never gets its act together, well, then you had fun in the meantime and get to walk away with a clean conscience since you didn't waste your money on something that ticked you off.

You'd think that threat would always loom over a developer, but nope; some developers just can't or won't get it. Can't vs. won't depends on the size of the studio, and that matters too. Me, I'd look at an indie title with a small dev team (like Darkfall) and cut it way more slack than a big-budget MMO with what ought to be a dream-team dev house (like Star Wars: The Old Republic). Honestly, do you really think Aventurine means to be disrespectful when it institutes delays without much notice?

It seems to me that indie devs probably love and appreciate their playerbases more than larger studios; even if they miss launch dates, don't fix bugs, and bungle community relations, they're doing so not out of malice but out of absentmindedness. I assume the few devs toiling away on Darkfall are overworked and overextended and probably way more optimistic about hitting goals than they should be, but that doesn't mean they don't hold their playerbase in high regard. You're paying for the food on their table, after all.

Admittedly, what I'm advocating here is a way to get developers to respect your money, not to respect you. If personal respect is what you crave, then pay it forward. Don't behave like the usual forum denizens who scream and flame and carry on about their #firstworldproblem MMO setback; do what you did, which is calmly and rationally think and write. Express your opinions and give fair feedback without being a giant, unreasonable turd. Developers do read and are influenced by players who skip the abuse and show they genuinely care.

But if nothing changes -- if you think neither your money nor your presence is being valued -- then you should take both of them away and move on to a game where they are. To do otherwise sends exactly the wrong message to developers who desperately need to learn that lesson.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is there no edit button? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every Thursday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at Just ask!
This article was originally published on Massively.