I see a lot of comments here and in other places like the Arena Junkies forums accusing these feedback threads of being deeply cynical placations of the playerbase. The comments question, “how could Blizzard possibly still need our feedback? The problems are obvious and we’ve been posting about them for ages.” They question, “why would Blizzard want the opinions of all these poorly-informed players? Any of the good points will be lost in the flood.” I believe these comments miss the point of the feedback threads.
These threads are opinion polls and their goal is aggregate data. The wording of the questions, the standardization of the questions, the insistence upon pasting in and using the questions, the sheer volume of the answers, the solicited audience, the timing, and the centralized location all point toward these threads being opinion polls. Their purpose is not finding diamond in the rough arguments or expert analyses, otherwise Blizzard would have just contacted gladiators, theorycrafters and hardmode raiders directly. Their purpose is the identification of trends, averages and propensities in player sentiment. Their purpose is aggregate data on player opinions, something that Blizzard cannot normally get from the class forums (because they’re unorganized messes) or game data (because they don’t reflect opinions). In this light, the threads are not so much deeply cynical ploys but data-gathering endeavors that anyone who runs a game like WoW would want to have occur on a regular basis.
Why might Blizzard want to conduct an opinion poll? Because knowing what players want or don’t like in large groups helps Blizzard make decisions that help the success of its business. For the purposes of the poll it doesn’t matter how well-informed players are; what matters is what they think. We see a similar dynamic in democracies where politicians obsessively watch opinion polls not because they think the average potential voter is an astute observer of politics and can offer them good advice; no, politicians watch polls because they know they are accountable to those being polled come the next election. Blizzard likely sees things in a similar way: if they can identify a popular yet reasonable change to the game they can implement it and increase their chances of subscription retention. They likely also use the polls to identify things they can afford to ignore because no one cares enough to speak up about them.
Blizzard is not just interested in basic averages and trends, though, otherwise it would have made the questions multiple choice. Instead it asked open-ended questions and we have to suspect that they did this because they wanted open-ended answers. I believe they must have some genuine interest in why players feel the way they do. Blizzard wants insight not just into what players want but also why they want it (which is, again, something any smart business wants of its customers). They may also desire to pick out specific emblematic or persuasive answers, much like political poll analysts will sometimes pick out particular open-ended answers that they feel are useful for their work.
Is this sort of poll a good way of obtaining data? It depends upon what you want. You cannot view the resulting averages as representations of the average or expert player because the sampling was not random or bounded. The sample consists of forum users who happened to see the thread and felt strongly enough to post. That is not a random sample nor is it a collection of expert players. However, it is a collection of players, a large one at that, and maybe that is all Blizzard cares about for identifying popular opinion. Perhaps they even use armory data as statistical controls.
In saying all this I am only arguing that a motivation of these threads is to have them be polls. I think that other motives, like making the playerbase feel like it is being heard, are certainly reasonable to also assume.