WoW! Thoughts! — On Avoiding Spoilers and Required Reading
As a fan of World of Warcraft’s lore, the time between when content is made publicly available but is not yet live is a dangerous time to engage the community. When content is datamined, if not outright playable on beta or PTR servers, story elements that may otherwise exist to surprise players easily fall into the realm of public knowledge. While Blizzard may be satisfied with sharing certain information, like who will the end boss for an expansion, players may not be comfortable knowing that information ahead of time, and any foreknowledge of events irrevocably alters how a player will perceive the story. Regardless of one’s determination to enter the live game unspoiled, it only takes the briefest of lapses in one’s vigilance to read a handful of words that impart knowledge of events to come.
Spoilers are insidious; the most damaging of spoilers are also the most exciting. It is that excitement that drives players to want to discuss events, even while they may lack the proper narrative context in any available medium as soon as possible. Forums are particularly dangerous, especially when the content is so polarizing – as is many of Blizzard’s decisions with Warlords of Draenor. I’ve seen players attempt to discuss the endgame of Warlords, or perceptions of Alliance bias, citing information from the beta as evidence in their arguments.
Those facts may support their claims, but by referencing them the entire argument is now off limits for anyone not wanting to be spoiled. The sad part is that commenters attempt to be coy, by saying “I don’t want to spoil anyone,” or mentioning some of the information without giving names. The problem is that context exists, and players are good at parsing out intent. We may not know all the details, but we can figure out enough that the key fact is relayed. I would cite examples, but even to try to whitewash the examples is to still commit this infraction. The only way to ensure that you preserve everyone’s experience is to remain quiet.
As a result of reading the Hellscream short story, I started researching the geography of Nagrand from Burning Crusade for comparative purposes. In hindsight, I probably should have just logged into the game and flew around Outland. Instead, in my laziness, I relied on google, and an errant search yielded short descriptions containing a major spoiler for Warlords. The most annoying part is that from forum comments and listening to podcasts, I already had an idea that the described event was going to happen, but I kept trying to convince myself that I was misinterpreting circumstantial evidence. Reading the confirmation was disappointing not only because I’m not sure if I like the spoiler, but also because it meant I had failed in my quest to stay uninformed.
The sad reality of this time is that if one wants to stay spoiler free they need to avoid any and all WoW news. Even the game can be dangerous, as players are apt to overshare in chat. Just as abstinence is the only way to completely prevent pregnancy, avoiding all out-of-game resources is the only way to maintains one’s ignorance, and even that is sadly impractical. To seek out any knowledge about World of Warcraft is to be willing to expose yourself to all knowledge about World of Warcraft.
The other alternative is to fully dive into spoiler culture. For those with beta access, the game itself is now nearly finalized, and it may be time to just start playing through events and enjoying the game. For those without beta access, plenty of players are streaming their journey through Draenor. This may lead to a feeling of repetition once the expansion goes live, but the boredom from experiencing content a fourth or fifth time may be worth the tradeoff of divining someone’s fate from a post about upcoming achievements on MMO-Champion. Information about Kairoz’s ghost was datamined prior to the release of Hellscream, in which Garrosh kills the time-twisting dragon. Consequently, I suspected their argument early in the story would result in Kairoz suffering Garrosh’s wrath, and I can only wonder how I would have felt about that passage had I not anticipated the narrative.
It is unfortunate Blizzard cannot test the game without sharing the story, but that is the nature of the beast. Ultimately, World of Warcraft is a game, and while the story is important, the need to test the gameplay trumps it. Perhaps there is another way to address this issue, and in doing so, resolve another problem that has cropped up recently.
One of the complaints about Warlords of Draenor has been that the story is too confusing. For hardcore fans who have been following the news sites, it wasn’t until War Crimes that we began to understand Garrosh had gone to an alternate Draenor. For the casual fan whose relationship to WoW is limited to logging into the game, they may still have no idea what it means that the Iron Horde is coming on 11-13. When the pre-expansion patch goes live, those players will get their quest to defend Blasted Lands from the rush of orcs pouring out of the now red Dark Portal, and there will be minimal explanation that these orcs are coming from another Draenor.
While manipulating time as they have to tell a story exploring the Draenai and Orcish cultures, Blizzard has employed the ever confusing trope of time travel, and players who do not follow the lore closely may be left behind regarding what is going on. The argument is made that players looking to follow the story at the barest of levels should not be required to read all the books just to understand what is happening.
For Cataclysm, major events happened out of game, yet they were all depicted in game as well. At the very least the cinematic of Deathwing’s return showed that massive changes had occured to the world, and while we did not get to experience Cairne’s death or Magni’s petrification in game, plenty of Cataclysm-related events (such as the opening of Gilneas to the greater world) were playable. Cataclysm culminated with the cinematic proclaiming the Age of Mortals, and then Mists of Pandaria began with the seemingly random bombing of Thermore followed by a sudden mission to a new continent.
While the Theramore scenario that preceded Mists may have made little sense to those who did not read Tides of War, it was a brief event that was quickly overshadowed by the new expansion. The story of Pandaria began with the Mists cinematic and carried through the expansion. For anyone playing the game, it ends with Taran Zhu leading Garrosh off in chains while Vol’jin ascends to the title of Warchief. Quest for Pandaria expanded on the events surrounding the cinematic (and Chen’s arrival in his long-lost homeland), but none of the multitude of stories Blizzard provided have been required to follow the course of events this expansion.
In moving from Mists to Warlords, War Crimes is the bridge between the expansions. Where the end of Cataclysm has a clear cut (the Age of Mortals cinematic), War Crimes keeps the focus on the August Celestials and the Shado-Pan and serves as the denouement to the expansion. It also has Garrosh escape to Draenor, which marks the transition to Warlords of Draenor. Players wondering how we go from fighting with pandas to fighting more orcs will be confused (probably just as confused as the citizens of Azeroth will be). In order to understand the context of what is happening, it is almost as if War Crimes and Hellscream are required reading.
Some players may not care. If they do not read quest text, or do not read the books, then they do not care what is going on. Just point them at the portal and let them run through and slaughter orcs and they will be fine. There are, however, some players without interest in reading the books but who still enjoy knowing what is happening in game. Those players are the ones most affected by Blizzard placing so much lore outside the game. Hellscream is a free short story, but that still is forcing players who only want to engage with Warcraft through the game itself to do so elsewhere. Ultimately, they would like all essential information to be in game, which is not an unfair request.
The solution going forward may be to have the books more closely mirror the story. If we could read the events of Warlords of Draenor in novel form, before the launch of the game, and then experience them again, it would help to prevent spoilers, and allow players to choose how they wish to interface with the game. It may be redundant, but information would be available when and how players want it. If someone wants to experience the narrative in context without knowing the outcome, players can read the book first and witness scenes that their character will later participate in.
Conversely, if players do not care about the book, they can just wait until live to play the game. This would require massive cooperation between the author and development team. Given how poorly the integration between Tides of War and the Theramore scenario was implemented, this may be just as feasible as encouraging players to leave the internet for three months to avoid all spoilers. Ultimately, we may be stuck with the system we have now. Good luck not reading about <REDACTED>.
Blizzard will be doing a live Q&A over Twitch on Friday. After the panel, what are they doing for lunch? #WarlordsQA http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/15487823/live-developer-qa-this-friday-9-2-2014
With Valor and Justice Points going away in 6.0, items that previously used those currencies will now use gold. The upgrade system will remain, but will cost Lesser Charms of Good Fortune instead. Someone needs to open an exchange to track all this… http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/14059367017?page=2#38
Warlords will not feature any tier vendors, as boss drops will convert for your spec in a way similar to the items from the Timeless Isle. They could have implemented the vendors, but that would have cost us a raid tier, so then we wouldn’t have needed the vendors, and then they could have implemented the raid tier, but then they would have implemented the vendors, but that would have cost us a raid tier… https://twitter.com/WatcherDev/status/506582668600147968
The Gaze of the Black Prince buff is back for the next two weeks for the final time before Warlords of Draenor launches. Hurry up to get your cloak so you don’t have to worry about replacing your back slot until about half way through Draenor. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/15487820/
Call to Arms is being removed in Warlords. Now I won’t get confused by the random undead NPC’s hanging out near the bank in Thunder Bluff some weekends. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/14058436162#4
In Warlords, PVP will require actively toggling your flag on PVE realms. Its almost like Blizzard thinks the people on PVE realms don’t want to accidentally PVP. https://twitter.com/WatcherDev/status/505035819174723585