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.


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.

10 thoughts on “Power to the players! The power of consumer voice, exit, and loyalty.

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  2. Crazy, isn’t? I read a great post somewhere (and for the life of me, can’t find it now) that discusses EVEs growth due to dev responsiveness to player desires (ie,. adding official alliance functionality, after players were creating ad-hoc alliances on their own), but then changed course as devs starting pushing their own agenda. Ie., there’s no grassroots outcry for Incarna, microtransactions, and so on – those are purely CCP-driven features.

    Will be interesting to see how things shape up in EVE. Given that the CSM – essentially player-elected representatives to interface with CCP on game development – wasn’t consulted on any of the latest moves, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing protests en masse. It’s like the executive branch ignoring the legislature.

  3. A critical mass of players doing any of the three things described above is required to make companies react.

    A good thing in general, basically democracy. But in so many other regards also a double edged sword.

    I was thinking about this (*totally unrelated to the current EVE/CCP protests which I support*): http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2157/soapbox_why_virtual_worlds_are_.php

    I think our super safe MMO worlds nowadays got created this way. What’s the difference between democracy and rabble rule? 🙂

    • That’s a great article on gamasutra. To me it reinforces how important it is for a new game to attract the ‘right’ player base who will appreciate the game for what it is, and hopefully stick with it as long as it basically sticks with the vision. And will also explain and defend the vision to other newbie players.

      I guess the most important part of the hype cycle for game longevity is to be able to communicate that to possible future players.

      • I think it’s also crucial for devs to have realistic expectations for their ambitions. If they want to stick to their guns and make the game they want to make, it’s not going to be easy to shoehorn it into the mainstream. I think the ballooning budgets and WoW-chasers have lost sight of the potential of MMOs.

  4. What a nice and informative post, thank you!
    I’m glad you outline the several ways of protesting, I get the impression people seem to think unsubscribing is the only legitimate and effective way, and any complaint anywhere is usually answered with, “stop whining and quit if you don’t like it” at least once.
    MMO’s forums tend to get these reoccurring goodbye posts, long goodbye posts and I think your point of loyalty explains that quite well.
    Great post!

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