WoW Factor: No one is attacking you for liking World of Warcraft

The wicked flee when no one pursues

Oh boy, not ready.

Let’s just go ahead and give away the conclusion of this article right in the first line: There is no grand conspiracy of people out there who just hate World of Warcraft and are persecuting you for saying you like the game.

I shouldn’t need to say that. I shouldn’t need to make a point about that at all. And yet not a single week goes by in which people across the internet don’t act like the game is under some sort of systemic and coordinated assault, as if the criticisms leveled against Blizzard and WoW as it stands now are entirely the result of some malicious cabal designed to prevent gamers from having fun.

This is absurd. It’s not just wrong; it’s wrong in a way that provides disingenuous cover for a lot of poor action on the part of developers and actively endorses people like Bobby Kotick on top of the heap. And if you’re part of the group of people convinced that critique of WoW is coming from a cadre of “haters” who just want to tear down the game, it’s really time for you to come to grips with the truth.

Because I’m me, I think it’s important to understand something. You know what film I absolutely love? The Transformers: The Movie. It was released in 1986, and it is, by many metrics, an absolutely terrible film.

Seriously, this film is at many points a tonally inconsistent mess filled with two-dimensional characters being voiced by actors who have either total disinterest or complete non-understanding of the material they’re reading. The story swings through underdeveloped setpieces at a frantic pace, and the most memorable parts of it almost feel like accidents. And all of that is eliding the fact that the film is unabashedly a 90-minute commercial telling children to buy all of these new toys because it spends the first act killing all of your existing ones. Brutally so, even.

“But I thought you liked this movie.” You’re right, hypothetical reader! I do like it. I’ve watched it countless times. But I’m not doing the film or myself any favors by pretending that these things aren’t true. Ignoring these faults would arguably be admitting to not liking the film at all but instead liking a version of the film that doesn’t contain all of these material flaws, a version that exists only in my head.

Liking something without accepting and acknowledging its faults is not genuine.

Stop pulling away the damn football when we're about to kick it.

There are, absolutely, people who really just hate the heck out of WoW in every form and don’t want it to be around. But you know what? These aren’t the people who are registering on fan forums to post about it. These aren’t people with accounts on Wowhead complaining about the latest story developments. They definitely aren’t people who have written thousands upon thousands of words about WoW over the years. Why would they? They don’t like it. They don’t care about it.

The people who are on fan forums or on Wowhead or on Twitter or whatever posting about this stuff aren’t doing so because of lack of care. It’s because they do care. You have to care a lot to give a snit about whether or not the Jailer’s ending cutscene just makes him into bargain basement Sargeras again because you have to know what Sargeras originally wanted to do and how that ties into the game’s setting and what the implications are and so forth.

You know what it says when you try to discard this criticism with a blanket statement that these people just hate the game (or with a sneering “well, if you don’t like it, stop playing and stop talking about it”)? You’re saying that the only way to care about this game is with an uncritical and completely subservient eye, that the developers are beyond reproach and that vile actions from upper management are not worth discussing. And you know whom that benefits?

The developers. The executives. The people who absolutely want you to remain a marketing demographic willing to lap up literally any reheated offering that’s presented to you no matter what, another tick mark in the MAU column for the next financial report without a single issue to bring up.

It doesn’t make you a truer fan of the game because you’re denying the very engine of caring about the game enough to say that it’s being poorly managed. It doesn’t mean that you’re somehow more “honest” in your love of the game because it’s not tempered by something like actual potential fallout. It means that you’ve opted to fall in love with a version of the game that exists only in your head and thus will never disappoint you because all of the various things that it does wrong aren’t really concerns of merit.

That is, to say the least, weak sauce.

The what?

“But it’s so exhausting to see people be negative about the game when I still love it!” Guess what? The people criticizing the game still love it, too. They’re not criticizing it because it just seems like a fun thing to do for the moment. They love the game and want it to be more and want it to do better, and the fact that it isn’t being a better game makes them angry at the least.

“But I’m still having fun!” Having fun in a game doesn’t actually mean that the game is good, let alone above reproach. You can be having fun and still acknowledge problems, sometimes major ones. Blizzard right now is especially in a terrible place; it’s a terrible company, and it’s managing its MMO terribly, so you can kind of pick and choose which one you want to be more bothered by on a given day.

“But real fans would be excited, not cynical!” No, real fans would be critical of the fact that promises of things being different ring false when they keep being exactly the same. You don’t get to choose which reactions someone should have to promises, especially when you’re dealing with a developer culture that has an unpleasantly long history of promising to do better and then not actually doing that.

Make no mistake, the uncritical and absolutely unquestioning attitude is something that upper management wants from you. They want to be able to market to you solely on that basis. “You had fun with WoW before, right? You’re still having just as much fun. Here’s what we’re doing next; don’t ask questions about what it contains, just pay us money and stay subscribed while we abandon our live updates for a year to work on the next expansion.”

Whom does that genuinely serve? Who’s getting the sweet end of that deal? Does that produce a better game, one that you would want to play more? Or does it encourage stagnation and more of the same mess that has led to a constant subscriber drop-off over the years?

No, you are not being persecuted or hunted because you happen to still enjoy WoW. More or less everyone with critical things to say about the game really wants to still enjoy WoW too. If the community could just recognize we’re all on the same side, maybe someday that will happen.

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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