We typically don't cover much third-party news here at ZAM, but the latest round of "Ghostcrawler"-lynching—as featured in a recent editorial at WoW.com—was a bit too newsworthy to pass up. The editorial was written in response to this 30-plus page thread at the official forums, in which many community members express their dissatisfaction with Blizzard's current forum policies, and the player/developer relationship within those forums.
As most involved WoW fans already know, Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street (lead systems designer at Blizzard) became a familiar name on the WoW forums throughout 2009. After Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard made a substantial effort to increase community interaction between players and developers in its official forums. This new strategy often seemed to feature Ghostcrawler at the helm, answering the most important questions and providing the bulk of WoW-related announcements. But now, after more than a year's worth of drama, locked threads and a messy forums landscape, the question is raised; should Blizzard have done anything differently?
Not long after patch 3.3 launched last week, players hit the official forums like a ton of bricks (as per usual, following a major patch). Many practiced restraint, and wrote non-inflammatory posts about the new patch's class mechanics, balance and various bugs. But others responded as many forum members have come to expect; with long-winded diatribes about Blizzard's incompetence, and personal attacks against the developers (many of which are directed at Ghostcrawler, due to his prominence within the forums as an "unofficial" spokesperson for the company).
The WoW.com editorial offers a decent response to the issue, suggesting that flame-inducing posts need "to either be shot down en masse, or [...] ignored," and reminding the community that it "needs to understand that it doesn't have a solid grasp on class balance and general game design." The editorial also warns of what the community stands to lose, now that players are finally getting more developer feedback and interaction than ever before.
While we at ZAM agree with much of the editorial's spirit, we also find ourselves wondering how the situation escalated to this point in the first place. Getting feedback from designers is always great, but why are Ghostcrawler and the other developers filling—to all intents and purposes—a role that would be better suited for community managers? Instead of integrating its existing community team into the forums (as a liaison between the players and developers), Blizzard threw the lambs to the wolves, so to speak. What do you think? Is a "direct line" to the developers worth all the drama we've come to see in the forums these days, or would the more-typical "community management approach" foster better relations between Blizzard's players and developers?