It is traditional at this point in proceedings for columns such as mine to stand up and do a Review of 2015. Tempting as it was to give you 12 .GIFs of Cats, I’m going to do the right thing instead. 2015 was twelve months I suspect many people on the Warcraft Development Team would rather forget, and for a lot of different reasons. It was the year I grew up as a writer and blogger, and it was when the game I know stopped being what it was and began to evolve into something very different indeed. There’s so much stuff to cover that I’m going to break this overview down into two parts, or else your brain’s going to explode (because I know mine has trying to process what’s gone down.) Those of you who thought nothing happened in 2015? Seriously, this has been my most prolific year as a writer by quite some way, there’s been articles and major news stories coming out of my ears. yes, some days I struggled, but in reality they were few and far between. Let’s go back to January 2015 and start with the impending arrival of Blizzard’s first ‘major’ content patch post-Expansion launch:
2015 in Review (Part One) :: Change is Coming, You Just Have to be Patient
At the start of the year, everybody was getting ready for Patch 6.1’s arrival: Blizzard promise a return to Daily Quests (though they called them tasks, important difference) that varied according to what Garrison NPC turned up in your structure. The change was implemented in an attempt to foster communication and to encourage people to, you know, VISIT EACH OTHER’S BASES. The reaction? Pretty much 50/50. You either love Dailies, or you don’t ^^ I did a Survey at the time on what was wrong with Garrisons, and people had issues with just about everything, which goes to prove that you can’t keep everyone happy all the time. We discovered too that the Haunted Memento was the #1 reason for unwanted mob spawning in Warlords and as such, had to be nerfed to a ghost of its former self. The code in this game’s pretty old, after all. I’d avoid the haunted house in Elwynn as a result.
6.1 finally goes live at the end of February, and a great many people are less than enamored about the content, and the fact players still can’t fly in Draenor (yes we know you were promised it would happen, but nobody actually said WHEN.) People (quite rightly) point out that Twitter integration isn’t actually content per se, despite the fact hundreds of thousands of Warcraft Selfies appear absolutely EVERYWHERE overnight and don’t go away. Social media is awash with people complaining, whilst the sensible people wait for Blackrock Foundry to open and start working on actually playing the game [*] Some of us also learn the lesson that sometimes you don’t read somebody else’s summation of a Live Dev Interview, you listen to it for yourself. I predicted how I thought Legion might pan out as an Expansion and in shock news, I might yet have had a point about that whole reboot thing. Oh, and my blog celebrated its sixth year of existence, but who cares about writing about Warcraft, RIGHT?
This month was a lot about communication: how Blizzard needed to do it better was a topic of much contention, and one I weighed into with some enthusiasm. It was also when I realised, along with a few other people, that Warlords was not an Expansion that was particularly alt-friendly. In fact, it’s only in the last couple of months that I’ve been able to get my head around getting other toons to L100. Item levels in Blackrock Foundry got a hike after complaints that the system was broken, which indeed it was. Blizzard then attempted to correct issues in game with a faster lead time, which also led to some issues with players questioning the need to have these things tweaked to begin with. Plus, with the total lack of communication on various fronts ass to why Blizzard were doing what they were, I was prompted to remind players that we don’t dictate the pace of change, Blizzard do.
Patch 6.2 appears on the PTR and suddenly there’s more content than most people could wield both main hand and offhand at. Weekly Events are a brand new thing, but most importantly of all Timewalking makes its first appearance as a concept: I wonder if Blizzard knew how popular it would eventually become? Inevitably, the complaints about ‘recycled content’ began in earnest until we’re reminded by a 6.2 that ‘time is a flat circle’ and like it or not, everything in Azeroth is precisely that. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I think my 6.2 breakdown’s worth a read, so here it is. If you look at April in hindsight? It was already clear what was coming, that Hellfire Citadel wasn’t going to be the great and glorious ending a lot of people hoped it would be. The signs were already in place, even then, that people wouldn’t get what they wanted, even if it had been previously promised.
6.2 continued to disgorge secrets: Apexis’ days as a currency were already numbered, as gear that was previously available to purchase using it became buyable for gold. Blizzard began a series of high profile Dev hires, quite possibly in response to their very own fears that Warlords really wasn’t going well: the Q1 Subscription players were showing that the rot had already started and needed to be addressed. And then, in a decision that will always be held up as the #1 Reason Why You DON’T Make Major Dev Decisions before Going on Holiday? It became apparent Blizzard weren’t going to let people fly in Draenor, period. The fallout was, understandably, immense, and is still being felt more than six months on. My portion of the Internet effectively melted overnight and many people simply never looked at Blizzard with respect ever again. Remember kids: THIS IS ONLY PIXELS, and you don’t build your life around anything, especially Gaming. [**]
6.2 goes live June 23rd, but it only takes until June 10th for Blizzard to realise that actually, they can’t function under the level of criticism they’ve received for not allowing flying in Draenor. So, they arrange an ‘attunement’ for that to happen, and people celebrate when they think they’ve been instrumental in making the Company change its mind on a key item of development. Except, of course, that’s not the case. There were also some ominous hints of what Legion meant for lore and game play at the start of the month: the realisation that Archimonde as 6.2’s last boss is not only relevant, it’s actually essential to link Draenor back to Azeroth makes a lot of people begin to panic. Is it possible that this Expansion would only have two major patches?
When you look back at the first six months of 2015, it becomes abundantly apparent that the writing was on the wall not simply for Blizzard, but for players too. The demand for quicker lead times, faster patches and continually ‘new’ content took its toll on the game, added to which was a change in release date for the Warcraft Movie. Depending on who you believe, the move to not have Azeroth pitted against the Star Wars Universe was either brilliant planning or the effective death knell for anyone to take Draenor seriously as an Expansion. As we’ll discover in part two of this Review, the damage was already done in terms of subscriber numbers. The 2.9 million player loss reported at the beginning of May gave no public indicator of just how bad things would become, but Blizzard themselves were clearly aware in the first months of 2015 of what was at stake and was needed to be done to re-establish the brand in the marketplace.
Personally, the first half of the year was a revelation not simply in terms of how people reacted to my writing, but how change could be both a blessing and a curse for a player base often far too set in their own ways to be healthy. The amount of hate mail and abuse on Twitter I received as a result of my stance on flying, for instance, only goes to prove that some people don’t like being told they can’t have something when it was promised to them previously. Mostly I learned who my friends were in those dark days: the people who allowed common sense a platform above heresay and personal desire. I should also take this opportunity to thank the MMO Games people for coming along in the middle of this year and offering me a job, because without that as an inspiration and platform I’d not be nearly as confident at this whole stringing a sentence together thing than I have undoubtedly become.
Cheers guys, and thank you. I’ll see you back here next week for Part Two 😀
[*] This is a trend that runs through the whole of this year. Hats off to everyone who just played the game this year and didn’t feel the need to use social media to tell people you did.
[**] Pro gamers excepted.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Review of 2015, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday