Dev hatred/worship is fairly common in gaming, and perhaps more-so in the MMO space due to the continual nature of the genre. Many players believe the devs are idiots/geniuses, either always screwing the game up or always having the right answer. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but let’s look at some more specific scenarios.
Designing a champion for League of Legends is not easy. Or rather, designing an interesting, unique, and balanced champion that can be played by both casual players and professionals is not easy. A major reason LoL is the most successful game out today is in large part due to Riot having very smart, very experienced people creating and balancing champions. The reason so many other MOBA titles are garbage is because those devs aren’t.
This is not to suggest that players can’t come up with interesting abilities or suggest balance changes, and Riot is actually very good at balancing based on player feedback (mostly from tournament play/observation), but it would be a disaster to allow players to highly influence the core champion design process.
On the other hand, players suggesting balance changes to PvP in an MMO should hold some weight. Numbers can be theorycrafted down, and as all abilities and combinations are a known commodity, the result of some numbers tweaking is not difficult to predict. Furthermore, it’s almost a given that your hardcore players are the ones who have the most experience with HOW those numbers actually work in-game, and so they would be able to understand and predict how the tweaked numbers would also work out.
The devs might have more knowledge of how things work behind the scenes, but often times that is not a factor when we are talking about tweaking numbers or making changes to abilities/items. Returning to Riot, another key to their success is that not only do they have talented developers, but they also have devs who are hardcore players of their own game. This allows them to more easily and comfortably accept player feedback and guidance, as many on the dev side likely see/hear similar things.
Ignoring millions of voluntary ‘testers’ is a giant waste, but knowing how to harness/harvest it is a skill itself.
Which brings me to the player’s side of the table. Different games have different styles of players. A room full of EVE players will contain a different mix than a room full of Candyland players. The top 1% of EVE players will look MUCH different. And one would assume (hope?) that the 1% here would not only know the game, but know what’s best for it. As Jester writes today, that’s not always the case, even amongst a volunteer group of ‘experts’ elected by the playerbase to represent them and fight for their needs.
This is again where smart devs come in. Smart devs will not only be open to player feedback, but know how to accurately filter out the noise and nonsense and drill down to the valuable bits. The larger the playerbase, and the more a game lends itself to mastery (vs casual pick-up-play-and-leave), the higher the odds of finding valuable information.
Finally, let’s all keep in mind that devs are people as well. Just because you get paid to balance something does not mean you are in fact better at it than someone doing it as a hobby. We all have our ‘favorite’ story of a dev telling the players to trust them and that they are the professionals, only to have them (or their replacement) come back in 6 months and reverse direction.