WoW Factor: World of Warcraft’s Plunderstorm is neither greedy nor good

Thank you. Very impressive.

It would be an exaggeration of the highest order to say that no one was even a little interested when World of Warcraft unveiled its whole Plunderstorm spinoff. Not the fun hyperbolic exaggeration-for-effect sort but just the… inaccurate sort. But it was also definitely not a reveal that had the WoW community doing backflips of joy or feeling like all of the buildup for the Mystery Patch felt one thousand percent worth it now. Instead, responses seemed to be split more between the “hell no” crowd, the “this has to be a joke” crowd, and the “I guess I’ll take the cosmetics” crowd.

I definitely feel like this is a case of something nobody asked for that has been delivered anyhow, and that in and of itself bears no small amount of examination because in context, how could it not? But I also want to talk about it authentically, and that simultaneously means pushing back against some critiques that just do not seem accurate. Including the most obvious ones that are painting this as an act of untrammeled greed, which falls afoul of the simple reality that this… isn’t that.

Now, let’s be clear, I do not blame anyone who looks at any five-minute stretch of things that Blizzard entertainment does and thinks, “Well, this is motivated by greed” because… seriously, look around. I can point to like a dozen example without going further back than the last year. It is an understandable instinct. But this isn’t monetized like it’s an expression of greed. It’s not even built like one.

Remember how I mentioned the “this has to be a joke” crowd? There’s a reason for that, and it’s because this isn’t a thing that anyone was asking for. It’s not something present, current, modern, or even classic players want. Even if you’re a big Fortnite fan, you are probably getting your itch scratched by… y’know, Fortnite. No one on the planet is out there saying, “Gosh, I really want a battle royale… should I play the big popular one everyone is talking about, or should I install a 20-year-old MMORPG with a limited-time battle royale spinoff mode?” That’s not a thing.

The obvious “greed” thing there is to say that it’s in place to keep people subscribed during a lull, but whom exactly is that catching? The crowd of people unhappy about WoW Classic moving on to Cataclysm are not going to look at this and say that they can’t just stay mad at these rapscallions. It’s also not the sort of thing that the majority of people who are eagerly awaiting The War Within want. It’s hard to picture this being a major subscription driver.

So who? And why?

The outfits are an oddly mixed bag.

Obviously, there’s no way to be certain what is informing the decisions made behind the scenes if you are not… you know, behind the scenes. If I were, I wouldn’t be writing this column. But I suspect the goal here was less about providing something that anyone was really asking for and more about trying to demonstrate to new leadership (inside Blizzard and up the chain at Microsoft) that WoW can be used for other projects, that its tech and assets can be used for other things.

It’s not that I necessarily agree with that goal, but it’s the thing that makes the most sense. It’s the set of conditions that would lead to this particular confluence of events because otherwise it’s not catering to something any of the game’s players are asking for. Reworking Arathi Highlands into an arena for a battle royale no one really asked for is a weird lift and obviously not something that is going to fill in the time between now and more substantial releases, but at least it might draw a few more eyes and hopefully feed into the one-stop ecosystem that Blizzard wants to generate.

And when you look at how Blizzard’s attempts to deliver entirely new games to really support its ecosystem have failed and fizzled so substantially… like, maybe it’s not a shock the devs might want to say, “All right, but we can make a battle royale spinoff that maybe gets a few eyes even if we can’t build a whole new engine for it? Eh? Eh?”

But I suspect that whoever did put that forth doesn’t really have a whole lot of faith in that pitch, though, considering that the big draw for playing this mode in the first place is a whole bunch of rewards for retail WoW. I suspect that the mode will stay populated for a little bit as people try to earn those rewards, and it seems likely that the people who made it are hoping that after you have the rewards you want, you’ll stick around because the gameplay mode is just so gosh-darn good.

That seems like wishful thinking, though. I don’t doubt there are people who will feel like the mode is so gosh-darn good, they’re always out there, but it seems far more likely to me that people will play exactly enough of the mode to get the rewards and then not touch it again. As I alluded to before, people who want this gameplay style already have other options with larger populations and more defined gameplay loops. This is not that.

yay, you forced me to do a thing

And make no mistake, the team behind WoW knew exactly what it was doing here every step of the way. The complete lack of any hints at what this was going to be beyond the pirate symbol was a conscious choice, as was the lack of even saying, “This patch will be a spin-off game mode.” It feels to me like this has all been a very intentional slow roll to avoid people getting annoyed about something before it had released because the developers knew MMORPG players would be irritated. With good cause, I’d argue.

Sure, this is a clever repurposing of existing assets on one level, but on another level it’s a gameplay mode no one asked for that is also putting a time-limited burden on players who may not be terribly invested in it. This is the sort of thing you do when you are worried about your players potentially deciding to peace out, not when you think you have a certified banger on your hands.

Ultimately I like the idea of the developers getting to try new things, but the execution and obfuscation leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and the fact that it’s all done with a lacing of that extreme FOMO response really gets my hackles up. Sure, this is already a gameplay mode I’m not fond of, it is perhaps understandable that I would be even less interested in this than otherwise… but when you combine it with the extreme secrecy, I’d be less than enthusiastic even if this were all content I dearly wanted.

At the end of the day I don’t like how this was rolled out and what it means, even if I think a lot of the potential cynicism about the game mode itself might be overblown. And that’s the tea. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it makes me want to play it less because of the manipulation trying to draw me in. Make of that what you will.

Also aren’t we done with the pirate thing by now? Am I going to have to see another one of those stupid movies hitting theaters to ignore for months on end? Gosh, I hope not.

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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