WoW Factor: Legion testing is an exercise in absurd decisions

    
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Aw yus.

One of my favorite bits from The Office is when Michael is having his budget explained to him. You don’t need to know the context; the funniest bit is right on YouTube, as it’s explained to him that there are elements of his budget that are devoted not to bills or to luxuries but to things that no one would ever need under any circumstances. It’s absurd. It’s ridiculous.

That’s how I feel about the World of Warcraft process on Legion testing so far. It’s not that the decisions being made are bad, although they are, it’s that they are absurd. They do not make any sense. It’s like trying to read about the Time Cube, where every time it starts to sort of make sense you realize that no, that actually makes less sense.

I can’t even really say they’re altogether bad decisions, just… weird ones. Ones that don’t make a heck of a lot of sense. Let’s just sort of… walk though them, analyze them, and try to make sense out of it. Even though I know it’s ultimately a fruitless exercise.

The first bit of news we got vis-a-vis beta testing was at Gamescom, when we were promised that beta testing would begin this year. Right then, I was predicting that we wouldn’t be seeing the expansion before June 2016, since the reasonable definition of “beta this year” included beta starting up around BlizzCon. It was speculation, but it was speculation based on what we had seen happening up to that point.

Cue BlizzCon, during which we were told that beta would be starting in the weeks following BlizzCon. That told me that June was overly optimistic to start with. I realize that the information we’ve been given included promises that the game had been worked on before Warlords of Draenor had released, but the fact of the matter is that whatever sort of pre-design work had been done, the expansion is not even in a fully playable test state. It needed to be ready at BlizzCon and it was not.

Then, there were design blogs. And then, silence.

Creeping in, like a thief in the night.

Alpha testing started up not too long after the design blogs were posted, of course, but it started with less of a bang and more of a soft whisper. (A careless whisper, even.) No official announcement was ever made, to my knowledge; people just started being able to log in and go. The first announcement we’ve gotten is the most recent announcement that it’s expanding… after the initial version contained little more than the demo on the floor of BlizzCon. There ain’t a lot there, in other words.

Why is all of this absurd? Because it’s completely kneecapping any hype, any enthusiasm, any forward momentum that Blizzard could otherwise generate. That attitude of cautious excitement surrounding BlizzCon has gone down to nothing. Yes, I feel that pretty strongly since I’m currently not in the testing, but that’s secondary to the fact that the developers are not putting forth a strong effort to capitalize on any kind of momentum.

Instead, we’ve had weak gestures that technically fulfill the promises put forth with little to no buzz, with the expectation that fan sites will take up the slack of promoting and getting people to care. And we are definitely looking at very early testing builds, the sort of thing that make even the September date on the Legion pre-order page look kind of optimistic.

It seems to me like this is the sort of thing that Blizzard would and should be trumpeting from the hills. But then, it seems to me that the company really should have been ready for beta testing to start at BlizzCon based around what was said when the expansion was announced, so what do I know? That’s when we get into “absurd” territory, where the actions being taken just do not make sense. Not “these are bad decisions” so much as “these are decisions designed to pursue absolutely no discernable goal.”

Well, unless you assume there’s some sort of elaborate The Producers-style situation going on here, but Warlords of Draenor already launched, so I think we missed the window on that.

WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING NOW?!

The datamined stuff we’ve seen thus far looks pretty cool, although looking at the Artifact setup both confirms my existing thought that it’d be ridiculous to just abandon this system and implies that it’s really not going to stick around past this one expansion. A shame. We also got the out-of-the-blue announcement of Gnome Hunters with no other combinations anywhere, which seems pretty odd – it’s not as if WoW has historically lacked in the population of Hunters, although I suppose this will stop people asking when we get Engineer as a dedicated class of its own. That’s something.

But by and large, we’re in the midst of a content drought without new information coming. There’s no way that information will make up for a lack of things to do, but it can at least serve to sustain interest. The current silence, on the other hand, does little more than just sort of leave people cold. It’s like the game getting put in maintenance mode, except with the promise that you should totally care again in, like, half a year.

There was a time when this worked, but increasingly, it’s not working. And I can’t understand why this is now seen as somehow unusual by a company that previously understood this quite well. Heck, it’s one of the major elements that has allowed the company to succeed with other games over an extended period of time.

Could normal blood elves have this skin tone? Please?

One of the long-standing excuses for Blizzard as a whole that people bring up with some regularity is the idea that WoW is no longer important to the company, that it’s sort of the old game that the team feels obligated to keep supporting. That seems pretty obviously wrong, though; the game has enough history and enough of a playerbase that ignoring it is literally leaving money on the table for no reason. The company clearly cares; it just keeps relying on practices that were outdated quite some time ago.

And that’s where I get back to absurdity. It’s not that the designers want people to quit the game on a regular basis because every player that leaves for a while is that much more likely to leave forever. The designers want people to stick around. And then they offer very little incentive to do so.

The game doesn’t have to be like this. This isn’t a function of age. It’s not a reality of any game design. It’s a result of choices made in development and deployment. And they’re kind of absurd.

As always, feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next time around, assuming that we haven’t gotten any new huge revelations or the like, I’m going to discuss the datamined information and otherwise revealed information from the first few expansion builds. In more depth, I mean.

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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jeremy2020
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jeremy2020

Miserymachine jeremy2020 ok, more active players then. Do you feel better now?

Miserymachine
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Miserymachine

jeremy2020 Saying it’s  the #1 subscription MMO is akin to someone saying they have the most popular pay telephone booth. Meanwhile we all are using cell phones.

It’s outdated and bordering on irrelevant

Midgetsnowman
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Midgetsnowman

DrowNoble Estranged Just because neverwinter combat requires you to pay attention doesnt make its combat or entire design any good. At best neverwinter is a competent action rpg with a grind so long that it practically forces all but the most dedicated player to pay up real money constantly.

Estranged
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Estranged

DrowNoble Estranged Assumptions.  Yeah, everyone makes them.   

I’ve been playing these games over a decade.  Too many to list.  The reason WoW’s superiority is simple, due to the responsive and smooth nature of combat.  You believe better combat is different from WoW.  It has weight.  

TSW is my favorite MMO, but the combat feels clunky at times.  Neverwinter and Skyforge just never garnered my interest.  Tried them, wasn’t hooked by anything.  

Haven’t had an active WoW account in 4 years.  Still test it during 10-day free trials.  

So, given I have played TSW, WIldStar, Rift, ESO, GW2, EQ2, Defiance, DCUO, Destiny, SWTOR, FFXIV, DDO, LOTRO and Tera since my last WoW sub, I think I’m covered mostly.  

By the way, I didn’t say WoW combat is the best of all video games, one would infer I meant it was best in the MMO genre.  

Gaming newb, since 1981.

DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

Qarran Actually they don’t seem like they know what they are doing, or the very least they are unaware of the negatives their actions are doing.

Just before Warlords, they said they were going to have “yearly expansions”.  So, everyone expected that the next expansion, that we now know is Legion, would be released around Dec 2015 (give or take a month).  Instead their “yearly expansions” apparently mean “about a year after we ANNOUNCE said expansion”.  This clearly shows they don’t understand, when they said this just before Warlords, it implied One Year From Warlord’s Release.

Plus they said the last major patch (6.2) in WoW was The Last Major Patch of Warlords.  This made everyone think that they were going to make their stated goal of “yearly expansions”.  Instead, players are going to get a VERY long drought of content until Legion.  This is the same problem before Warlords hit, a long content drought.  So, again, clearly Blizzard does not understand to keep up the content pace, or else people leave (as they have).

DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

Estranged So I guess you’ve never played any other mmo then?

Skyforge, Neverwinter and TSW have far better combat.  It’s more action oriented and requires you pay attention.  WoW is just “dont stand in the fire” and Mash a few buttons til mob dead.  If someone is new to gaming and mmos, then yes I’d recommend WoW first since it’s easier to understand and get into.

Any other person would never say “WoW combat is best of all video games”.  They know better.

DrowNoble
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DrowNoble

jeremy2020 It’s actually not absurd at all.  
I agree that Hearthstone was based off WoW, but since Blizzard seemingly is either unable or unwilling to listen to the players, the subs have been in decline.  Yes, they do see a spike when an expansion hits, but usually about a month later the numbers start nose-diving (again).  They’re down to 5.5 million (as of this posting) which is I think the lowest in 10 years?  With Legion still several months away, that number is only going to go down further.  No wonder Blizzard said they’re gonna stop publishing sub numbers.

Besides, being the “largest subscription mmo” isn’t as big a deal anymore.  How many mmos are sub-only?  Saying you’re #1 out of a few isn’t something to brag about.

jeremy2020
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jeremy2020

The idea that WoW is no longer important or “they make money from hearthstone” is truly absurd. WoW still has the largest development team in the company by far. It’s the basis for Hearthstone. It is still the largest subscription MMO in the world. People saying that are more interested in pushing some weird personal deal over reality.

Nate Woodard
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Nate Woodard

Let me rewrite the title of the article.  WOW FACTOR: LEGION TESTING IS AN EXERCISE IN ABSURD MARKETING DECISIONS  Yep, there we go!

progshine
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progshine

Caec My thoughts really.