WoW Factor: If this is the state of World of Warcraft, why talk about it?

Looking closer.

The other day, I was talking with a friend about another MMO altogether. It doesn’t actually matter which one it was because the important takeaway is something that I said to her mid-conversation when I noted that there was a certain amount of fan complaining was just kind of pointless. If you’re complaining about things that aren’t going to change at this time and have already been said, you are not contributing anything new to the conversation, and it makes the whole thing sort of pointless.

But that brought a question to mind. How much does that apply to my own discussion about World of Warcraft right here in WoW Factor?

One of the big elements of my personal philosophy is that if I’m going to be attaching my name to something and putting work in, I want it to be serving a purpose. That means not just rewriting the same basic column dozens of times just because the same thing is still relevant, but it also means asking myself the question to start with. So here we are.

First and foremost, let’s just make something clear: My job is not playing World of Warcraft. I don’t mean that in the strict sense of “my job is actually to write about playing WoW” even though that is accurate. I mean that if I told Bree that I didn’t want to do this column any more, it would not mean the end of my time here. Heck, I could pick up another game column if I wanted to or just step up something else. I write a lot of columns on a regular basis, fam; this ain’t like my one job.

But file that away in your brains. It’ll be important later.

Just as relevant to note is that WoW has, at this point, reached the point where it is not actively impossible for things to change but where it sure feels unlikely. The people who are in charge of the game seem to have a very distinct desire for what they want to do with the game, there is at this point no meaningful indication that their goals actually move the needle on the many bad decisions that have dug the game into a hole, and there’s no sign that any of those leaders are leaving. Bringing Metzen on board to oversee the story is not a fix in any way, shape, or form; it’s like fixing the railing on the staircase while half of your house is being overrun by feral dogs.

So… why am I bothering? If the game isn’t going to change, is there even a point in critique? Is there a point to shouting into the void? And the answer is yes, but to talk about that, we have to talk about how WoW has developed a hatred of coverage.

It's classically something.

Author C. S. Lewis famously remarked, “Above all else, the Devil cannot stand to be mocked.” And indeed, this is something common to everyone. No one likes to be mocked or be told that their ideas are actually bad. A lot of people, when they have the power to avoid it, will just… not. They will shut out voices that have something negative to say, and while the people who are left will not be helping in any way, they are allowed to stay because they feed a flattering myth. Here’s one of the most powerful collection of seven words in the English language:

You are already doing the right thing.

WoW developers and fans have cultivated this circle over many, many years, and it becomes a noxious self-feeding loop. People cultivate entire careers just making videos about this one game, and rather than jeopardizing that by saying, “Maybe this one game isn’t actually all that great any more,” they find it’s much easier and more productive to… well, be a stooge. And as Blizzard increasingly focuses in on these people, the loop becomes tighter and more exclusionary, until saying “look, Blizzard is kind of awful” gets you thrown out of the circle no matter how true it is.

So you have fan sites masquerading as journalistic outfits trying to find a way to cover a nightmare of sexual harassment and awful labor conditions as something other than a gaping wound that makes even talking about this company in the context of games feel gross. But the thing is that in the process, you actually feed into the circle by not talking about it any more, as well.

Like, do you want to write about a game to get a week’s worth of hate mail, people stalking your personal social media, and spiteful comments because you said “sexual harassment is bad?” Or even just because you said “making the game more gatekeeping-oriented is bad?” I’m not asking these as hypothetical scenarios; they have actually happened. If you have other games to cover, there is basically no benefit to covering WoW’s ongoing parade of self-owns other than either hoping that Blizzard-senpai notices you or morbid curiosity.

And that’s… not great! This game was hugely important for many years and in no way has to be in this state. It was never inevitable. The game’s current state is not a result of natural laws but decisions made by human beings who could have, you know, made different decisions. Abandoning ship because the dark area is where the Blizzard hyenas live and you must never go there Simba is really not a great place to be in, especially if you’re some weirdo who actually cares about this stuff.

So no, I don’t think that Ion Hazzikostas is going to read my columns and suddenly realize what he’s been doing wrong, nor do I write these columns for people who just hate the game or just fixate on some really braindead self-congratulating fictions. No, dungeon finder did not kill the game; no, you did not know everyone on your server back in the day. No, the classic game was not harder. No, changing the Eredar backstory did not matter, and if you’re still mad about it please go to a place that has all the grass ever and touch it.

I send a lot of people there but no one ever listens. Sad.

The reason for writing these columns is simple: Because even if this is what Blizzard has decided its trajectory is going to be, it’s worth having a log of how each bad decision builds on the rest and why things keep getting worse. The MMORPG historical record, niche as it is, needs it. As someone who does really love this game and the potential it refuses to realize, I want to be here documenting it as it bleeds players and relevance before our eyes. I won’t let this process be memory-holed. This is a game that has had a massive effect on the MMORPG genre, and I refuse to just ignore it because it’s old news or pretend its current state is a result of just time instead of intentional decisions players called out for what they were as they happened.

And since I’m not streaming and screaming at you nonstop in a desperate hope for you to like and subscribe because streaming is an expensive prospect with terrible margins, I don’t feel a gnawing sense of dread that any criticism of Blizzard is going to kill my revenue stream. Freedom might just be another word for nothing left to lose, but that can be liberating, eh?

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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