WoW Factor: What do changes in Blizzard management mean for World of Warcraft?

    
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Local Panda Recalls When She Was Special.

Blizzard is going through some changes at the moment. This is a good thing, as Blizzard has made it clear that it is a gigantic open sewer long filled with vile predators and people who enabled those predators via inaction. You probably don’t need to be reminded that J. Allen Brack is out and a pair of Activision suits are now in charge of the studio, but just in case you did need to be reminded… there’s your reminder. And occasionally rather than talking about ethics or the fact that the company is a fecal rodeo, I do actually talk about the game this column is named after!

Yeah, at this point, World of Warcraft itself is lower on the priority list.

Now that there’s new management in charge, though, I wanted to take some time to speculate on what I see as the most likely eventualities – or at least a likely set of eventualities – for the future of this particular game. And it starts with re-examining a central conceit that I laid down in an earlier column about what needs to happen in order for major changes to take place within the game.

For those of you who don’t want to read that particular column, the short version is that in order for major changes to actually happen to the game’s design philosophy, there needs to be a shift in the upper management in a rather significant way. When I wrote about that in May, it sure didn’t seem particularly likely. But now we have two new people in charge of Blizzard who are, in very non-hyperbolic and practical terms, like a sledgehammer to the existing edifice.

We’ve also seen a pretty consistent bloodbath in the upper echelons of directors and supervisors who seem like they might be accountable for some of this ongoing sex scandal that Activision desperately wishes would go away in the court of public opinion if nowhere else. So… yeah, that big management shakeup I mentioned? We might actually be seeing that happening.

Here’s the next important point in the short term: I see this being bad news for Ion Hazzikostas. Not because I believe that he’s at this point one of the unnamed individuals in the lawsuit, but because the new management has a different perspective than Brack did. Brack saw someone who was, for better or worse, one of the stalwart members of this particular team. The new studio heads, though, might look at him instead as someone whose leadership has seen a precipitous decline in the game’s concurrent users while the studio has steadily bled its userbase as an aggregate.

Does that look good for you?

The Doom Brigade

It’s a little too early and far too hyperbolic to declare that the writing is on the wall for Hazzikostas in his current capacity, but just from a hypothetical standpoint, if I were an executive being sent in to make this division start being more profitable? The first thing I would want is for someone to be in charge who was actually working to give players what they say they want. Whether that’s the current guy in charge or not doesn’t really matter to me.

Hey, we want to boost our image and make this more profitable again, right? Give them cross-faction play and chat and grouping. Remove borrowed power. Give them deterministic gear. I want people to be saying that WoW is better than it’s ever been, and I want to see that happening by Friday. Get it together.

All right, they’re probably not actually going to talk about deterministic gear and borrowed power. That’s not the point. You get what I’m actually arguing here. More control means more control, and in the short term, this probably sounds actually kind of awesome. If you’re anyone other than a cutting-edge Mythic raider (and really, even if you are that), you’ve been subsisting on a diet of bread and water for a long time; the idea of suddenly being a priority in a push to win back the crowd probably sounds like your diet has just shifted to soft drinks and frosting.

Is it a good thing? Well… if I’m right, it will be. For a little while, at least.

See, I didn’t choose my analogy there by throwing darts at a board. If you’ve ever tried to eat a whole can of frosting before (read: If you’ve ever been a college student), you probably have found that for the first few spoonfuls, it’s amazing. It’s the best thing ever. The problem is that you quickly realize that this can of frosting has a lot of frosting in it, and before you’re halfway through, your teeth are probably hurting and you’re sick of all the frosting. You’re realizing that as nice as frosting is, it gets to be a bit much really quickly without anything to cut the flavor.

Do you know what Activision wants out of Blizzard? The short version is that it wants World of Warcraft to be like Call of Duty. Maybe not in the sense of pumping out a new expansion every year (though that would definitely be nice), but absolutely in the sense of providing a regular stream of new content that gets good reviews without controversy and without problems.

How are you even like this

The problem in this scenario isn’t that we won’t get something we want. The problem comes down to motivation. The difference in what is getting served up is not a matter of things being changed due to a philosophical shift within the design staff but rather a design philosophy shifting from a wrong-headed perspective to one that’s entirely focused on a steady content churn that no one can take too much offense to. It means that there’s no longer an emphasis on concluding or telling stories or any of the things people claim they want Blizzard to fix; just on getting a marketable expansion out post-haste.

In the longer term, it’s hard to say that this is going to be strictly better than what we have now. On the bright side, we’ll no longer be dealing with the ego of people who have a need for the top end to get ever higher while the majority of players remain stuck in place. But it means more motivation for esports in different venues, more push to get any content out the door, and far more motivation to just keep hammering things down over time. If you think the storytelling is weak now, just wait until we’re on another yearly expansion that’s trying to convince us this new big bad is actually worse than the Legion, and you know it’s not building to anything because it can’t.

Or, to put it more simply, WoW will steadily go from being a product that is assembled from genuine, if wrong-headed, passion… to being one that is unambiguously an assembly line product, where people are just pumping out the next part because that needs to release this quarter, and if it’s disliked than the next release will roll a lot of that back.

Is that a better future than what we have now? I don’t know. I don’t actually have the ability to predict the future. But it’s sure what seems likely to me.

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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Carebear

As long as Ion is ther only thing can happen is this:

Blizzard.png
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IronSalamander8 .

I can’t see this getting any better for a game that peaked long ago and has been in an ever-increasing death spiral from there. I expect it limp along, bleeding players, till it becomes either another maintenance mode MMO, or they actually just pull the plug.

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somber_bliss

TLDR;

Nothing. The game itself has fallen so far that now they lost their brand loyalty, it’s a sinking ship that finally cannonballed itself.

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Roger Melly

They really need to start from scratch and produce a sequel to World of Warcraft . I am sure the current game can survive for many years to come but to rely on it would be short-sited .

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Josh

Honestly short of a complete Purge of every single solitary individual who ever participated or silently condoned this evil shit and then a scorched earth revamp of WoW a la ARR I’m not sure they can do anything that will ever bring me back.

I can’t look at WoW anymore without noticing all the horribly gross shit that’s injected into the story that has a slimey new veneer now that it’s apparent that Blizzard has been a den of vile scum since the beginning.

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Michael18

For me, personally, WoW had been beyond repair for a long time (for example: due to every expansion being designed as a separate game, with its tiny open world cut off from earlier content by a teleport / load screen; important mechanics being torn out or neglected after a single expansion; etc.). But that is just my view, heavily biased by my preferences.

For people who enjoyed retail WoW the past couple years, I think the change in management might actually have a positive effect. I suspect the “old guard” managers had a tendency to meddle in work they do not really have the competencies for, especially the lore/story, whereas the Activision suits will likely just leave that to the experts/professionals who will arguably do a much better job.

Jibrille
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Jibrille

ALL the frosting please, to make up for the drought. I don’t even mind assembly-line expansions as long as we get something. Maybe it would mean they put together a 5-year plan ahead of time instead of winging it. May Ialso finally have my high elf character (including playing a paladin)? Please and thanks.

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Utakata

I think the game changing for the better under new management is bit of a pipe dream, IMO. They could be just as awful and clueless in their own way just as the leadership before them. Time will only tell on that matter…

…I suspect though, they still want to WoW to money generating machine. I can least agree to that. That could mean they’ll do everything Mr. Eliot suggests and them some. Or they could turn WoW into cash shop cow with “surprise” boxes galore. So be careful what you wish for. /sigh

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Discussing the future of WoW is pointless, at least for me. I’ve no intention of resubscribing or playing any of their games until we hear confirmation that significant changes have been made to Blizzard’s misogynistic culture.

Firing a few jackasses doesn’t get the job done. Every employee that engaged in hazing, demeaning or harassing another employee needs to be called up and told in no uncertain terms that the frat party is over.

The only way I’m believing that Blizzard has made significant changes is when the employees themselves say their workplace is safe.

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Vincent Clark

FF14 has spoiled me. I think every game should have a Yoshi-P like person as their director. They should be a gamer at heart, actually play and love the game they are in charge of making and not think of the people that play their game simply as revenue. But every time I think of Blizzard and the “suits” running the show…it seems like the antithesis of what I’ve grown accustom to.

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Sarah Cushaway

While I don’t like the game, I do respect the FFXIV team absolutely tries to do what (within reason) the players would appreciate and enjoy. That stopped being a trend in WoW by mid-WOTLK.