Blizzcon 2013 may go down as the point in time when Blizzard broke World of Warcraft. The game itself is fine, but how they handled the Warlords of Draenor announcement has soured their relationship with the playerbase. Even though they have done their best to communicate with fans, players are struggling to trust Blizzard and their development process seemingly now more than ever.
While Mists of Pandaria had its detractors, it was easy for Blizzard to rebuff claims of “Kung Fu Panda” by introducing the concept of the Sha and teasing us with the darkness that we would find in our journeys. Furthermore, rather than leaving us to speculate about what the expansions final boss would be, Blizzard openly admitted it would be Garrosh in the Siege of Orgrimmar, so that despite concerns about how light-hearted the leveling content would be, we would understand the raiding would be serious with deep lore implications. (Players had two years to contemplate who the new warchief would be.) In the end, Mists of Pandaria proved to have a well-told narrative that expanded the Warcraft universe and seamlessly integrated the Pandaren into the lore. One would think that success would allow Blizzard carte blanche to take the story in whatever direction they desired, but they seem to have squandered their good will.
First, the delay in launching the game has been brutal. Players may have unrealistically expected beta to start as early as January, but Blizzard’s talk of annual expansions and accelerated development schedules did nothing to prepare fans for an alpha(!) launch in June. Their delays have generated such dismay that it is hard not to look at their actions and think the worst. Blizzard could have prevented this by emphasizing that the game would not be out until late in 2014, but in their Blizzcon excitement, while they denied any official talk of a release date, they did nothing to squelch the expectation that the game would be out earlier relative to Mists late-September launch. (and in some cases, exacerbated it.) Every expansion has seen development time increase, yet Blizzard continues to promise a faster turn-around. The end result is an erosion of trust.
The latest incident to incite player’s ire is the decision to move the faction hubs on Draenor from the starting zones to Ashran. Ashran is a PVP zone intended to replicate the endless battles of old Alterac Valley. While that’s encouraging to PVP players who enjoy open world combat, the bulk of the playerbase tends to avoid that style of combat, and this was seen as nothing but a meager attempt to foist world pvp on a reluctant playerbase. (After all, the shrines in Mists were put so close to each other to encourage World PVP, and that seemed to have minimal effect.) Players were so thoroughly upset by this change that Lore had to rush out a response for damage control. Players responded by calling shenanigans and ignoring his explanation.
The sad thing is that Lore is probably not (completely) wrong. Blizzard made several mistakes in announcing features for Warlords of Draenor at Blizzcon. The two that most affected this were the concept of the garrison, and the locations of the starting cities. Players were told they would have the choice to locate their garrison in whatever zone they liked – there would be plots in each zone available for garrison placement. As development has progressed, their role in the early expansion questing experience has increased, and garrisons became tied to the starting zones of Frostfire Ridge and Shadowmoon Valley. Suddenly, the placement of the Horde and Alliance hubs in addition to the garrisons in these zones became overkill. Instead of effectively causing players to have minimal need to leave these zones, Blizzard decided the hubs needed to be relocated.
To be fair, it is trivial to relocate some portals and bankers when compared to decoupling the garrison from the questing experience, let alone the zone. When reviewing the maps of Draenor in beta, it appears that most of it is fleshed out. The only place that is still under heavy development and does not have a map yet is Ashran. So at this point in development, it appears that Ashran lent itself to the purpose of holding the hubs solely by virtue of being incomplete enough to accomodate them, and any affect this decision has on World PVP is purely incidental.
Note that the fact that Ashran is located all the way to the east of the continent shows that this was not a well thought out decision. Prior expansion placed Shattrath, Dalaran, and the Shrines roughly in the center of their respective continents. While Shattrath has an alternate purpose on Draenor, it would have made sense to place the hubs near there. (Vol’jin’s Pride and Fort Wrynn look especially appealing for this purpose, but given that they have probably been designed, they may well lack the ability to house the number of players a hub would expect to hold.) Blizzard could take their time, and appropriately select a location to put the hubs, but that might take more development time.
Blizzard has already used alpha testing to work through the early game quest experience — they redid the starting zone of the Jade Forest midway through Mists’ beta, and given the focus on Frostfire Ridge and Shadowmoon Valley thus far in beta, it seems they are focused on getting that experience right first. While we still have yet to touch the other zones, Blizzard has to be anticipating minimal updates to the zones after players allowing players to test them. Beta proper for Mists went live a good six months before Mists‘ launch. Six months from the Warlords beta announcement, 6/27, is a week later than the ‘on or before’ release date of 12/20. Blizzard does not have the time to be making any more significant changes – if Ashran is the only place that can hold the new hubs, then Ashran is where the new hubs will be, logical placement be damned.
Moreover, Blizzard has thoroughly confused the playerbase with the concept of time travel in Warlords, to the point that no one seems to accurately understand it. Blizzard’s original description at Blizzcon, that Garrosh would be going back in time to Draenor, but not affecting the timeline so players shouldn’t worry about that, made little sense, and has even proven invalid now that War Crimes has established Garrosh as escaping to a Draenor of an alternate timeline. When Blizzard failed to get their story straight, it is no wonder that players are still confused about how we are not changing our own timeline by attacking the Horde before they ever get to Azeroth. Just as Blizzard prematurely announced Garrosh as the end boss to alleviate concerns about Mists story, the developers needed to openly explain the metaphysics surrounding the events of this expansion.
Instead, Blizzard was coy regarding Garrosh going back courtesy “a certain bronze dragon that you might have met on the Timeless Isle,” and everyone was convinced that time travel was involved, as opposed to the use of alternate time lines as we have since come to learn. (Even now, just trying to briefly describe the situation in the preceding sentences does not do this justice.) Now that we know this was never to be the case, players’ hopes and expectations have been dashed. Players spent months looking at the events of this expansion as the Warcraft equivalent of Back to the Future, when really this is more like Sliders. This is a planet that is very similar to our pre-Outland Draenor, but is not pre-Outland Draenor.
Many things are different, and those differences will come in to play over the course of the expansion. This gives Blizzard the luxury of not being bound to pre-existing lore (Rise of the Horde did not happen on this Draenor, and they are unburdened by the lore of Burning Crusade.) Blizzard is free to tell the story they want to tell. That may be great, since Mists of Pandaria demonstrated what Blizzard can do with a continent as their playground, but that is not what players has been expecting. That disconnect has been disastrous for the players’ comprehension and appreciation of what is to come.
Blizzcon 2013 will always be tied to the Warlords of Draenor announcement. It was an exciting bit of news, but eight months on, much of what Blizzard said about the expansion has changed significantly. Blizzard should be on pace to release an amazing expansion, and prove the concerns about the development time, or the city locations, or the time travel to be insignificant worries. But these concerns are of Blizzard’s own making. Blizzard’s excitement to provide so much information at an early juncture forced them to present an incomplete picture of what the expansion would be. And while it is implicit that all information is subject to change, once players latch onto a fact in their excitement, like the Alliance being granted the Temple of Karabor as a base, when Blizzard changes their mind, they can only destroy player expectation and excitement. Sometimes, rather than outlining their current plans at an early stage in development, the best course of action may be to say nothing at all.
Raids will now have their own graphics settings. Why couldn’t Blizzard hype up this feature at Blizzcon? http://wow.joystiq.com/2014/06/26/warlords-of-draenor-raids-get-their-own-graphic-setting/
Blizzard is going to have exclusive goods at the San Diego Comic-Con. Is the Whimsyshire Treasure Goblin a baby draenai? http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/14605869/exclusive-and-premiere-blizzard-merch-at-san-diego-comic-con-6-30-2014
Late addition to the infamous Blizzcon removal slide: Guild Levels and Perks Gone! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/13273137450#6
The latest Artcraft shared the Human Male model. My favorite part of all the Artcrafts is studying the excessive detail on the underwear. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/14569141/artcraft-champion-of-stormwind-6-25-2014
The Deserter debuff has been hotfixed for battlegrounds and PVP. This shouldn’t affect good players. Remember, kids, quitters never win! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/13242714145#1
Horde, Alliance, and Neutral Auction Houses are being merged on each server. Remember, kids, every time you use the auction house, you are buying from [Horde/Alliance] scum! STOP FUNDING THE ENEMY! TRADE ONLY IN TRADE CHAT! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/13271497607#3