I understand how it can seem like a double standard where you feel you have an enormous mountain to climb to make your case, while we aren't obligated to do the same thing. That's simply because we're the ones empowered to make the call. I don't state that as a power trip deal, but I think sometimes players want to turn our approachability into this being a democracy. It's not.
We're not interested in developing under a system where we have to get community buy-off for our decisions. We don't think that will ultimately lead to a strong design. I don't mean for that to sound harsh. I'm just trying to steer you away from logic that ends up where we have to justify every decision we make or you can somehow get us to make the decisions you want if you just find the right knobs to turn.
The crab has the nerve to actually say it, but he's certainly not the only developer thinking it. MMORPG's are not a democracy, and we wouldn't want them to be - we have seen what happens when you let players make the design choices. That said, I'm seeing a disturbing trend of studios deciding that they don't even feel like being the bearers of bad news.
Is Silence Better Than Bad News?
SOE implemented changes in the latest EQ2 patch this week that gutted the rewards for contested raid boss fights and implemented a lack-luster but easy to balance racial trait revamp. The PR strategy was simply to quarantine all of the negative feedback into one thread per topic (something like 75+ pages on the former and 38+ on the latter), not respond unless there was a verifiable and fixed bug, and basically ignore the issue until it goes away.
Sony is not alone. Under the crunch time wire, Cryptic quietly didn't mention plans to completely revamp combat difficulty in Champions Online until it went live on the retail servers (once you've started your head start, they are your retail servers) with a single line in the patch notes. Faced with major server queues at Aion's head start, NCSoft did technically issue a statement, but Syp summarizes it as suck it up and wait it out.
There are two problems with this approach. The first is that the customer may always be wrong, but that doesn't mean that they're always 100% wrong. Contested loot may be a balance problem, but there is no incentive to scramble to race to the spawn point to attempt bosses on no notice if the loot is no better than instanced content you can attempt at your leisure. Aion might absolutely require those pesky server queues for longterm population balance, but they are also officially charging for a service that players cannot use at the moment.
The second issue is consumer confidence. For better or worse, the current generation of MMORPG's are based around progression for persistant characters. It's a problem if you decide you're going to wipe your battleground currencies after not having done so for your first expansion (a move that Blizzard had to reverse). It's a problem when your Champion is suddenly unplayable because you didn't obey a set of unwritten rules (e.g. take a defensive power ASAP) that didn't exist when you created it; sure enough, Cryptic insisted that respec costs were fine for all of a day before implementing free respecs. SOE planned massive changes to DPS across the board earlier this year, and reversed themselves when it became increasingly clear the player outcry would be even more damaging than the status quo (with hybrid DPS ruling the day).
(Aside: One has to wonder whether SOE will simply reintroduce the tanking/DPS changes under the veil of secrecy of its expansion beta NDA, not revealing them until the last possible moment. At least this would remove some of the issues with making changes of the scope they were planning mid-expansion, but it could make for a very volatile situation in February.)
Accountability and consumer confidence
It's no coincidence that changes like these are the ones that get rolled back. It's not a democracy, but that does not mean that there is no accountability. In the subscription-based MMORPG, your consumer confidence is your meal ticket.
That's why I find the veil of secrecy so puzzling. Do developers really think that players won't notice major nerfs if they appear on the test servers without any announcement or warning? Is it better to have players discussing misinformation instead of issuing a full and detailed explanation of the changes at the risk of aggraving those who disagree? Developers may not need their customers' approval, but that does not mean they should ignore it.