WoW Factor: Blizzard’s week of bad decisions

Hey, dude.

First of all, before you clever clogs start in down in the comments, yes, I realize that almost any given week in World of Warcraft could use that title for the past four years or so at a bare minimum. But this week has had a couple of really terrible decisions that are just, like… so perfectly full of unforced errors, so unnecessarily dim that you’d think the studio is just doing a bit if it were not demonstrably the result of what the developers genuinely thought was a good set of choices. They’re wrong, but they are wrong authentically. For better or… all right, for worse, we all know it’s worse.

On some level I could probably milk both of these for an individual column, but honestly, this is exhausting even without the people deep in the fanboy mines who are already assembling in the comments to complain about being reminded that their favorite studio is a hot mess in a column nobody made them read. So let’s just hit these bad decisions one at a time, mostly in the order that they happened to cross my desk this week. Knowing about this game and understanding the sheer level of contempt this developer has for a shocking percent of its playerbase is absolutely exhausting, I tell you what.

This was smart. This was a good plan. I'm glad we're doing this.

Hashtag any changes we can monetize

At first, I actually wasn’t going to write about Blizzard deciding to smash the WoW Token into WoW Classic because it’s really nothing I haven’t already talked about. What is WoW Classic? “A palimpsest for people still mad at the suggestion that maybe just being part of a specific content cycle did not make them indisputable masters of the universe.” What is a man? “A miserable little pile of secrets.” What are birds? “We just don’t know.

However… I changed my mind when I realized that there are people who might genuinely not understand why this decision was being made and what it means. If you look at Blizzard’s stated reasons for taking over RMT in the game, you could conclude that obviously the WoW Token didn’t remove illicit gold selling in the main game. People who were going to buy illicit gold will still do so. Why is this being implemented now?

Simple. Because on June 20th, Wrath Classic┬áis getting Mythic+ dungeons. Yes, I’m aware they have a different name; I don’t care. The point is that it’s the same basic gameplay loop, and that means Blizzard realized now it can monetize the boosting that’s going to happen there. Same as in the retail game. This is not an accident; this is intentional.

If Blizzard wanted to address the actual issues with illicit gold sales, it would do so without selling gold. If it wanted to address the underlying design issues that compelled people no require gold only obtainable through buying it, it would do that. This isn’t an effort to change the game; it’s an effort to take advantage of the power Blizzard has to push the smaller dealers off the street. Full stop.

Now, some of you who just genuinely like parts of Wrath like how Retribution Paladin played back then (which, I would hasten to point out, I agree with) might be keen to pipe up and point out that this is not who you are or why you are playing. You aren’t really happy with lack of LFD or Titan Rune dungeons (told you I knew what they were called) or a lot of other decisions, but darn it, you liked the game at this point!

And the thing is that I believe you. But – and this is the important point – your continued subscription is a vote in favor of this. Blizzard does not care if you dislike these choices but keep playing the game. Your money spends the same, and your continued presence as an MAU on its quarterly report validates this kind of decision. It says that this sort of thing still won’t get you to stop playing.

Seriously, there’s no selection box on the subscription for “I’m still subscribed but I’m very mad at you.” I’ve checked.

You might not be part of the crowd that wants M+ in WoW Classic in the first place, but as long as you keep playing, the people in charge will keep making the differences between the titles purely aesthetic. And if you think they’re not going to sell you Cataclysm but will actually start developing down a new and more interesting road, well, you’ve got several years of counter-evidence.

Not a lizard.

No story for you, peasant

For any other MMO studio, screwing up that badly would be a once-a-year thing at best. But for Blizzard, it was Tuesday.

All right, it was Tuesday for everyone by coincidence. The whole thing went down on Tuesday. But you know what I mean. Because soon after that was the whole thing where players were told that anyone waiting for the final quest of the 10.1 patch would need to clear the most recent raid on Normal or higher.

This, in and of itself, would mostly be an incremental step up on Blizzard’s existing boneheaded decisions around LFR. But then it got worse when Blizzard said outright that as soon as the last wing of LFR opens, that restriction will be removed. It’s the development equivalent of saying the quiet part loud; instead of being a restriction to preserve the game’s story continuity, it’s a restriction to make sure that people who don’t have a raid guild feel bad.

The usual suspects, of course, have been quick to say, “Well, just do the raid, it’s not that hard.” But the difficulty or lack thereof isn’t the point, which is why I phrased that last sentence the way I did. The goal is to make you feel bad. LFR is already positioned as being the difficulty for “people who just want to see the story,” but it’s also needlessly time-gated so that people who just want to see the story have to wait for weeks to do so. Because, as Ion Hazzikostas has made clear, you can’t just let people in established raid groups get better gear that makes the game easier; you also need to let them see the story first, before the scrub players running at the difficulty where “see the story” is supposed to be the main reward.

But now you can’t even really say that. You can’t lock story behind clearing the raid until everyone can do it. It’s not about challenge; it’s about whether or not another element of the game can be gatekept. Really, it’s about the fact that if the developers could remove LFD and LFR from the game, they would, as evidenced by how hard the game has worked to sideline these modes of gameplay over the years.

If you are one of the people who are genuinely happy because you still get to feel elite, well, bully for you. But this is also how Blizzard continues to lose subscribers to the game, reduce engagement, and increasingly reduce the engagement for no reason beyond getting to fulfill some players’ fantasies about being the most elite in the world. And the net result means that the game keeps losing players and… well, turns into even more of a dead mall.

The people who are still willing to be mall shoppers may wish to realize at some point that what is making them happy in the mall is not, in fact, drawing any new people to the mall.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with almost two decades 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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