Communities Made of Tin

(Regarding the post below: OK, *usually*. And just to be perfectly clear, this isn’t a 4/1 joke, really.)

Blizzard usually does some pretty amusing April Fools’ Jokes, from independently driven two headed ogres, to Pandaren Express shopping carts. This year they posted several joke pages, including an insanely complicated attunement tree, poking fun at a not-a-joke insanely complicated attunement tree, and a game announcement that seems oddly familiar.

What isn’t terribly funny is the one they seem the most proud of – the implementation of tinfoil hats for their WoW forum posters. Specifically, the tinfoil hat will prevent users from being data-mined via the new Armory tools.

This isn’t really that funny for a number of reasons.

First, the tinfoil hat wearers have a point. Data mining tools in MMOs to this point have had opt-out tools for a reason.

I drove much of the implementation for data mining tools for a different MMO. We exposed far less data, and were informed by our users quickly – before the data exports went live – that the ability to opt out of having this data published was crucial. Whether or not being “paranoid” about having this data published was silly, or whether or not this data could be viewed to some extent in game was entirely besides the point. Developing a slash command to turn off this data export was trivial – it took maybe a couple of hours and a single bit flag on a character record. And that effort satisified the needs of the vocal minority for privacy, while still publishing data that the majority of the users found cool and wanted published.

Why doesn’t the WoW Armory have an opt-out command? I haven’t a clue. I’d think the hue and cry on the forums would be a strong signal that such should be implemented. But instead, not only has this basic functionality not been implemented yet, someone on the team found it worthy of parody.

Which leads directly into the second point. Making fun of your customers is never a good idea. Making fun of yourself is fine. (Which is what most April Fool’s Jokes are today – EA Mythic’s patching mock “in-game ads” into DAOC for other, non-existent EA games, parodying EA’s rush to implement them in other games I found particularly amusing.) But your customers are the ones giving you money. You don’t make fun of your customers. It’s basic Community 101. You let off steam in private all you want (and make no mistake, I’ve done more than my share of that) but in public – they get your respect. If you disagree, you do so clearly, with all due respect of someone who is directly paying your salary. You do not post jokes about them on your website. You do not advertise jokes about them on your patcher.

Because if you do, your players will be pissed. And you know what? They have every right to be.