Power to the players! The power of consumer voice, exit, and loyalty.

As players, we often feel powerless in the face of buffs, nerfs, and patches. The devs provide and we consume. But when a big player protest breaks out, as happened with EVE this weekend, it’s time to reconsider how much power the player base actually has. Turns out that it’s not insignificant at all.

List of ways in which WoW players showed displeasure with realID proposals last year:

List of ways in which EVE Online players have shown displeasure with new cash shop and associated disclosures this weekend:

  • massive complaint threads on official forums
  • in game protests
  • LOTS of angry blogposts
  • Mass unsubscriptions
  • (they’ve probably been doing most of the other things too, but I don’t follow the game closely enough to know)
  • Result: CCP convening emergency meeting of player council in Iceland this week to discuss plans for cash shop.

Conclusions

In both cases, the companies can have been in no doubt as to what players thought because they were being told loud and clear in as many forums as were available. It’s all very well to say “players always yell a lot when a new change comes down the pipes” (which is true) but there’s a point where a consumer facing company will have to buckle or lose more customers than it can afford.

Theories on consumer power show that there are three main ways for consumers to confront providers if they aren’t happy with the service. They’re called voice, exit and loyalty. And the easier it is to exit, the less likely people are to bother complaining (eg. people are more likely to complain if it’s a service they don’t want to leave, or don’t have an easy replacement for.)

voice: making your voice heard, probably in large numbers via group protest or forming consumer groups. It’s likely to be confrontational.

exit: Leave the service. Stop paying. Unsubscribe. Find another provider. Exits tend to be silent – other consumers can’t actually see them, they only know what the exiting consumers say/ claim to have done.

loyalty: This affects how consumers respond – loyal consumers will a) try to raise their voices before they exit and b) will try to persuade others to complain in a less combative way. But when that loyalty is dislodged, they’re likely to actively try to persuade other loyal players to rebel with them.

When we see a largescale player protest, all of these forms of confrontation come into play. And all of them are important. So it’s not true that companies only look to the bottom line and unsubscribing is the only action which ‘counts’. Attention grabbing antics like mass protests, huge threads, media coverage, and similar voiced excitement are at least as important to a consumer company as silent exits.

And if games can provide a forum for practicing real world skills and practicing being good workers and good consumers, let’s not forget that they can also let us practice being very angry and very effective consumers indeed :) Remember these lessons next time your government screws up.