I see it happen whenever there’s a spike of righteous indignation surrounding even the potential of change. That means that last week, when it became apparent Blizzard were charging a standard 100g for each time your character switched specs on the Alpha, the World of Warcraft stuttered. Not all of it, of course, just the bit closest to the force of development. That’s where I live and work, because of what I do and how I write, and that means that, for a while at least, that group of people got very indignant indeed. Then a Dev arrived and reassured everybody that it was okay, it was only Alpha. Lots of stuff changes, and these are early days indeed for the latest iteration of the game. However, what I’m seeing more and more, right across all my favourite virtual continents, is the diverse and often disproportionate manner people deal with the expectations the title throws out. Once upon a time you could pretty much guarantee the vast majority of players would embrace a new Expansion with open arms.
Now, things are not as black and white as they once were.
Id like to say that it seemed like nobody complained, but I know that’s just not true. Everyone pretended they lived together and there was never any bad feeling, everybody tried to get on famously… who am I kidding. I remember the bile and vitriol that erupted when Vanilla became The Burning Crusade. People complained vociferously they’d not be able to play again, that spec changes were unrealistic and the whole direction the game was taking utterly unsustainable. Back then, major Raid Guilds collapsed too, mechanics perfectly capable of splitting a player-base. Anyone who understands what a Tainted Core is, for instance, will remember how the last fight of Serpentshrine Cavern became known as ‘The Guild Breaker.’ If you thought there were salt in the wounds after only one player could be a Scarab Lord? Think again. Every Expansion sees a constant ebb and flow of migrant players, deciding to play only at the start or often at the end when everything is cheaper to purchase. A lot of these people never see Alpha conversations, aren’t even using guides and videos provided: they just turn up and play. Only when you get Expansions for general consumption will the real issues ever truly surface.
So one has to ask what happened between Vanilla and now to often make the way people react to change so utterly nonsensical. The answer, of course, is social media. I could make a decent secondary wage pimping myself out as a consultant on this subject, as I watch people daily flail and rail against all manner of stupidity, at least as they perceive it. It is this personalisation of feedback that has ultimately caused issue with and for so many, and with a speed that can often be staggering. Blizzard themselves learned how damaging and destructive Twitter has the potential to be during the run up to Warlords, and the Great Flying Incident of 2015 still raises hackles whenever I mention it. In fact by doing so right there I can guarantee someone will turn up in my Twitter feed and try and start a fight, literally months after the issue stopped being relevant. That’s how long some people hold their grudges, and it’s also how long it’s taken for Blizzard to finally adapt the platform to suit their needs.
However good Blizzard might be in the communication department however is irrelevant next to the people with the problems. These are long, bitter and often utterly pointless feuds that can continue often for years at a time. You’ll all know that person on Facebook who does this, or maybe Tumblr or possibly even Reddit. Once you have your soapbox planted? Nobody’s gonna stop you, because you have the right of free speech and that’s the end of it. Without going into a long and rambling diatribe of how this isn’t school and you’re supposed to be a grown up, social media allows unrealistic expectations from players to not only become tangible, but actually in many cases better than the reality they’re presented with. You can live in your own world and it doesn’t matter what actually gets presented to you, because if it doesn’t shape up to your game expectations? It’s irrelevant. I watch people do this with other games all the time: Hearthstone’s just too hard for me to pick up and play, clearly the designers are sadists, or masochists or both. Wildstar failed as an MMO because it was clearly too much like Warcraft. Flappy Bird was annoying yet utterly addictive. Oh hang on, that one’s the truth.
The problem with expectation in Warcraft is the size of the bandwagon that follows it, it seems to me. If everyone decides for instance that Garrisons are the spawn of Hellfire Citadel, Blizzard have two choices. They can either make them better in the next Expansion, or they can get rid of them and replace them with something else. For years this is how Blizzard tinkered with End Game, and the title is littered with failed experiments that show how the company tried and failed, on multiple occasions, to hit a winning formula that could be easily and quickly repeated in order to churn out Expansions at a quicker rate. Garrisons, as it happens, have a lot that could be easily and quickly duplicated for later Expansions, and anyone playing the Followers/Missions mini game right now will know just how much money is to be had by doing so. That bears duplication into the next iteration of the game, the problem Blizzard then have is the expectation of the player base if they do so. That’s why you have Class Order Halls now, and why I suspect the delay in deploying a new build to Alpha will have a lot to do with ensuring when that part of the game returns, it doesn’t use the same names/ideas as the old layouts.
Then finally there is what the players actually want to do with their time. There’s a lot of muttering about looks this time around, far more than we had when the character models changed for Warlords. Once Blizzard shoved ‘player fantasy’ into the mix there was always going to be casualties: players who simply cannot reconcile how they see their character with what Blizzard is presenting them to play with. Looks can be changed, but the basic modus operandi of Legion’s Artefact System is a weapon that doesn’t. That’s already ringing alarm bells for many: mogging won’t be enough if you have a spear and need it to be a gun to maintain your own personal idea of ‘immersion.’ And here us the biggest risk of all that Blizzard is undertaking: will people, if they decide they don’t like the current plans for their mains simply pick another class and start again? Or, as is looking like the case with a number of vocal individuals, will players simply won’t bother. This is a change too far for some, and I’m watching some say they’ve had enough. Many are just bored, or too busy with Real Life (TM) while others compose sad and mournful diatribes at how Blizzard has failed to anticipate the desires of its audience. This happens every time a new Expansion is announced however. It is really nothing new.
Players continue to interact with and in Azeroth because it attracts them, but there needs to be a willingness from the players’ position not simply to take part but also to learn and grow with change. Inevitably and understandably some people won’t stay until the end. People like me will remain until the servers go dark, and with the understanding that we changed with what we liked and often what we didn’t. But the choice was ours to make, because there was never really the expectation that Blizzard would do all the work for us anyway. In the end, I think the biggest issue this game has to face in the next 12 months is people believing it is somehow up to the Company just to make everything great again. Warcraft could become the best MMO on the market in terms of choice and variety but if people decide they don’t like MMO’s any more, it is irrelevant. It isn’t just about what you’re given that matters. A lot of the time what concerns more is what you do with the tools you are provided. That’s why the Sandbox game is so popular now, and has such potential for the future. Even if you are given the tools, you then have to use them yourself: it isn’t just about Warcraft being engaging, it’s you wanting to be involved. All the social media chest pounding in the world won’t change the fact that if you dig your heels in and don’t want to take part, nothing will act as a suitable incentive.
Expectations run both ways. Please try to remember that as Legion goes to Beta testing later this year.Related: Alpha, Beta, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Expansion, Legion, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday