Category Archives: WoW
Rather than risking burying the lede, it feels more like there’s a risk of being buried by them.
First, WoW “only” dropped by 100k subscriptions in Q3:
I did not specifically offer a prediction for this quarter last time, and I’m glad I didn’t. Is it weird to say, though, that I’m both surprised and not surprised at only a 100k loss? It is one thing to expect the WoW house of cards to continue collapsing after seeing 1.5 million subs evaporate in the three months prior. But it is also entirely true that there are people still playing the first EverQuest and Ultima Online like it’s 1999. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that there would still be people out there playing Star Wars Galaxies or City of Heroes if they could? In that sense, we kinda know already that there will be some kind of baseline level of WoW subscriptions that will always remain. The question is just where that floor is.
Of course, we may never end up knowing where the floor is because Blizzard has decided to stop reporting WoW sub numbers. I pretty much agree with the rest of the internet that this is a rather embarrassing PR maneuver meant to obfuscate the declining success of the game. It’s a shameful, shameful display, Blizzard… how could you sink to the level of EVE Online and FF14’s “lifetime total subscriber” tactics?!
That said, I do find this brave new world of faux news amusing. For example, from the last link:
Instead of subscriber numbers, Activision Blizzard intends to use unspecified engagement metrics.
As the company has pushed toward a “year-round engagement model” with its franchises, it has similarly de-emphasized traditional performance metrics like sales figures. It has never reported sales figures for Destiny, instead relying on “registered users” numbers, sometimes even pairing that with the number of registered users for the free-to-play Hearthstone and reporting a combined number. In its quarterly earnings, Activision Blizzard pointed to “key engagement metrics” for Hearthstone being up 77 percent, but neglected to detail what those metrics were.
I wonder how the job interview went for the person who writes these press releases. “Why should we hire you?” “I’m 77% better than the other applicants.” “In what way?” “Key ways.” I did end up listening to the entire Investor Call for more Hearthstone tidbits, but the only non-zero piece of news was it achieved its highest quarterly revenue in Q3. So… X+1 > X, at a minimum. I suppose we could extrapolate that Hearthstone is still growing, but without a baseline, we’re back in the weeds.
The lede of ledes though, is Activision Blizzard buying King (aka Candy Crush) for $5.9 billion. Pretty much everyone, everywhere has questioned the sanity of this move, and I’m a bit inclined to agree. King is on the decline, even Activision Blizzard agrees there are no synergies between the franchises, and this move has drained the company’s cash reserves of $4.5 billion down to… next to nothing. We can even envision a scenario is which the WoW movie flops – and that’s a real chance – and suddenly things could start looking unexpectedly grim.
At the same time… you kinda have to look at this from a business perspective. Throughout the Investor Call, Kotick and crew repeatedly stressed how they more or less bought ~340 million mobile customers. The sum total of Activision Blizzard’s exposure to to the mobile space up to this point has been Hearthstone and some Call of Duty apps. Could they build some amazing mobile games with $5.9 billion? Maybe. King is on the decline from its heights, but at least they demonstrated that they were successful at some point. If they can release/steal another hit, or start leveraging the mobile eyeballs to cross-pollinate franchises, this could suddenly seem like amazing foresight.
The other thing to look at? King is based in Ireland, which is famous for its double…. sandwiches. Or was that the Dutch? On top of that, of Blizzard’s $4.5 billion in cash they had prior to this deal, $3.6 billion of it was held overseas. As in, evading US taxes. Spending it this way gets the maximum
value purchasing power which they may not have been able to realize any other way. And, of course, it moves Activision Blizzard from having little mobile presence to being a dominate player in the field. Even if King turns into Zynga.
So maybe this deal is a bit better than people think.
[Blaugust Day 19]
- There won’t be gear with Resilience, PvP Power, dual item levels, or gear specifically made for PvP.
- When you enter a battleground or arena, the game will set your stats from your spec, not your gear. This means all of your stats will come from a template specific to your spec. If one spec isn’t doing well in PvP, their spec’s template can be tuned individually.
- Trinkets, set bonuses, and enchants will not be active in PvP.
- The CC break trinket has become very important in PvP, so adding it as a PvP talent will offset the loss of active trinkets. There will be some other options in that row that might be useful, such as reducing CC times by 20%.
This is an incredibly bold move, even if other games have done it before. I mean, we have had PvP gear purchasable with currency since at least Season 2 in TBC, more than half of the game’s entire lifespan. I am not super convinced that the PvP “progression” system of unlocking talents will actually motivate people to queue on the same scale as normal PvP gear (especially in Arena), but I applaud the gumption just the same.
Plus, just imagine how many less botters there will be. Some might stick around simply because someone else will pay real dollars to skip “grinding” talents too, but the time difference is likely to be staggeringly less.
That said, Blizzard decided to continue answering questions and thereby ruin everything they just built up:
- The team hasn’t decided exactly what they are going to do with the Human racial. They could leave it alone and offer a different talent in that row to Humans. The racial plus the new options could be too good.
At this point, I am convinced that Blizzard is tip-toeing around the Human racial issue simply because they see how many race change sales it generated and they’re afraid of poking the bear. The fact that the Human racial is the only one we’re having this discussion about should be somewhat of an indication for how stupidly powerful it is, and thus should be changed. You have already disabled trinkets generally (!), just disable racials; these half-measures are only going to make Humans even more dominate.
- As you get better gear, your stats are increased a smaller amount. For example, every 5 item levels may give you a 1% stat increase. This way gear still will increase your power, but it won’t give you a huge advantage.
- There are plans for players to be able to get great gear from PvP, but it may not be as easy as it is today. It may be easier for high rated players to get better gear than more casual players.
- You won’t have to raid to get the best gear for PvP.
Why? Why? No, really, Blizzard why? Of what possible value do the designers see in completely removing PvP gear from the equation, going so far as to disable trinkets and enchants and set bonuses… but then keeping this token level of item scaling? You already have “templates” to make gear irrelevant, just use those. In the land of equal stats, the +1%er is king. Unless you are handing out raid-level gear to PvPers, it will be considered “raid or die” to all players who are remotely competitive. And I don’t see how giving PvE raid-level gear to those to score high in Arena is going to be particularly palatable in the other direction.
Do you know what happens when you try and split a baby? A bloody mess, that’s what.
[Blaugust Day 11]
From the latest round of Legion interviews:
Q: Will we be seeing an interstitial patch or dungeon after Fury of Hellfire, like how the Ruby Sanctum bridged Wrath and Cataclysm? Basically, how will the event, of the Legion, be introduced to us?
A: Tom Chilton: So, the legion will be introduced to us by an Event that takes place before the expansion launches, it will be the largest invasion of Azeroth we’ve seen. And in addition to that there will be a patch before that, that adds the flying that we are doing for Warlords, so as far as wrapping up Warlords content, there is the patch with flying and the mercenary mode; but then to introduce the next expansion and make that transition we have the Legion Invasion of the world.
In short, I hope you liked Patch 6.2, because that’s basically it.
In the scheme of things, this probably makes the most sense. Sunk Cost Fallacy, and all that. Blizzard clearly doesn’t have any content ready to go, so they would need to take dev time away from the new expansion to whip something up.
The real question is what this is going to look like on the Q3 and Q4 (and Q1 2016) reports. While it elicits the most schadenfreude, it’s not actually that likely WoW’s population is going to continue down the slope until it hits zero. The more likely scenario is that it will drop until it hits a baseline level of congealed gamers for which WoW is more social platform than game. You know, the time capsuleers still playing EQ1 and FFXI and DAoC and, shit, even Ultima Online. It’s always a tiny fraction of the total population, but a “tiny fraction” of WoW is still larger than most other games ever get. It will be interesting to see exactly what that baseline level consists of, regardless.
[Blaugust Day 8]
As pointed out by MaximGtB in the comments yesterday, there is a follow-up interview from Blizzard that answers some more questions, including the weapon one:
You obtain your Artifact early on in the Legion experience. This is the weapon you will use throughout the expansion. You will not get weapon drops in Legion. Something that wasn’t mentioned during the reveal is that each Artifact has a number of Relic slots, which will determine its raw item stats (DPS, ilvl, etc.) and modifiers to the traits you’ve chosen, so the Artifact’s stats will still improve as you defeat bosses.
This almost raises more questions than answers, honestly. Will these relics be like class armor tokens, e.g. a raid boss dropping the equivalent of a +Spirit relic that the healers roll on? Will the loot system be further taken over by Personal Loot instead?
Of course, there is also an elephant in the room: what about alts? Hell, what about off-specs?
If the Artifact system is the heart of the next expansion – and there is every reason to believe that it is intended to be – shit starts getting a bit ridiculous. If you are a DPS and a tank, are you going to be walking around with two Artifacts? Clearly yes, right? It wouldn’t make much sense for the Artifacts to share progression, so… do you need to split your Artifact Power? Relics? If we get Artifact Power from questing, does that mean someone can get screwed by funneling the Power into the spec they don’t end up being by the end of the level cap? What about healers who level as DPS?
I’m actually starting to wonder if the Artifacts won’t as big a deal as I’m thinking they’re supposed to be. By which I mean, the whole Artifact progression system is standing in for the leveling bonuses we got from hitting even-numbered levels in Warlords. Considering that classes are being redesigned again (melee hunters!), I’m not sure we would even notice the ability shuffle on top of the goodies the Artifact provides.
Anyway, while they’re mucking around with abilities, here’s to hoping that Ion and crew finally realize that making rotations boring on purpose is a really dumb idea.
[Blaugust Day 7]
And the award for easiest Blaugust prompt goes to… WoW’s next expansion, Legion.
Rather than talk about the entire expansion concept as a whole, I wanted to talk about two things that, admittedly, we don’t have enough information about to make informed opinions on.
The first is Artifacts:
There are a whole lot of incidental questions regarding the introduction of Artifacts. Like… 36 of them, really? Also, does this not strongly imply that there is a rather sweeping, Game of Thrones-esque purge of all these weapons’ prior owners? I’m almost imagining a reverse Warlords scenario in which all the story heroes land on the beach, a portal opens up, and the hand of Sargeras comes flying out and grabs them all. Certainly there’s no other explanation possible for why every level 100 paladin will be running around the Ashbringer out of the gate.
This brings me to my primary concern: will there be other weapons this expansion? I can see Blizzard simply not releasing any weapons, as why would you ever not use your spec Artifact? Even if the event that leads us to looting Ashbringer from Tirion’s cold, dead hands renders the weapon “drained of power” or whatever, it’s hard to imagine it feeling good to carry an Artifact around in your back pocket while you equip the first green drop from the second Felboar you kill.
Plus, it makes no sense to introduce a pseudo talent tree in a weapon you won’t be using 24/7:
So here’s my wild speculation: you’ll be using your Artifact all the time, and Artifact Power is the new Valor points. There is a chance that perhaps we’ll be able to disenchant gear into Artifact Power, thus preserving normal gear progression, but I find it difficult to believe that such a system won’t be gamed hardcore. Having raid bosses drop epic weapons whose sole purpose is to be turned into Artifact points sounds really dumb.
Which, of course, means there’s a 50/50 chance that actually happens.
My second concern is the new direction they are taking WoW PvP. Because unless I’m mistaken, it sounds like they’re removing PvP gear entirely.
You can watch the section yourself starting at 3:52:14 in the Youtube video.
We really want to dial back the effect that gear has. […] It’s just not that fun to have players running around with that huge level of power disparity. So we felt like we needed a new system that addresses that, so that while gear plays a role, it plays almost no role in terms of how powerful you are. […] Essentially what [Honor v3] is, is a PvP talent system.
That sort of quote, along with the description of how Honor v2 was basically a currency-based system “that introduced PvP gear,” leads me to believe that we may see PvP gear just go away. Which… is not the worst scenario ever. I’m not sure how popular Guild Wars 2 BGs are, but they feature vendors that hand out unlimited amounts of free PvP gear to level the playing field. The whole Prestige system also sounds fine, but I don’t know how motivating it will be in practice.
The core gameplay loop in WoW is gear progression. That’s basically it. Even if you “don’t care” about gear, the only reason people grind through raids more than once or twice total is precisely because there is a reason to, e.g. to get better equipped to make the next raid less difficult. PvP is absolutely no fun when you’re sitting in starter gear with 1/3rd less HP than the guy about to ruin your day, yes. It is also absolutely true that the participation pittance you receive after being facerolled in a BG makes said BG worth getting facerolled in. Maybe there are people out there sitting on the Honor cap and raring to go into another Isle of Conquest loss. For me personally though, the moment I reach that gear plateau is the same moment I find more constructive uses of my gaming time.
It’s possible that there will still be PvP gear to be earned despite the direction things are leaning. I’m not entirely sure how that would work if Honor is no longer a currency, but the alternative is Blizzard pushing PvP players back into “raid or die” scenarios. What else would PvPers wear? Or maybe Blizzard would go full GW2 and have vendors standing around. No matter the outcome, it is quite the sea change in Legion.
By the way, this PvP slide raised my eyebrow:
For those that may not know immediately, Gladiator’s Medallion is the namesake trinket, i.e. what you press to get out of stuns, etc. So unless the description of the baseline PvP talent is something incredibly clunky like “your trinket’s cooldown is reduced by 30 seconds” or something, I must assume that everyone is getting a PvP trinket baseline. In which case, we’re either going to see the Human racial be completely redesigned again, or… maybe we’ll see the end of racials in PvP altogether. Hell, in the latter scenario, Humans could keep their trinket racial since the PvP talents are only activated in BGs and Arena.
Undoubtedly we’ll be getting more information soon.
[Blaugust Day 5]
Holy shit. WoW is down 1.5 million subs in three months.
As the graph from MMO-Champion indicates, the last time WoW had 5.6 million subs was back in December 2005. While there are quite a few people out there saying the expansion spike into Warlords “shouldn’t count” due to hype trains and such, it bears repeating that WoW had 10 million subscriptions six months ago. Four point four million subscriptions is a fucking genre’s worth of tourists.
Assuming you can still call the 1.5 million people who left between months 3 and 6 “tourists.”
For the record, Cataclysm dropped from 12 million at its height down to 9.1 million at the end, a 24% loss. Mists started at 10 million, and ended around 7.4 million, a 26% loss. Even if we completely disregard Warlords’ spike in subs for no reason, going from 7.4 million to 5.6 million is a – drumroll please – 24% loss. And the year is only half over. And the final raid has already been released more than a month ago.
When Blizzard said they wanted to speed up expansion cycles, I didn’t think they meant cramming in two years’ worth of losses into half a year.
I went ahead and listened to the conference call myself, but the MMO-Champ summary is pretty much spot on. The only thing I wanted to mention was how early on in the call they pointed to Hearthstone specifically as being one of the largest drivers of revenue in Q2. Which, of course it is, everyone knows that. Additionally, at some point during the call Blizzard admitted that Hearthstone, Diablo 3, and Heroes of the Storm combined made up the majority of Blizzard revenue in Q2. As in, at least 50% + 1. Who would have saw that coming 3-4 years ago?
Some questions remain. While I have no doubt WoW Tokens are included in revenue stream, whether they count as subscriptions in of themselves is a question mark. Sure, a redeemed one should count as a one-month subscription just like a game card. But what about my eight Tokens sitting on an inactive account? Am I “subscribed?” This remains to be seen.
In any case, if this upcoming expansion announcement isn’t literally the best thing in the world, I think we can expect to see some more timely exits from Blizzard staff and players alike in the coming months.
In a rather surprising twist, Blizzard announced it’s expansion announcement will be announced during Gamescon on August 6th. That’s a full three months ahead of Blizzcon, which has been the traditional venue for such news. Speculation abounds for the reasoning behind the early reveal, but I feel Wilhelm is on point with this observation:
[…] the date seems set to come in just after we get the Activision-Blizzard quarterly results for the second quarter of 2015 and, most importantly, the WoW subscription numbers that will come with it. That hits on August 4th according to the investor relations site.
For the first quarter of 2015 the subscription numbers were down to 7.1 million. Now there is a rush to get the next expansion announced early in August, a slow news month, well before BlizzCon, and just after the quarterly report?
WHAT A COINCIDENCE.
As mentioned in the MMO-Champ comments, what is also amusing is the hypothetical future in which the next expansion is released by the end of the year. Amusing because the “flying patch” still hasn’t came out yet, and thus we might have (inadvertently?) been put into the “unlock flying in Draenor when the expansion launches” scenario.
But how likely is a December 2015 release really? Blizzard has promised quicker launches for ages now, and I don’t think anyone thinks they are capable of doing so. Even if the August reveal is a fully playable beta… would Blizzard only run an expansion beta for 3-4 months? Maybe. I believe Warlords was 5 months from alpha to beta to release. If we see an expansion announcement in August followed by a beta test after Blizzcon in November, that would set them up for a mid-summer expansion release around the time of the WoW movie. That makes more sense to me… and puts the 6.2 raid tier at 10-12 months long. Just like the good ole’ days.
As for predictions over subscriber numbers? I honestly have no idea. I obviously suspect a large subscriber loss in the last quarter, but I have no idea how the numbers will be finessed by the WoW Token. I have eight such tokens sitting in my inventory right now, for example. Am I counted as a subscriber? Will they continue counting me for eight months despite my not redeeming said tokens? Tough to say.
Just to throw out a number though: 6.5 million.
In increasingly typical WoW fashion, Blizzard came up with an incredibly convoluted solution to a rather easily solved problem:
In an upcoming patch, we’ll be adding a feature that allows you to act as a mercenary for the opposite faction in PvP. Whenever your faction is experiencing a long wait time to get into Ashran or unrated Battlegrounds, agents of the enemy faction will appear in your base in Ashran (Stormshield for the Alliance, Warspear for the Horde). These agents will allow you to enter Ashran or Battlegrounds disguised as an enemy player, and actually fight as the opposite faction.
When you compete as a mercenary, you’ll still earn all the same rewards you would have by winning or losing as your own faction (with the exception of faction-specific achievements). You’ll also have your race automatically changed into one appropriate for the opposite faction while you’re still inside the Battleground or Ashran. Perhaps most importantly, however, you’ll experience much shorter queue times, as our matchmaking system will be able to fill up groups much quicker!
To understand exactly how convoluted Blizzard is being, just read this bit of “clarification”:
On racials: The current intention is that the system swaps your race entirely, including your racial ability. We recognize that that puts Humans in a weird spot, so we’re looking into some options there that aren’t “spend your Honor/Conquest on a Medallion.”
It is difficult to imagine a worse implementation, even if I can kinda-sorta-maybe see why Blizzard is going this route. I mean, for better or for worse (hint: the latter), race matters quite a bit in WoW – if you are fighting a Forsaken character, you know that Fear will be less useful against them, while snares will similarly be less useful against Gnomes. This state of affairs makes the easier solution of “stay the same race, but change the character model” largely impossible unsavory. At the same time, it is exactly because racials are so important that this Mercenary implimentation is unwieldy. Not just for Humans turning into anything else, but Night Elf Druids losing Shadowmeld means they’ll lose a roundabout Vanish that might have been an important component of their character strategy.
I was going to add a further example of Blood Elf Paladins losing Arcane Torrent and becoming crippled Paladins, but let’s face it, only Alliance will be getting the Merc option anytime soon.
All of which is terribly ironic given the state of affairs just a year ago. Remember back in May 2014 when Blizzard was offering free Faction Transfers from Horde to Alliance to assauge queue times in the other direction? It makes me wonder if it wasn’t necessarily the Human racial that imbalanced the factions per se, but rather the instant level 90 that came with Warlords that allowed those on-the-fence Horde to seek greener racial pastures without committing dollars to a faction transfer.
In any case, in that same post I offered what I consider the best solution to the faction imbalance dilemma: same faction BGs. They already exist for Rated BGs and Arenas, no convoluted mechanical changes necessary. And as I also suggested in that post, if the whole lore and feel of the game is paramount – despite Warlords throwing it away with time travel and alternate universes – there is still an easy solution: sub-factions. It’s not Alliance vs Alliance, it’s Alliance vs Scarlet Crusade. Or Horde vs Twilight Cultists. Would it be weird for Scarlet Crusaders to be defending Frostwolf structures in AV? Sure, maybe. Although it shouldn’t be much more weird than random Alliance characters being faction-changed and defending the same thing under the Merc system.
Incidentally, that sort of highlights why the Merc system isn’t likely to work all that well. More specifically, it’s an “other guy problem.” Queue times suck, no question. But as an Alliance player for more than half the game’s history, let me tell you that instant queues that lead to inevitable losses aren’t all that great either. As an individual, you are better off letting other people utilize the Merc system to give you faster auto-wins. Same faction BGs literally even the playing field, taking away all advantage you might have had based on faction strength.
I dunno. Overall, I am a bit sympathetic to Blizzard’s plight in this regard. The rational design approach would be to get rid of the two factions altogether, as the concept of mutually exclusive factions like Horde and Alliance are quite a bit outdated and inevitably imbalanced. At the same time, there is so much pondorous prescedent, that the potential blow-back from angry veterans would be extreme. Most people are joking when they talk about hatred for Gnomes or whatever, but others are serious insofar as faction identity goes. Blizzard has amped up the faction differences for years and years – remember the motorcycle competition not too long ago? – so complete integration would be a more obvious shark-jumping event.
These halfway solutions though? It’s bad design. Imagine a year from now if the faction balance has shifted back to Horde, and Horde Mercs are entering BGs as Humans. Do they keep their PvP trinkets? Do said trinkets automatically transform into something else?
There are really only three elegant solutions to this problem overall:
- Change the Human racial.
- Disable all racials in PvP.
- Same-faction BGs.
The first is something that’s going to need to happen eventually, wailing and gnashing of teeth aside. It could be changed to either be slightly worse than otherwise default PvP trinket (+15 second cooldown), or Blizzard could be more radical and give the ability to everyone and then come up with something new for Humans. Remember, the Human racial used to be a button that increased the ability to see through stealth; which was still better than the garbage Draenei have been stuck with since inception, but nevermind. The second option of disabling racials is more of the nuclear option. But only the third solution is likely to solve the queue-time issue on a permanent basis.
Mercenaries are a cool concept, but “becoming the opposite faction” is clunky to the extreme, and unlikely to solve the underlying issues to any great degree. I mean, if racials are the underlying issue, getting Alliance to temporarily turn into Horde isn’t going to do anything – Alliance will still win on the aggregate power of their racials. This might be a stopgap queue solution, but it’s development time better spent on something more long-term. Like same-faction BGs.
One of the more… persuasive talking points when it comes to World of Warcraft is that there is an Old Blizzard and a New Blizzard. The Old Blizzard are the people responsible for the most successful MMO ever created, and the New Blizzard is everyone that is sailing the ship into icebergs. The evidence for such a dichotomy seems almost, well, self-evident:
Syncaine, who is much a fan of the two phrases, likes to point out that the breaking point between the Old and the New came in Wrath of the Lich King. From the graph, that is when WoW stopped growing. There are also a few philosophy changes that occurred during that expansion, such as the introduction of the fully automated LFD system, a full embrace of the Badge system, “bring the player, not the class,” and similar things.
Personally, I think Cataclysm marks a much more sensible breaking point, but nevermind.
As I said before, the Old Blizzard vs New Blizzard narrative is pretty persuasive. Which is rather unfortunate considering how it is factually incorrect: Old Blizzard never left. Below are the Credits screens from vanilla WoW and all the expansions, focusing on Lead Designers or Game Designers. I’m formatting it this way because it’s better than a table that won’t fit on the page:
The source is the Credits screen accessed from within the WoW client (Character Select screen // Menu // Credits), which appears to be the only way to access the names. Luckily, you do not need a subscription to the game to access it. I typed it all by hand after taking screenshots, so feel free to check my work¹. Alternatively, just look at this Google Docs spreadsheet.
Notice anything? Like maybe all the duplicate names? In the spreadsheet, I highlighted anyone credited as a Designer in vanilla or TBC and who went on to be a Designer in any other expansion². Of particular note is the fact that of the 20 Designers of TBC, 15 of them went on to be Designers in Wrath. In other words, 68% of the design team of Wrath came from TBC. This includes Tom Chilton and Jeffrey Kaplan, both of whom were credited as Lead Designers in both expansions (and Designers of vanilla WoW besides).
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Rob Pardo is the missing link!” He was, after all, the Lead Designer of vanilla WoW and TBC before seemingly falling off the design map. Well, allow me the distinct pleasure of destroying your revisionist narrative dreams once and for all. See, Rob Pardo gave a rather sweeping interview back in 2009, almost at the midpoint of Wrath. The link points to the 1st page of that interview because it’s still that good, but money shots are on the 3rd page:
We had all these suppositions, and as the years went on and we had more and more experience living with WoW as a live game, we realized that they weren’t just truths. They might affect a hardcore minority, but the people we saw weren’t really as hardcore as we thought they were. If we reduced raids from 40 to 25, we saw, it makes it more fun. You might have some hardcore players who get upset, but keeping people out of content isn’t right for the game overall. We mellowed sometimes, and realized we were wrong.
The other piece is that the WoW playerbase is becoming more casual over time. People who were hardcore into MMOs, they joined us first, but the people we’re acquiring over the years are casual. They heard about the game from a friend of a friend, and maybe it’s their first MMO – maybe it’s their first game. The game has to evolve to match the current player.
And what did Rob Pardo think about the much maligned LFD system?
That segues in nicely to this question: Cross-server gameplay. It’s convenient, but do you think that it runs the risk of destroying server communities?
To be completely honest, [the Looking For Group tool] is a feature I wanted in the game when we launched the game. I was really unhappy when we didn’t have it when we first shipped, so it’s been 5 years coming. Maybe it wasn’t the number one thing I wanted in, but it’s definitely one of the top 5 things that I wanted in the game. It’s actually our third try at a proper LFG tool, and this one gets it right. With the Meeting Stones, we didn’t put enough attention into it, we just tried to jam it in, and people didn’t use it. The second tool, it ended up being compromised feature – we tried to cater to too many different audiences.
As for the community question, I used to … I think that 5 years ago, I would have answered this question differently than I would today. I was all about preserving the small realm communities, but already… Well, look at Battlegrounds, it’s a good case in point, because it doesn’t diminish social relationships that matter on a realm. Sure, everyone can bring up “that one guy” that they know, the ninja looter who stole his stuff. But I think your real community isn’t the whole realm, but it’s your guild and the friends you group with, and the cross-server LFG won’t undermine that at all. The Dungeon Finder – by the way, I think we just renamed it the Dungeon Finder last night – We designed it in such a way that it serves the need for guilds and groups and friends. You don’t have to always [join a Pick-Up Group]. If there are four guildies in a group who just need a fifth, they can do that. You can also use it if even you have a full five-person party.
Or, you can do it if you’re on your own and just want to run something, so I don’t think it diminishes it at all.
*picks mic back up*
The argument I’m making is not necessarily that there hasn’t been a decline in quality WoW game design over the years. The argument I’m making is that there isn’t an Old Blizzard vs New Blizzard dichotomy. Tom Chilton has been at the head table every expansion. Jeff Kaplan was still Lead Designer for Wrath, and while he was absent after that, it was because he became the Game Director for Overwatch. Rob Pardo didn’t stick around for Wrath… as a designer. Instead, Rob Pardo became Executive Vice President of Game Design for Wrath and Cataclysm. And, don’t tell Syncaine, but Pardo is also Chief Creative Officer and Executive Producer of Hearthstone.
So who exactly is Old Blizzard again?
The alternative title I was going to use for this post was “the M. Night. Shyamalan Effect.” For those that might not know, he was the Director and Screenwriter to an enormously successful and critically acclaimed film called Sixth Sense – it is a cultural touchstone film still used in comparisons today. His follow-ups included Signs and Unbreakable… followed by 13 years of utter garbage. If you choose to believe in a narrative of WoW’s decline from quality, it is this comparison that fits. We would not say “Old Shyamalan vs New Shyamalan,” and we shouldn’t do the same with Blizzard.
¹ The one conspicuously missing name is Greg Street, aka Ghostcrawler. Greg Street is listed as Lead Systems Designer in Wrath, Cata, and Mists, and that role undoubtedly has something to do with design. However, the position doesn’t exist in vanilla, TBC, or Warlords, and there is another “Additional Designers” category I didn’t include either, simply because I can’t be sure what they do. In any case, they always say design is a collaborative process, so even if Greg Street is the cause of it all, that doesn’t get “Old Blizzard” off the hook.
² I have since color-coded all the designers who had carryover between expansions, and the results are interesting. For example, all but one of the designers from Wrath came over into Cataclysm, making up 91% of the final total. This is both baffling and makes perfect sense, assuming The Shyamalan Effect.
One of the relatively common criticisms of Warlords overall has been the lack of content in comparison to prior expansions. With 6.2 being confirmed as the last raiding tier and Blizzard rather adamantly opposed to creating new 5-man dungeons – despite them being “one of the greatest strengths of the genre” – I find it increasingly unlikely that a hypothetical 6.3 patch would include either. So what better time than now to offer some data to back up the claim?
For this part, I am taking all info from Blizzard’s own webpage:
|Raids (Boss)||Dungeons||BGs (Arena)||Other|
|Warlords of Draenor||3 (30)||8||0 (0)||Garrisons?|
|Mists of Pandaria||5 (43)||9||3 (2)||18 Scenarios
1 Race/1 Class
|Cataclysm||6 (31)||14||2 (0)||2 Races
|Wrath of the Lich King||9 (54)||16||2 (2)||1 Class|
|The Burning Crusade||8 (44)||16||1 (3)||2 Races|
If you found that I made a mistake somewhere in the calculations, let me know.
Otherwise… well, the results kind of speak for themselves, yeah? Cataclysm, hitherto the worst expansion in the game, was the closest to Warlords in terms of raid bosses. And yet it had six more dungeons, introduced two new Battlegrounds, two new races with entirely novel starting areas, and a complete revamp of the entire world. Perhaps not everyone necessarily wanted the old world revamp, but that still represented a rather insane amount of designer attention. The same sort of attention that has seemingly clocked out starting from Day 2 in Warlords.
Indeed, when you start thinking about it a bit deeper, the Warlords situation is even worse than first glance. The devs might have built eight dungeons, for example, but the dungeons were designed for no one to actually use them. I invite you to watch that mea culpa video from Ion Hazzicostas again, or perhaps for the first time. The TL;DR version is this reckoning:
Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.
I wanted to bring the above up again, just to point out that even if Warlords had a comparable amount of content to other expansions (it doesn’t), the base structure of the game denigrates the content that does exist. For example, suppose you want to include the ten Timerwalker Dungeons into the Warlords count for whatever reason, even though they are only actually available for a limited timeframe and aren’t even revamps of the originals. In that situation, I would argue that Warlords only has ten dungeons overall, since those ten Timewalker Dungeons are the only ones still relevant to anyone in the game (by dropping high-level gear). In contrast, even when you were progressing through ICC in Wrath, running Gundrak was useful in getting you Frost Badges and that much closer to a tier piece.
In a bizarre sense, Warlords is the result of Blizzard’s design working as intended. The devs have said for years that they wanted to get to a place where they could pump out faster expansions. And as players, we all agreed… but not to this. By “faster expansions,” we meant not waiting 12-14 months with zero content. Which, by the way, is still a very real possibility with Warlords.