BlizzCon 2018: What the heck happened?

    
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wuck the fhat

Every year, I cover BlizzCon for Massively Overpowered. This is not new information; you’ve all seen my liveblogs running every year for quite some time. And the reception of any given year as well as my own feelings vary a lot from year to year; 2017 was high-energy with a touch of apprehension, 2016 was excitement about the new expansion with a few niggling issues, 2015 was hype for Legion but annoyance at the content drought. And even going further back than that, you can see lots of different attitudes running through; that’s just as far back as we go on the independent version of our site.

This year, on the other hand, the reaction has been split between anger and flabbergasted silence. I made a joke on the bingo card about pauses for cheers where no actual cheering happened, but that literally happened on the World of Warcraft panel.

So what the hell happened this year? Why is it that this year’s reveals have been met with muted excitement at best and outright hostility at worst? Why would you think that Diablo Immortal was a game developed by personally killing the audience’s beloved pets? Where did things go so far off the rails this year? It’s complex, but at the end of the day a lot of this traces back to running a fan convention like a trade show.

Why does this still feel like the WoW I actually want to see.If you’ve ever been on the show floor at PAX East, you have probably been barraged on all sides by neon lights, loud noises, and advertisements crying out to you that you should play this game right now. It’s stuff you’ve never seen before and it wants your attention. And that’s intentional because this is a trade show. It’s trying to get you to buy all of these games, look forward to them, and really build hype before release. People go to those shows to be advertised at.

That isn’t meant to be wholly snarky; it’s actually a good thing many years. I’ve found things at PAX I never would have checked out otherwise. It does, however, mean that for actual fans, there’s not usually quite as much on display. Yes, the localization panel for Final Fantasy XIV is of interest to me, but most of the information contained there is stuff I already know about as a fan; it’s a supplement.

By contrast, in a couple weeks I’ll be flying out to Las Vegas for the next Final Fantasy XIV fan festival, and that’s a very different experience. The main convention hall is not a collection of lights and noise but a number of attractions designed to be fun. The emphasis is very much on the stuff you already like and care about. Every time one of these is held, we know that there’s an expansion being released, and hopefully you can meet up with friends and gush about this together.

In other words, this is a fan convention. You’re not going there to be sold FFXIV; you wouldn’t be flying out to Vegas and buying a limited ticket if you weren’t fairly well converted already. You’re going there to celebrate your love of this thing.

BlizzCon, in theory, is also a fan convention. The pre-show hosts play this up, that everyone there is present to celebrate a love of Blizzard games. There’s a lot of talk about the Blizzard community and points related. But the show is also run like a trade show, with every single franchise needing something new to sell you, a need for more spectacle, new improvements, new buzz, and so forth.

That’s why Diablo Immortal was announced here. Which was honestly probably the dumbest possible thing Blizzard could do with this particular announcement.

I've made a horrible mistake.

Keep in mind that I have no skin in the game here; I don’t care about Diablo III beyond its place in my professional sphere and it’s not really of interest to me, nor do I have a deep personal objection to Diablo Immortal. What I can understand is why existing fans of the game and the franchise wouldn’t be excited about Immortal, and why the announcement of same would be met with outright anger: because it’s not for this audience; it’s for a very different segment of the market.

Remember when Hearthstone was first announced? It wasn’t revealed at BlizzCon, it was revealed at… PAX. At the time it seemed odd, but it was actually the right audience. No one was going there to learn about a new Blizzard thing, they were going there for advertisements, and incidentally Blizzard has a new thing on display. Had BlizzCon trafficked hard on this as a big reveal, it would have fallen pretty flat, simply because the game does have a pretty significant difference in its target market.

This is exacerbated by the fact that BlizzCon runs every year on the same basic cadence, and that’s really harmful to the structure as a whole. It’s especially obvious for games like World of Warcraft this year; there’s nothing major to reveal for the game, but they have to show off the game to everyone, but they don’t have anything to unveil. You wind up shining a harsh light on even the smaller parts of the game, and in doing so expose how badly parts of the design are being received by players.

You’ll notice that there were reveals that landed well this year. Everyone was happy about the Overwatch reveal, which was by-the-numbers but also worked perfectly well. Hearthstone perpetuated its existing cadence just fine, and that worked out for it. And of course, Warcraft III: Reforged came out of the gate swinging, despite being sandwiched in there as if no one was going to be all that excited about it. (And a lot of us were!)

Ancient prophecies should perhaps be heeded.

But that assumption alone is telling. Blizzard doesn’t seem to know what its audience actually is. It’s staggering to me that Blizzard built up hype for Mechagon, and then mid-presentation killed it off. People were excited until the moment that the culminating dungeon was announced as an eight-boss Mythic-only “megadungeon.” My first thought at the name was that we would be looking at something on par with old Scarlet Monastery, or Blackrock Depths, or one of the other big sprawling dungeons of old… instead, it seems like it sucked the air and enthusiasm right out of the room.

And that’s the real answer to what happened. Blizzard promised to show fans a lot of new stuff just for them, and showed fans a lot of stuff that was not for them. Some of it doesn’t appear to have been for anyone.

To cast back again to what was meant as a joke on the bingo card, I talked about the presenters acting as if reception to Battle for Azeroth had been good. The humor of that was that, well, of course that’s going to happen to a certain extent. It has to. You can’t get up on stage in front of people and say “we really screwed up.” But you can do certain things to win back the crowd. Things like, well, the Diablo III Necromancer reveal. That prompted some consternation and disagreement, but it was an actual bone thrown to the existing fanbase.

Diablo Immortal isn’t. Nothing in the World of Warcraft What’s Next panel did anything to win back the crowd or even seem to address the glaring enormous issues the game currently has; instead, it sent a message to a lot of existing players that you are still really unwanted. Several of whom were, presumably, sitting in the audience, having spent quite a bit of money to be there.

If I were going to speculate, it feels like someone in Blizzard has spent the past several years focused on market research and not player feedback, and we spent this event seeing that their market research is putting them at odds with a lot of their actual customers. This is why the show feels like almost everything is landing with terrible management and impacts. It’s a series of announcements that may make sense in a vacuum or for a trade show like E3, but not for this convention with fans.

It’s a fan convention telling fans that they aren’t welcome. And yes, that is going to get ugly pretty damn fast.

Oh, look, more of this.

Two quick postscripts belong here because while I prefer that as the closing line, I feel they’re still important. First, I’d like to make it clear that while I can understand fan anger, that is not the same as endorsing it. There’s always a lot of fuzzy judgment involved there, but heaping verbal and personal abuse on people working the convention is not a good color on anyone, and a petition to cancel a game already deep in development is about as useful as a fart in a strong tailwind. Or, in other words, being angry (whether justified or not) does not actually relieve you of the responsibility to not be a jerk. This should be self-evident.

Second of all, the one reveal that the convention did with absolute 100% correct delivery actually looks super cool. I am here for Warcraft III: Reforged. In a smarter world that would have been the big reveal of the convention. Oh, well.

Follow all of Massively OP’s coverage of BlizzCon 2018, Blizzard’s annual fan convention highlighting World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and beyond!

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Feyd Darkholme

I’ve been saying for years that Blizzard was losing it’s connection with it’s fans and what they really want/need, which is the soul of the company and is the main reason why they have done so well. Now that many of the OG Blizzard are gone, it seems like the soul of the company has truly shifted and been lost. If they haven’t found the right people to lead, with the passion and vision to lead properly and do the things that have made and kept Blizzard the company that it was (?), then maybe it’s time for them to gut upper management and stop listening to market research and listen to the fans instead?

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Peregrine Falcon

I still find it hard to believe that Blizzard thought that an audience of PC gamers, who paid good money to be there, wouldn’t react poorly to being told that the new game they’ve been looking forward to would be a mobile title.

While some of the backlash has gone too far, the people defending Blizzard have definitely gone way too far. I really like what Mark Kern, former Blizzard dev, said about it on Twitter.

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draugris

I think this Blizzcon showed a lot of what´s wrong at the moment. It showed the disconnection of Studios with their fans and it clearly showed what´s wrong with parts of the gaming press. Tbh. I have never read so many stupid articles with straw man arguments for the reactions of the fans.

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Cosmic Cleric

The “tinfoil hat” in me thinks that IMO those articles were just paid by ActiBlizz articles, to desperately try to sway public opinion.

On the bright side, it makes it easy to know which gaming press to stay away from, going forward.

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Robert Mann

That’s Blizzard. It’s why I left their products behind, and haven’t bothered with them. They know best, no matter what. Some of their stuff is fun. Other stuff they do actively reduces fun, even for reasons so simple as “This isn’t what we really wanted.” The willful disrespect to their customers, and in this case big fans, sets them alongside the worst in the industry in one of the most important fields to me. That of customer relations.

I hope they improve, I just am not holding my breath as a long time turned off customer. It’s a shame, I enjoyed a lot of what they did before they got so… abrasive.

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Randy Savage

They really shouldn’t have even bothered with having a Blizzcon this year. They had no real announcements worthy of a main stage presentation. A mobile game nobody asked for and a remastering of a 15 year old game do not merit the price of admission, let alone all the other expenses that go into attending Blizzcon. Both announcements would’ve been better suited for other gaming conventions where expectations are lower. Announcing a new hero for Overwatch doesn’t require a convention at all.

And nobody cares about the positive PR spin of “what’s next” for a WoW expansion that’s been lukewarm at best. Players want to know how Blizz is going to fix it, and that’s a conversation better suited for blue posts on the forums than an overpriced convention for fans. It’s almost as if the only reason Blizz hosted a Blizzcon this year is because they’re trying to force renewed excitement for WoW by talking about upcoming content, but the content hasn’t been the problem with Battle for Azeroth; it’s how players experience that content.

Blizz was hoping that if they’d surround themselves with fans who want to spend thousands of dollars to be in their physical presence, it would somehow change the general perceptions that Battle for Azeroth is a failure and Diablo is a dead franchise, but it has blown up in their faces and backfired in major ways. This year’s Blizzcon hurt them far more than it helped. They really should have stuck to their guns about only having a Blizzcon when they actually have something major to announce.

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Cosmic Cleric

They really should have stuck to their guns about only having a Blizzcon when they actually have something major to announce.

You’re asking Activision execs to ignore the potential profits of having a BlizzCon, even if it doesn’t go over so well.

That’s like asking Gollum to ignore ‘The One Ring’.

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Tiresias

Let’s all be honest here: BlizzCon was a gigantic letdown. That’s proven by the news articles that came out of it, which were few and far between.

Compare ANYTHING that was shown to the gameplay reveal of Doom Eternal by Id and Bethesda; even if you don’t like first-person shooters you have to agree that Id took everything great about the Doom reboot, cranked that stuff to 11, and then piled on EVEN MORE into their game. Then they presented it REALLY well.

Everything at BlizzCon just seemed to… fall flat.

WoW Classic is interesting, but those of us who actually played the game back in those days are able to say with authority that it’s an experience that a lot of people will “enjoy” for a few weeks before abandoning it.

The new Overwatch hero is cool and all, but everyone who loves the game was hoping for more. This feels like the most criminally underused IP in gaming today.

Hearthstone and HotS are… well, they are Hearthstone and HotS. They are rather niche games with niche followings that are IP dead-ends, for the most part.

And Diablo… ho boy. I’m not even going to go there. Everything here was a massive blunder.

Sure, it will be interesting to see the reworked Warcraft 3, but I already played through that game years ago, I’m well-acquainted with the lore, and I don’t really need to play it again — just like many of the people my age (commonly referred to as “The Olds”).

Where’s the NEW stuff? The next step in one of the major IPs? How about a new IP altogether? How about just some… direction or focus, for cryin’ out loud?

I love Blizzard; they will always be one of my favorite dev shops. But they really seem to have lost the fire that made them great.

Ernost
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Ernost

Sure, it will be interesting to see the reworked Warcraft 3, but I already played through that game years ago, I’m well-acquainted with the lore, and I don’t really need to play it again — just like many of the people my age (commonly referred to as “The Olds”).

Same here. What I wouldn’t give for a Warcraft 4. Sadly WoW has probably killed any chance of that ever happening simply by existing.

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Nate Woodard

Be careful what you wish for. They may just make a Diablo-esque Warcraft 4 and dub it WoW 2. I for one hate the top down style, thus Diablo is of no interest to me.

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Kherova

Blizzard really botched this one! Playing mainly Diablo these days I was extremely disappointed. Totally agree that they should reconsider what BlizzCon is and especially what it isn’t and shouldn’t be!

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Jokerchyld

We call that losing your heart. The reason behind the passion to make you give something everything you got. What I’m seeing is the people who created WoW are no longer there, and the people taking it over don’t have the vision only the execution.

Looking back, from my tenure, Legion was the best I ever found WoW I played it 2 years straight. Raided for the first time ever and loved it. I maxed out professions. I mean the game pulled me in.

BFA is literally Legion 2.0. Functionally and visually its amazing. The movements and combat are great. Engaging story. But after playing the actual game for 20 minutes I begin to question why am I doing this. Its because for all that it brings in terms of content and systems it lacks passion which adds that extra polish that brings everything together.

What they need to do is have a series of confessionals on why THEY love to play BFA. If you can’t convince me that you love it, why should I?

I’ll see you in 8.1

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Schmidt.Capela

Reddit found the perfect song for the closing ceremony, if only Blizzard had the foresight to hire Weird Al:

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tony quinn

Time for a management clean out for Blizzard period, Blizz Con just showed how obvious this needs to happen.