WoW Factor: The Blizzard ‘leak’ is probably fake, but it’s still valuable

    
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Whoops.

So right now it doesn’t need to be said that stuff with World of Warcraft is kind of a mess. Shadowlands might have been better received than Battle for Azeroth was at launch, but that goodwill faded pretty quickly, especially with the long wait for patch 9.1 to actually be released. And now that patch 9.1 is here… well, it’s not loathed by the population, but just as with the expansion itself, the general reception seems to be lukewarm to negative. Between that, the survey nonsense, and general bad looks from the story department, there’s an easy narrative to be put together of a game in crisis.

Someone appears to have actually put that narrative together.

I saw this particular set of rumors doing the rounds on Tuesday evening, and I think it’s interesting. Not in the sense that it’s necessarily true, of course; by this point I assume it’s taken as an a priori assumption that something can be interesting without being true. But let’s poke at the veracity of the claims here for a bit before examining whether or not it matters either way because yes, it is entirely possible that this post is totally fake and spurious while still being worth observing.

First and foremost, let’s be honest here. A leak posted on 4chan is already low on the “plausibility” scale of things. There’s functionally no prima facie validity to something on 4chan unless and until some of it is corroborated by outside sources because, well, nothing has to be validated. You don’t even require the minimal effort of making a throwaway Reddit account, much less having to endure any scrutiny from moderators to prove that you’re not just making things up and seeing what sticks.

More to the point, a lot of what’s in this particular rumor is stuff that you don’t actually need any kind of Blizzard insider to confirm. We don’t need to be told, for example, that Shadowlands is a mess at this point. This is self-evident. Playerbase falling? Again, we already know that. You don’t need to have someone peel back the curtain to know that there’s one specific rival game that the company is worried about because as mentioned right in the intro, the studio sent out a survey about that game.

There’s also a lot of stuff that independently feels off. The idea that there’s some big political schism within Blizzard that’s causing problems, for example, feels… extraneous. It may or may not be true, but it certainly feels like the sort of thing that doesn’t really have much to do with ongoing mismanagement and funneling the playerbase toward content that the base as a whole seems to have rapidly diminishing interest in doing.

Cargo cult.

Put it another way: If you were to peruse only stories about the game right now on a site that isn’t a blatant fansite and wanted to impersonate a genuine Blizzard employee screaming about the sky falling, the rant would look very similar to this. There’s not a lot here that isn’t either cribbed from the behind-the-scenes exposé a few months ago, echoing existing frustrated sentiment, or stating known facts drawing the most obvious conclusions.

Any rumor like this, of course, is going to be judged in part based on its predictive power rather than anything else. What actual quantifiable points does it put forward? The answer, of course, is “not a heck of a lot.” There’s the insistence that Sylvanas will become the new Arbiter and that will be her ultimate fate, that the patch cycle will end with 9.2, and that the team is targeting an expansion release for early 2022.

These are certainly predictions, but the first is kind of obvious based on terrible storytelling up to this point and is a few months off from being proven either way. The second is something that’s already been predicted by plenty of people, including me, and the third is conveniently vague in regards to what “early” can even mean. Anyone familiar with the game will know that 2022 is the next expansion year for the game based on prior patterns, and “early” could just mean “before November 2022 rolls around.” Nothing is predicted in the shorter term for reveals.

What does that mean? Well, it’s got some predictive teeth, but these are all predictions that aren’t going to be meaningfully verified at the bare minimum until October, by which point the community will have forgotten all about it. In other words, it’s very easy for this to be full of crap and count on lag time to erase any memory of it, which is made even easier by having an anonymous author.

So, yeah. Probably not true. But here’s the thing: This rumor is in an interesting place because whether or not it’s true kind of doesn’t matter.

Oops?

Fake leaks and rumors are nothing new. Heck, genuine leaks and rumors that seem false or are put forth in a not terribly plausible format are not new. The difference in this particular case is character. This is the rumor that’s making the rounds. It’s not about something awesome coming up. It’s not about forthcoming story developments. It’s not about all the cool stuff waiting in the wings or reassurances that Blizzard knows what’s going on and this is all going to come together in some satisfying way.

This is, at the most basic level, a story about how doom is approaching for WoW. And even if it’s not true, it’s plausible. You could, in many parts, believe what’s being said here. It doesn’t really matter whether the actual rumor is coming from a Blizzard insider or not because the parts of this that we know are true – the parts that are coming from reliable sources and have already been confirmed elsewhere – are already nightmarish when it comes to the larger scope of how the game is doing.

This is why I opened by outright saying that we all know right now that Shadowlands is a mess. How much of that is due to work-from home delays and how much of it is down to mismanagement is hard to be sure of, but at a certain point it ceases to matter. Whichever one is the root cause, the end result is the same, and something needs to be done about it. And yeah, we can all believe that the net result is management sticking their fingers in their ears and ignoring obvious signs.

We aren’t doing the game any favors by pretending that this isn’t a hot mess.

I don’t know whether the leak is legitimate, although my gut instinct – and that of all of the MOP staff who’ve read it so far – is that it probably isn’t. But the fact that so many people find so many of the pieces of it are plausible should be one of the dozen or so wake-up calls that people making decisions should have taken by now. And there is a truth to it even if the rumor itself was just authored by someone looking to spread fear and discontent: Players are leaving, and they’re not coming back. The plan Blizzard has relied upon for years is just not working any more.

So does the studio double down, or does something change? I don’t know. But we’re all ready to believe Blizzard would double down at this point, and that itself is bad.

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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Stefan
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Stefan

Fake or not, what will never happen is this: A new expansion out by 2022, not even remotely possible by Blizzard.

Also overwatch and their card game seem to be doing alright, WoW might be in a bad position but it is still making money by their dedicated base. So i doubt the company is in a dire situation.

Diablo 4 will also sell as most gamers do not get involved in the whole internet conversation about the company and other products, we are the minority here.

I believe they will keep doing with WoW what they have always done and this is just wishful thinking by some people that this current decline in players will shift their priorities, big companies and projects are like big ships you do not just turn them around that easily, and WoW is exactly that.

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Mikka Hansen

I knew it was fake the moment Kern tweeted about it

If he’s involved it cannot be anything but pure shit

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Roger Melly

Whether the leak is true or not I would think there must be some concern ( to put it mildly ) at Blizzard . Its been a long time coming but they only have themselves to blame .

I guess at the end of the day the fabled WoWkiller ended up being a perfect storm of events , Blizzards growing disconnection with its players , some solid competition and a bunch of high profile Twitch streamers who finally had had enough of a poor product .

What will Blizzard do now that the cash cow has started to dry up ? They probably still have a few years to right the ship but its now a matter of evolve or die .

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Axetwin .

It’s posted on one of the Chans, OF COURSE it’s fake.

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Jack Pipsam

Asmongold the king slayer.

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Sarah Cushaway

Considering the source, it’s almost definitely fake.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, though, because it probably is -very- accurate as to the actual scenario at Blizzard HQ right now.

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Greaterdivinity

Unrelated to this rumor, but related to the topic of “What went wrong” maybe…Is it just me or is Blizzard doing a lot less of the, “Take a popular feature/system from another game and improve/integrate it into WoW” than they used to? That’s been a Blizzard hallmark, but it feels like it’s kinda fallen by the wayside over time.

Is that just a perception issue on my part, or is there something there? I know they still try to do it to a point – them moving to a more “narrative” focused direction with a lot of animated cutscenes with dialogue etc. seemed like a clear response to that trend in MMO’s (ESO, FFXIV, GW2, SWTOR etc.) but while the quality of the cutscenes may be fantastic (It’s Blizzard, after all) the overall effort is hamstrung by the hamfisted storytelling that WoW has done over the years plus what appears to be a clear lack of interest in making the story a core part of the game that’s designed around with longterm plans for it, instead of just using it as a wrapper for whatever content is coming out.

But otherwise I feel like they’ve been sorta recycling some older systems to little success and not really looking to other MMO’s for inspiration with new systems/features that get the “Blizzard Touch(tm)”. Or at the very least the ones they do try to adopt (storytelling…) miss the mark, yet Blizzard persists with them.

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Sarah Cushaway

Definitely we’re seeing less of that, and it’s rather infuriating in a way. Blizzard should absolutely be looking at what features are popular in other MMOs:

Housing

Companions

Better writing and presentation of story,

More build or spec diversity (ESO, SWOTR–soon anyway–and GW2) as well as FFXIV’s “be any class on one character” stuff

More casual/not hardcore or e-sport related content

More interaction with the world/RP support

Better crafting system (WoW’s sorely needs an overhaul) and more FOCUS on the crafting– in most other major MMOs, crafting is useful and also rewards players with pretty high level gear, maybe a step down from the best of the raid stuff, but still feasible (especially for more casual players)

Less systems upon systems upon systems and more actual content (and far more frequently),

Get rid of factions, etc (especially since Alliance in WoW is so woefully underpopulated these days)…

partial list of course, but Blizzard is pretty far behind on what other MMOs offer these days. WoW offers exactly two things now: nostalgia (it’s a hell of a drug) and “mythic raid or die”.

That’s it. So yeah, they used to and SHOULD right now be looking to take some inspiration from other MMOs…

But they’re doing none of this.

It’s like they’re actively trolling their player base now by doing everything NO ONE wants and none of what people are begging for/is popular in other games.

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Greaterdivinity

e-sport related content

I still struggle to believe that there’s an honest-to-god mythic esports dungeon league. And that they still try with arena PvP (do they? I haven’t seen anything in ages).

The only reason they’ve ever really found success in either is due to the strength of the game/fandom, not because they were ever good. Even when I was serious about arenas and played in some of the tourneys (did well, but never enough to qualify) and watched this stuff, it was always kinda awful. Priest/Druid/Rogue 3’s fights were one of the most sleep inducing things to watch in all eternity, and the “lolglobaled” comps were similarly boring as hell. I mean, doesn’t everyone love watching two teams pillar hug for 30 minutes waiting for the right time to engage, only for the engagement to finally be forced by the arena timer and for the fight to last 4-6 seconds?

It should have gone the way of PS2/GW2 esports and died an ignoble death : /

Edit:

RE: “Get rid of factions”

LORD YES. They’ve had multiple opportunities to end this pointless element of the story that hasn’t made sense in forever yet refuse to seem to take it. There is PLENTY of story room to allow for a proper alliance between the two, and even build some fun elements for “rogue elements” who love world PvP (hell, open it up to FFA!). I think how Rift handled it was great, and given that we’ve had the “Well, we’ll set aside our differences for now to deal with X baddie, then it’s back to fighting until Y baddie arrive and we start this from the top again.” that’s really no real reason that I’ve seen (admittedly I’m not deep into the current lore/story) for that faction conflict to persist.

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Jeremy Barnes

Bleeding edge “difficulty” content (often closely linked to e-sports) makes everything awful.

Difficulty should be in service to fun. Blizzard got confused with e-sports and forgot the fun part.

Fisty
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Fisty

Just me ranting mostly off topic, but I hate when people say Alliance is under populated, when every server I ever play on has me 30/70 HvA (I play Horde almost exclusively). I know it is probably true, but my freaking luck on getting a balanced server is ridiculous.

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zoward

I always assumed that Blizzard blatantly comes out in favor of the Horde in order to inflate the faction’s numbers so that PvP doesn’t become too one-sided.

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JonBuck

Coming from EQ, WoW was a breath of fresh air. I didn’t lose XP when I died, so I couldn’t actually lose levels? Great! Inns to reward taking a break from the game? Nice!

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Bannex

My guess is that it’s pure bullshit and just some dude in a gamer chair trying to create a self fulfilling prophecy that was clearly influenced by blizzard’s ffxiv question.

Unfortunately, as solid of an mmo ffxiv is, the starting area and the general progression all the way to heavenward is flat out horrible to play. I don’t see them retaining new players (especially wow veterans) unless they really revamp their leveling experience.

(Edited by mod. Stop trolling fellow commenters.)

Fisty
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Fisty

Weird. I remember enjoying myself all through the starting area and up to Heavensward. These can’t both be true, could they?

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Bruno Brito

Imagine that, liking stuff others don’t like.

Unthinkable.

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Bannex

Oh you….

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Bruno Brito

I love you too, buddy <3

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Bannex

Sure can but if you think your anecdotal experience trumps the glaring differences between the 2 games and the fact that ffxiv has been out for quite a while then I don’t think we can have much of a discussion.

My comment isn’t going to identify every single wow veteran’s experience with the 2 games clearly. I will say that there are a few very fundamental differences I see that are going to be issues with the ffxiv coup.

Im not even pulling this out of my ass, it’s a common complaint about ffxiv is that the early game is inundated with long slogs of go here and talk to them quests, escort quests, mailman quests and convoluted menus. Not to mention the sheer volume of cut scenes have been a complaint too.

Im sorry if I struck a nerve regarding your beloved form of e-dopamine but thems the facts and don’t be shocked when blizzard announces the next expansion if the ffxiv renaissance suddenly evaporates.

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Bruno Brito

I mean, speaking as someone who absolutely hated the early experience on FF14 ( and i simply quit when adding insult to injury, they forced me into dungeon queues that took 5mins waiting and jesus christ how is a game capable of making a pirate-focused questing area so goddamn boring ), there are people who like it. The game is pretty much tailored for them.

I think a lot of the complaints come from people who are not Square fans but are MMO-refugees. It’s normal they complain about the stuff they don’t like. It doesn’t mean people who LIKE the early zones are wrong.

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Bannex

Can you clarify what I said that was trolling so i dont do that again? I don’t really remember the whole pre edited comment

Jokerchyld
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Jokerchyld

I agree. Doesn’t matter if its true or not. Anybody with common sense can see the broad macro trend that is happening. Why it is happening is up for debate and us on the outside dont have insight to comment with any sense of authority.

But looking at it as a common player. WoW lost its soul. That aspect of a game that makes it unique even though its doing the same thing as other games in its genre. I dont know when it exactly happened but it is definitely apparent in Shadowlands.

If you do not raid or dungeon there is basically nothing for you to do in the game (except stuff you create like mount hunting or transmogs etc). And thats sad given the massive real estate that makes up Azeroth.

Second they destroyed character progression. If you play a game for years you want to see your character grow over to give value to the time invested. WoWs idea of removing everything you did last expansion to do something new next expansion is detrimental to that.

I personally noticed this going from Legion to BFA. When they took my Artifact weapon away that I worked so hard to build up over 2 years I was curious how they could replace it with something better. And come BFA they didnt. Then to add insult to injury they burned out ALL Artifact weapons so you could never re-experience that type of growth on a new alt.

I think it was about that time I was still playing WoW but I was mentally done. Just took some time for my body to catch up.

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Danny Smith

I think its telling the usual “what would it take for you to resub?” threads on forums have a lot less unspooling on lengthy laundry lists and more “there isn’t anything the current team can do”. Thats a significant shift when the people who leave aren’t leaving for a temporary sojourn in a fomo attraction but leaving without anywhere else to go because they don’t have any faith or interest. They are the hardest to pull back in. Especially if 17 years of sunk cost isn’t keeping them firmly in the brand loyalty lane.

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Nathan Aldana

yeah, thats kinda where I am. I come to rp events with my guild but 9.1 held my interest for about a day .

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Bryan Correll

A leak posted on 4chan is already low on the “plausibility” scale of things.

Don’t doubt the power of 4chan. They’ve shown that they have the power to warp reality. Just see how many people and organizations seriously believe that the “OK” hand gesture is a ‘white power symbol.’