I have mentioned it before, but like a lot of obsessive rejects with nothing better to do, I play World Of Warcraft a lot. And a pretty world-changing event, at least within the scope of the game, occurred a couple of days ago now. Yes, it was expansion-patch day.
Now, I am going to assume that the reader has no idea what I am talking about. If you play World Of Warcraft with some regularity and know the basics of it, then you can skip to a certain point I will place a marker in front of at your leisure. In order to understand what I mean when I say expansion-patch, it is important to understand patches, expansions, and a few things about content. There are certain kinds of updating done in the game. Bugfixes, addition of new content, addition of new “wings” to the game’s world, and so forth. Usually, these are all rolled into one, but there’s a bit of a hindrance involved.
Content patches patches essentially add new sections of map, new dungeons, and new items to the game. Of course, this is done at the user’s expense in terms of how much bandwidth they are allowed to use up with their ISPs. In spite of the fact that Blizzard Entertainment charge a monthly subscription fee to their game, for every major “expansion”, and more besides. The fact that these expansions, content patches, and additions are compulsory, with no option of refusal or delay, makes this extremely cheeky in my viewpoint, to put it nicely.
In times gone by, I thought of Blizzard Entertainment as being different to the pack that believed their customers had to have upgraded their computers within the last two months in order to play their latest and greatest. But the last few years have changed my mind about this, and dramatically. It is one thing if one is playing a game on a computer that is about to develop a fatal problem in its motherboard due to “age” (read: deliberately not being built to last). But when your computer’s parts are only about a year old and the graphical information on the screen is updating so slowly it hurts to watch, it comes as a slap in the face.
What often angers me is the response I often get to when I voice complaints about things like World Of Warcraft. When I was about twelve or thirteen years old, I saw an advertisement for a book about how to handle customer complaints. The advertisement states that when a customer comes to you and tells you that your service or product has displeased them for whatever reason, it is actually a blessing. The alternative is that they repeat their dissatisfaction to everyone else they know, including potential customers of yours. So when I say that Blizzard Entertainment’s habit of ignoring customer complaints, reassured by fanboys moaning about people making their opinions voices heard, is holding them back, I want my full meaning understood.
You can start reading again now if you are familiar with the World Of Warcraft already. Now, the first clue I received that something was “up” was when one of the daily quests in the Firelands became “bugged” in a manner that essentially made it impossible to complete. That, of course, was bad enough. However, I got around it by improvising, or rather just putting that series of quests aside and filling the void with others. This, of course, led to the interesting revelation that I could now level up my guild simply by doing massive amounts of quests on level 85 characters. But for a quest to suddenly become impossible to complete because the characters one is supposed to interact with will not enter into the state they are meant to be in at the start of the quest, nor give credit for completion of the quest action, well, as much as some of you no doubt want to cry “hatuuuurz” at me for criticising Blizzard Entertainment about this, it simply should not have happened. Whilst it is true that there is no such thing as bug-free software, a bug of this magnitude should not make it through quality control.
But I think the biggest jaw-dropper was when I discovered that one of the spells my new Warrior toon uses in order to defend others from harm, Shield Block, I think the name is, would not work. When I moused over it, it told me in bright red text that it “requires shields”. Oh, really? You mean like the one I picked up in one slightly-higher-than-beginner dungeon and am currently wearing?
I think this is probably a consequence of the whole “deliver everything online” culture that has taken over Blizzard Entertainment. Now, whilst content has to be added from time to time to keep people interested, I think I speak for many people who live in less Internet-ready areas (really, after twenty years, private enterprise needs a good excuse) when I say that even today, asking people to download twenty gigabytes of data in one hit is just a little bit much. For one thing, as I believe I have made perfectly clear, some people just cannot cope with that. And then there is the sheer magnitude of what Blizzard Entertainment are biting off. Have they really learned nothing from the Cataclysm expansion?
I remember reading an interview that was titled as a post-mortem on the Cataclysm expansion. In it, Dave Kosak described how he set out with the goal of redesigning the entirety of the original world in which World Of Warcraft occurred. In this interview, he describes how he and the design team designed parts of Azeroth into different zones, colour-coded red, yellow, and green. Reds were zones in need of major, major work. Greens were ones that could get away with a few superficial changes. Yellows were in between. But what Kosak discovered, much to his horror, was that green zones were more like what he came to call “watermelon zones”. That is, they looked green at first, but when these areas were worked on for a short while, they were discovered to be very, very red under the surface. I think this statement of the problem is actually pretty characteristic of the manner in which Blizzard approach game design.
Everyone should agree with me that any enormous undertaking, even ones like the Great Wall Of China, consists of a long string of small, even microscopic steps. Not Blizzard. They way Blizzard are implementing changes to World Of Warcraft resembles taking the entire wall, supports, surfaces, and trims, and pushing it down into its allotted location all at once. Given the size and irregular shape of the Great Wall, I am sure you can imagine the magnitude of disaster that would follow such an approach. Yet this description typifies pretty much everything that Blizzard do. And the results often come out so half-arsed. I mean… I can handle an expansion entirely themed around Trolls. Oh, no, wait, I cannot. There is a reason why even Horde players avoid them, Blizzard, and that is because even by the low standards you have set, their characterisations are shit. But making it even worse was the fact that there were only a total of two dungeons. Hell, the final series of dungeons added to Wrath Of The Lich King were drawing complaints about being too few and repetitious in nature, and there were three of those. Simply put, the constant additions of new content through downloaded patches are not working in the game’s favour. When the Isle Of Quel’Danas was added through a patch, it was novel. Now that every single addition is through a patch, and often a fukking enormous one, the lustre has well and truly dulled.
As I have stated before, I have my own little guild that I am increasingly telling others I formed as a sanctuary against normalism. I might relate the story of how I began to feel a need for such a sanctuary at a later date, but right now, the one thing that takes the sting out of how forced and thing-breaking this latest expansion-patch has been is the small handful of good things that it has brought. For one, the easing of the difficulty in levelling a guild has been a very good thing. Prior to this, the extreme difficulty caused a proliferation of add-ons to appear that spammed people with recruitment requests, basically using a carpet-bombing approach to get more people into a guild and level it. And the sad part about this is that for guilds who were willing to sink to that level, it worked. I even contemplated using such tools myself in the very early days of the guild. I am somewhat ashamed of that, but as Sam Waterston said so well some time ago, the truth will make you free, but it will not necessarily make you happy. Fortunately, I resisted the temptation for the most part, and instead chose to take the slow, steady route to guild recruitment.
There are two reasons why I have done that. First of all, in the early days when I made my first tentative, stumbling steps into the game, there was no such thing as levels or perks for guilds. Guilds were simply a collective of individuals who played together in cooperation. Whilst this meant that people had to know one another in order to really decide to form a guild together, it also meant that guilds did not pop up like cancer cells in my face.
But all of this is beside the point. Truth be told, I am just sad that Blizzard Entertainment are now behaving in a Microsoft-like manner in their implementation of their flagship product. That, by anyone’s standards, is what they called a Whammy.