WoW Factor: The disjointed state of World of Warcraft

    
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Those are people who died, died.

Right now, it feels like World of Warcraft is kind of a mess. This is not exactly a surprise. It’s also not exactly helped by the fact that patch 9.1.5 in testing seems to be a bit all over the map in terms of systems. It’s adding in everything that players have been asking for, and it’s also removing or changing a lot of things that Blizzard now feels are rather culturally insensitive, and on top of that it’s not a patch with any actual new content intended for it, which makes the amount of added investment seem kind of messy.

This is compounded by the fact that at this point there’s no clear indication of where the game is going in a larger sense. Patch 9.1 took forever to come out, and that means this year we’re going to be looking at a truly remarkable dearth of content for the game, especially when you consider that this isn’t an expansion launch year. So what exactly is going on? Why does the game feel so disjointed? And perhaps more importantly, what can we expect?

I’ve seen speculation that the reason why things seem so disjointed is ultimately a rather predictable problem of WoW not having a solid set of plans for what to do when a crisis hits. This strikes me as not entirely wrong (I’ve talked before about how it’s not altogether clear if there’s really a higher-level plan going on right now), but it’s also missing a rather important detail.

See, WoW is not dealing with one unexpected crisis. It’s dealing with three.

The first is that darn recurring global pandemic that just keeps not going away, in no small part because certain someones just keep acting like getting vaccinated is somehow a personal choice that doesn’t impact everyone and… well, you know this by now. Point being that it’s very clear that this has substantially disrupted operations for Blizzard and every other gaming studio, and we all know it. There’s no real debate to be had on that point.

Second? Well, that would be the slow-motion implosion of the company’s autonomy and culture at the hands of being a garbage fire run by trash people and a mixture of harassers or harassment cheerleaders. Obviously there’s a certain amount we’re not privy to simply by virtue of not being in the company, but I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that there’s more turmoil going on right now than what we’re seeing from this side of the screen.

And third is something that I think we’re all aware of but haven’t necessarily been factoring in: It seems pretty obvious to me that there was never a plan for what happened if Shadowlands wasn’t well-received. It’s like Blizzard itself had collectively decided the every-other-expansion rule was a law of nature and made no plans for what might happen if people weren’t happy with an expansion that turned out to just triple-down on the parts of Battle for Azeroth people didn’t like.

Any one of those problems (which are not sequentially ordered, obviously) would be a big deal. WoW is dealing with all three.

Complexity.

This is part of why I think the upcoming patch feels a bit like it’s all over the map. It’s adding more customization options and removing pain points from the current expansion! Wait, it’s also removing things that are now kind of uncomfortable given the company’s current image! Wait, no, it’s also a sign that we’re still working on things! It’s a gigantic grab-bag of things saying “please keep playing and liking us,” and it smacks of a certain lack of confidence in what the game currently is and what it has on offer.

This is not an indefensible thing to lack confidence in, mind you. It’s just that saying “we don’t have a plan and just want our players back” isn’t a good look at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.

So where is the plan? I suspect that it’s being put together right now, but therein lies part of the problem. One of these problems is one that really should have been addressed months ago, one is kind of something that has to be adjusted for on the fly, and one of them should never have been the problem. Trying to assemble a plan while you’re in the middle of all these problems is a bit like trying to do your makeup while driving. It can happen, but you’re not going to be doing your best work on either front.

At this point, I feel pretty confident that between delays, obvious setbacks, and the like, there’s basically no chance of a 9.3 patch happening. Indeed, I still think that the plan, however optimistic, is to get the next expansion ready to be pushed out the door at some point in 2022. Whether or not we ever get told that is another story; I think that’s currently the plan, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the reality is that it gets bumped to 2023, thus making Shadowlands the longest expansion in the game’s history. Unfortunately.

But I think just as there’s an effort to put a plan together midstream, there’s an effort to not share that plan right now while the developers are trying on all fronts to rehabilitate their image. And that’s a major problem because the people who care about the developer’s image aren’t going to care about something as ultimately inconsequential as removing a couple of bad emotes. I touched on this in my last column. Even if I agree with the sentiment, the timing renders it all pretty pointless.

This has not gone according to plan

So what we’ve got is a company trying to convince people who care that it really has changed its ways without actually, you know, changing its ways. And it seems as if any real plan is being held back until people are more favorable in their view of Blizzard, which isn’t going to happen without actual changes that are plainly being avoided.

Having said all of that, I do think that we’re definitely due to see some pretty significant motion in the not-too-distant future, probably before the next actual convention. I see this level of silence as being not as indicative of a lack of a plan as realizing the current plan is not working and trying to throw a lot of things out while a new plan is being worked out. The plan is currently in shambles, and that means the people in charge need a new one. Whether or not they’re able to come up with one in a timely fashion is another discussion.

Put it another way, I’m pretty sure at this point that everyone is aware that Shadowlands has been a mess and just isn’t going to be getting fixed. How much can actually be done to mitigate that is an open discussion, and that discussion is probably being held now and is a big part of why we don’t have more information. It’s frustrating to watch, but we can at least hope that the results will make the game somewhat better to play… while also hoping that the results involve some real consequences coming to people who deserve it.

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.
Activision-Blizzard is considered a controversial company in the MMO and gaming space owing to a long string of scandals over the last few years, including the Blitzchung boycott, mass layoffs, labor disputes, and executive pay fiasco. In the summer of 2021, the company was sued by the state of California for fostering a work environment riddled with sexual harassment and discrimination, the disastrous corporate response to which has further compounded Blizzard’s ongoing pipeline issues and the widespread perception that its online games are in decline. As of fall 2021, multiple state and federal agencies are currently investigating the company.
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Jay White

You should really educate yourself regarding the Covid “vaccine” before you make ignorant comments that have nothing to do with gaming. Does the Jab prevent you from getting Covid? No. Does it prevent transmission of the virus? No. Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary just contracted Covid, for crying out loud. THe only thing the Jab might possibly do is lessen symptoms. The only people this “vaccine” benefits is Big Pharma. They are making billions of dollars. So excuse me if I don’t want to inject an untested mRNA modifier into my body. Stick to talking about things you know, like WoW. (Not that you will probably care, but this is the last time I will ever visit your site. I can’t believe I even wasted the time to respond to this .)

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Narficus

Realistically? The best hope for 9.1.5 is to fix the lift chains in Revendreth.

(Optional) Leave the game because quest tracking is still a broken mess where you’re expected to find the actual location while the quest text no longer explains a damn thing about the quest. Just do thing. Follow shiny dot. Click on sparkles for loot. Read on WoWHead for the workaround if there even is one.

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Utakata

9.1: Chains of Domination; 9.2: Sanctum of the Demoralized; 9.3: The Essence of Maintenance Mode; etc…

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Estranged

Simple systems are easily repeatable and reproducible. The wasted time and effort of ditching often convoluted systems upon the next expansion is catching up with Blizzard.

They could easily fill in content droughts with an actual expansion of features like class halls and garrisons.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Raid or die. Punish fun. The Blizzard elitist jerks way.

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cursedseishi

The first is that darn recurring global pandemic that just keeps not going away, in no small part because…

This one hurts so true for me, as an immuno-compromised individual with family in similar or worse positions. Take. Your. Shots. You aren’t cool, you aren’t proving how ‘manly’ you are, and you sure as heck aren’t ‘owning the libs’. You’re being stupid. Don’t be stupid, stupid.

Second? Well, that would be the slow-motion implosion of the company’s autonomy and culture

Honestly? I have to wonder how autonomous they’ve truly been–at least within recent time. Ye’ Ole’ Blizzard had that whole ‘Blizz Time–done when its done’ mantra going… but recent releases have… kind of proven otherwise I think. They probably enjoyed some amount of separation that literally 99% of other Activision-owned studios don’t, but there’s definitely been a… shift in culture well before now. Might have been the snubbing of their massive LAN-based audience with Starcraft II, or just… Overwatch and Diablo 3 in general… But, and god it feels forever ago and its only been just shy of two years, but Warcraft 3 Reforged came out Jan. 2020 and… boy howdy was that the literal exact opposite of what anyone thinks of with Blizzard.

And… well, I was gonna quote 3 for my point, but… Really, I think its an off-shoot of 3 and is likewise a well-known issue with Warcraft (and one talked about here before) as well. Blizzard just… does not plan anything out. I doubt they had a plan for what to do even IF Shadowlands was well-received.
I mean, lead-in to Shadowlands Sylvanas was guaranteed to be killed off, I’m willing to bet. They’re gonna let her escape because of course they do, she’s big bad and big bads deserve at least one and a half expansions centered specifically around them. But at some point between BfA and Not-ShB, I feel like one of the folks responsible saw how literally all of the internet was complaining about Sylvanas just being… what…? Like… Illidan 4-5.0? 6-7.0 even maybe? So rather than kill her, they decided to… make her the hero. Like… not an actual good or well-written and paced hero, but… ‘The Dark Knight’ kind of Hero.

Blizzard’s writing team is an Ourouborous. It’s unfair to say they write themselves into a corner, because that would imply they reach a dead end or that they eventually get cornered and stuck. They don’t. They just keep repeating the one big story-beat they have. How many times have we seen a character, questionable or good, corrupt themselves and eventually turn into a villain whom must be defeated? Medivh, Arthas, Illidan, Grom, Kael’Theus, Garrosh… I feel like there’s a dozen more slipping me at the moment but… Sylvanas at the end there, obviously. And how many of those individuals actually survive their big bad fight? Doesn’t matter, rhetorical question. Also… like… only ~9% of them did is the answer, at best.

That’s why we’re seeing a repeat of Warlords of Draenor here. It’s guaranteed we’ll only see a 9.2, and that now they’re scrambling to try and figure out… this entire clustered razorwire-bound ball of duck-billed geese monstrosities and how they could possibly make it quack like a platypus. On top of auditing assets, getting their god-darn lives together and FeBreezing the BO out of everything? They got to finish Sylvanas’s redemption tour, kill big-bad Jailer-Man, then figure out how and who the next big bad is and… my guess?

Anduin. Just like I’m sure the wave of disdain for yet another BBEP-in-charge reveal pushed Sylvanas off the naughty list and onto the nice list? They’re next look is probably at ‘oh jeeze… H-How many Villains have c-come from the Horde, Rixx? Oh jeeze… A-Almost all of them? Aw… a-aw jeeze…. I… I guess we got to make an Alliance person b-bad this time, huh?’ Which will be met with an obvious;
“They already made him a Not-Arthus, Morg’tee. And the last Not-Lich-King got slapped out so… They’ll probably do something around that. Who cares, look at me I’m Goblin Rixx!”

Either that… Or maybe they’ll go whole-hog with Jaina this time rather than just half-hog? Give a reason for Super(sha)man, thrall-to-the-fans, and all around go’el post for easy points to score with fanboys Thrall to come back into the story–yet again. He’ll probably die… but they’ll just bring him back as a Forc-Shaman Ghost.

Those first two big problems can, perhaps, be alleviated given enough time. But the 3rd one? Including that big writing one…? It has rotted its way into the core of Blizzard, and I doubt we’ll ever see that resolved. The talent that might have been able to are all well-gone by now, and none left or available likely could do anything at all about it. Even with a shift in overall leadership, I doubt its going to really affect the game positively.

Lighthope
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Lighthope

Why not just wait until 2023 for the next expac? WoW players have already demonstrated they are willing to continue to pay for no content.

Think how much money Blizz will save by going to a three year-expac cycle.

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Danny Smith

I think its just a zombie IP in managed decline at this point. Its never going to be the monster it once was with celebrity’s in adverts, named dropped on sitcoms or quizz shows and in general used as a byline shorthand for ‘online games’. Meanwhile love or hate the gameplay i think you would be hard pressed to find danuseurs waifu simpvalry and mcu imitations engaging and beyond that they pulled the curtain back on the mystery of the afterlife and its “hey [EXPANSION BUZZWORD TERM] the foreman needs you to deal with these bugs and collect 6 maguffins” because THE AFTERLIFE has an infrastructure and commerce problem to solve. Its just outland 2.0 and full of recycled ideas. Tell me theres a major difference between the anima starved crazies of the ember ward and the wretches of suramar for example.

I think its just out of steam and in creative terms needs to end and start over with a sequel. But we all know they can’t risk dividing the userbase more than it already is and the current team is still riding the design ideas of their betters to be crude and i dont want to imagine what new mmo the shadowblands team would make from scratch. It would probably look more like a gamigo ran mobile game at best.

Thats the trouble with Zombie IP’s. They shamble on with no concrete direction, constantly losing bits of what made it what it was and eventually its going to fall apart its just a matter of when.

Who knew that one King Terenas line from ICC was this prophetic?

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Dug From The Earth

The thing that seems to get overlooked much of the time.

The current state of WoW isnt something that is a result of something RECENT that has happened (well, short of the legal issues).

Imagine this analogy.

You own a small donut shop. You make each donut by hand. Crafting it with care and precision so that each donut is great on its own.

After about 6 years of doing this, you find a way to help speed up the process by creating templates that cut and shape the donuts for you. A couple years later you invest in a system that now coats the donuts in frosting removing the need for you to hand coat them. A year later, install a conveyor belt that allows you to mass cook them. 2 years later, the entire process is automated.

At this point, your donuts just are not really the same anymore.

Its like comparing a fresh hand made bakery donut, to something from Crispy Creme. WoW has basically turned the hand crafted creative element of their game into something that is a copy/paste automated manufactured process. The only difference being the color of the frosting (zone graphics.)

If Blizzard just sticks to this current process for creating expansions, we are just going to end up with the same thing we have been getting for the last 6 years. Sure, its easy to focus on the BIG disaster elements, like the “borrowed power” systems (which IS an issue), but until they start to hand craft things again, WoW just wont be all that great.

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TomTurtle

I am so curious to see if the game design ethos often attributed to Ion Hazzikostas will be pivoted away from in any discernible degree outside of what we’ve already seen. Will Ion come back with a noticeably different tune when he addresses the community? Would it instead be more of the same, possibly waiting for the public’s attention to turn away from the company’s scandals? I’d like to think not on the latter, but Blizzard has dumbfounded me before so I’m not entirely ruling it out.

What shape the next expansion takes will be just as telling, along with the interesting details about its reveal and release dates. Blizzard has reassured its players about this expansion not being cut off early, but I could see that changing as well.

And all that without still considering the important part of actual company reformation and culpability.

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styopa

“What should we do if the players hate this expansion?”
Blizz:
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Josh

This feels so accurate it hurts

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styopa

Well I was going to add this but it felt a little piling on:
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