The Hypocrite Situation

The only problem I found with Blizzard's RealID proposal in summer '10 was the two principals on which they based their decision:

  • Giving out real life names could not harm people. Your name (and much more) is already out there online and no one has come to firebomb your house yet, right?
  • The RealID system would keep everyone on their best behavior because . . . ?

The second principle is the conundrum. The only reason someone would change their forum behavior is if behaving better would be rewarded or if behaving badly would be punished.

There was one additional feature they announced with RealID: the ability for players to up- or down-rank forum threads in order to promote the thought-out discussions and hide the "nerf paladins!" troll trash. This leaves us with two distinct possibilities as to why Blizzard thought we would behave:

  • Reward: Speaking clearly, precisely, and arguing valid points would get our thread up-ranked with a better chance to be seen by the developers.
  • Punishment: If we trolled, flamed, or spammed, we would feel publicly shamed and possibly fear for our real life safety!

But then we are assured by Blizzard that real life names on their forums aren't dangerous, and I think they're right most of the time. But most people are not rational, so they're probably also irrational enough to feel such frivolous emotions as "shame" for expressing a valid idea that isn't liked by the general public.

But then the rest of us, who are paranoid enough to not want our WoW accounts coming up when someone googles us, are less likely to believe that shame is a decent enough motivator/punishment to keep the trolls down.

Which leaves me with only one belief: Blizzard was attempting to use the fear of real life repercussions to moderate their forums for them. Post something unfavorable, then be afraid that your house will get firebombed.

To recap:
Irrational people are afraid of shame, so will behave themselves. Trolls and spammers are irrational, so most trolls and spammers will clean up their act or disappear.
'Beyond irrational' people (extreme trolls) will continue to troll and spam, and may pursue dangerous real life activities, posing a risk to irrational people, but not rational (see below).
Rational people won't be afraid of extreme trolls, as they take necessary precautions when safeguarding their home (locking doors, having fire escape routes, etc), and will take legal action to stop the extreme trolls. Rational people behavior will remain unchanged - which is fine since they don't troll or spam.

Meaning... RealID on the forums would have worked.

Stop Posting on Your Own Forums

And really, stop posting on other peoples' forums too. What's the deal with that?

Big companies have a habit of letting their employees browse the official forums and respond to customer complaints. This is particularly noticeable during heavy patching periods in order to gather customer grievances. And there's nothing wrong with that! The occasional "we intend to change X and Y, but Z is fine for us" never hurt anyone. But having any employees posting around like old chums to the forum regulars can give your company a rather lax appearance.

Companies that successfully pull this trick off often have a huge corporate image and a black-hearted CEO that feasts nightly on the blood of other companies' employees (mostly the ones who post on forums), so they can get away with playing both sides: the big company doing anything for a buck, and the little dev who cares oh-so-much about his pet project and will post on the forums to tell you he's working night and day to make it better! And I bet they're both telling the truth, since there's a correlation between good games and making money.

A company who doesn't have a large image runs the risk of appearing like time-wasters, whiners, and of catering to the vocal minority. You could also give away too much information about upcoming features or say something offensive if you don't have a good PR team to check over posts.

Remember: "I'll give this game a second chance because a dev posted on the forums apologizing for the flaws of the game" doesn't last much further than "my class is weak and all my spells are bugged!"


  • If you're a small company, pretend to be a big company. Release your patch notes and figures via huge press releases pushed to all the gaming sites.
  • If you're a big company, pretend to be a small company. Let little bits of information leak here or there, and the gaming sites will pick up on it without your help.

Designing Yourself Into a Hole (Falling Victim to Associative Grouping)

Sandbox. Theme park. Skill-based. Levelless. "MMORTS." Free-2-play. Hybrid. Open world. 32,000 rooms! Classless.

Declaring what type of game you're creating can be good if it gives direction. However, it can also blind you to good ideas that aren't typical in your chosen genre.

Free2play is a good example. There's a hundred different ways to model a game that costs nothing to play. The obvious one is to sell equipment, mounts, pets... further on, intangible perks ("extras"): bigger bags, a wardrobe for outfits, dye to color gear, non-combat items... and finally, just sell the game in fragments. Newbie zones are free, and every zone past there costs a payment.

Sounds good, especially considering that every content patch you release nets you a solid figure of cash. You can easily measure how much a particular part of the game is making you to figure out which parts of the game you should capitalize on. If lowbies aren't paying for bigger bags, maybe it's time to increase trash drops from the mobs they're killing, or reduce the size of all available bags to make yours look more appealing by comparison.

Of course there's a wild other option for making your game free to play: Don't sell virtual items - sell physical items.

I'm imagining a digimon style game where the cards you get in real life have unique codes that you can enter in game to suit up your virtual persona. Then, using the computer client, battle people online just like you would battle your friends in real life using the physical cards. This way, the game costs nothing to download and to start moving around in the world, but players have to buy the cards to pimp out their characters. Alternatively, you could only offer vanity items via the cards, and have the rest of the online world run like a normal MMORPG.

Of course when most people hear "F2P" they don't typically think of a physical card game supporting a virtual fantasy rpg. That's the point: Just because your game shares a label with another game, doesn't mean you have to jump in their grave.

Also note that I don't advocate selling a physical product to support your software. I think it's a bad idea, but was a good example.