Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Right Customers (redux)

"The ego that feeds you, ties you up and suffocates
Your favorite little monkey
Drags you down and complicates you
Love and hate combination
Won't survive the separation
Soul and body coexist
Face the antagonist"

KMFDM - Stare at the Sun

You're seeing about seventy ships pouring out of a space station in EVE-Online, at the beginning of the only big fleet battle I participated in during my little comeback tour. By the time we got to the battlefield our number had doubled. We were met by a roughly equal number of enemy players and lo, the joyful scrapping didst ring out across the galaxy.

The lag was freakin' terrible.

However, I'm not here to bitch about the lag. Our fleet commander (who happened to be Dutch and giving orders about destinations and aligning; thus hilariously ended up sounding just like a KLM pilot repeatedly telling us to bring our seats to the upright position) thanked us for our participation at the end of the day as we retreating survivors scattered off again towards our various home systems. For once, it sounded honest. For once, it didn't sound like a real-life petty bureaucrat talking out of some public-relations pamphlet. He thanked us for coming because organizing something like that, being able to log in and get dozens or hundreds of players to drop what they're doing and cooperate in a coordinated fashion is what keeps him in EVE.

Yeah, I can believe that. It's not just about powermongering. As I said half a year after starting this blog in this post not all players are created equal. Intelligent players will not be retained long by the simplistic limbic pay-off of endlessly inconsequential, repetitive machine-gun duels. They need to make things happen, and persistent world games need them to make things happen. Whenever an MMO stops making effort worthwhile, stops rewarding creativity and coordination, you can bet it's a couple months away from bleeding subscribers until it has to consolidate its servers. You can track that incipient decay in empty chat windows. No matter how little of your customer base is composed of intelligent, opinionated gamers, they are the ones showing others how to make the most of your product. Their idiosyncratic nerdiness keeps things moving and guess what, it can be exhausting.

"Be a prime mover" I told my old LotRO guild because "It's been ages since i've been able to just idle in kin chat and have someone else say "let's start a group for instance XYZ" so that i don't have to be the one pulling teeth." Now that I'm only occasionally popping into Planetside 2, I see endless sad excuses for squads wandering around completely disorganized, getting nothing done. My partner in crimestopping in City of Heroes praised my cat-herding ability for being able to organize groups for content most players had never tried, badgering and holding hands until everyone got up to speed. I led a guild back when WoW launched which collapsed in the month after I left it, a story I've seen replayed countless times since. If you lose the guild and raid leaders, most of your paying customers will follow. I don't lead guilds or raids anymore, or rarely even small teams. Across the industry you've dedicated too many work hours, too many simplistic gimmicks to making my intellect obsolete within your online communities. People like me are in it not for prizes or achievement badges but to make things happen, to see our convoluted plans come together. We're not alphas. We're mad scientists. We're in it for the madness, to create new patterns. You've obsoleted madness. You try to shelter your customers from us, to make everything safe and predictable, then e-mail them pages upon pages of questionnaires because you just can't figure out why-oh-why they're cancelling their subscriptions.

Because they're fucking bored !

Without Mr. KLM-voice giving orders over Teamspeak, seventy or two hundred players would have spent yet another day getting bored of mining or rat-farming, wondering why this crap's supposedly worth $15/mo. With his help, they gained an exciting memory to associate with CCP's product. Without me, nobody plays that one instance in the corner of the game map in LotRO or TSW or drops sniper spawn beacons in Planetside 2. Without the likes of me, nobody tries that memorable suicidal strategy in a PvP battleground. MMOs need mad scientists. Your customers need my snarling, putrid teeth at their backs. Yeah, they're scared of me and say they don't want to put up with angry nerds like me, but if you let them escape the big bad Werwolfe they'll soon get bored and escape your game altogether.

So give us lunatics some reasons to be in your games. Intelligent content is the price you pay for our service. Do that and we'll gladly spice things up for the sheep.

"Don't take this the wrong way but nothing is for free
It's only an illusion, impossibility."

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