Public opinion is one of the easiest things to get a reading on. You plunk a few polls somewhere for everyone to see, ask a question, and tada, results.
Wrong. The result can very easily be manipulated, based on a number of factors. First and foremost it's the choices between answers you get. A simple agree/disagree choice is almost never enough, as all the different reasons for agreeing or disagreeing are lumped together.
Another major factor is the way the question is asked. "Do you like Farming?" as opposed to "What do you like about Farming?", for example. The results of the latter one (whatever they may be) can easily be interpreted as most people liking Farming, while in reality most people may only like one particular part of it.
Subtly, other factors will influence public opinion as well. Asking people at Castle Wars if they like that particular minigame will without a doubt yield you an overwhelmingly positive result. Similarly, just like you'd see periodically taken polls, and especially in politics (think approval ratings), the losing side is going to change their position and use their underdog position to rally support.
Then there is the issue of the vocal minority vs. the silent majority. All too often is attention given to a small, but vocal group, usually the one that is in opposition of something. The vote to get the Wilderness and Free Trade reinstalled is a perfect example of this. Many people (correctly) argued that bots would make a massive return, but a far larger group just cast its vote in favour and went on with their daily business.
Despite being dubbed the second worst period in all of RuneScape, the time between the return of the Wild and Free Trade and the first Botnuke showed two things; the public doesn't know what it wants, and when it does know, it's not always what's best for them (otherwise the Wilderness would now be thriving as it did before 2008).
I think it was Steve Jobs who said that "The people don't know what they want until you show it to them." I think that should be rephrased to something along the lines of "The people will want whatever you hold right in front of their faces."
Take a look at the reactions to the Combat Beta. A huge success with the initial advertising got many people excited to try it. But when they finally got around to it, the few good ideas that were making their way to the forums got drowned out in an ocean of "This sucks!" and similarly unconstructive critique. Conclusion? Most participants don't seem to know what a Beta is, but all of them are eager for new things to try.
As you might have guessed from the title, I decided to gauge the public opinion of Jagex' new money-making toys by perusing the many forums available. What I've found is hardly surprising, so I'll keep the breakdown short.
The Solomon's Store you'll agree is quite harmless. So far, anyways. People who read my earlier articles have probably noticed my repeated comparison with MapleStory (another IVP owned product). If you're one of those, then you shouldn't be surprised that MapleStory has such a store very much like Solomon's, although it sells XP doublers and items as well.
This is why the vast majority is ok with the store as it is now, but most people fear (and, since the removal of the Bonus XP weekends, expect) Jagex to introduce actual in-game benefits sometime in the future. When asked, a handful said that this would be crossing the line for them, prompting a cancellation of membership.
The opinions held on the Squeal of Fortune are quite a bit more diverse and frequently cross-contaminated, making it slightly more complicated.
The largest chunk of people wants the SoF gone completely. But most people in this group would also accept it if it wasn't selling chunks of money, items or XP. A much smaller group would be OK with the SoF if it wasn't in your face all the time. Being able to turn the SoF off, including the spin-ticket generation, so that you'd never know it existed, is acceptable for them.
The people that would be ok with the XP and the GP on the Squeal is also quite substantial, but only if the ability to spend money on additional spins is removed altogether. The final group, the ones who are completely fine with the way things are now, seems to be virtually non-existent.
Now why is this? Is this the silent tolerating majority that accepts things the way they are without bothering to discuss it? You're probably inclined to say no.
And you'd be right. But on the other massively controversial issue (the reinstatement of Wild & Free Trade) the majority was almost as silent as the pro-SoF side is now. Assuming that the actual poll wasn't rigged, why was there not a crowd almost 10 times larger arguing for the return? And why do we assume that there isn't such a large group in favour of the SoF?
I wish I had a clearer answer for you, but other than a "gut feeling" I can't explain it. That feeling might give you an idea where MMG pulled that 90% from, though.
But let's imagine that Jagex, even after the Beta fiasco, still listens to public opinion. How would they go about feeling the pulse of the community of RuneScape? Do they look at whichever side is the loudest, and conclude that it must be the vocal minority, and the opposing point of view is therefore supported by the majority?
That would seem to be an odd way to go about it. Doubly so if you consider the high quality arguments get completely lost. Yet this is what you see these days.
The sad thing is that this has become a downward spiral. People with thought out and well-reasoned opinions and ideas eventually give up because they aren't listened to. The throng of idiots will then encounter even less opposition, and are exposed to fewer points of view. Before long, all you're left with is an angry mob.
Now, at this point I need to remind myself that I'm writing for Tip.it, still considered the heavyweight champion when it comes to actual intelligent debates, as opposed to +1 or -1 rants. This must be a reason why they can afford to give a select group of people a slightly bigger soapbox to shout from with the Times.
So why is all this important? Why does Jagex need to know what we'd like to see?
Simply put, a decent product at a fair price is not going to be enough if nobody is actually going to buy it. You have to tailor it to an as wide an audience as possible. This in turn has to be balanced with the bottom line.
What you're then left with, in Jagex's case anyway, is a simple choice. Do you want a huge customer base that spends a relatively low amount of money per person, or a small customer base that doesn't bat an eye at spending last month's paycheck?
Now let's run some numbers. Very proudly announcing that you've got over 200 million accounts sounds amazing, but a second look shows you that less than 10% of that is still enjoying your product. Less than 1% is actually willing to spend an amount of money on a monthly basis on this product. Are these numbers the ones that made Jagex and Insight Venture Partners decide to go for an even smaller customer base?
In a time when attracting new long-term subscribers is harder than ever to do, you're left with two options. Since we all love pizza, I'll make an analogy using two different pizza delivery businesses.
The first one makes their base from hand-ground wheat, uses only the finest honey-tomatoes, and selects the Swiss cheese by tasting many samples every time a shipment comes in. Since the pizza is filled to the brim with toppings and cooked in a wood oven, it's a little more expensive, and delivery takes about an hour.
The other pizza maker buys deep-frozen pizzas wholesale, unwraps the plastic, and after using only a sprinkle of ketchup, tosses them in the microwave. These cheap pizzas are on your plate in less than half an hour. And although there is indeed some cheese visible between the 6 slices of pepperoni, extra toppings would cost you a whole lot more.
Now ask yourself the question; which business is going to be the most profitable? Don't answer yet.
RuneScape saw its peak in subscribers of well over 1 million in 2007, when good update after good update was churned out. When you compare that to today's standard, prices are much higher, and the updates contribute very little to the development of the RuneScape universe itself. So it seems we're all buying the crappy pizzas with the expensive toppings.
So you're spending quite a bit of money on a crappy but decently filled pizza. After all, even a bad pizza is still pretty good, yet you're not going to tell people how good it is, are you? But if you heard how amazing that other pizza place is, you'll at least be inclined to try it once. Now imagine that you'd like it so much, that you WOULD be telling your friends about it?
Word of mouth, or viral marketing in today's terms, is the best kind of advertisement there is, but it is also the worst kind if what's being said about you is negative. This is probably the reason why IVP's full name is now censored on the official forums. This could be a precaution, but I'd like to think the negativity is starting to hurt them where it counts.
Because of Jagex's inability to take one on the chin, and tendency to ignore criticism and guise it as rants, this is probably the only way you can see public opinion having an effect in RuneScape. I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't like to see more of this in the future.
I just hope that the people championing intelligent points of view and well thought out ideas have simply stopped bothering, instead of completely disappeared. Because, let's face it, if there is ever a time that Jagex, Insight Venture Partners, and even a large chunk of the players of RuneScape need someone to voice the will of the public, it is now.