In game development, you are either creating a new Intellectual Property (IP) or building on an established one. Working on a new IP gives you the freedom to create whatever you desire. The challenge here is to generate interest and carve out a market for your game. Working on an existing IP however poses different challenges altogether.
When working with an existing IP you are developing the game for its fans. You need to be aware of things they love about the series and make sure you stay true to the IP. Failure to do so may set you down a path leading to a phenomenon I like to call OUTRAGE.
A fitting image taken from Legion’s class previews
Outrage is when your community goes into an uproar due to a change to the game they love. Fans love your game and invest a massive amount of time playing them. They want to see the game succeed as much as you do.
In the weeks following Legion’s announcement, information began to surface about the upcoming expansion. One such announcement was the inclusion of an assortment of powerful legendary items. These legendary items make the player considerably stronger. These items are more akin to Legendary Items in Diablo 3 rather than World of Warcraft (WoW).
This announcement split the WoW community into two camps. Players that welcome these items and those that despise them.
This is one of many discussions sparked by this announcement.
Luckily, this makes for an ideal case for us to examine Outrage and discuss how we can avoid it. Why did a decision cause such a violent outburst?
The Design Vacuum
Before delving into the specific WoW problems, let us talk about design vacuums. A vacuum is a place devoid of matter. A design vacuum is when an aspect of a game is designed with no other considerations. Players come to games with their own set of preconceived notions and opinions (psychographics). Games are not experienced in a vacuum so design cannot exist in a vacuum either. This is prevalent specifically in existing IPs, which already have an established community legacy that developers need to keep in mind.
In my time as a designer, I have seen many new designers feel like they can assess their designs in a vacuum. Early on, I too struggled with this idea. While it is fun to romanticize the idea of perfect designs, the truth is that designs succeed or fail based on how it interacts with the rest of the game. Keep this in mind as you continue reading this article.
So what caused this outrage among the WoW community? Was Blizzard’s idea bad? Not necessarily. Sometimes a developer may try to take a game in a new direction that is not yet understood by the community. They may even include a change that aims to attract a different type of player. It is up to Blizzard to communicate that vision and involve their community in the conversation. This is something they are actively doing as you can see in this relatively new forum post.
Blizzard is doing a lot to factor in their community’s feedback and start a conversation
In that case, is the community at fault? Absolutely not. Players consumed with outrage have their hearts in the right place. As crazy as the conversation may get, this madness stems from a place of passion.
With no one to blame, is Outrage inevitable? Not entirely. Developers can change a few things about their game to avoid Outrage. Outrage is sometimes triggered by problems with presentation and perception. Below you will find how I believe these two problems contributed to the community’s outrage.
Legacy of Oranges
Legendary items in WoW are not like legendary items in other games. In the early days of WoW, only a handful of legendaries existed. Players needed to band together for months to try and earn only one legendary item. With each expansion, Blizzard added a handful of Legendary items and made changes to how players acquire them. Players perceived that Blizzard was adding so many more of these items to WoW and that did not sit well with some members of the community. This decision doesn’t hold up to the legacy of legendary items in WoW.
Thunderfury one of the earlier Legendary Items in WoW via wowhead
The Necessity of Power
Blizzard mentioned that these items will remain powerful across the entire expansion. This compels so many players to go out and find them. A majority of the raiding community perceived this to be a bad decision. They concluded that they will need to spend time finding a vast number of these legendary items to stay relevant in their raiding guild.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and this particular hell is an outraged community (image via wowhead)
The Acquisition Method
At the time of the announcement, Blizzard did not give too many details on how these items are earned. Instead, they hinted that it will involve world content. Players made conclusions that these items are going to be hard to find. Dedicated raiders then concluded that they will need to participate more often in content they do not necessarily enjoy in pursuit of these items. This goes against the type of gameplay these raiders expect from WoW.
We could dissect these problems further but in the interest of time I will list a few more below:
- This decision exacerbates the Best in Slot issue and cheapens the loot game
- Unimaginable power was now awarded not for mastering your class but from a random lucky drop in the world
In a vacuum, making this change to WoW sounds like a good idea. When it interacted with some player psychographics, outrage emerged. So what can Blizzard do? They are already on the right track. Involving their community, adjusting their decisions, and doing their best to mitigate the situation. I have no doubt things will come to a fitting end. This article won’t cover what can be done when outrage emerges. For now, I think the more interesting question to ask is what could they have done to avoid this outrage?
The best way to deal with outrage is to avoid it by noticing it early and adjusting. At Trendy, we learned a few tricks while developing Dungeon Defenders II (DD2) that helped us avoid outrage.
Trendy Entertainment is an indie studio working on the Dungeon Defenders IP. DD2 started life as a MoBA rather than the true sequel fans were expecting. This was the first of many decisions that caused a lot of Outrage among our community. We became masters at outraging our community. I was fortunate enough to watch as it happened over the years. After a couple of company shakeups, Trendy finally rallied behind delivering the DD2 experience our fans were asking for.
Dungeon Defenders II
Dungeon Defenders II is a tower defense, action, RPG hybrid. You control a hero, build defensive structures, and attempt to outlast an oncoming horde. DD2 sits in early access as we work towards its release.
Early Access was helpful to DD2. We got to expose a lot of our mistakes to our community and gather feedback before the game goes live. By the time the team was ready to start working on a new hero, we had a new development process in mind. This process helps us reduce the outrage in our community. Earlier this year, we started working on the Summoner.
The Summoner as seen in the first Dungeon Defenders
The Summoner was iconic in the first Dungeon Defenders. He summons enemy units that players were able to control using a unique RTS control scheme.
We chose the Summoner as our first new hero for the following reasons:
- Players loved him
- Using enemy meshes instead of developing new towers saved time
- The team liked him
When we were adapting the Summoner to DD2, we elected to cut his RTS control scheme. We made the cut because developing a new control scheme for one hero was going to be a sizable undertaking. I focused on developing a simple but new type of playstyle that this hero would come to embody called the Active Builder. Active Builders must interact with their defenses to reach their highest damage potential. Heroes and Defenses rarely interacted in DD2. By adding a new interaction point, I hoped to deliver a new and exciting playstyle.
My focus was devoted to this new Active Builder mechanic. So much so that it distracted me from a festering concern. By cutting his RTS mechanic, are we not risking community outrage? I asked our community manager to gather expert Summoner players for a Skype conversation. Our fans mentioned that one of the iconic things about the Summoner was his control scheme. After thinking on this for a long while, I proposed a simple change.
Instead of calling him the Summoner, I proposed the following changes:
- Rename him the Abyss Lord
- Change his aesthetics to move away from the Summoner
- Tie the Abyss Lord to the Summoner through lore
I pitched that, we got the go ahead, and the Abyss Lord was born!
This minor change worked well. This allowed the community conversation to focus entirely on how fun and unique he feels. No one mentioned a longing for the RTS control scheme.
With this change, we also left the possibility of the real Summoner making his way back to DD2, which our fans appreciated.
Trendy is a small studio more akin to an indie developer. We do not have sophisticated tools designed to weed out outrage. Instead, we used, Skype, Forums, and Survey Monkey to expose this concern and course correct.
With the Abyss Lord done and dusted, it was now time for our second hero, Series EV2. Unlike the Abyss Lord, we actually ran into an outrage landmine with only a few days left to ship!
The Series EV as seen in the first Dungeon Defenders
People loved Series EV in DD1. When I designed EV2, I made sure to keep some of the things people loved about the first EV in her core kit. As is inevitable in game development, we had to make some cuts. After the cuts, EV2 was missing two core defenses that made her iconic in the first game. She was missing the ability to buff other defenses and deflect enemy projectiles.
We followed the same process we established with the Abyss Lord. At the end of every week a small group of our most hardened Defenders got to play an early version of EV2. Our testing group went into a state of outrage because she was missing those two aspects. Even though they liked the new additions to EV2, she did not meet their expectations. The graphs below will show how bad it was.
At the time of that survey, EV2 was less than two weeks from going live. I hunkered down and figured out how to incorporate those two aspects with as little work as possible. The team then worked tirelessly to make sure everything gets done by our deadline. By the next playtest, we had the following results.
EV2’s approval rating rose from a 2.8/5 to a whopping 4.25/5. By testing EV2 on a small subset of our community we managed to dodge a devastating case of outrage.
EV2 recently went live and she was also well received by our community!
In summary, here are some of the key takeaways we learned at Trendy:
- Try to understand the intricate details of what your fans care about
- Test your risky changes on a small group of dedicated fans
- If you forget what your community cares about, talk to them, they will remind you
- Presentation matters! Presentation changes helped us avoid outrage with the Abyss Lord
- Minor tweaks can save an outrageous system. This was what saved EV2
- Don’t feel defeated when outrage emerges, figure out a smart way to tackle it
- Do not be afraid to change “ideal designs” to avoid outrage. Having your community focused on the hype is well worth it
- When working on an established IP, you are making a game for your fans more so than yourself
This Article Provides +10% Protection against Outrage
Outrage can be daunting, discouraging, and borderline depressing to deal with. I hope that some of the lessons we learned prove valuable in your fight against outrage. There are still some questions worth asking when it comes to outrage:
- What do you do when you must make an unpopular decision?
- How do you handle outrage when it is loud and widespread?
- How can you get your team to adopt a community friendly mindset?
All questions for another day and another article. But what about WoW and their Legendary Items? Blizzard is already hard at work handling the situation. I would encourage you to watch how Blizzard handles similar situations in the future.
But could Blizzard have avoided such outrage? We will never know, all we can do is play the pointless but enlightening what if game. Which brings me to the bonus round of this article...
! (Bonus Round) What would you have done
You cracked time travel and traveled back in time to warn Blizzard of this outrage threat. Confused but intrigued they turn to you and ask “What should we change to avoid this outrage?”. Write your answers in the comments below and discuss! Here is my attempt:
The core thing Blizzard is trying to do is exciting for Legion. They want players to get powerful items that change the way they play WoW. They want players to think about which power to take for each encounter. This is identical to how they want players to use their talent system. If I were part of the team, I would have changed the following:
Tie It to another System
I would have these powers socketed onto your artifact weapon. By playing the game, you gain certain powers that you can then attach to your artifact weapon. By this we would:
- Preserve the legacy of legendary items in wow
- Avoid the Best in Slot problem by still having players play the loot game longer
- Provide some more cohesion by tying it to Artifact weapons
- Note: Artifact Weapons are a new feature in Legion that fans are generally excited about
- Focused the conversation around the excitement of Artifact Weapons
The way players earn these powers needs to support the different player types in WoW. Providing more information on the acquisition methods would help avoid wild community speculation.
I would also recommend they add powers that have a certain degree of mastery to them. Reduce the number of raw stat increases and focus on powers that need a bit of skill.
Stealth User Groups
Grab players from different WoW player groups and have them test these powers. Do this as early as possible and notice what these groups talk about. Make adjustments as you see fit.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this article be sure to follow me on Twitter. Please leave a comment if you found this article to be helpful and be sure to list your attempt to avoid WoW’s outrage.