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.

The headset is my ears, the monitor is my eyes

I have seen it with my own eyes ….

It’s amazing how easy it is when we’re deep in a game for our brains to convince us that we are seeing the virtual world directly through our own eyes, and hearing it with our own ears. I’ve had times when I wasn’t aware of the headphones or the monitor. Immersion will do that to a person, and the human brain is smart but can be trained to substitute one metaphor for another – after all, I don’t much notice my glasses when I’m wearing those either.

But all it takes to break the illusion is one little hardware problem. The monitor blows? You’re (virtually) blind. Broken sound card? You’re (virtually) deaf. It’s tricky to talk about this without being disrespectful to people who have sensory disabilities in real life, but being without a peripheral can feel absolutely crippling in game.

I’ve had an ongoing problem for a few months with my microphone, in that it’s way too quiet. This week, we sorted it out (turns out it was something stupid that I’d done which was easily fixed, once we’d found it), and it’s astounding to me how much difference that made in my gameplay.

I could speak on voice chat before, but it was very hard for people to hear me. They would keep asking me to speak up, or complain that they couldn’t hear, and there wasn’t anything that I could do about it. It was frustrating because it broke the metaphor, in real life I can speak up by just raising my voice. But that didn’t work with a malfunctioning mike. It was so frustrating in fact that I mostly stopped even trying to talk, and along with that came a feeling of distance, of unintentional exclusion, and of being less involved in both the game and the community.

Of course I could still type wittily (and quickly), but as anyone knows who has played with voice chat, a lot of people don’t bother looking at the text on the screen. But my disability was relatively easily fixed. I have my voice back. This week I noticed that  every time I am to say something in game, I  hesitate more than I used to do. I still think ‘Oh, no one will hear’, even though they can now.

I’m happy to have my virtual voice back, and it will be nice to feel back in the loop and get used to it again. But that was a very powerful emotional experience, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it.