Ok, I’ve been contemplating this one for a while, and I don’t think it is actually too controversial, but I can see where it might open a can of worms. I don’t mean anything here disrespectfully, and I open any and all constructive feedback.
The other day I was reading gaming blogs and articles that were filtered into my feed reader. I came across this article  by Jon Schindehette about revamping the logo for D&D next. Being a person who is sometimes familiar with design and art direction, I read through it and found it a really interesting look at what trials and tribulations there are to putting together a brand identity. I read through and found the ever familiar poll at the bottom of every D&D article in the last few months. I found myself involuntarily thinking “Man, can’t they make any decisions themselves?”. Now this didn’t come from the content of the article. The article was in fact a great look at some of the fundamentals and logo challenges they face. The article also didn’t jump out and say “Choose our next logo!!!”, nor did the poll at the bottom do anything more than ask what elements of the logo people felt were important.
But that little thought jumped straight in, and I found myself wondering why. After some thinking on the subject, I believe it was a gut reaction to seeing so many poll boxes and requests for feedback from the D&D next project. Don’t get me wrong, I’m behind the way they are getting feedback for D&D, especially in light of how badly D&D 4e fit my gaming group. I’ve always felt that D&D 4e could have fit my group beautifully with a few changes and focuses in just one or two more areas. If they’d had my feedback for 4e, it would have fit my group perfectly. I have no idea how anyone else would like it.
And that is the question that stuck with me. At what point does the feedback start becoming harmful? When does a project (any project) get so diluted that a clear path is lost? When does so much feedback occur that the good and clear ideas get lost in the noise?
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Too many cooks in the kitchen" once or twice. I’ve been involved with projects that died slow painful deaths because there were too many paths to walk down. Without a single clear plan and goal, or a single clear leader, death by committee was inevitable. Person A, B, and E wanted to pursue one option, while person C and D were sure that would lead to failure and this other option was the only way. Person F had a completely different idea, and G was just in it for the free food. He spend most of the time dreading being a tiebreaker and wondering why no one in this group was given a real name by their parents. Too unclear of a path, too many voices trying to be the dominant one, can hurt a project big time.
Too much feedback can be harmful at the gaming table as well. You, as the Game Master, ask for feedback from the players. Everyone has a different idea, highly attuned to their character concept. You want to make sure everyone feels satisfied, so you design some things that require everyone’s involvement. Having an idea of this, the party gets paralyzed trying to decide how to get into the next room. The rogue knows you listened to his feedback, so obviously he’s going to get to sneak around a LOT! The warrior, however, knows you listened to her asking for more enemies to fight, so if the rogue sneaks ahead, he’ll get killed. No, the best way is to charge forward, cause that is the game we are playing now, right? The wizard is spending all of his time and manna looking for the magical spells he asked you to include, so he can’t help keep the party protected. At the core of this example is a communication problem, but too much feedback can create that problem. When people give feedback, they feel like they are being heard. That is good. The only problem is that many voices don’t work well together unless they are singing the same song.
I can only begin to imagine what the process of collecting and correlating the feedback for something like D&D next might be like. They’ve opened it up to everyone to have their say. While their articles and polling boxes show they’ve narrowed down options and are trying to determine which one holds the most sway, is it going to make a game that feels right?
Edition wars occur because people get so invested in the way “their” version of the game works that they can’t help but dismiss another version. The next edition of D&D is supposed to unite people under a common banner that fits everyone, but will the next version of D&D actually feel like it is “mine” at all?
If they try to appease the masses, are they going to have a game that feels so bland that no one is satisfied unless the module that addresses their preferred way of playing is used? If they narrow down to the most popular choices, are those actually going to be the best ones? People like snack foods high in salt and sugar, but those aren’t going to feed you well or keep you healthy. Will they unintentionally alienate large chunks of their fanbase who don’t feel like their comments were heard because their ideas (possibly good, possibly off the wall) weren’t used?
Opening up a project like the next edition of D&D to such massive amounts of feedback is incredibly ambitious. I give them kudos on their big brass ones alone. I’ve got faith in the people heading this project, and I’ve got faith in the idea, but I can’t help but wonder how the massive amounts of feedback might damage the process if not handled carefully.
What do you think? Could massive amounts of feedback cause harm to a project like D&D next? Have you ever had a game where too much feedback from players has caused issues?