Nearly all online multiplayer games receive new content as their game progresses. Whether this content is in the form of downloadable content (DLC), new features, or just simple bug fixes, most games need to be tweaked if they are going to have a long life. The developers obviously play a huge part in this by acknowledging the issues in their game and working to fix them, or simply their speed of making new content available. Some companies are really fast, some are slow. Many have tons of issues in these implementation processes. What they all have in common is the issue of Developer Communication.
Basically, the problem is that many developers don’t communicate their goals to the consumers. There certainly are a lot of developers who do keep open lines of communication, but a vast majority don’t, only talking when they have something to announce, or not at all. Why is this an issue? Because we, as gamers, have short attention spans and very little patience. Argue if you’d like, but we all know that if League of Legends decided not to change anything for the next three months, the game would lose millions of players. This desire for change is especially amplified in competitive games like League or Hearthstone, especially when they largely come down to balance changes. When we feel that a card or champion or map or ability is broken, we don’t like playing against it. When an entire community feels that it is broken, they appeal to the developer to fix it. If the developer doesn’t answer for months, the game starts losing popularity. Even if they are working on a fix, if they don’t tell the players, the players leave, and when the fix comes out, there’s no one left to actually play the game.
Blizzard is one of the best examples of the worst developer for communicating with their players. The Diablo 3 fiasco is still very recent in many of our minds. When Diablo 3 came out, the vast majority of players loathed it. They said it was a bastardization of their favourite game (Diablo 2) and boycotted it, telling Blizzard to fix their stuff or they were out. While they did acknowledge that there were issues, and said that they were working on them, for the most part Blizzard simply clammed up about the issue, only putting out minor balance changes and not discussing the underlying issue that most people simply didn’t like the game. Finally Reaper of Souls came out and fixed most of the issues that people had with the game, but by that point nearly the entire playerbase had left. They released Diablo 3 on May 15th, 2012. Reaper of Souls was announced – not released, announced – August of 2013. An entire fifteen months of virtual silence before their reveal. It was also announced without a release date. It came out March, 2014. Now, Blizzard is a massive company and Diablo is a huge franchise, so they were able to recover, but this certainly isn’t the case with most game companies.
After the Diablo 3 debacle, you would think that Blizzard had learned its lesson. Looking at Hearthstone, that clearly isn’t the case. Blizzard not only often refuses to comment when players want certain cards nerfed, they often mislead their customers in terms of upcoming nerfs. When Grim Patron was released in May of 2015, it was realized nearly immediately how strong the deck was, and people began clamouring for a nerf. An interview with Mike Donais, Senior Game Designer for Hearthstone, asked him soon after release what they were planning to do with a card that was so clearly overpowered. His response was: “it looks totally fine to me right now. It’s pretty healthy, it’s powerful, it’s a new deck type, it’s fun”. A few months later, in July, Game Director Eric Dodds was asked the same question regarding a Patron nerf. He replied: “is it possible that change will happen? Maybe. It’s certainly not something that we’re planning to do right this moment”. Blizzard continued to stick their head in the sand about the issue, denying nerfs or the fact that the deck was even a problem, until out of the blue, in October, Blizzard announced they were going to be nerfing the deck that week. They refused to acknowledge that there was even an issue for five months, and then simply nerfed the deck without any notice. No lines of communication were open, and it frustrated the players beyond belief.
Ben Brode is the Lead Designer for Hearthstone. He actually acknowledged the issues with communication in a video addressed to the community. He was talking largely about content releases, and discussed the issues that they have faced in terms of community response to their release announcements. He stated that one of the biggest problems is a “lack of communication on our side”, but then he went on to discuss why this is the case. He stated that there is actually a big problem with announcing early, because if you announce something too early, like what they did with Naxxramas, then by the time it happens, “you’re already over it”. He also discussed issues with announcing too late, or announcing and not being able to make it happen. This response to announcing too early is one that is very important, however. Game companies actually find themselves having issues announcing anything, because they are concerned that by the time they put it out, their players will actually be more upset at the wait than they would have been at the lack of news. This puts a great perspective on why the information can seem very slow at times, and why the developers are not simply “lazy”. Hopefully this sort of insight into the developer mindset will continue in the future, and ideally the player base matures to the point where regular updates are again possible. We have seen that it’s possible with many other games, so hopefully Blizzard and the players can get their act together and make it happen.