Dragon Age's lead writer on fandom and the "increasingly toxic" Bioware forums
Being a writer for a studio that invests heavily in story must be something of a Sword of +2 Edges. Sure, they get the knowledge that their work has an important role in a player's experience. But the downside is that, if those players are unhappy with an element of that story, the writer becomes a far more visible figure for criticism. That's a situation that Bioware are not unfamiliar with.
When asked about the tone of the Bioware Social Network, Dragon Age lead writer David Gaider gave an interesting and detailed rundown on the effect that angry feedback has, admitting that he largely avoids the studio's community forum.
In the blog post, while Gaider contested the question asker's characterisation of BSN members as "utterly gross," he did admit that, "the overall tone of the forums has become increasingly toxic."
"I tend to largely avoid them these days, myself," he wrote. "Why? Because spending too much time there starts to make me feel negative— not just about the games we make, but about myself and life in general. That’s not a good feeling to have. I’m sure there are folks there who would bristle at that comment, suggesting that all negative feedback is justifiable and that ignoring it is the equivalent of us sticking our heads in the sand."
"How will we ever improve unless we listen to their scolding and take our lumps like good little developers? That is, of course, ignoring the idea that we haven’t already digested a mountain of feedback— both positive and negative— and there’s really only so much of it you can take. Eventually you make decisions (informed by that feedback, though only in part— it can only ever be in part) and move on."
"The signal-to-noise ratio does seem to be worsening, and eventually you get the feeling like you’re at one of those parties where all anyone is doing is bitching. It doesn’t matter what they’re bitching about so much as, sooner or later, that’s all you can really hear."
Despite that, Gaider says he's aware that this isn't a problem specific to Bioware's little corner of the Internet. "I imagine that can happen to any online community."
"Perhaps there is also something to be said about whether the games BioWare makes still satisfy our core fans," Gaider later reflects. "Though one need only attend a con to see there are plenty of positive, enthusiastic fans out there..."
The full post is worth a read. It's a thoughtful and nuanced exploration of how creators respond to feedback and fan expectations.