When lack of reason makes perfect sense… [BBC]

May 18, 2009

90107e1170604e0decbd811101a5d64a_150x150 When eRepublik becomes your second universe where you grow to feel like “a fish in water”, you tend to rely on the rules and mechanisms to act as solid boundaries of your (virtual) life and to regulate your interaction with the universe itself. It is not a question of habit, but of necessity. Our mind needs to label, categorize, tag, simplify or generalize in order to provide sense to our experiences and to calibrate our decision-making abilities.

So, if this is true for the players, it has to be true for the people who are developing the eRepublik platform also. In the last week, the eRomanian community felt that it can no longer trust or rely upon the mechanisms of the game in order to provide boundaries and, thus, it cannot continue to function properly. But, in this crazy but superb collective engagement, the eRomanian community managed to do an extraordinary thing:

It managed to shake the very boundaries of the mental universe of eRepublik developers!

Just imagine that I am referring to Mr. Lemnaru or Mr. Bonte and, keeping that in mind, re-read the first paragraph of my article.

Now, let’s just take a few steps back in time and analyze the progression of our universe, in order to understand the specific motives and decisions that have brought us to this situation and that, in my opinion, are fueling a more and more probable meltdown scenario of this universe:

1. Original idea and initial development:

In its first instance, eRepublik was a brilliant idea, a real stroke of genius, combining accessibility, user friendliness, great interaction opportunities as well as clever and out-of-the-box solutions for online socializing. The Beta version was a tremendous success, mainly due to the following reasons:

a. It was a period (and, sadly, the ONLY period so far, I am stating this with all responsibility) when eRepublik developers have treated the community as CLIENTS. The needs of the community were carefully measured and taken into consideration and the development effort was actively working in improving the quality of the gaming experience.

b. The community was motivated to grow, by all means, involving both natural growth and artificial exploiting mechanisms (like multi-accounts).

c. The start-up enthusiasm has made much of the initial screw-ups as acceptable or at least tolerable. For both sides.

2. V1 and the systemic bias

The series of technical, commercial and organizational disasters that followed the release of V1 was due to a series of false judgements made by the development team in relation with their product, their strategy and, of course, the community. Let me detail a brief selection of those errors:

a. The Fundamental Attribution Error.
This phenomena describes a cognitive bias where people predominantly presume that the actions of others are indicative of the “kind” of person they are, rather than the kind of situations that compels their behavior.

In other words, the early success of the product, both in the market (rapid growth and a solid critical mass) as well as organizational (the rapid involvement of an angel investor, Mr. Alexis Bonte who made a solid amount of capital available for investment), has led to a series of misjudgments which corroborated in a severe fundamental attribution error.

b. The Overconfidence Effect:
This is a bias where people tend to be correct in their judgements far less than they think they are. Fueled by both early success (in the case of Mr. Lemnaru) as well as previous success (in the case of Mr. Bonte), the business was doomed to be “great” from the beginning. No baby steps or small scale vision could compete with the enthusiasm and initial vision of the founders. Erepublik HAD to be a gigantic success, transforming all of the investors in prosperous millionaires.

c. The Availability Cascade
While the previous assumption is benign (nothing wrong with a glorious vision), it led to other misjudgments which have brought the irrational belief that the project was too brilliant to fail, that the source of that imminent success relies in the idea itself, as well as the “muscles” that are being pushed in, hence, the “important” actors are the 2 co-funders of the game. In other words, It WILL be a success because it MUST be a success and because everybody already believes that it WILL be a success. Irrational, but makes perfect sense.

2. The point of no return (PNR)

The previous cognitive biases have brought severe consequences in the way the game was further developed, altering 2 critical aspects of the product development:

a. The relation with the community

When the profile of the beta-testing community didn’t add up with the epic vision of the Erepublik owners (due to the low in-game purchasing rate, big success in relatively poor countries, and so on), the Erepublik policy-makers decided that “these people are nice & all, BUT they are not our target. We have to make the game enjoyable for the people we want to have as customers in the future.” Subsequent to previous misjudgments, Erepublik policy-makers have redefined their commercial target and were trapped in something called “irrational escalation”, meaning they made bad decisions based on previous bad decisions they already made. Just to name a few examples:

– Game design “features” promoted by Erepublik staff were overwhelmingly favored as compared to features promoted by the community. Just remember Trivia vs. the Player vs. Player suggestions.

– The Erepublik product ceased to be tailored on the needs, suggestions and requests of the gaming community on the basis of an the illusory expectation that a new customer base would emerge as soon as “brilliant features” are being implemented.

– The illusory and unknown needs of a fictive future customer base was considered much more important than current, openly expressed needs and suggestions of actual Erepublik players.

– The belief that there is a “silent majority” that passively opposes the “loud mouths” of the Erepublik community, and that the opinions expressed by the latter are not representative was also a serious error. Basically, decisions were made without a clear understanding of the gaming community, its structure its involvement pattern or its motivation.

– The belief that “we know better” (or the Dunning-Kruger effect), in which people make bad decisions but their lack of competence prevents them of understanding this, hence building up a false superiority complex that usually fuels the next bad decision. Again, remember the Trivia example.

b. The organizational strategy

Doomed to be a great success, Erepublik was developed on a “dynamite-scenario”: it had to blow up so fast that nobody should even understand what happened. This is why following mistakes were made in the ramp-up phase and later:

– The organization was set very early on very expensive fundaments. An over 25 people team for running an online product that hasn’t introduced ANY new feature in the last 7 months is in fact betting your whole money on an imminent success. Of course, this decision was made in a period where money was cheap and dreams were much closer to our fingertips πŸ™‚

– Relatively large running costs of the business has put pressure on the pre-mature release of V1, as well as of non-harmonic development of the product. In this regard, affordable features where preferred in favor of more expensive ones, regardless of the community’s option.

In this moment, the Erepublik universe is clearly in a deep crisis. On one hand, V1 has failed to reach technical maturity, admins and developers are lacking ability as well as powerful tools for tracking severe exploits of the system, the lack of functionality as well as lack of new features have fatigued the community, the business environment itself is less tolerant to innovative and expensive experiments. On the other hand, the community itself is fatigued, bitter and non-cooperative, placing little confidence or support in the future of the product.

My multiple-pages point is the follwing: WE ARE HERE DUE TO THE LACK OF REASON IN OUR DECISIONMAKING PROCESSES. If this game will ever have a future, it is important for the people who are making decisions to STOP doing what makes perfect sense (stockpiling what we currently call toxic assets also made a lot of sense at the time being) and start sobering up their management style.

This article is intended for the eRepublik community to read, debate and understand. It is not a message to the developers / staff members / investors / managers of Erepublik, for the simple reason that it doesn’t come with a five-figure invoice attached to it. So, I would deeply appreciate if no admin would mess up with my article. Thanks in advance!

Kind regards,

Erepublik player πŸ™‚


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