WoW Factor: Being positive vs. being honest in games criticism

Today’s column is about the time I tackled my father and stormed out of the house. It is also about World of Warcraft. It covers a lot of ground, that’s my point.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve had loads of positive things to say about World of Warcraft over the past year or so that I’ve been writing this column. I’ve had some pretty negative things to say for a variety of reasons. And I’ve been asked, on occasion, why in the world I’m writing about a game that I “hate.”

Of course, the problem with that question is that it presupposes that I hate the game, that the only possible reason I could have for saying negative things about World of Warcraft is if I just straight-up hate the title and everything it stands for. And that segues nicely into a wider discussion that applies to WoW as well as discussing things in general. Into an examination of what it means to care about something. And yes, it segues into tackling my father.

Crash and burn.See, there are two things that should be understood about my father: He was a drunk, and he genuinely wanted to help people. It’s just that the former frequently interfered with the latter. So when my uncle called him late at night saying that he needed a jumpstart for his truck, my dad was happy to get up and start stumbling over to his truck, despite the fact that his state of inebriation could best be described as “Churchillian.”

I did the only thing I could think of to do. I tackled him to the ground, wrestled his keys out of his hand, and started walking to where my uncle was stuck. Dad didn’t take it particularly well, shouting after me that I obviously didn’t love my father or I wouldn’t act that way. But that simply wasn’t true. I loved my father then, and I miss him now, and I just didn’t want him getting behind the wheel of a vehicle when he was a danger to himself and others.

Not a shining moment of father-son relations, no, but it illustrates a point that tends to get overlooked: Caring about someone or something is not the same as being nice. It means that you care.

Let’s make something as clear as it can possibly be: I adore World of Warcraft. I think that it’s had a more positive effect upon MMOs than can be adequately explained. It took the industry by storm when it came out because it showed that people were waiting to get in on this sort of game if you just made it something other than tediously painful to play. The game has endured for more than a decade and has brought me untold amounts of joy.

For that matter, this is a game in which my wife and I began to walk the road from “friendship” to “relationship,” and it’s the game I can directly credit with introducing me to Massively-that-was. I’ve been a professional writer for seven years now because of this game. If I wanted to make a list of games that have profoundly influenced my life as a whole, this would be right near the top.

Let’s make something else as clear as it can possibly be: World of Warcraft has been stagnating, badly, for several years now. It doesn’t take much to see that. Subscriber declines have been marked and atrocious. The game has continued to pour 90% of its design work into content experienced by 10% of the population at the highest. Horrible content droughts have plagued the title for an extended period of time, and the content that has been released frequently involves offering the most content to the smallest group of players. We are currently eight months out in a content drought after the end of an expansion that had two major patches. Two! And one of those patches wasn’t even a content patch.

And that’s after a 14-month gap before that almost microscopic expansion. Since this time three years ago, we’ve had four major content drops. That’s it. By contrast, The Secret World has managed to put out more content in that same timeframe, and I’m pretty sure that the team behind that game hasn’t got a trillionth of Blizzard’s budget.

It's not enough to tell me that you care when we both know the words are empty air.

This is not good. This is out-and-out bad. It’d be bad coming from any company, and it’s downright insulting from a company that is running an enormously successful game. It’s the result of concentrated, repeated design decisions that have been made over the years.

So what do you do, as someone who cares about the game? The answer is not “you shrug your shoulders and move on.” That’s just putting forth the idea that everything going on here is entirely fine and there’s no reason to give it a second thought.

I cannot do that. I love this game. I love the stuff it contains, I love the potential that it has, I love playing it, and I love what it can be. Saying that things are fine when the game’s developers are clearly running the damn thing into the ground is dishonesty of the highest order.

We suffer.Positivity is not indicative of how much you care about something; passion is. Passion means that sometimes you criticize the things that you care about. You walk backwards through statements made at conventions and figure out if you somehow misheard something. You call out bad communication and actions that build adversarial relationships with players. You keep an eye on what’s being done wrong and you draw attention to it.

You tackle your father and keep him safe when you need to — because you care.

In this job, as with all things, I’m a reflection of what I have to work with. I would love nothing more than to write about a game that really capitalized on the lessons learned in previous years with an eye toward making a better game for all – and I can frequently write about that. But unfortunately, I rarely get a chance to write that about World of Warcraft. Instead, I have wound up writing a lot about delayed content, ignored lessons, and obnoxious habits that don’t need to be repeated because there must have been at least one designer who passed along a memo or two about lessons learned three expansions ago. In theory, anyhow.

I’m angry because this is a game that can be better, should be better, and it isn’t being handled well. To be completely frank, you should be angry too. Criticism does not simply come from a place of hating something; it comes from a place of caring about something enough that you can’t just ignore bad habits.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelop.com. That part’s the same as it’s ever been. Next time around, I’m going to talk about my experience with further play in the Legion alpha, what’s working or not thus far, and why Demon Hunters both totally work and don’t really live up to the mantle of “hero class” as well as they ought to.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

vicariousfan DrowNoble Yes WoW is successful, but its success is fading and Blizzard is the primary fault.  Early on, I’m sure you could say they never did an MMO before so they didn’t know how to deal with such runaway success.  Yet, they keep making mistakes and people are leaving.

DK’s were the “first hero class” introduced in the 2nd expansion.  Yet it’s taken Blizzard til 2016 to make the 2nd hero class?

Their subs are tanking and other games in the Activision stable are now having to pick up the slack.  This doesn’t have to happen if Blizzard can get their s**t together.

carson63000
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carson63000

Silmol EmberDione vicariousfan DrowNoble My suspicion is that the WoW codebase has developed over the last 15 years+ (or thereabouts, not sure how long it was in dev prior to release) to become a staggeringly unmaintainable mess. I’ve worked on codebases that old, and older, and it is terrifying how long it can take to make the simplest change.

Silmol
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Silmol

EmberDione vicariousfan DrowNoble
I worked for a while for a company that did projects for customers – that’s all I can say without jailtime – that were big. Really big. I worked on a small project – 100 software developers, 100 hardware engineers, plus system engineers, operations/UI specialists, and test folks. We built a big system in 3 years on time and under budget. We also got paid overtime after 4 OT hours per week. We had crunch time to meet milestone and delivery targets. But, they kept track of your OT, and would back you off if you had too much. They had hard data that showed dramatic dropoffs in productivity after extended time working OT. And they wouldn’t let you work more than 60 hours/week. I hit 60 hours a couple of times – once before an internal delivery of a device driver for custom hardware I was responsible for, and once during delivery at a customer site. To this day, I question the silicon valley technique of hiring a bunch of newbies and burning them out over a year or two. It’s not a way to build a good culture.

The puzzling thing is that Blizzard has made substantial investments in developer tools – this was confirmed to me by a Blizzard rep a while back. They just don’t seem to have an urgency there any more now that the other games have all the buzz.

EmberDione
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EmberDione

vicariousfan DrowNoble “leisurely” or as industry people like to say “healthy, sustainable, and appropriate”. Crunch is bad. It destroys studios, families, and PEOPLE. And no, throwing more people at the problem doesn’t actually help. WoW’s team has doubled in the last two years, and look what is happening? It’s about tools, pipelines, and expectations. I have a feeling the burning need for leadership to micromanage is the real problem, added with some people thinking that the things they are doing is right.

Keraph
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Keraph

Undon3 Let people who have criticisms and concerns voice them without needless opposition. I adore WoW and am obsessed over it but I still have the cognizance to get where he’s coming from and hope for more out of my favorite game ever!
<3

wjowski
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wjowski

DarkWombat wjowski KevinSmith11 
 Roughly half of WoW’s subscriber base disappearing into the ether says otherwise.

Undon3
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Undon3

Another veiled QQ about raiding, which is to be expected from uber-casuals such as the author. Yeah, WoD lacks content, no, raiding has nothing to do with it, we used to have content AND raids in BC and Vanilla. 
The content only 10% experiences, lol… used to be 1%. it’s also a lie, check raid participation numbers on wowprogress. When Blizz will make that 50% will experience raids, what will you do, QQ about the content that is only experienced by half the people?
When will the QQ stop?

carson63000
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carson63000

hilliard Damonvile breetoplay Eliot_Lefebvre Caec Quantity is not quality. If it was, those games might have more than a few percent as many players as WoW. In Eve’s case, sure, it’s a deliberately niche appeal game. But the others have no excuses.

hilliard
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hilliard

Damonvile breetoplay Eliot_Lefebvre Caec
“Or did they leave because the game is old,”
If the game’s age were the problem you suggest it to be, people would not have purchased the expansion to begin with.
People leave WOW so quickly because the developers have given them nothing compelling to do after the first month or two.  
It’s simply not a case of customers suddenly looking around and realizing “oh, this game is old — see ya!”

hilliard
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hilliard

Damonvile breetoplay Eliot_Lefebvre Caec
Sorry, there are plenty of MMOs just as old or older than WOW that are not only surviving, but thriving.  Runescape, Guild Wars, EQ, Rift, Eve . . . these games are prime examples of the author’s overall point, in that each pumps out new content at a dizzying pace compared with Blizzard, several have reinvented themselves with at least one 2.0 type revamp, and they do these things with fewer resources than Blizzard has at their disposal.

hilliard
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hilliard

Caec
The competition for WOW is not any one game, it is EVERY other game out there.  WOW ceased being the largest MMO on the market years ago.  They now claim themselves the largest “subscription-based” MMO which is probably true — as they are one of only three forced-subscription games available.  They are also one of the very few Western games to be offered in China, which accounts for the larger portion of their subscriber base, according to Activision.  If Blizzard wants to claim an average Chinese kid dropping sixty cents into WOW play time as a “subscriber” that’s fine, but that’s PR value and little else.  
A couple of other corrections …
Activision did not kill Titan due to the market conditions, at least not according to their own description of events.  They pulled the plug because the game was not very good.  There may also have been a bit of overlap with Destiny, though we’ll likely never know how much truth is inherent in that theory.
Blizzard’s own reporting demonstrates that about ten percent of WOW’s playerbase dabble in raiding.  The author’s point on that matter stands as truth.

dorn2
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dorn2

KevinSmith11 wjowski 
This site doesn’t even do reviews.

carson63000
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carson63000

ManastuUtakata carson63000 breetoplay Damonvile Eliot_Lefebvre Caec I don’t know about “entirely okay”, but I’m not sure that selling millions of boxes with a couple of months sub each is really such a disaster, even if it’s not as good as selling millions of boxes with a couple of years sub each.

I dunno, maybe my view is coloured by the fact that I’ve unsubscribed from WoW in between every since expansion, going back to mid-2006 when I cancelled my sub until just before TBC came out. I guess I’ve just never considered playing the same game non stop for year after year after year to even be something I wanted to do.

deepsleeper
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deepsleeper

KevinSmith11 DarkWombat wjowski So you… want a psychopath or sociopath to give a review of WoW in a column that isn’t about reviewing anything?

Someone should really tackle you away from the keyboard.

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

carson63000 breetoplay Damonvile Eliot_Lefebvre Caec 
So you are claiming that’s entirely okay? O.o

carson63000
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carson63000

breetoplay Damonvile Eliot_Lefebvre Caec Pretty much every other MMO loses half their players within a month. Why is it so shocking that WoW now does the same, now that it is a decade old?

Damonvile
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Damonvile

breetoplay Damonvile Eliot_Lefebvre Caec That’s not what I’m saying at all. If that was the case I wouldn’t even be here.

You did make the exact point I was talking about though. How many people are going to buy legion ? if they leave again after a few months even though it gets good reviews will it be because Blizzard is run by idiots and they should have listened to who ever happens to be pointing at the numbers and ranting. Or did they leave because the game is old, it’s still wow no matter what they do and it’s now entered the same up and down cycle every mmo is in when it comes to new content vrs retention. It’s sweeps are just way larger because it’s population is.

breetoplay
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breetoplay

Grimmtooth breetoplay orionite It’s actually more an issue of time — for bugs to be worked out and other projects to be finished ahead of it in order. ;)

breetoplay
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breetoplay

Damonvile breetoplay Eliot_Lefebvre Caec What you’re saying boils down to “armchair designers should shut up.”
I might be a games critic for a living rather than a mathematician, but I can still count: 10 million people bought Draenor and were playing WoW a year ago. Half of them quit within a year. You definitely don’t need to be a video game developer to know something is deeply wrong there.

Anad
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Anad

quark1020 This is an editorial, not a review :o

vicariousfan
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vicariousfan

DrowNoble well pretty much every single MMO out there releases more content then WoW does.  I think its more of comibination of things, a proper development cycle for one and not having to follow a proper SCRUM plan but also a lot of well how do i put this…

no need to rush…  I mean wow is succesful.. and so their developers never have the need to do crunch time or stay late to work on things.   Most game developers will tell you they often have to stay late to finish and stay on schedule.  However WoW being as succesful as it is and Blizz getting truck loads of money means they can let their employees work at a leisurely pace.

The obvious solution would be hire 2 more small teams and have them work exclusively on filler content for in between the major updates. 

I mean there is still a LOT of things they could add to WoW to retain players even if its something simple like add mid level dungeon or two.  Or do another LFR for a classic WoW raid.

DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

I’m not sure if it’s Blizzard’s incompetence or Activision higher ups overriding decisions.  He used a good example with The Secret World, a smaller dev team with smaller revenue that has released more content than WoW in the same time frame.  There are more examples of the same thing from other companies too.

The idea of artifact weapons is a good idea, badly implimented … Blizzard’s usual style.  It would of been a great idea for horizontal progression if granted at 110 or close to that.  Instead, every paladin and their mothers gets Ashbringer pretty much right off the bat, so (again) tedium will set in once you hit the cap.  Why?  Simple, we both know that Blizzard will go back to the “make more dailies and raids” content than only the top 10% enjoy … leaving the rest to un-sub.

DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

cheesybites76 There are other mmos that have been out a long (if not longer) that continue to grow.  EQ1 and EQ2 are just two examples as they continue to release content and expansions.  All with a fraction of the dev team and revenue that Blizzard has.

It’s mind boggling that other companies can seem to do what Blizzard can not or will not do…. provide content variety for their online game.

KevinSmith11
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KevinSmith11

DarkWombat wjowski KevinSmith11 There are only two types of people that are capable of not using emotion or attachment in everyday life, those are sociopath and pyschopath.  This is a medical fact go look it up if you think otherwise.

Yes it is my opinion that his writings are skewed due to his emotional attachment to the game, which he himself states he has.  And I don’t think anything is wrong with that, but you are getting a skewed viewpoint.

It is not opinion that personal attachment will skew the view of a person unless they have one of the aforementioned personalities, just ask any psychologists, that is a fact.

You may not realize that attachments and feelings effect everything you do everyday but they do.

DarkWombat
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DarkWombat

wjowski KevinSmith11 in your opinion

KevinSmith11
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KevinSmith11

wjowski KevinSmith11 I know that this wasn’t a review, what I am saying is that you can’t do a review on something that you have this type of personal attachment.  It will be skewed to your feeling and not about the gameplay itself.  His reviews on this game have been skewed every time because of this.  It isn’t his fault it is just how it is.

MrEllis
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MrEllis

I feel someone may boil someone else’s rabbit before this is all over.

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

breetoplay Eliot_Lefebvre Caec There are three kinds of lie, etc.

wjowski
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wjowski

KevinSmith11 
It’s not a review, it’s an editorial.  And it’s one hundred percent correct.

cheesybites76
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cheesybites76

OK so I agree with some of what was said here, I mean I think the article is a tad personal, but as a gamer who loves games in general and who used to love WoW (still do to a certain point), I can understand the tone.
I think the overarching thing about WoW and its decline is that the game is approaching its eleventh year of operation.  I don’t think anyone would expect it to be growing at this point, and honestly for it to retain as many people as it has – remember, no other game can touch its player base, at least not yet – is pretty amazing.  It may be more of a nod to the old vets and their persistence and trepidation towards changing games, but it’s still kicking fairly well.  That being said, if Legion winds up flopping like WoD did, then we may start having a different conversation about its future, but for the present I would say it’s done better than expected at this stage of its existence.
IMO, if Blizzard wants to revitalize this thing, they probably need to start seriously looking at making WoW 2.  If Legion winds up being good then they may be able to extend the life of the old beast by a while, but at some point that’s just going to become an exercise in diminishing returns.

wjowski
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wjowski

Well said.

KevinSmith11
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KevinSmith11

When a person has this type of attachment there is not way to do a fair and balanced review at all.  There will always be a problem with this isn’t the way it should be based off personal feeling.  And that is fine but you have to be able to step back from feelings and present facts and figures without the emotional response.

borghive
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borghive

This thread whether it is true or not sums up things quite nicely.

http://www.mmo-champion.com/threads/1948040-Why-WoD-Turned-Out-The-Way-It-Did-From-a-WoW-Insider

Actintous
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Actintous

Heading this article with “being honest in games criticism” is a bit like Fox News calling itself “fair and balanced”. Just because you say something is true doesn’t mean it is.

The personal anecdote at the start seems to be used to justify bad professional behaviour? The article and Eliot’s comments below proceed to make incorrect and/or unsubstantiated statements. A common thread of Eliot’s WoW articles have been the selective use (and omission)  of facts to justify his views, and his assumption that “everyone things like this”. While I am pleased he now has access to the alpha, the anger he expresses in his writing suggests he needs to have a break from WoW (as many of us have done at different times).

What disappoints me is that Bree allowed this to be published on the site AND promoted this via twitter. I enjoy reading and following Justin and MJ, as they play a broad range of games, and can give a balanced view but with a sense of humour. However I am going to give Massively a break for a while as I don’t agree with the editorial policy here.

Lord Zorvan
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Lord Zorvan

Karl_Hungus Nyres carson63000 Yes, a “KKK” columnwould definitely get you plenty of views and comments. Whether they’d be the ones you’d want is another story entirely.

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

Damonvile breetoplay Eliot_Lefebvre Caec 
The apologetics aside…something tells me you are seeing this from a glass half full with a leaky bottom.

mmonerd
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mmonerd

”  By contrast, http://massivelyop.com/tag/the-secret-world has managed to put out more content in that same timeframe, and I’m pretty sure that the team behind that game hasn’t got a trillionth of Blizzard’s budget. ” 

View post on imgur.com

Grimmtooth
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Grimmtooth

breetoplay Kanbe & no you can’t have my blood for contracts signing or any other purpose. (maybe LF won’t eat this comment)

Grimmtooth
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Grimmtooth

breetoplay orionite How much $$$ do you need to dump livefrye? I’ll donate.

Damonvile
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Damonvile

breetoplay Eliot_Lefebvre Caec The drive away all the people thing I sort of have an issue with. People seem to forget this is an 11 year old game….they say it but they don’t act like they really realize just how old that is for an mmo and what state the other mmos of that era are in.

Most of these brilliant ideas that involve pointing out how bad Blizzard has failed and lost 55% of their player base seem to think the game could last forever if only Blizzard listened to them or done something different. When they’re the only company that’s gotten to and maintained the largest player base in mmo history people are a bit delusional when they talk about ” what they should have done” If no other company can even come close….maybe ” your” ( not you personally ) idea isn’t as great as you think it is and it really comes down to everything is easy when you have no idea what you’re talking about.

There’s something to be said for having your ideas tested in the real world, and when they never have and never will, maybe these people shouldn’t pat themselves on the back too hard thinking they’re so smart. People spend enough time on a forum dreaming up “ideas” and they start to believe there’s no questions the game would be better off if they did it. If it was that easy, we’d have more than one wow mega hit….ever.

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

Foggye 
Eliot’s Dad: “I shall drive this car to the beaches!” <3

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

breetoplay borghive ManastuUtakata agemyth 
Perhaps this is hope.

breetoplay
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breetoplay

borghive ManastuUtakata breetoplay agemyth They also moved a lot of them -back-, though, to Draenor when Titan went boom.

breetoplay
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breetoplay

Eliot_Lefebvre Caec Step 1: Pander only to people who like a thing
Step 2: Drive away all the people who don’t like a thing
Step 3: Count the people left to show that your playerbase liked that thing all along
Step 4: Congratulate yourself on math well done

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

Karl_Hungus We don’t like people working for free. Do a job, get paid.

Berius
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Berius

I guess, but his criticisms seems to take a deeper route than usual. He’s not the only one that has a personal investment in the game. I can understand that everything said isn’t going to be positive about WoW, (I especially have my gripes with it)  but he seems to take it to a more personal level than it needs to be. 

Which is odd, because I greatly enjoy his Shaman columns on Blizzard Watch.

borghive
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borghive

CristianoDiaz There really is no excuse for a developer team of this size, and a company this size, to have issues like they do.

borghive
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borghive

ManastuUtakata breetoplay agemyth They moved most of the good core developers (the ones with all the talent) over to Titan. They pretty had the B team working on wow the last 3 expansions.

Karl_Hungus
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Karl_Hungus

Nyres carson63000 
Aww nobody likes the idea of me getting my own column :(
But it could be called “Karl’s Kriticism Korner”!

flatline4400
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flatline4400

Yep!

wpDiscuz