Tuesday, July 28, 2009

3.2 and the "B Team": Insulting the Playerbase

This guys is really pissed about 3.2. And I think he's mostly right. The only thing I object to is the strong personal attacks against Blizzard employees, whom I'm sure are decent people with families and stuff just doing their jobs. But I have to agree that they really phoned it in with 3.2, and it's pretty insulting.

I've been having a big problem with WoW lately, one that has been pushing me more and more towards canceling my subscriptions (thus all the time I've spent looking into other MMOs). They rake in millions upon millions of dollars every month. But nearly every cent of that goes toward Actiblizz shareholders (note to self: buy their stock), while what's left gets invested into other projects, rather than the one we are paying them for. Our WoW money is NOT being reinvested into WoW development at anywhere near the rate it should be.

That's right: the money you pay them for WoW is being used to create games that you will then pay full price for. You are paying for SC2 and D3 and "Hydra" right now and you'll have to pay for them again when they are released. You'll be buying them twice. GG you.

If anything, the development staff for WoW has SHRUNK as they've become more and more profitable, rather than growing as you would naturally assume it would. I swear they have exactly the same size team creating content for 10 million people as they would if only 500,000 played the game. All that extra subscription money? Just gravy that we never get to see any results from. They make more and more money while giving less and less value. That's not just insulting: it strikes me as morally wrong. We put trust in them, and invest in them, and in return they half-ass it while pocketing our collective millions. I understand why people personally attack them, because it is a struggle for me to remind myself that they are just regular decent joes, rather than top-hatted mustache-twirling cartoon villains.

I can't say this enough: we deserve more for the money we pump into their company. We deserve more than the B team. We deserve more than 6 new armor models and zero new NPC models in 6 months, accompanied by 5 boss fights in one room and appallingly slow balance corrections.

Ghostcrawler has done a great job creating the illusion that Blizzard as a company is really paying attention to the WoW playerbase, beginning with his appearance during the WotLK beta soon after Blizzard merged with Activision. But I work in communications. I have worked in PR. And you know when's the only time that a corporation will ever invest in increased PR? When they need it. The company putting the most effort into acting like they care is ALWAYS the one that cares the least. The one investing the most money in looking customer-friendly is always in the business of ignoring the customer. It is a hard and fast rule. The emergence of Ghostcrawler and the non-answers of the class Q&As and this whole attempt to step up public image with the community: it's all there specifically because they've abandoned us to be milked. It is NOT evidence that they care, it's actually the best evidence we have that they as a corporation, couldn't care less.

[clarification: I think the development team left on WoW, including GC, care very much about their jobs and doing well. I'm saying that Blizzard as a whole doesn't care. GC's team is the B team, and while they try their best, they can't compensate for the fact that the majority of the institutions weight is directed at other things, like presenting a profitable quarterly report to the shareholders at the next board meeting. GC has been posting alot lately about how players shouldn't be posting in the official forums about how "Blizz doesn't care about them". Either he doesn't realize that those feelings are the biggest danger to his game right now, or he's just a very smart marketer downplaying what he knows to be his product's greatest weakness.]

I've been a loyal Blizzard fanboy for a long time, even as I rejected other game companies. Before the merger, I really thought Blizzard cared about making great games for their fanbase. But the current treatment of WoW is quickly eroding my brand loyalty and trust. They are killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I hope this negligence destroys their profit margin. I hope that someday, they have a quarterly report that shows a loss, and that they actually have the smarts to trace the losses back to the complete slaughter of customer trust they perpetrated with WoW.

But is my outrage enough to get me to not buy Starcraft 2? Not a chance. So the insult continues, because they really do have us where they want us. We're going to buy their games even if they continue to treat us like crap. They used to be a good company that produced the best games and treated their customers like their buddies. They made great games because they loved games and wanted to share those with us. Now they will still produce the best games, and we'll all buy them, but all the while we will hate them like we hate EA and Microsoft for treating us like mugging victims/drug addicts/caged rats rather than friends. They'll keep making money, but can that money allow them to accept what they've become? How they've changed into something predatory and bad? ...probably. Money is very nice.

We went from being players to being [willing!] cash siphons for them to harvest. GG us. And I'm just as complicit as anyone else. GG me.

Update: I've been told that it's easy to misinterpret what I said here, and I think that's fair. I want to clarify that I understand how businesses work. I understand that they are going to act in their own self-interest. I understand they are going to pay shareholders and reinvest in future projects.

I am NOT trying to say that they shouldn't reinvest at all. I'm NOT trying to say that they shouldn't pay shareholders. And I'm really NOT trying to say that they should act against their own self-interest.

What I am saying is that too small a portion of the money we send them is actually coming back to us in the product we pay for. We should be getting more for the money, and I think eroding Blizzard's brand loyalty is against ActiBlizz's self-interest, and in the long-run this money grab will cost them. And it sucks that they have no true competitors in this market to drive improvement. I think they are going too far in taking advantage of the lack of competition, and I hate feeling complicit because I'm still paying them for the "only game in town".

I'd liken it to buying a gallon of detergent. When you do that normally, you pay $5, and you get a gallon of detergent. But if it were WoW brand detergent, you'd pay $5, the package would say it was a gallon, but when you opened it up you'd find about 2 fluid ounces in there, and a note saying "sorry, the other $4.50 goes toward a new kind of detergent to be released in 2012 that will cost you $6 a gallon". A business wouldn't be able to survive like that if there were any competition, but I believe it's what's happening to us right now.

I feel like I'm repeating myself here, but I realize that there are tons people out there who have no understanding of business and expect corporations to be charities. Given the numbers, internet people who know something about economics are usually safe to assume others are naive. Basically consider this a disclaimer where I explain that I don't have wide-eyed naive delusions about corporations being charities that will ever act outside of their self-interest. "Well corporations are supposed to make money, duh" is something that I'm well aware of and think is consistent with my criticisms. I had hoped I had communicated that adequately in the post itself, but I may have assumed too much while communicating too little about my frame of reference.


scrusi said...

Good post and so much more concise than that rantpiece over at the rawrcast blog. Also way less insulting.
2 thumbs and a "buff" up ^^

Tesh said...

It's not just recently that those sub dollars have been siphoned off to other games. There is no possible way that $15/month is a fair representation of the costs of keeping the game running.

And if it were, we'd have a lot more to show for it, and TBC and Wrath would have been free expansions instead of retail boxes.

Stabs said...

I think that the specific attack on Ghostcrawler is not correct.

My impression is that he's taken on a big job and is very very enthusiastic (and possibly a little new to it all). He's involving himself with the fans as an extra curricular thing after he gets through his day job. He's a developer, not a CSO. He posts voluntarily, unpaid, because he enjoys talking with the fans and discussing the directions the game takes.

For the rest, well 3.2 was the final nail in the coffin for me. I've cancelled and will be WoW free until at least the next Expansion.

Shawn said...

There is something to be said for small design teams. They can accomplish great things.

But at some point you have to ask yourself "Is the benefits of a small team outweighing the benefits of a larger team?" I think WoW has been in the middle zone for a long time. It needs more time and money invested in it, for sure. It needs more art resources - Directors and Technical Modelers (I say that because I know T9 is not very popular, and because GC has said that they either make class artwork or faction artwork, no time for both).

I think WoW would benefit if we had a small team directing a larger team. You can retain the small team feel of the game while actually getting something done.

I think RAWR was right about raids - its insulting to think that 2 one room dungeons, and a recycled old dungeon is not enough (not remotely enough) to satiate the Raid base. Then they introduce this fantastic raid Ulduar that is a hit with pretty much everyone, then go back to the one-room raid model.

Icecrown had better be revolutionary, not only in size, but scope, art, mechanics, and direction, for all of the time that they are saving on these one-room dungeons.

I can see it, you can see it, pretty much everyone who has a brain can see it - the WoW playerbase is discontent with the way things are right now - lack of content, slow balance changes - seemingly random, shot in the dark, sometimes flat out silly balance changes, this is all leading to a seething underbelly, wether blizz wants to admit it or not.

If they are not careful, Blizz is going to lead to its own downfall, and see its cashcow destroy itself.

Hatch said...

@scrusi: Thanks a lot!

@Tesh: 100% agree with you on that one. It just never really bothered me until Wrath.

@Stabs: I should have been more clear that I think GC is a decent, hardworking guy who honestly believes that communicating with the playerbase the way he has will make him better at a job that he cares about. I don't think he personally is motivated to cover up anything, or has any sinister motive, or was even told by management to do better PR. But I also think he's put in a difficult position where he has to do the best he can with the limited resources the corp will give him, when he could do so much more if our 15$ a month was actually going to WoW instead of making a new game for us to pay for. For instance, he has to defend the choice to keep the design team small, or to not have enough artists to make decent armor sets in a timely fashion, because he doesn't have a choice. But this is my speculation based on reading most of what he says and trying to read between the lines. I could be way off base.

@Shawn: Yep, Ulduar was probably the best raid instance yet, and Icecrown better blow our minds or dissatisfaction with the game is going to spike pretty high.

Ixobelle said...

i won't buy Starcraft.

RTS games are teh suck.


DeftyJames said...

"What I am saying is that too small a portion of the money we send them is actually coming back to us in the product we pay for."

Then don't play. If WoW doesn't meet your value expectations, don't play.

Is that harsh. yes. Life is like that sometimes. But if you hate the way they treat you and play anyway, that's the defination of codependent.

Hatch said...

Thus all the "gg us" and "I'm complicit" and such. Problems:

1) There aren't any true competitors.
2) I want to spend time with my friends in-game.

So I'm really staying to play with people instead of the game. And I'm also kind of taking the "complain about it" step before the "leaving" step. Like in a "codependent relationship" where maybe you talk about it before you just up and leave. Maybe if they see the community start to get pissed, they'll do something different. After all, part of my argument is that breaking down their customer loyalty is ultimately going to cost them.