With Mists of Pandaria wrapping up and Warlords of Draenor in its final stages of development, now seems like a good time to review Blizzard’s actions of late. Blizzard’s technical and artistic work with Warlords has been great – Lords of War, the cinematic, and the new character models are among their finest accomplishments. But many other decisions have either disappointed the community or negatively impacted the game, and it is not clear if Blizzard knows just how they are eroding their relationship with their fans.
The litany of charges against Blizzard are ever growing: removal of the legendary cloak, changing the capital cities, no flight until 6.1 (if ever). It is hard to take anything Blizzard says with a straight face anymore after the way their plans shift. Azeroth Choppers is a perfect example of this. The early announcement for the series said that players would get to vote on which faction would receive a free in-game mount. And while the ‘free’ part should have indicated the true competitive stakes, the show acted as though the losing bike would never be seen in game. Yet players knew that Blizzard would never ignore an entire faction, even with regards to a single mount, and the general consensus was that both bikes would be available somehow.
While Blizzard waited until a few weeks after revealing the winning bike to confirm this (they waited just long enough for players to think they actually might not put the Alliance bike in game), they announced that they were caving to fan pressure by making the Alliance bike available from a vendor. Anyone who was paying attention knew that this would be the outcome, so the question becomes whether Blizzard was just pretending for purposes of the competition, or whether whoever was in charge of Azeroth Choppers lacks an understanding of the game and its fans.
Even with the Legendary Cloak, the assumption among the fanbase was that Blizzard’s staff has to know that these decisions are upsetting, if not outright damaging. After the announcement of the questline’s removal, Olivia Grace tweeted “It’s gotta be such hard work for CMs to justify changes that clearly aren’t for the better. Don’t envy them that job. Hug a CM today ~hugs~” which prompted an exchange with Bashiok in which he responded, “Well in general, implying I’m just towing the company line and don’t believe in the decisions we make is… insulting.” The sad thing is that regardless of the truth, that is the exact response he should give. Despite Bashiok’s actual opinions on the decisions he and the other CM’s need to communicate, Blizzard needs to present a united front. Bashiok may well be insulted, as we are questioning his integrity, but the larger point is that a spokesperson is not paid to have integrity – they are paid to espouse the opinions and views of their employer. Anytime Bashiok’s and Blizzard’s opinions may align is just a happy (and hidden) coincidence.
The problem is that as players, if we witness the game damaged with each update, we want to know someone at Blizzard is arguing against those changes for us, even if that party is clearly failing. Bashiok and the other CM’s may appear to drink the metaphorical kool-aid, but we do not know what sorts of discussions they are engaging in with the development team behind the scenes. It would be extremely disconcerting if no one at Blizzard pointed out that the announcement of removing the cloak would draw an outcry from the fanbase. It would be heartbreaking if no one even had the thought. Blizzard is full of smart people, and I cannot believe that every single employee agrees with every decision Blizzard has made throughout Warlords development.
That said, the Community Management team may well be removed from having any ability to provide feedback. As much as I may want them to be our ambassadors into Blizzard, they are paid to be Blizzard’s ambassadors to us. A large part of being on a team like that, especially a team that would currently feel under siege from an ungrateful and unrelenting player base, is that when facing a threat like the perceived onslaught of tweets and forum posts, a bunker mentality develops. The more we rally against Blizzard, the tighter their front lines will bond and unite with the party line, and the less perspective we can gain into what is truly happening.
It seems odd to say this, but the constant problem with Blizzard’s handling of the Warlords of Draenor development has been a steady lack of communication. Or rather, they will communicate when hyping and promoting the game serves them, but when changes are made, that information is often held until too late and presented in a format that does not do the news justice (such as through twitter). The result is the impression that Blizzard does not know what it is doing. Waiting a few weeks to announce both Azeroth Choppers bikes would be available is ultimately harmless, but for Blizzard to claim that the Legendary Cloak was always intended to be a limited-time item less than two months before it is scheduled to be removed is suspicious. Its silly to think that we’ve had over a year to earn the cloak during patch 5.4, but anyone who held off (and may have been considering earning it after Warlords launch) suddenly finds themselves pressed for time. Had we known even a few months ago that we should not expect the cloak to be around forever, that problem is alleviated. Yet Blizzard gave no such indication at all throughout Mists of Pandaria.
This fact becomes especially odd when compared against Blizzard’s other recent marketing efforts. Blizzard has taken every opportunity to encourage people to resubscribe throughout the content drought. The true endgame of Azeroth Choppers was not to provide players with a free(-ish) mount; it was to encourage players who were considering letting their subscription lapse between July and September to remain subscribed just a little longer. What is the true endgame of the cloak announcement?
If Blizzard played dumb while the playerbase knew the outcome to Azeroth Choppers, could history repeat itself? Claiming the cloak has an expiration date means that everyone who was thinking they could get it on their alts in the early days of Warlords now has to adjust their schedule. The process will take about two months, which is exactly when Blizzard announced the cloak would be removed. Lapsed players need to resubscribe, and anyone thinking of unsubbing for two months now cannot.
The announcement garnered numerous outcries of disappointment and unfairness. We’ve already seen Blizzard claim to accede to public demand by making the Alliance Chopper available, even if that was likely their plan all along. What if Blizzard is claiming that the cloak is temporary, only during these two months leading up to Warlords (and in particular, the month of September, which marks the end of 3rd quarter 2014) and once they get whatever subscription bump they were hoping for by 9/30, they will announce that due to public demand, the cloak will now be available in Warlords and beyond? The recently announced Legend of Pandaria title could be a feat of Strength for anyone who earned the cloak during Mists, similar to the Of the Black Harvest title for warlocks that complete the green fire quest during Mists.
Blizzard should be insulted by my insinuation, but it is their questionable actions lately that have given fodder to the cynical fan. Blizzard needs to make money, and their quarterly projections have surely been affected by the delays to Warlords. But they already claim $15 / month from their players, not counting all the pets and mounts on the store, or the $50+ cover charge for Draenor. I hope I am wrong and the removal of the legendary questline is just a huge misunderstanding, because if this turns out to be a ploy to boost quarterly numbers, then I will be insulted, and I would hope Bashiok would be, too.
Garrison preview part 2! Now we can find out what happens after the cliffhanger ending to part 1! http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/blog/15978457/garrison-preview-part-2-all-buildings-great-and-small-25-09-2014
New Undelete Feature announced for recovering lost characters! Now you can prank someone by logging into their account and deleting their stuff, and its not the end of the world! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/16071430/new-feature-incoming-undelete-character-9-25-2014