Unfortunately, the EverQuest message boards are often a hotbed of exaggerated negativity where only through one-upmanship, melodramatics, and dauntless persistence can one hope to create a big enough thread surrounding an issue as to have it addressed. Posters with the opportunity and time to engage in these tactics at least get to see an Official tell them \’e2\’80\’9cYes\’e2\’80\’9d or \’e2\’80\’9cNo\’e2\’80\’9d, while others with equally valid stated concerns and the same desire to make the game better for everyone see their posts fall off within minutes, only to be overlooked or missed in the end. That, or they simply don\’e2\’80\’99t post at all, avoiding the boards and the negativity found therein (we\’e2\’80\’99ve received a lot of player feedback via email and at Fan Faires attesting to this phenomenon).

Well, this is simply not acceptable. Our original goal for the boards was to have them serve as a place where valid player issues would be addressed and not overlooked. We need and want to hear the feedback of anyone willing to send it. You deserve to know that your feedback is being read, that your issues are being considered by the design team, and that the chance of having your thoughts heard is not tied to your ability to be outspoken and persistent in a public forum. That is one thing all of our goals have in common, and one thing that we need to improve such that we are able to give players the input and feedback they deserve \’e2\’80\ldblquote the current \’e2\’80\’9cpublic\’e2\’80\’9d process.

To that end, we\’e2\’80\’99re making a number of changes, both to the message boards and the procedures for sending feedback.

And what changes are those? Well, the few boards that will remain (the Roleplaying “Harpy’s Head” forum and the newbie help forums) will have draconian guidelines on what can or cannot be posted. General Discussion (what we lovingly call Whineplay) and the QA board (Ester the Tester’s domain)… well, they no longer exist. What replaces them?

The difference here is that attempting to post a message or reply will take you to a special form where you can \’e2\’80\’9cSubmit Comments\’e2\’80\’9d to the Development and Quality Assurance teams. Representatives from each team will read all of the comments submitted and choose several daily to which to reply publicly. Those representatives will then quote your comments if chosen in individual posts under the appropriate read-only forum. These forums will also be used for special announcements, inquiries, and the release of important information as it is appropriate. And we also hope it will be much easier for players to keep track of what is going on in EverQuest.

This is so much more efficient than those old anyone-can-post-any-old-opinion message boards… which is why, of course, Verant was thoughtful enough to build them into the game already. Type /feedback sometime. Didn’t know it was there? Chances are good neither does Verant, any more. And when they did, they casually deleted them as they came in. Too many to read, don’t you know.

Was Whineplay a useless cesspool of, well, whining? Of course. Will this purge and abdication of any responsibility for moderating a discussion board help communication between Verant and its players? Of course… if you define “communication” the same way North Korea does. Verant’s tired of having to defend themselves, and to their credit, they’ve taken a lot of unwarranted crap. The problem is that in the hailstorm of that sometimes unbelievably wacko criticism, a lot of very valid discussion, suggestions, and yes, complaints about Everquest get lost.

A possible answer to this problem is obvious – and, unfortunately, the reason Verant won’t do this is also painfully obvious. There’s quite a lot of third-party message boards for EQ already. Many of them are very, very good. They’re moderated well, the signal to noise ratio is low, and it’s easy both for newbies to get help quickly and for ubers to brag about their +50 Codpiece of Lordly Might. You’d think it would be a no-brainer for Abashi or Absor or even Aradune himself to collect feedback and bat around a few ideas. After all, the board moderators themselves would have an interest in maintaining the atmosphere – which, interestingly considering their “amateur” status was always more “professional” than EQ’s own boards – even were these august personages to pay a visit.

The problem is one of control. Verant is very big on control – it’s no accident that every Everquest-related product has in its credits a shout-out to the “good” websites. The ones that don’t post spoilers – what Verant calls, you know, the basic rules of the game. Verant has made a joke out of banning users who post opinions that they don’t agree with on their own boards – and, in one particularly celebrated case, even for posting things they don’t like outside their own boards. And what we’re seeing now is a typical exercise of control. You can’t behave nicely? Fine – we’ll show you, then. Submit your petitions to the Gods of Gaming, and perhaps we may smile upon them and grant a representative, carefully chosen few our attention.

They’re simply overwhelmed. They tried throwing personnel at the problem – it didn’t work. They tried hiring a nice guy – it didn’t work. They tried just hiding and hoping it would all go away – it didn’t work.

Because in the end, it’s their world. Their rules, their server, their toys. You are but a customer, and one whose opinion, overall, tends to distract people from important work. Sit down, shut up, and send in your $9.95. For god’s sake, you got Medtris, now STFU.

Unfortunately, this attitude is all too prevalent in the industry. Not everyone’s wardrobe is so laughably made up of nothing but brown shirts as Verant’s seems to be – most have a bit more tact, appear a bit lower on the radar. But they all have control over their world. And if you think your opinion really, really matters, well, you’re just deluding yourself, aren’t you.

Until someone else realizes that the role of a game company is not that of benevolent dictator, but unseen caretaker. At that point, well, it could get interesting. You think?