Pandas As iPads, and Target Audiences

Simply put, I see the sort of backlash against Pandaren the same as the backlash against the iPad, when that was first announced. A tablet computer? Called an iPad? The jokes write themselves. Steve Jobs was clearly out of his mind.

A year later, making fun of the iPad’s name was like making a Your Mom joke.

To be clear, I do not expect Mists of Pandaria and pandas in general to take off and sell 15+ million copies like the iPad; this is not a full analogy. Part of that is because WoW has already peaked subscriber-wise, and it’s tough/impossible to break out of a decline when each lost sub severs social threads that kept people logging in long after the novelty of the game experience has ran out.

That being said, the absolute histrionics going on in the blog world regarding pandas has taken on a surreal, manic intensity. Look at this post over on Wolfshead Online:

If I wanted to kill a serious MMO, I don’t think I could find a better way than introducing a playable race of goofy looking walking bears. Any credibility that Blizzard had in the MMO realm has vanished with this horrible decision. What we are witnessing is the unprecedented transformation of an adult MMO into a children’s MMO right before our very eyes. (emphasis added)

I’m sorry, but if you can write something like that or agree with it without being a tad bit embarrassed later, I have a paper bag you can breath into. Credibility? Here is the credibility Blizzard has in the MMO realm:

WoW subs vs all other MMO subs

That's called expanding the base.

According to, the entire MMO field basically only grew by 4 million subs in the seven years WoW has existed. If even a tenth of ex-WoW players move on to try other MMOs, WoW will have done more for the genre than any MMO, ever. Credibility? Christ, how many times have you described something as an EVE-clone, or a Warhammer-clone? I guarantee you there are some very serious men in some very serious suits over at MMO boardrooms that will be seriously considering iconic animals in the future, simply because WoW is doing it. “Dammit Jim, they usurped pandas! How about… elephants? No, no: hippos! Make it so.”

I get it. Pandas happened. I was utterly convinced Mists of Pandaria was going to be an iOS game, perhaps a combo Fishing slash Archeology slash Sudoku premium app that would interface with the Mobile Armory so that what you caught/found/solved could be redeemed for in-game WoW items. Then follow that up with an announcement of The Emerald Nightmare expansion, which could be tone-appropiate sequel escalation to Burning Legion summoning –> Undead Scourge unleashing –> Corrupted dragon world-breaking pattern of WoW expansions.

Hell, considering the established lore of the Emerald Dream as a mystical pre-Sundering continent, complete with fantastical and extinct species mobs, that expansion practically writes itself. And they could even work in the (leaked) Horde vs Alliance war heating up as fueling the Emerald Nightmare’s destructiveness by the power of unhappy thoughts.

If you think about it conceptually, Mists of Pandaria is doing just that. You have the Sha, which are the physical manifestation of bad things, having hitherto been kept in check by the Taoist Pandaren before the two superpowers came and turned the island into a fantasy Vietnam. They also have the mystical continent with fantastical and extinct species mobs. Having mined the pseudo Gothic/Norse mythology to death, going East was simply a matter of time – even the “generally fantasy” Magic: the Gathering went to Kamigawa (aka Japan) eventually.

And now? They still have Emerald Dream as a follow-up option.

Target Audiences

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to touch on some bloggers’ mistaken notions that Blizzard somehow changed their intended target audience with this new expansion. I am not quite sure how else to put it than this: the target audience of WoW has never changed; you changed.

There is no actual indication that Pandaren are going to be a joke race in the expansion; they existed in Warcraft 3, and would have replaced draenei in TBC had the dice fell the other way. If you want an example of an actual joke race, roll a gnome. No, seriously, sign up for a free trial and play a gnome 1-20. There is no bigger joke race than gnomes, and they have been a joke since Day 1. I would argue that Tauren are also a joke race, but that is at least a case of a joke race with /seriousface lore. Gnomes never had serious lore – even the flooding of their capital with radioactive poison, killing off 80% (!!) of their entire race, cannot be presented without a wink from atop a smoke-belching Mechanostrider.

Don’t get me started on goblins, who deviate from being walking euphemisms for capitalistic greed long enough to establish they got their intelligence from mining rocks and turning it into Coca Cola on a volcanic island (that exploded). Or how about the Taunka, Tuskarr, or Tol’vir, all of whom are so cliche as NPC animal races that it would have been jarring if they did not exist in their respective cliche habitats. Remember the Wolvar and Oracles in Sholazar Basin? 90% of that entire zone was a total joke in a Serious™ expansion.

What I will not say is whether WoW was ever objectively serious or not, because that misses the point. WoW was, is, and always will be taken as seriously as you want it to be. MMO-Champion will be posting world-first T14 hardmode kills and hundreds of thousands of people will care, pandas or no pandas. There will be 6+ year veteran players who declare a Pandaria raid boss as their favorite encounter. Tankspot will likely be posting Challenge-mode dungeon guide videos. Petopia may completely transform into a Wowhead-esque database to handle the influx of traffic from the Pokeman battle system. Some of these features won’t be for you, just like new raids only appeal to less than 20% of subscribers. That doesn’t mean the target audience is changing any more than your mother giving a sibling candy first this time (or at all) means she stopped loving you.

If this is the way you normally act, though…

The ultimate bottom line is once you get past the echo-chamber sticker-shock of OMGPANDAS, a month after the expansion releases the game will be exactly as it is: fun, or not fun.

If fun, would pandas actually stop you from playing?
If not fun, did the pandas actually matter?

If you honestly would not play an otherwise fun game because of its tone or tenor, then ironically, maybe it is you who needs to grow up. Or at least breathe into this paper bag until you stop losing your shit, and remember why you play videogames to begin with.

Posted on October 25, 2011, in Commentary, WoW and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Word.

    I’m not going to play WoW 5.0 and I’m quite unhappy with the direction the game has taken since Wrath. Pandas, however, don’t matter in the slightest and, yes, Blizzard is still _the_ authority when it comes to MMOs. Everything else is just the typical internet craze combined with bloggers who make a living (figuratively speaking) with controversional posts.


  2. If you honestly would not play an otherwise fun game because of its tone or tenor, then ironically, maybe it is you who needs to grow up.

    I get it that some people think like that. More power to them. If Skyrim included playable Pandas and lots of NPC Pandas I wouldn’t play it. I swear. And I am pretty sure tone and tenor are immensely important for sales.

    You can call that childish or not.


    • In fact, the reason Pandas are added in the first place, is because Blizzard agrees with me :)


    • You’re comparing apples to oranges here. World of Warcraft does not and never did take itself seriously. Skyrim does. In Skyrim, you are supposed to be immersed in a realistic fantasy world, if such a thing can exist. World of Warcraft has never been about realism and has never been shy to put fourth-wall-breaking elements everywhere.

      Additionally, what’s so much worse about talking panda bears than the myriad of other talking animal race we get in so many games? Space goats and hippie cows have been mentioned before, but you also have Furbolgs, Naga, and Kajiit (cat people) in the Elder Scrolls games. The main difference between pandas and the latter two is, that cat people and Merfolk appear more frequently in popular fantasy settings. (Note that that is neither true for Draenei nor for Tauren.)

      Do Pandas lend themselves to a little more humor than most of the other races above? Sure. But that is also hardly a first in WoW.

      Finally, Pandaren didn’t destroy the lore in Warcraft III. And why would they? Does every race in a game have to be a lean mean killing machine? Yes, the Kung-fu Panda analogy is a scary one (and I’ll admit that the image of a Pandaren monk is… disturbing), but the lore survived Gnome death knights with pink pigtails.


      • It seems I will have to do this discussion for quite some time -.-

        Scrusi, if Pandas were just added as a playable race, like Draeni, I wouldn’t like that either. But it were much better.

        Look, the whole next expansion will be about Pandas. If Burning Crusade had taken place on the Draeni homeworld and KARATE-DRAENI had been the focal point of lots of popular silly movies and games before, if questing in TBC had meant doing silly quests for karate-draeni, entering silly instances together with karate-draeni and in between your teleports looking at the silly karate-draeni capital, I would have quit back then as well – as far as I can tell, anyway.


    • I honestly did put an asterisk in there just for you Nils, but it was breaking my flow. :P

      I agree that tone/tenor is important (survival horror can be ruined if too goofy, etc), but I am specifically talking about “an otherwise fun [to you] game.” Immersion is clearly critical to you in determining fun, so the comparison doesn’t really apply to your situation.

      I imagine most other people brush off wonky stealth animations (Pandaren can be rogues by the way) or people running around in TBC clown costumes, and I think pandas too will pass. I was a bit worried about in-game cinematics, but if you’ll notice, none of the story ones include gnomes. We’ll get Pandaren ones for sure, but I very much believe Blizzard will go out of their way to make Pandaren /seriousface like Tauren.


  3. Don’t really have an issue with this post. Personally, I love most of the announced features and changes, but I have no issue with people disagreeing with me if they do it in a reasonable, non-sensationalist manner.

    Though I’m not sure if you agree or disagree, I’ve found nothing in what you wrote to object to.


    • EDIT(since i can’t do it the right way): This is, I believe, the first time I read your blog, but I think I’m gonna stick around. You write some smart stuff.


    • Initial reactions are here. Short version: I /facepalmed at first, but quickly got over it. Now, I am cautiously optimistic up until the female models come out. Hated the worgen female transition from the first model to the final one (still think she looks like a meth addict), but that didn’t stop me from faction changing into one when I brought my old belf warlock over.

      Pretty big fan of everything else previewed, although I have still been unsubscribed for the last ~3 months. Will most likely be coming back, just don’t know if I want to before expansion release.


  4. I’m still quite in a chock over the reactions to the pandas. I had no idea that there was such a global disliking towards pandas. Apparently, there’s something childish about pandas per default. This seem to hold true for dolphins and koalas as well.

    I feel I’ve missed something major here. I really had no idea there was such a stigma attached to those animals.

    I don’t see the difference between a furbolg and a pandaren. To me, if people didn’t complain about furbolgs, they should have no reason to complain about pandaren.


  5. the target audience of WoW has never changed; you changed

    You might want to think about rewording that, unless you really think that 40-man raids, PvP arenas, 15-minute heroics, hard modes and pet battles were all aimed at the same people. ‘:)

    I do agree that no pandas vs. pandas is not much of a shift by itself though.


    • I envision the same people who now tell us that WoW didn’t change in 2016. They will complain that WoW isn’t the same game anymore and the -then new- players will reply that it’s not WoW that changed, but them.

      The WotLK veteran wills replay that back in the old days you had flying mounts and not your own city to fly around with. But the new players will tell them that this really isn’t such big change at all: Didn’t have WotLK have a flying city already ?


    • Right, but that is actually sorta my point. None of those individually were THE target audience. Blizzard wants a Big Tent MMO; everyone is invited. Now if you were specifically looking for a 40m raiding MMO, maybe it could be said Blizzard was being misleading in vanilla. Or, it could be said Blizzard’s goal was simply to give large-scale endgame PvE content players could take seriously, and extrapolating specific raid sizes was the (possibly baseless) projection of the players.

      In any case, I was mainly talking about the tone of the game with the target audience section. :P


  6. Excellent post, Azuriel.

    As a former serious MtG player, I really enjoyed the reference to Kamigawa, and it’s very appropriate here. I think you’ve nailed the overall plan from Pandas -> Emerald Nightmare, and shift back toward Horde/Alliance fueding should make for an interesting change from the recent hand-holding those two have done.


  7. Bah, “Feuding”. I hate no edits.


  8. Great post, I agree almost 100%.

    Except, well…. you really still go read Wolfshead? :)


  9. My mom never gave me any candy…does that mean she never loved me at all?


  10. Wolfshead will be angry at Blizzard and WoW even if they did what he wanted, in that case he’d just claim “Blizzard caves too easily!” For whatever reason he’s determined to hate them. I mean if they were going to lose credibility by having any “funny looking” races then they lost it with Gnomes…then Goblins….then Wolvars…then Tol’vir (A cat-person race that was just asking for Meow-mix or catnip jokes). There seems to be an inference by people that simply by including Pandaren that Blizzard will do nothing but joke with them. I don’t see that. Blizzard certainly likes to slip some jokes into their game, but that doesn’t mean they can’t write pandaren with a degree of seriousness. I have no doubt that there will be a reference to Kung Fu Panda, but that said, I think they will make a serious attempt to incorporate some Asian inspired fantasy into a game that was starting to over-do the European fantasy.

    Also WoW has never had one single target audience, they have several and most of the features introduced are trying to meet the desires of those targets. They can’t please everyone so they try to at least give everyone at least some of what they want.The majority of the features they add were due to request and interest by their target audiences.


  11. You could have added a graph of Wolfshead’s credibility to this post – it would have only been one pixel high, so it would hardly have disturbed the layout.


  12. Just join the average pug and tell me this game is for serious adults and not children. Join /trade and tell me that maturity is the norm. Pandas, even king fu pandas, are not going to be out of place, not one bit. I really don’t get the ‘omg pandas I’m sooo angry!’ mentality.

    Ever since I played Warcraft 3 I have been expecting Pandaren to be in WoW. It just amazes me that it’s taken so long. Rather them than Gnome DKs. Seriously.


  13. vlad – I think the problem is that the people in PuGs, /trade and for that matter the overly-elitist, self-proclaimed ‘hardcore’ players are “srs bsns”-immature, rather than jokey-immature. These are two different types of immature that don’t play well together :)

    Personally, I have no plans to go back to WoW but the pandas have nothing to do with it. They don’t bother me, and I’ve been expecting them pretty much since launch because they are, after all, an established part of the WORLD of Warcraft. The talent tree revamp (take umpteen) pissed me off a lot more.


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