The 'One Man Army' balance issue in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has caused a lot of strife amongst their veteran community recently, which is lucky for me, as it has provided the perfect case study for this post. For anyone unfamiliar with the MW2 world, MuzzaFuzza of Machinima (who make a lot of great MW2 based content on YouTube) put up a video a few days ago called 'A Message to InfinityWard', outlining and demonstrating the issue:
If you can ignore the ranting and the drifting off-topic at the end (I understand the frustration, but it doesn't really help his case) this is a really strong example of how to give feedback: It's a compelling argument that doesn't drag on too much, it demonstrates the issue entirely, and a handful of reasonable solutions are suggested. It also splits the issue away from the snubbed feeling community, onto more approachable neutral ground.
Traditional forum based feedback has its place with providing a platform for debate, but there are tendencies towards band-wagoning, trolling, and ridiculous walls of text, all of which can cause many developers to shy away from drawing conclusions there - and rightly so. Community managers can and do filter a forum more effectively, and it's probably the most common avenue for feedback, but it's not the only one.
I don't want to sound like I am advocating that fans strong-arm developers with viral 'OMG UR GAME SUX' videos. The point I'm trying to make is that 'community' is much bigger than forums these days, and you throttle your ability to communicate if don't grow with it.
The particular case illustrates the benefits of using social media (Twitter, YouTube) effectively to reach out about a problem, in the same way that a developer use it to reach out to fans. It's taking feedback outside of the core community and putting it out for everyone to see, and there are benefits to that: If your issue is credible and well presented then it will be passed around, getting more and more attention - thus is the way of social media. The more attention an issue gets in a broader audience the more credible it is as a problem (particularly to a PR team, who may or may not have more swing than the community team depending on the studio), and the higher a priority it becomes to deal with.
Of course there's the issue that many of the people passing it around wont care as much or be as well informed as the core community. In that sense I suppose this is the flip-side of the coin to the usual 'vocal minority' hardcore community; it is the 'casual majority' of the broader community.
So getting back to MuzzaFuzza's video: It has the benefit of being both an issue raised by the core community, and having gained exposure (136,232 views, 1,469 uploads to other channels, hundreds of Tweets) through the broader casual community. Combine that with how well presented the argument is, and you have a case that is almost impossible to ignore.
Time to whip up a chart...
Surprise surprise, Robert Bowling (InfinityWard CM) saw it, and responded to MuzzaFuzza, saying that they were indeed going to discuss the 'One Man Army' issues.
If you take anything away from this post I'd like it to be a greater understanding of how to present feedback. Sure, not everyone has screen-capture software to make a point via video, but it still highlights a few general guidelines to work with:
- The most important: Make it as easy to find/open/watch/read/listen to as possible. It doesn't matter how good the content is if people are put off before they even get stuck into it. .
- Put it in the right place. If you want to discuss an issue and build the foundations of an argument then a forum might be the best place, but if you already have a compelling and popular case then you are going to get little more than a pat on the back from your peers. Consider avenues that have greater potential for traffic, such as Twitter, YouTube, a blog post... etc.
- Avoid being abusive or condescending, no matter how frustrating the issue is. The people you want to pay attention to this aren't just the front line CMs with thick skins, they are developers in the background too. Not all of them will be as in-touch with the live game as you expect.
- Keep it short and sweet. There's always a temptation to explain every last detail with incredible verbosity to form a more convincing argument, but it wont help if nobody is going to read it. If you feel it's really necessary then put it up somewhere else and link it in as a reference.
- Open with a brief and punchy outline of your issue.
- Demonstrate it with some evidence (screenshots/video etc).
- Provide some references of the problems it is causing.
- Compound why it is an issue.
- Suggest a two or three of the strongest possible solutions.
Perhaps community managers should have a stronger agenda to coach their community on providing better feedback? I don't see any other way to push fans down the right paths and give them a better understanding of the issue, outside of just waiting for their methods to evolve naturally. Improving feedback benefits all parties, developers, community managers, and fans alike, and should definitely have some priority.
- Sanya Weathers on User Feedback
- Feedback Methods
- Feedback Methods #2
- Stagnation Pt. 2 – Old Rules
- Bigger Picture