WoW! Thoughts! — on Gnomes and Cinematics
January 31, 2013
On April 14, 1994, Pearl Jam played the song Leash during a concert in Boston, and then mysteriously ceased playing the song live. Fans would attend concerts and noticed that while the set list would rotate, it would not include Leash. As with any situation with a (artificially) low supply, demand spiked. Fans made signs calling for Leash, and chants of “Drop the Leash!” would break out with regularity at concerts.
On October 3, 2005 in Philadelphia, after several such chants throughout the show, Eddie Vedder leaned into the microphone and claimed, “This next song’s called Drop the Leash.” The crowd cheered with excitement at this moment over a decade in the making only to hear the band break out into Do the Evolution, a song Pearl Jam plays at every show. Eddie can still be heard chuckling during those opening guitar chords on the bootlegs. Pearl Jam was joking with their own audience, but trolling them as well. It may have been funny to Eddie and the band, especially since only they knew why they weren’t playing Leash, but it felt a little odd to be ribbed by a group we were regularly giving money to support for efforts that we generally enjoy.
In short, Eddie’s joke about playing Leash is exactly like what Blizzard did to their fan base by putting a gnome air-freshener in the Heart of the Swarm cinematic.
The gnome race tends to get the short end of the stick in WoW. Although they’ve been around since Warcraft II, they were one of the last races to be announced for vanilla WoW, and are the only original Alliance race not to have their own capital city. They and the trolls were omitted from the original Warcraft cinematic. For trolls, this was rectified with three seconds of one riding a raptor in the Burning Crusade cinematic. Gnomes, however, received no such attention. As the cinematics for the expansions have become more narrative, the player character races have become less of a focus, and it appears that the difficulty in randomly placing a gnome in a warcraft cinematic may have increased. While this is not a major problem, it is still an issue that affects some fans, and it is entirely an issue of Blizzard’s own doing.
Given that trolls and gnomes were the final two races announced for WoW, it would seem that their inclusion in the game came late enough that Blizzard didn’t have time to work them into the cinematic. For the Burning Crusade, it’s not clear why gnomes couldn’t be included; especially since Blizzard made sure we had a troll featured ever so briefly. The real problem with the Burning Crusade cinematic is that it bridges the gap from the ‘focus on the races fighting each other’ style into the ‘narrate what is happening in the expansion’ style that matures with Wrath of the Lich King.
There is no opportunity to feature a gnome in the subsequent cinematics because the focus is on Arthas and the Scourge, Deathwing, and then Chen, an orc, and a human. The orc and the human had to be those races because they were specific call backs to the Warcraft series pre-WoW, when orcs and humans were the main combatants. Blizzard could have used a troll and a gnome, but the cinematic – which was amazing – would not have been as powerful.
There was a slight outcry when no gnomes were featured in the Mists of Pandaria trailer, but it was more out of disappointment that it wouldn’t be happening just yet, than it was due to an obvious missed opportunity for Blizzard. Blizzard’s general response has been to jest, “the gnomes are too short to fit in frame.” The fact that they included a gnome air-freshener is a clear sign that Blizzard recognizes that this is an issue that people are cognizant of and responsive to. It’s also an acknowledgement that it’s a minor issue, and not one that is going to cause anyone to cancel their subscription or stop playing. Still, Blizzard should know how people love and identify with their characters.
Seeing your player-race represented in such a major format is, if not a reason for pride, then a reason to at least cheer in excitement. It is an affirmation from the developers about the awesomeness of your character by proxy of featuring an awesome member of that race. Most races have that moment, with the notable exception of Gnomes, Goblins, and Worgen. Goblins and Worgen were only introduced in Cataclysm, so they don’t have as much opportunity to complain, but Gnomes have been shut out of five cinematics. Gnomes are a well-established fantasy race and WoW leans quite heavily on its fantasy roots, so this omission is surprising.
Blizzard’s fundamental problem is that short of correcting the issue by properly featuring a gnome in a cinematic, anything they do to acknowledge the problem just winds up taunting Gnome fans. The air freshener may be a tongue-in-cheek way to slip a gnome into a trailer, but anyone wishing to actually see a gnome will only feel as though Blizzard is rubbing it in their face. It is an incredibly minor slight, and Blizzard has every right to mock the ‘controversy’ in such a fashion. But such a gesture can easily be interpreted as dismissive, if not downright patronizing and insulting.
Artists can create demand for their products by restricting access to their content. On May 25, 2006 in Boston, Pearl Jam finally relented and performed Leash for the first time in over twelve years. Fans went wild; as they would all throughout the rest of the tour each time Pearl Jam played the song. Blizzard can learn a lot from Pearl Jam, and should plan to drop this cinematic leash of their own.
The Lunar Festival is upon us! After traveling around to visit all those Elders, you’ll feel old enough to be one! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/8441649/Moons__Explosives__Lunar_Festival-1_25_2013
Dev Watercooler on tuning encounters. I’m suddenly glad T-Pain is not a developer. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/8445111/
What does a Game Master do? Mess around with giant goblins, apparently. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/8501406
Duncan Jones will direct the Warcraft movie. I can’t wait to write about Blizzard leaving gnomes out of that. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/7801170580