Thursday, April 28, 2016

4.69. The Other EQ

Goldenrod acquires the Heart of Flame,
the prerequisite to Dragonwrath,


I scrolled through the various pictures of people in costume, relieved that they were in photos and not standing behind me. Paladins in Judgement, Night Elves, one dressed as Nova, another as the silver-haired, unnamed female monk from Diablo III. I clicked on the photos and labeled them "BlizzCon 2011," then spun the mousewheel to review my photography under duress.

Photos shot up to the top of the browser, disappearing from view, while older images emerged from the bottom of the screen. Pictures of my kids and of my house, of a trip to Dad's farm. Visions of pugs being petted scrolled by, of my new job, and soon...of my old job. In moments, I was back to our last Christmas, kids tearing into presents intermingling with shots of snowstorms slamming in Denver. Unsurprisingly, a picture of a freshly opened World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Collector's Edition appeared.

And just like that, more costumes appeared -- costumes from a year earlier. More Nova. More Kerrigan. An unmistakably brilliant tree druid who tragically missed the costume content registration by mere minutes. It was all coming back, in digital form.

Then, a picture of smiling faces scrolled into view. The faces collected around several tables shoved together at a restaurant, all smiling, all turned to face the camera. The guild.

Several of them raised a glass in toast, others grinned boastfully, proud to be a part of something bigger. Some will forever pigeonhole gamers into the antisocial stereotype, but you'd never know it by looking at this pic. It was a group of friends, together, celebrating, partying, reminiscing. And all the pairs of eyes looked back at the camera, as if saying, "Here's to DoD, Hanzo. Here's to you."

All but one.


[From: Xane] Only one Hunter?

[To: Xane] Yep. Cynergy is all we have. LB on vacation, returns next week.

After losing a week of progression to the festivities surrounding BlizzCon 2011, the 25-Man progression team prepared to close out October with unfinished to-do items. We had exactly one month left before Patch 4.3 hit. Of course, no one knew the official patch day. I simply acted as if it were fact. Better to err on the side of sooner rather than later. I kept the pressure on the guild, keeping watch for burnout, motivating as necessary, and reminding them of how close we were to wrapping things up.

I returned home from the BlizzCon trip-turned-work-week the night of Thursday the 27th and was welcomed by yet another incomplete signup sheet. The Oct 28/30 weekend was short, one for Friday, two for Sunday. I thumbed text messages out in an attempt to plug the holes. Insayno answered the call once more, this time bringing a freshly leveled rogue -- currently relegated to arenas. Players wearing PvP gear to progression had long been a pain point of mine. Insayno's enthusiasm and ability to fill trumped any antediluvian beliefs I clung to.

Sunday remained unfilled, permanently stuck at 24.

With the roster comprised of more fills, coupled with the fact that Goldenrod was mere smouldering essences away from completing his legendary staff, we opted to clear and gear. By prioritizing Goldy's completion of Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's Rest, a healthy boost of DPS would take the edge off November's most brutal, final achievements. That Friday, we cleared Shannox, Lord Rhyolith, Beth'tilac, and Alysrazor...all heroic. The ilvl 378 gear was nice, but even if a fractional improvement could be gained from ilvl 391, we had to make the effort to acquire it.

For Sunday, October 30th, DoD targeted Baleroc, Majordomo Staghelm, and big Rag himself. The two formers were non-factors, and Goldenrod siphoned his 250th smouldering essence from Staghelm's carcass. Ragnaros dragged on and on, still a painfully chaotic encounter. After the two-hour break, Insayno hopped online, again saving our collective assess. 45 minutes later, DoD slew Ragnaros.

A legendary awaited. As Rag's loot was handed out, Goldenrod ported away to Coldarra, handed in the quest to combine his smouldering essences into a Heart of Flame. Then, the raid joined Goldenrod back in Orgrimmar to celebrate the completion of Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's End.

It was the last legendary item DoD would see.

Goldenrod complete DoD's final legendary quest item,
earning the guild "The Ultimate Collection",

This One's For You, Ekasra

Three Metas remained for Glory, two were inconsequential. Bucket List saw us dragging Shannox around the entire wasteland, touching five checkpoints, up to the mountain of Shatterstone, along the Path of Corruption, across the Flamebreach, over to the Ridge of Ancient Flame, and finally, back towards Beth’tilac’s Lair. The most strenuous exercise (if you can call it that) involved clearing extra trash. It was accomplished in one pull, with 45 minutes to spare, at the end of the November 4th raid.

A second trivial meta, Not An Ambi-Turner, required us to kill Lord Rhyolith by spinning him in place, preventing him from making a left turn. None of us were eager to return to Rhyolith, and although it was rudimentary achievement to execute, nobody spoke those words aloud. We came to a silent agreement to leave this to the end.

That left the one difficult meta: the Ekasra-themed Do a Barrel Roll! The achievement demanded a clean execution of Alysrazor -- so clean, that no one person in the raid could suffer an attack. Four attacks were on the to-avoid list: Brushfire, Incendiary Cloud, Lava Spew, and Fiery Tornado.

Do a Barrel Roll! sparked seizure-inducing memories that made me break out into a cold sweat. Those memories were of a different time, one fraught with mistakes so minute, so surgically precise, anyone could make them (and everyone did). Thankfully, Blizzard had long since loosened the rope they gave us to hang ourselves with achievements such as these. No longer was it a one-attempt-per week type of achievement; if someone messed up, we called for a reset. We could also knock out parts of it across raid-locks: If it came down to the wire, we’d focus on avoiding Brushfire one week; another week, we’d avoid Lava Spew, and so on. The day after my birthday, we returned to Firelands to do exactly that.

There was only a brief moment of stress after the first hour, when it seemed like we might be there all night. In the end, we had nothing to worry about. After 90 minutes of work, Alysrazor collapsed and the achievement splashed up on our screens. The “worst” of it was behind us.

"Happy Birthday to you, Hanzo. 38 is it?"

I feigned grumpiness, "I was 30 when I started this damn game."

Get the hell off my lawn.

Aw, man, that dude is totally panicked!

Not EverQuest

"Overall, feeling pretty good. We're on track to wrap things up very soon. There's...definitely some pressure near the end, but nothing insurmountable. I've had to ask them for a bit of flexibility, but so far, they've been very accommodating."

"No concerns with attitude? This is usually where you'd see it."

"No, I really don't think so. I mean...I'm sure you know the drill: each of them handles the stress a bit differently. Just last week one of them was hesitant to give me a straight answer. It didn't take a mind reader to tell. You know it when you hear it, right? The pauses, the waffling, remaining purposefully's like, 'Hey. Time to give me a straight answer.' Right?"

"Quit equivocating!"

"Exactly! 'There's clearly something going on you need help with, let's talk through it. Let's figure it out.' So I'll hammer on that until I get somewhere."


"It ended up being he couldn't figure out how to find his old code differences in the repo. Just didn't know the tool as well as he let on. No big deal. Solved it in five minutes with another quick lesson. No rocket surgery at all."

My boss leaned back in her chair, "Remind me've had no professional training as a manager, right?"

I shook my head, "None. All the management I've done has been...shall we nature."

Hope you like the laugh track that accompanies the "World of Warcraft Guild Leader" references on your CV.

"Some people are inherently good at that sort of thing, though," she continued, "I'm starting to suspect you have a naturally high EQ."

"A...what now?"

"EQ. It's your Emotional Quotient, or 'Emotional Intelligence'. It's how well you recognize other people's emotions, how effectively you adapt in order to establish rapport. You said yourself: each person requires an appropriate communication style. People with high EQ make good managers."

The manager bit again? Really? You really think you're going to leave coding behind...for people management? Enjoy irrelevancy.

"Hm. I've never heard of EQ. Is there a way to measure it?"

"There's official tests and training courses and such. You could start with an online test to get a general idea...look for something like 'Reading the Mind's Eye'. There's a lot of great material out there, but start with that quiz."

Sure enough, a little Googling revealed a site titled "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" test. I sat up straight, focused, and began clicking through each question -- each of which came with a set of eyes staring back at me.

Each black-and-white photo revealed eyes fraught with emotion. Some narrowed in inquisition, others looked away, suspiciously. The question remained the same with each set of eyes: "What word best describes what the person in the photo is thinking or feeling?"

Contemplative. Panicked. Desire. Jealous. Indecisive. Playful. Guilty. Bored. Upset. Confident.

I clicked through each pair of eyes, making my decision. The quiz concluded and the results splashed up on the screen: 33/36.

Don't get your hopes up, chief. Just because everyone says something over and over doesn't make it true. For all you know, this could be more MBTI junk science.

...maybe. Then again...maybe not.

Friday, April 15, 2016

4.68. Stay Awhile and Listen

Everyone dies, but DoD wins,
at the defeat of Heroic: Baleroc,

A Farewell To Arms

"Can you hear me?"

"Yeah...kind of. Where are you?"

"I just walked out of a Lego store, and am now talking to you from a parking lot somewhere outside of Disneyland."

"Nice. Is Goldy with you?"

"Nah, he's picking me up later. I'm killing time."

"So, Pandaria..."


BlizzCon's data dump on the next expansion was not why I wanted to talk to him. I steered the conversation back, "...listen, I have a question for you...and I mean this in the nicest way possible...but where the hell is Charcassone?"

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, why did she suddenly stop signing up for the 25-Man right around the same time she became a regular in Starflex?"

"Oh, she just had a change in her schedule, no big deal, Fridays and Sundays just don't work as well for her. I had a long talk with her about it. That's all it is."


"And you gave her the same speech we agreed on? That it's not OK to use Starflex as a back-door out of the 25-Man just because it's 'inconvenient'..."

"I definitely did. This really was a schedule conflict she couldn't get around."

Happy hours. Movie nights. Birthday parties. Social gatherings. I rescheduled my life around raids for years. It always stunned me when players claimed they couldn't possibly make the Friday/Sunday schedule work. How much of it, I wondered, was truly unsolvable, and how much of it was I just hate raiding on the weekend, no offense. She could have told Jungard anything. How could he have known differently?

I took a deep breath, steeling myself for a request I wasn't happy about.

"I need you to do me a favor, Jungard. I ask you to do this. But...I need you to hold your 10 back from completing Glory."

"Sure. I mean...are you thinking Starflex is going to motivate more to try to step out of 25"

"It absolutely will motivate them. Even the nicest, most dedicated people have a breaking point. I need to eliminate any excuse they might use to reach that breaking point early. And let's face it, who wouldn't want to raid with Jungard?"

He laughed.

"Yeah, no problem, we can totally hold off on Glory."

I sighed with relief, "Thanks. And my gratitude to the team for this request."

"Oh, they'll be fine about it. They support DoD 100%," he said, adding "I assure you there are no Eh Team shenanigans going on over here!"

I chuckled at Jungard's jab. It was all still fresh in my mind -- the accusations, the collusion, the denials, and Bheer's eventual true colors revealed. It felt like it had just happened. Reality quickly set in, however. The events transpired a year earlier. 

A moment of introspection brought the impact of our relationship to bear. Jungard and I had seen many things together, having raided side-by-side for years, sharing screams of triumph as readily as we shared our misgivings with various folks who set foot in DoD's halls. Both video game bosses and human beings had agendas. Learning to keep that knowledge in perspective strengthened our ability to lead...and our friendship.

I stared up the sky and remained silent, letting Jungard talk as long as he needed to. I ignored the depressing reality of the situation. This is how it was all coming to an end: phone calls about administration and politics. One of the greatest Arms warriors ever to set foot in Descendants of Draenor...had been reduced to taking phone calls from his guild leader requesting he not be so good.


How the attempt was considered a kill was beyond me. Even the photo finish betrayed our knowledge of the game. When the golden achievement pennant "Heroic: Baleroc" flashed up on our screens, it took no fingers to count how many were left standing. Every single player in the 25-Man raid lay dead in the charred earth. Yet, exactly on the one hour mark, the fiery demon bellowed in agony, shrugged and writhed, until his empty armor collapsed in a heap alongside the fallen.

That same night of October 16th, 2011, a little more than an hour after our inexplicable defeat of Heroic: Baleroc, Heroic: Fandral Staghelm also fell. With the Majordomo's defeat, the heroic portion of Glory of the Firelands Raider was complete. The metas that remained were the unorthodox kills -- killing bosses while standing doing handstands, drinking a glass of water, patting our heads and rubbing our tummies. These were the hoops Blizzard gave us, and we jumped. The tanks have to kite Shannox? Fine. Watch us kite him around the entire map.

DoD defeats Heroic: Majordomo Fandral Staghelm,

Answering The Call of Duty

The strategy was straightforward. Knock out as many individual metas as possible, focusing only on one at a time, with the sole exception of Do A Barrel Roll!. This Ekasra-themed achievement demanded that no player in the raid be struck by one of four specific attacks during an Alysrazor kill. Do a Barrel Roll! smacked of nightmares long past, namely The Immortal. But unlike The Immortal (and thankfully), avoiding the named attacks was no longer limited exclusively to a single week/raid lock. Somewhere, someone behind the Blizzard curtain had shown us mercy.

We tackled each achievement until it was complete, rather than trying to do everything each week. Then, for that same raid lock, we'd look at what attacks were left to collectively avoid in the Alysrazor encounter and made adjustments to specific players in the raid to give us the best chance of knocking at least one of the four attacks off the to-do list. This was our regimen, week-to-week and we stuck to it, counting down to Goldenrod’s 1000th Seething Cinder, and the guild’s next legendary item.

Even amid good progress, something was off with the group. We weren’t stalling (not nearly as horrifically as Heroic: Lord Rhyolith) yet raids were still heated, tempers flared more readily, and strategy was openly challenged and debated. Fun, it seemed, was in short supply. With no bench to support players walking off on the job, I increased my sensitivity toward signs of burnout. If I picked up on any frustration, inappropriate arguments, or even unexplained changes in tone-of-voice, I had to intervene to keep things together. Even the loss of one key person from the roster could bring DoD to an abrupt end.


One evening, Mortalsend broke down. On the surface, she appeared frustrated at a combination of random dungeon runs filled with the very worst kinds of personalities on Deathwing-US, and a hyper-critical view of her new role as healing druid. I suspected she missed leaving behind an easier (and perhaps more enjoyable) warlock.

It didn't add up. 

Having only played with Mortalsend for these few months, I knew enough of her personality that these trivial game-related concerns would not be enough to crack through her emotional armor. Something was up, and it had to be family related.

Mortal's husband, also a guildy, was stationed overseas. Shore leave had only just ended, a few weeks earlier. The highs of temporarily reuniting with her significant other had shifted to depressive lows, mired with loneliness and unwarranted guilt. Couple the sum total of that psychological weight and mix in a healthy dose of "LEARN 2 PLAY FUCKING MORON!!!1!1" spewed from randos in LFD, and you begin to see why the pressure of a video game might seem insurmountable.

I intervened the only way I knew how: I directed Mortal to call me, right away. My intent was to get her talking, to get things off her chest, and hopefully, to feel better as a result of offloading the pressure to someone else. 

I exited the computer room and shot past my wife as I headed to the back yard, the only place I got decent reception.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"Problem with Mortal I need to address."

The phone started vibrating before I even got to the back porch. She unleashed. I listened. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, all poured out. I waited for the right time, then reminded her of her importance to the guild, that what she was feeling was perfectly normal, and that things would get better.

"Sometimes things are up, sometimes things are down. Funny how they're never either for very long, eh?"

When I wrapped up the call and wandered back into the house, Jul glanced up from the couch.

"How long did you talk to her?"

"Uh," I fumbled with the phone to pull up the call time. 55 minutes. "...Wow, I guess...nearly an hour."

"That's a little inappropriate, don't you think?"

I stared at her a moment, contemplating the question. Inappropriate how? Was it the stereotype of spousal jealousy at hand, convenient that Mortalsend was a woman and I was a man? Or was it to draw attention to old habits growing more prevalent, once again invading family life -- my preoccupation with a video game over all else. I wanted balance and sanity; this longer-than-was-healthy call was yet more evidence to the contrary. At the start of WotLK, I had it all worked out. I would pick my battles and delegate the rest. Problem was, there was nobody left to delegate to.

"Yeah," I replied, shoving the phone back into my pocket, "you’re right. It was inappropriate." Then, I marched back into the computer room, leaving Julie to believe whatever she wanted.

DoD defeats Shannox after kiting him around the
entire map, earning "Bucket List",

Pack Your Bags

I could hear the frustration in Fred's voice. I was running out of things to say to convince him to stick this out, by whatever means possible. We were so close. Now, he was on the verge of stepping down from not only healing officer, but healing, period.

"Wings fights me on nearly every decision.  I can't get any kind of consistency with the healers, we take new people every week now. It's...really wearing me out. It really isn't as enjoyable as it once was."

I needed an entirely different approach with Fred. The situation with the roster was dire, but Fred was promoted in good faith to seize the role and take command of the healers. I extended the benefit of the doubt to him. This would not be how he repaid me. It was time to take a hard line.

"I understand your frustration. It's a rough patch now, but we can't do this without people like you. Remember: I opted to promote Lexxii over you and that was completely on me. But now, even against my better judgement, I've given you the reins have stepped up to deal with some extreme shit. You've definitely shown me that you can do this. And you have."

"...But," I continued, "now it's on you to follow through on your commitments. You agreed to take this on because you believed you were capable of shouldering this load. I find it hard to believe you'd want to suddenly back-pedal and give me a reason to say 'Ah, should've known he wasn't up to the challenge.' You don't want to give me that excuse, do you?" 

I heard a digital sigh cross Ventrilo as he contemplated my words.

"We need to get through this, Fred. We need to wrap up final thing we can say we accomplished together, as a team...because you and I both know that anything past Firelands is a crap shoot at this point."

"Yeah," he said, coming around, "Yeah we do."

"One day, we're going to look back on this story, Fred. We'll reflect on all our accomplishments and all the shit DoD had to wade through. That story will have a lot of people...great names who stood by us, along with a handful of fuckin' losers like Drecca that gave us the shaft. So, when that sad day arrives and we've all gone our separate ways...and our story gets told...I have to ask you: do you want to be remembered as one of the good guys? Or one of the villains?"

When all else fails, pack your bags for a guilt trip.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

4.67. The Ghostcrawler Effect

Separated at Birth?

Popping Tabs

BlizzCon 2011 wrapped, but the partying was far from over. Several of us made our way to the neighboring Hilton. The lobby was wall-to-wall nerds. Shimmying through the crowd in search of the bar, Goldy and I kept our eyes peeled for celebrities. Word spread quickly that some of the Blizzard folks were here, intermixed among the commoners. I steered clear of as many costumes as possible and motioned Goldenrod over to a lounge area where there was some room to breathe.

"Don't look," I said, catching a glimpse of a familiar face.

"Who is it?"

"The entire cast of The Guild is behind you. Felicia Day is only five feet from us."

"Go talk to them!"

Save yourself the embarrassment of being shut down. You have nothing to say to Felicia Day.

"Mm, pass," I replied, "They look busy. Signing autographs and meeting crazed fans all day? They probably just want to be left alone for five seconds. Next time."

Goldenrod surveyed the room, focusing in on a small swarm of people crowding around the right side of the bar.

"Ghostcrawler's over there."

Greg Street leaned up against the bar, listening to the ongoing conversation while drinking what I could only assume was gin.

There's someone you have something to say to.

"I'll be right back."

My mind raced with statements I'd meant to tell him if given the chance -- the kinds of things you don't say out loud. Public decorum took precedence, but internally, rage went to war with good judgement. I stood beside him several moments, waiting to catch his attention while I worked through it. As a break in the conversation opened up, he glanced over and caught my gaze. I reached out my hand and he returned the gesture. Then, I looked Ghostcrawler straight in the eye and lied to his face.

"Thanks," I said, "for all the work you put into this game. I get the feeling that you don't get a lot of support from us."

He nodded, shrugging, "Eh, it's a job. I have a thick skin, I can take it."

Get over yourself. You weren't lying to Greg. You just wish you were.


There was a time, not long ago, when the player had no voice.

At the start, we didn't even know who they were. Logos on shiny labels affixed to black cartridges were our only means to identify who was responsible. Atari. Activision. But these were merely employers, hiding the actual visionaries away from us, heads down deep in their cube farms. Howard Scott WarshawCarol Shaw. Brilliant men and women slaved over our digital Shangri-La, working tirelessly in our honor so that our television sets might bathe us in a moment of exhilaration and wonder, and grant us a brief moment of overwhelming power and control. We didn't even know who to thank.

When the PC gaming market emerged, the wall between gamer and developer started to show cracks. Boxes packed with comedic manuals revealed unto us the Hollywood-style celebrities behind our beloved titles. Whether pranking us by donning pink mohawks and pig snout masks, or striking a more reserved pose, the magicians carried a message: gaming is serious business, and we've got more hits coming your way. Company logos took a back seat to the person whose fingers weaved these interactive dreamscapes. We knew Sierra On-Line by name, but cared more deeply about what was next from from Ken and Roberta Williams.

We wondered, though, was the feeling mutual?

Being the creative geniuses they were, game developers found ways to solicit feedback. Upon completing Ultima, Lord British reached through the electronic nether, wishing to hear from us. "CONGRATULATIONS! Report thy feat unto Lord British at Origin Systems!" We obliged. We wrote in with our fan letters, sent photos, hand-drawn maps, sketches of dragons and spaceships, pages of scribbled notes as we worked through those many puzzles and secrets. Some of us even dreamed of becoming game developers one day. Our heroes sent back their words of encouragement; a crazy, mythical race of adults that not only believed our dreams could be realized, they were living proof.

Developers and gamers drew closer with the rise of gaming conventions. Not only did QuakeCon expose us to John Carmack, it proved what we secretly wished all along: they weren't aloof, out-of-touch celebrities; too good for autographs while gated off in their million-dollar mansions. They were gamers, just like us. Our celebrities pulled up a chair and joined us in a deathmatch. Then, as the convention ended, those same developers drove off in their ruby red Ferraris, retired to their darkened caves to resume the coding grind. Their internal fire was reignited, wishing only to deliver an awesome gaming experience. They couldn't let us down, they'd shaken our hands and seen that same fire in our eyes. To them, we were real. We were their heroes.

By the rise of the internet, barriers between gamers and developers were all but non-existent, catapulting gamers from never having a voice to being involved every step of the way. Usenet, forums, blogging, and eventually, real-time access via social media accelerated our ability to reach out to one another. Technology facilitating such unparalleled communication matured because of that shared spark, that symbiotic relationship that never died: game developers wanted to reach out to the fans as much as we wanted to share with them. And today, we can tell them everything. What's fun. What isn't. What works, and what doesn't. What we love.

What we hate.

Sweet Emotion

Customers that frequent Whole Foods have been called "useless, miserable, ignorant, and angry." Social psychology studies reveal that drivers with bumper stickers are 16% more likely to unleash road rage. Apple fanatics swarm memorials for Steve Jobs without ever having met the man or sharing a story over an Odwalla.

Why do we behave so inappropriately toward inanimate objects?

Researchers in industrial design claim they convey personal meaning rather than simple utilitarian intent. Sociologists say it is a part of our evolutionary makeup, that we're territorial and go on the defensive whenever any predators threaten to take away what is rightfully ours. Organizational psychologists build on this, categorizing our needs in three main areas: Security, Justice and Self-Esteem. Independently, this research offers insight into a human's crazy obsession with a trophy that isn't real...but is. When considered holistically, an interesting picture develops.

The industrial designer focuses in on four factors to develop a bond between a customer and a product: group affiliation, memories, pleasure, and self-expression. The first three are easy to unpack. When we indignantly march across the parking lot, Wheat Grass smoothy in hand, towards our vehicle adorned with peace symbols and left-wing messaging, we announce to the world what personal and political movements that ring true to us. Likewise, we'll caremad when said car is damaged or some fool gets in our way to the Kale aisle. Losing photos hurts more than breaking the camera -- there is no way those memories will be recovered. As for pleasure, well, we do what we enjoy...even if we can't agree on what's enjoyable.

Self-expression is a big one. Similar to group affiliation, as a product is molded or shaped to fit us as individuals, our physical (and emotional) investment grows; as we invest more effort in the product, the closer it represents our identity. There's no mistaking a product in this type of category: clothes with dozens of options of fit, shape, style and color. The more customizable the clothing, the more it accurately represents our identity.

It doesn't take an industrial designer to see how beautifully World of Warcraft falls into these sweet spots. Group Affiliation (gamer, casual/hardcore, horde/alliance, profession, race), Memories (discovery, achievement, quest completion, meeting new people, defeating players, raiding), Pleasure (duh), and Self-Expression (naming, gear choices, guilds, talent choices, online personas) all present in abundance. It's as if Blizzard read the book on how to design products that people become passionate about!

The question is: did they read the book on customer satisfaction? I'll save you the research and get right to it.

A satisfied customer is one whose self-esteem is inflated by their experience, and who feels secure in their purchase. Security comes from a company's ability to meet a customer's needs, often by effectively communicating how the product will work for said customer. Done correctly, the customer feels as if they are important, as if the company care specifically for them. Done poorly, and a customer will most certainly go ballistic.

A customer turns sour when they feel they're no longer being treated fairly, and three forms of justice are often demanded. Distributive justice covers our need to be treated equally, while Procedural justice demands that promises be kept and commitments followed through on. Finally, interactional justice is that which describes how a company's employees relate to the customer, their friendliness, their honesty, their ability to help solve the problem at hand.

And this, dear reader, is where every good intention Greg Steet ever had for WoW is yet another reason for us to levy unwarranted hatred upon him.

Reverse Midas Touch Method

The Ghostcrawler Effect is not, as some might argue, the devastation Greg Street levies on any game he comes into contact with; it is not some reckless reverse Midas touch which turns all his designs to shit. Instead, it's what happens when a company builds a passionate product, empowers an advocate to allow the customer's voice to be heard, changes the very elements that made the product passionate to begin with, and ensures that the advocate has no possible way of resolving said conflict. It is a game in which there is no winning outcome; indeed, it was his very own Kobayashi Maru.

Corporations: Listen up! If you suspect The Ghostcrawler Effect might be right for your company, simply follow the handy steps listed below!

1. Build and sell a customizable product that appeals to a territorial niche. This will very often be a product designed by a single person or a small group of people sharing a common vision. This vision is often fueled by personal interest to solve a gap in an existing niche group (eg. a game targeted at a very select audience for which there is no/few viable alternatives). Increase emotional investment by crafting the product so that it is highly personalizable -- the more a product can be customized by the end user, the greater the product becomes an extension of the customer's choices and beliefs.

2. Give the customer the illusion of co-producing by giving them a "voice" in design. If possible, leverage a spokesperson that's already motivated to "hear the customer" and empower them to address concerns in public. Be sure the advocate blurs the lines between personalization (how the product can be customized) and design (the rules of customization itself). Do this by using the same medium to address both additions to existing options (trivial), and long-term fundamental changes in the product's features (impactful). Forums and blogs are a great way to achieve this effect; they reinforce the perception that no matter what impact a customer's demands have on company's resources, schedules, man hours, or the product's long-term viability itself, no issue is too big or small to not be heard. The customer matters!

3. Reaffirm the customer's perceived involvement by publicly agreeing with any recommended changes that just happen to coincide with the company's design strategy. Be sure to use pronouns when addressing the customer to reinforce this effect. The goal is to have your customer advocate appear to be speaking directly to each customer individually, eg. "...we've heard your concerns and agree..." or "...but it's clear from your feedback you didn't really like what we've proposed, so we're changing our stance..."

4. Once ready, redesign the product to reduce the impact of customer choice. Whether financially motivated or ideologically driven, eventually, you will have to get your product in front of a wider audience. To do this, reduce the product's niche appeal, paying particular attention to the features that helped define the niche originally. By diminishing the importance of specific choices a customer makes when customizing, the wider the appeal of the product becomes.

5. If customer outrage ensues, leverage your spokesperson in order to provide reasons why the customer is wrong. You are under no obligation to cater to the customers for whom you designed the original product -- they have no perspective of the complexities involved in becoming a business leader in a particular market. If you experience customer dissent, lean on your advocate to communicate the various reasons why the base is being alienated. A useful technique is to have your advocate back up the company's decisions by referring to your wealth of analytic data on said customers -- by claiming the data are proprietary, you are under no obligation to reveal its specifics; your customer data falls under fair "trade secret" rules, which frees your advocate to cherry pick what information will most appropriately defend the product's changes.

The Ghostcrawler Effect, then, is what happens when a customer identifies with your product, and you decide to try to convince them that they don't know themselves; it is consumer revolt for which there is no resolution.

It's easy to blame Greg. His resting-Macklemore face, industry expertise in marine biology, and design skills honed in a game constantly confused with World of Warcraft are all ripe for the picking. They're convenient excuses that allow us to ignore the truth. That he is a gamer, like us. That he cares passionately about keeping an open channel of communication between a game company and its fans. That his job was to meet as many of our needs as possible. That "fun" trumped all else, but none of us could agree on exactly what that was.