Defensive Patch Notes

For the minority of players that read the patch notes, there is an even smaller minority.  Let’s call them nicely the Caretakers.  The Caretakers are players that love the game to a degree that emphasizes the definition of a love/hate relationship.  They read the patch notes for your favorite MMO, and whereas more casual players just nod that things are getting better, the Caretakers see holes.

The bear skill is still overpowered.  Those fire wizards are still overpowered.  The combo-class is still weak and still not wanted in parties.  The Cap of Pulcritude (sic) is still (sic).  And, what are all these needless things that the developers wasted their time on.  Who gives a rodent turd about the stuff they actually did?  Except for that one thing, that was pretty good.  A light salve for the godhanded slap in the Caretakers’ faces.

The Caretakers then unite in their public council for all casual forumgoers to see, and they pontificate on how the developers clearly do not understand the problems in their own game.  Which makes me wonder… Should developers put some defensive, non-patch notes in their patch notes?  I don’t just mean the “we understand the issues with [a most reviled feature], and are looking in to it” (which rarely makes it into the patch notes anyway).  I mean something that a game designer would query another game designer on.

At the end of the day the Caretakers truly care about the game.  Sane community managers and developers know this.  Caretakers are also some of the most expert of people on the game.  They know the game better than many of the developers.  Sane community managers and developers also know this.  So could the Caretakers be used manipulatively as an unknowing think tank?

Instead of “we are looking in to the Iddgd stance,” the patch notes could read “we are looking into the invincibility issues with the Iddgd stance, and we are trying to maintain the unique flavor the stance gives to the Marine class while balancing the power of the skill with the other classes.  We are currently exploring duration changes as well as a debuff after the use of the skill.”   The focus now will lie not in to the fact that the skill still has not been changed, but the problems surrounding the design. 

If the designers choose to leave something widely criticized as is, let the Caretakers know why this decision was made.  “While the Iddgd stance is powerful in key situations, it does not have the wide-ranging usability that the other classes’ stances have.  Data shows that players are rarely using the Iddgd stance in comparison to the Idkfa stance, which might not be as powerful but has greater utility.”  Get a few Caretakers to believe the logic behind the decision, even if they have to take it a few steps further, and the stone of progress will start to roll.

Now, it would be wholly naive of me to think that most of the issues are so simple, but gaming companies pay developers to decide on design issues.   The “answer” the community creates does not have to be the right one, but think tanks are like BASF, they don’t make the answers they just make them better.  Throw the Caretakers a design problem to deconstruct once in awhile, and their whole purpose might shift to a constructive one.  Letting them fester in their own Wizard of Oz logic trying to figure out what’s behind the curtain or even worse, stonewalling them with “working as intended” will never be constructive.

Community management and careful patch note creation is an art, and all I have is a paint-by-numbers.  Still, I can’t help but notice the influx of Caretaker discussions I read every time there is a patch notes.  Maybe there is no good cure, and their negativity will always be.  Still, I am hopeful for constructive change where ever it may be.

–Ravious
a very mediocre commodity

In other news, Aljasha at Guru found USK – the German ratings board – has certified a Guild Wars 2 (gamescom – Trailer) for viewers over 6 years of age (if our collective translation worked). Gamescom is August 19-23, and ArenaNet’s Martin Kerstein will be there.  Hmmmm…… (just as I am posting this, Tr0nc3k posted it here.  Thanks, Tr0nc3k!)

13 thoughts on “Defensive Patch Notes”

  1. Anyone playing any MMO long enough is bound to have one (or many, if you played a minstrel from day one in LoTRO) of those /facepalm “wtf were the devs smoking?!” patch days.

    While I don’t always understand the changes made to a game I like to presume it’s all “part of the plan”. What I further don’t understand is how devs leave players so very cold, alone and frustrated when these changes occur. Simply commenting on the change(s) might go a long way to keep the ravenous community at bay, even if they don’t like the change(s) in question.

    Q: “Why does my gelatinous kitten golem no longer hold aggro? Why nerf my tanking pet?!”

    Dev response: “The gelatinous kitten golem is working as intended as of patch X.XX. We apologize for the pet being overpowered until now. Kthxbye.”

    This sort of canned response is what we tend to get. I do realize the developers are busy but when the people paying your salary want a simple yet mildly detailed answer to a question just pony up and spend a few minutes typing up something with them in mind.

    I went round-about with the LotRO team on many questions akin to this before simply giving up. No one is asking for key corporate information here, just some insight to the games they love.

  2. Then there are EvE patch note readers and Sisi pilots. Who try to get a read on what is coming in order to take financial advantage of it. For that very reasons these observers don’t mention anything they spot not wanting hordes of people to know about the same market advantage/opportunity they just spotted. Or if they do, it’s because they are trying to manipulate the easily lead for their own reasons.

  3. I must be old.. because more than anything else in the post I noticed the stance names and thought “but it’s iddQd..”

  4. Oh wow, some brain cells must’ve died…. now piece of my soul has too. I can’t believe I made such an error. Cacodemons are gonna be pissed!

  5. I’m willing to bet the reason we don’t get more verbose patch notes is that players will assume “possible solutions” are “definitive changes”. You won’t see a dev making a comment “we acknowledge that X is broken. We are trying A and B as remedies” because players will read that as “A and B have been promised to us!”

  6. Back when I played WoW, the default forum behavior for Caretakers (indeed, anyone wanting a change to game-balance) was to be very, very angry.

    I imagine the thought is that angry complaints are taken more seriously. If someone is merely politely concerned, the game designer might conclude that it’s not a real problem yet.

    As a consequence the forums were completely, utterly hostile to game designers. Anyone who showed their face and admitted to having design control would get flamed within an inch of their digital life.

    With this sort of toxic environment, it doesn’t surprise me that designers attempt to minimize their communication about game-balance issues.

    In the meantime, the Caretakers are a very small fraction of the player base. It must be easy for the designers to convince themselves that the folks on the forums are just the loudest, least grateful 1% of users, and that they can safely be ignored.

  7. Not a bad idea. However within the Caretaker minority there are even further sub-groups. They could be referred to as “people who aren’t entirely tards”, and, “tards”. The problem is that the tards are far more numerous, meaning that any defensive patch notes written will not appease them. In fact, good design decisions often seem like a bad idea to such types.

    Instead I think designers should draw on a pool of experienced players whose design feedback they have grown to trust and make design decisions based on that… The tards will still whine (but tards are wont to do this no matter what) but at least the game will be fun.

  8. It is true that it is a very minor, yet very vocal minority. And, I do not mean for it to turn in to a dialogue between the devs and the Caretakers. It’s more of like throwing them a puzzle to let them focus on constructive things (even if it is full of less intelligent, whiny opinions) than all the negative inferences that are usually made. Could be an interesting social experiment.

  9. Oh god, this was FFXI in spades. There were so many WTF moments. The most recent update had the devs update the bell functions, and also introduced a specific food item that the japanese playerbase asked for, while the NA caretakers were wondering why they haven’t fixed black mage so it doesn’t have to solo the entire game to cap anymore, or why 7 years have passed and summoner still was a half-assed healer, and beastmaster was the only class that could get its mobs stolen from.

    SE never gave reasoning. They nerfed something called offensive campaign. Campaign has two parts, defend your own forts and attack the beastmen ones, and both used to give the same exp. They nerfed the offensive ones, making them useless since beating on the fort was the most time spent, and exp from it was destroyed. It was pure “what the hell?” since there was no player problem with it and it really wasn’t overbalanced.

    A lot of the negativity is warranted. Devs need to realize that while we do snipe at times, we really care about the game, and caretakers will just as easily get behind an awesome update as criticize a weaker one

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