Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Out of touch?

WoW for sure isn’t dying, but not even I, normally a sparkling optimist, can deny that something has happened. It isn’t the same old "WoW is dying since I don’t like the game personally” whining that has been going on since the game was launched. It’s different.

What we’ve seen lately is a serious discussion in the community about the state of the game, where a lot of relevant points of concern have been made by veteran players. And yes, we’re also seeing the same players voting by their feet now, unsubscribing. Of course those losses might be compensated to some extent by the influx of new players, and therefore isn't such a big deal to Blizzard. However something tells me that it isn’t exactly as if they’re singing up in masses these days, at least not on the old and established markets as North America and Europe.

Ringing the bells
Considering the atmosphere surrounding WoW currently, Blizzard’s latest PR activity left me a bit puzzled. Are they really this much out of touch with their audience? Or is this just picture of their priorities: that the share holders are more important as a target group than the players are nowadays?

While I enjoyed the 20 year anniversary movie, I seriously wonder what they were thinking ringing the bells at the Nasdaq stock exchange the other day.

How cool as it might have felt for those former geeks to be let into those salons, I don’t think it looks quite as cool in the eyes of the customers of Blizzard. They’re honesty wasting some of their street cred capital this way.

Blizzard previously has been good at giving the impression (probably truthfully) that the people who work there are passionate gamers themselves and because of this they understand their audience completely. They’re on our side. But on whose side are those costume dressed gentlemen? Sure, they claim that they had a game of Starcraft II after ringing that bell, but it really doesn’t change the main impression: That the stock market matters more.

Now don’t take me wrong, I don’t think the stock market shouldn’t matter to Blizzard. In the end, it’s a company and not an NGO, they need to make a profit. But they would make wiser not to be so blatantly open about it, taking better care of their image.

The fact that they’re soon to launch yet another mount in the Blizzard store doesn’t help to improve the impression.

Ghostcrawler in touch
Not all is bad though. Even if some people seem to have lost their touch, Ghostcrawler hasn’t. After a couple of months of silence, he’s back with an interesting and honest post about raid difficulties. It doesn’t only show how hard they work to balance the end game to be enjoyable to a wide array of players. It also signals that they are interested to get feedback from the community that might help them to correct whatever did go wrong in Cataclysm. The US thread is spotting some 1500 comments and new ones are still incoming, many of them very long, detailed and insightful.

I sincerely hope they’ll make good use of it and show that this discussion is more important to them than ringing the bells at the stock market and that they’re still in touch with their players.


Pewter said...

Reading the comments kinda made me giggle - one guy talking about the Blizz management being 'old' and then a load of comments asking about stock options. As much as this seems out of touch - perhaps it's much more inline with the 'aging' gaming demographic? We were all young once, but my gaming is as much a part of my adult life as ISAs, mortgages and stock options.

Also using the opportunity to depict deathwing to scale is kinda awesome ;)

Nils said...

1) Players become bored, because they don't have enough to do.

2) The don't have enough to do, because what they had done in previous expansions doesn't work that well in Cataclysm.

3) For example:
a) Twinking (phasing, class homogenization, ubereasy leveling content,...)
b) Running dungeons (there aren't enough)
c) pugging (what is there to pug?)

One origin of this is WoWs way to increase character power. It is vulnerable to level increases, because it is completely vertical. So keep the time to max level constant, the leveling has to be compressed. The compressed leveling is not fun (doing grey quests ..)

The awkard transition from lvl 60 into TBC and WotLK content storywise is a problem - especially for new players.

And lastly, I already wrote before:
You can either tell everybody that he shall raid and make raiding easy (WotLK) or tell people that there is a lot of other stuff to do (vanilla, TBC) and make raiding hard.
What doesn't work is making raiding hard and telling everbody that he shall raid (Cataclysm).

Fuzzy_Magicz said...

People will be vocal about aspects of the game they don't like, and this will especially happen after expansion releases. Both TBC and WotLK triggered a large exodus and influx of players, and arguably Cata changes things even more.
Based on your last post, I would have to make the judgement that 'it feels different' this time because you're on the other side of the fence. You're someone who's seriously thinking about quitting, and more likely to pick up negative attitudes about the game.
But for goodness' sake, stop making depressing posts. You're turning into Tobold.

Ama said...

I second what Fuzzy Magicz has said. I for one am still enjoying the game immensely. I know I'm only one, but ~shrug~ It has to count for something.

Zack Daschofsky said...

I also agree with Fuzzy. I think since you personally seem to be burning out, it seems worse than it is. From my side of the fence (as a guild leader, and recruitment officer), I am seeing a large influx of new players, and even some players who say they are back after an extended break.

Vixsin said...

I'm a little shocked that you'd view Blizzard's NASDEQ visit as something other than impressive. For most who have the opportunity (aside from the times where they invite the "It" celebrity of the moment), it's a huge honor and distinction. It's recognition of a company that these gentlemen fostered to success.

IMO, they've worked their asses off, and they deserve the opportunity to be proud of it, no matter the timing or the PR implications. Personally, I can only imagine how cool the experience was and I do hope they got just a little geeked up about it.

Nelli's Player said...

"Hush now. Every now and then you have to just sit next to me and watch, because some things just don't exist for you, Nelli ... "

It's very rare that I speak about the nature of Wow not using my little warlock's voice. By the Great gear - as she would say - one of the things I can't thank you enough for Larisa is the chance to stretch Nelli's thoughts during my lunchtime break.

But your most recent post is square in the Real World.

And I think I'm in both agreement and disagreement with you; and it IS all tied up in the ringing of a bell on Wall Street.

When you strip away all the rhetoric, about Blizzard losing touch, about all the things that are right or wrong with WoW it's because we live, as the old proverb goes:

We Live In Interesting Times.

Including the fact, I do believe, that turn of phase originated as a curse.

We are the people experiencing a major transition. Right smack dab in the middle of change. Blizzard's most important, most dramatic accomplishment has nothing to do with gameplay, scripting or phasing or any of those technical things - they were just the tools that got them here. They have managed to change the ground rules, the basic mores of the MMORPG; no longer is computer gaming a niche or ghetto relegated to a few hundred thousand happy geeks sitting all alone in a dark room behind their computer screen, the MMORPG is now mainstream.

Whether we like it or now, WoW is a mainstream game. For example, one of the best healers on our server is a grandmother, her compatriot occasionally has to take a break during a raid to pick up her daughter from work, and yes, we had Dad the Mage tell Son the Hunter no raid for you until you finish your home work.

You can't get more mainstream then that.

And that's the best thing that ever happened. It means, as an entertainment, MMORPGs are here to stay; they will attract more, not less participants, and the revenues will support the development of the next generation of gaming. And I hope I am still playing when that happens; then again I do remember being in High School and buying these three staple bound pamphlets from a group of folks in Lake Geneva. So yes, I have seen the industry evolve over time.

And so here we are, watching the change from niche to mainstream, with all its good and bads. It makes me think of certain mainstream writers - Steven King, Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood, of GATTACA, Star Wars and WTEN's Lathe of Heaven.

Because being mainstream doesn't have to be a bad thing. What it may mean is choices ... there may be no WoW/Titan Killer out there ... but if we are lucky, what this transition means is that in the future we have choices - not WoW killers per se but other games that will leverage other aspects of the gaming environment.

We are not quite there yet. It may take a few years to get there. And its going to be a rough and tumble ride until we do get there.

So yes, one day I'll choose to stop playing WoW. I'm still having fun. but I don't look at the inevitable as a tragic wow-is-dying thing; though if I drift away the friends I've made that would be very sad. But that has nothing to do with the game per se.

You see, what excites me is NOT some new fantasy world or other change of setting or tweak of the rules set. It's what is the next GENERATION of the Game? What new opportunities for roleplaying are just over the horizon?

Let them ring the bell on Wall Street. It means we are here to stay, and they understand that.

It is the recognition that the times, for better or worse, are changing.

And as for what's in the future?

I can't wait to find out!


"Nelli, tell Mezzy to stop poking me. It's not MY fault we are only seeing PvP loot in Tol Barad ..."

Nerokis said...

I agree with Vixsin. To be totally honest, I found your view of that little event a bit bizarre. They were invited to mark Blizzard's 20th anniversary with the ringing of the closing bell, and they did so. SC2 was the in the backdrop of the NASDAQ stock exchange when it shut down that day. Personally, I found the whole thing kind of neat.

I don't think it was particularly bad PR, either. Until now, I've seen nothing but favorable to neutral coverage of the event. I don't think most people are particularly offended by the presence of Blizzard employees at NASDAQ.

In this case, I think the people out of touch would be the ones complaining about it. =P

Anonymous said...

I'm not offended by Blizzard's presence on the stock floor, I'm annoyed by the stock market as an entity. :P

Cheers for Blizzard's success, but I think it's fair to note that they aren't the same little player-centric company any longer. Game design changes when the target audience changes.

Nerokis said...

I think it's fair to say Blizzard has changed. But to read so much into this one event?

"They’re on our side. But on whose side are those costume dressed gentlemen? Sure, they claim that they had a game of Starcraft II after ringing that bell, but it really doesn’t change the main impression: That the stock market matters more."

It's almost as if you can't walk onto the stock floor without sacrificing all your principles. Larisa went from raving about Blizzard after watching the anniversary video, to this...all on the basis that Blizzard dared to ring the closing bell in celebration of their success?

Seriously, I can't emphasize this enough: a picture of Frank and Mike (I think?) playing SC2 on the stock floor leading someone to ponder "who's side they're on" doesn't really seem reasonable to me.

Anonymous said...

"What we’ve seen lately is a serious discussion in the community about the state of the game, where a lot of relevant points of concern have been made by veteran players."

I think some people are extrapolating "the community" as you refer to it as the WoW player community. It is not. It is a fraction of one percent of all players who read and comment on WoW blogs and post in forums. It is important to keep this mind.

"The community" as referred to here may represent the thoughts of some veteran players, but it is not representative of the WoW playerbase. Far, far from it, I assure you.

spinksville said...

Remember, they are working on a new MMO that they think will impress WoW players, as well as Diablo III.

I think Blizzard may have decided that WoW is fine the way it is.

Bristal said...

I truly believe that WoW, and Blizzard really haven't changed much at all. It certainly has been refined, and a few casual features added, but dungeons/raiding/PvP are just as they were.

It's the people who play the game that have changed.

Clearly there are now lots of different types of players playing the game, but also the people who have played for years have also changed. Five years ago, the main player base had to be 20 somethings in college or post-college living at home with lots of time and energy. The game was edgy and cool and time consuming.

Now those players are maturing and have less time. A huge number of casuals, younger and older players have came on board, and they have less ininterrupted time to play

I think the primary problem WoW is having is that it's afraid to change from it's successful edgy end-game raider roots, to cater to a new audience that it may or may not stick around.

It's the new audience that is now bored. The edgy raiders of old seem to continue to love and defend the game. said...

Grrr still can't comment...

gnomeaggedon said...

I don't think that WoW is dying, but that we are changing.

Wow was OUR game, now it's everyone's game and it appears right now that there are other things worthy of capturing players imagination.

I think back 6 years and my friends and I played multiple games, our LANs were filled with "what next?", where for the last few years it has been "come to the LAN and play WoW (what's the point right?)... not playing WoW, probably not worth coming".

My friends are having our annual Easter LAN and once again there is talk of what will be played. Many of them are still subscribed to WoW, but a game balance is being restored.

I know over the years Tobold has pondered what quantity of subscribers makes a successful game, as none could compete with 10+ million.. I think his number was around 1 million.

So, even if 11 million players leave WoW (not necessarily Blizzard games), WoW will still be a success.

Even if there is an exodus, and I don't know that there is, rather our narrow view of the player base, formed of motivated bloggers is changing, even if there is an exodus, it would probably work in Blizzard's favor, as when the nextgenmmo does arrive, diehards will be fresh and ready for the new Blizzard experience.

Until then, I think if we are loving it, continue loving it, if not, maybe time to replenish our non-Blizzard stores of joy, so we can appreciate their virtual world when it arrives.

Rhii said...

I'm glad someone said it before I did, because I was hesitant to suggest the idea, but Larisa, it strikes me that you feel something really has changed because you're becoming the jaded veteran yourself. I don't feel that the game has changed all that much.

Sure the mechanics change, and the scenery changes, guild structures, raid sizes, I change classes, I change servers... but the game has the same luster to me that it ever did. I don't feel in the slightest that the game's atmosphere has decayed or that the sparkle has gone out.

It's obvious from your tone lately that the game doesn't have the same joy for you as it once did. While I couldn't imagine you sounding disspirited, you've gone from radiant to merely cheerful recently, and that's fine. But the fact that you're getting close to moving on doesn't mean the game is dying any more than it did when the last blogger said it.

Anonymous said...

I think WoW is suffering from giving us what we ask for.

Although rarity in items makes for memorable excitement when you finally get something (how many rogues can remember their barman shanker, can you name an item you've gotten in cata?), we complained that we were tired of running instances to go away empty handed. Now not only will what we want probably drop for us, if it doesn't we can just purchase it with points.

Top End raiders complained about the gating system. So they excluded that in cata and now they complain how brutal the grind was to clear heroics this time around.

We wanted the ability to group easily (I'm guilty of this) so they gave us LFD. Now grouping is like strangers getting on a subway going to their destination without any communication or connection made.

They've made WoW into the game we wanted forgetting that putting the game in the hands of the users instead of the developers is like letting your kid make a pizza with whatever ingredients they want - fun and easy to do but who's going to actually enjoy eating it.

Redbeard said...

Given where Blizz came from --1991 had companies like MicroProse with Civ as the dominant PC software gaming company-- Blizz has earned the right to ring the NASDAQ bell.

Blizz did what EQ and the MUDs and MUSHs before them couldn't: take MMOs mainstream. Blizz only loses street cred with people who think that the act of incorporation means that you surrender to "The Man", such as the hacker crowd.

I don't think that WoW has changed too much, but what has changed is us. Cata has different design focii than Wrath did, just like Wrath was different than BC. But as ironic enough as it seems, some people want a new endgame Wrath experience instead of a beginning game Cata experience.

Stepping back and examining what Blizz did with WoW --overhaul all of the Vanilla content and instances and at the same time add six new zones (including Tol Barad)-- Cata is quite an accomplishment. To focus solely on endgame --both heroic instances and raiding-- seems to me a bit myopic. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the notion that the game only begins on endgame.

For the people who live only for endgame, then yeah, I guess there's a bit of grumbling around. But to that crowd, no MMO will remain a happy occasion for long. There's the addiction to the "shiny!" that has to be satisfied.

Azzur said...

I guess it's interesting because in WOTLK people were complaining that it was too easy. Now, Cata has brought challenging raids and people are complaining. As an "upper-class" raider (1/13 HM), this expansion has been perfect for me. The raids are sufficiently challenging yet we are making progress.

However, I do understand that raids are probably too challenging for the average player and can be disheartening. However, the selfish part of me wants blizzard to continue on the same path since I'm enjoying it a lot!

Dwism said...

I think that there is a huge difference in what european gamers and US gamers consider "street-cred-cool", when talking about Wall-street.
While I agree with you, that to me, that seems like selling out. I think to a lot of US gamers ( taking Vixsin's comment hostage here), the fact that "one of us nerdy gamers" get to do the whole Wall-street and have the gaming logo on top of NASDAQ is the über of cool... Maybe next to having the president say "hell, its about time".

Larísa said...

who commented on that I seem to be burned out, negative about WoW etc:

I recently stated that I will not play WoW forever (who will?), and that I won’t candidate for a legendary weapon since I’m not entirely sure I’ll make use of it for its entire lifetime. But this doesn’t mean that I’m completely burned out, need to take a break or leave today. While I appreciate the concerns, I reserve the right to take that decision for myself thank you very much.

I also think this post was a little bit misunderstood. It wasn’t mainly about the problems WoW may or may not be facing, but rather a questioning of how they choose to profile themselves as a company. Working in PR/marketing myself, I’m interested to see how companies build their brand in the head of the customers, not over night, but with small decisions they take every day. I think that Ghostcrawler’s interaction with the community is for the good. Thanks to his willingness to listen and communicate, being quite transparent about what’s going on, he helps to build a relation with the audience.

I don’t think ringing the bells at Wall Street has the same effect. It might be a cultural thing though, as for instance Dwism is pointing out. Maybe I’m misjudging it wearing my European glasses, not realizing how cool this might look in the eyes of an US audience.

@Pewter: but isn’t that deathwing kind of small? I always imagined the dragon bigger.

@Fuzzy Magicz: I’m turning into Tobold? Geez, that’s quite a compliment in my world. I’m flattered!

@Nelli: Do you know that you write the best and coolest comments ever here at the inn? I appreciate immensely every time you speak up, be it in or out of character. Thank you.

I never quite get used to the mainstream thing either. The SF bookshop in Stockholm is nowadays situated in the middle of the tourist area and it’s huge and always full of people. Back in the days it used to be a little room in a cellar that only a handful of geeks knew of…

I suppose it’s somewhere the victory of the nerds, but sometimes I miss the old underdog times as well, as weird as it sounds.

@Nerokis: I don’t think it’s bizarre, perhaps more of a European perspective?

: Your comment is really a different discussion, but I do agree. As a game designer you shouldn’t listen TOO carefully at what the players say they want, since they’re not always capable of seeing the consequences. Just like your kid-eating-pizza example.

Anonymous said...

Ghostcrawler's comments about how they're happy with the difficulty affect me like nails on a chalkboard. Far from being a good thing, his comments reinforce my desire to not send his employer a single dollar ever again.

Anonymous said...

On the PR front, I think it's important to keep in mind that Blizzard has a number of different audiences it speaks to. The customers are, of course, critically important but they also have to consider their image among various business interests. If they had turned down the chance to ring the bell, that would have sent a message as well. The company's success is not all about gamer street cred.