World of Warships Graf Zeppelin ingame

How Not to Release a New Premium Ship: The World of Warships Graf Zeppelin

Stormy seas wrecked the PR department of Wargaming around this year’s Gamescom. The premature release of a new Premium Tier 8 carrier, the German Graf Zeppelin, has caused a ruckus among the World of Warships community. Now known as “Grafgate”, the affair was a perfect blend of classic clusterfuck ingredients including hasty decisions, an outraged mob, and beloved pillars of the community getting sacked. So what happened?

Wargaming gamescom 2017

Wargaming meets gothic architecture. And Kölsch. Image by Wargaming.

Sailing to Gamescom

The release of the Graf Zeppelin was scheduled to coincide with Gamescom. Which makes sense, with the ship being German and all. However, in a mildly bemusing simile to the Graf’s actual history, things moved too quickly and the first playtests of the ship indicated it wasn’t quite ready yet. Feedback was mixed, but the overall opinion of testers was that it was in a very strong position, fielding three torpedo bomber squadrons that gave it immense striking power. Though the Kriegsmarine would likely not have redesigned a ship because it was deemed “too powerful”, these are different times and Wargaming decided to redesign the Graf Spee, possibly to avoid another ‘FochGate’. In one sentence, FochGate saw an overpowered tank released in World of Tanks, which prompted community contributor SirFoch to give a very bad review of it, for which Wargaming revoked their cooperation with him, which resulted in community outrage.

Back to ships. They replaced the torpedo bomber squads with dive bombers resulting in much lower overall striking power. Forsaking buffs in other departments like, say, fighter power, the ship was now pretty much useless and not worth its spit, much less the 50$+ Wargaming intended to ask for it in the store. However, Gamescom loomed and Wargaming went ahead and tossed Graf Zeppelin into the water, hoping it would learn to swim on its own. It sank spectacularly.

Graf Zeppelin release

Visual representation of the release of the Graf Zeppelin.

Oh, the Humanity…

With the Graf Zeppelin being about as useful as a real Zeppelin in a naval battle of World War II, community unrest grew. At first Wargaming took a defensive stance with an ‘adapt your playstyle’ rhetoric, but the avalanche of negative feedback soon spiraled out of control. Even a premium damage control consumable couldn’t put out the fires that burned through the forums at this point, spreading to Reddit.

Backed against the proverbial wall, Wargaming once again lashed out against one of their community contributors, iChase of iChasegaming, stripping his community contributor status. This tactic of fighting fire with kerosene resulted pretty much as was expected, further inciting the community. What had iChase done to draw their ire? Apart from using some moderately strong language and recommending everyone not to buy the new premium ship, he instigated that the person responsible for the premature release should be fired from their position. You can find the full video here.

Though iChase took this development with grace in a new video, the community responded with overwhelming support for him. Accusations of Wargaming silencing people who talk bad about shiny premium ships were the natural conclusion.

Thumbnail image for iChase’s review of the Graf Zeppelin.

Repair Party Engaged

Wargaming eventually admitted they were in the wrong. Both for releasing the Graf Zeppelin as it was, and for ceding their cooperation with iChase, offering an apology in an official update. To address the former, Wargaming gave players the opportunity to get a refund for their ships no matter how many battles they had played, as well as consolidation prizes to encourage them to stick with it anyway. Giving options to leave everyone happy.

To address the latter, they had reached out to iChase in a Skype call and talked to him there, apologizing and offering to reinstate him as a community contributor, which he has declined for the time being. Nevertheless, it’s a positive sign that the devs were willing to make amends, rather than push forward and insist on their ways. All in all, a happy ending, though people are a bit wary as Wargaming seem a little trigger happy on revoking community contributor status. However, now’s a good time to take a closer look at the arguments and draw conclusions.

Damage Assessment

So what to make of all this? Broadly speaking, there are two sides involved in this skirmish; Wargaming and the World of Warships community, iChase in particular.

Wargaming’s actions in releasing the Graf Zeppelin when they did is understandable. Events like Gamescom create a lot of hype in the gaming community at large, and it’s the time where new premium items would sell especially well. On the other hand, the backlash from the community for a failed premium item was swift and severe, as would be expected when one pays the price of a full AAA title for a single virtual item in a F2P game, only to find out it is garbage.

In hindsight, a pre-order with lucrative bundles “only available during Gamescom” might have been the wiser move. Oh, and while it’s hard to admit, a swift update along the lines of, “We wanted it to be ready for Gamescom but realized it was not,” might look like admitting incompetence on the surface, but actually speaks of game designers taking sensible decisions and valuing community feedback. Lashing out and making an example of iChase, somewhat shortly after the SirFoch incident, certainly was poor form at best and could’ve likely been avoided by either talking to him ahead of time, maybe issuing a warning, or just letting the responsible parties cool off over the weekend.

Graf Zeppelin specs

Stats in-game may differ.

Internetiquette

In the other corner, iChase certainly took a more measured approach than SirFoch, and though he did not quite manage to keep his language in his initial review PG-13, he largely stayed on top of things. Which compounded the issue for WG, as it made it look more like they were reprimanding him for telling people not to buy their new digital toy. However, it’s important to note that iChase did speak up and suggest that someone should be fired over this, and as it was not live but a well-edited video, it wasn’t a spur of the moment remark. Or at least, he had plenty of opportunity to prevent it from appearing on YouTube. But he didn’t.

Is this too strong a remark? Many would argue that it is not. However, if we imagined the situation not on the internet but in an office for a moment, someone demanding someone else be fired is a very serious accusation which you shouldn’t throw against anyone unless in grave circumstances. The question over whether community contributor status makes you a ‘colleague’, a ‘favorite customer’ or anything in between is up for debate, but he was not ‘just another forum goer’. iChase has since released a new video in which he acknowledged Wargaming’s apology and said he did not mean that anybody really should lose their livelihood and Wargaming should know him better than that. However, as everywhere else on the internet, it’s easy to get things ‘into the wrong throat’, as the Germans say. Or they rub you the wrong way, as others would put it.

How Now Grau Cow?

Graf Zeppelin ingame

Not as flammable as a real Zeppelin. Still very incindiary.

In hindsight, which is a comfortable 20/20, the whole situation is a prime example of things happening too quickly and tempers boiling over, though I’d like to reiterate that iChase’s language was nowhere near as strong as SirFoch’s was a couple months back. Some people, like fellow community contributor Flamu, have pointed out that Wargaming should have learned from the last time. On the other hand, it seems that a rather thin skin was maintained indeed. It seems unprofessional by Wargaming. However, as the lines between employee and customer blur, it seems like a natural development. At any rate, the situation seems to be largely resolved. Whether or not iChase picks up the mantle of community contributor again in the future remains to be seen, but I wish him the best of luck whatever he chooses to do. Though I’ll add that my money personally is on him accepting reinstatement in less than a year.

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