Once again the moderators have struck. I had a pretty decent thread going over on the forums. This morning at 4am or thereabouts it was 7 pages long. I had managed to avoid blatantly violating any rules by directly discussing bannings that the moderators have inflicted on me in the past. Managed not to talk blatantly about any of the rules which govern the boards. Managed to keep myself from fucking cursing every other fucking word, so they couldn’t pretend that bitching was something vulgar this time. I thought this attempt at feedback was going swimmingly until I logged on this afternoon to see if anything else had posted.
Not only had nothing else posted, but the entire thread had disappeared into a black hole, like every other thread I’ve started on Blizzard’s forums. No matter how many times Blizzard’s customer service representatives in-game assure me that the developers want to hear from you, go post on the forums I know from experience that the opposite is true. They really don’t want to hear from me.
I’m generally well-school in dancing around the sensitivities of others. Just last week I managed to piss of the acting Guild Master of my now-former Horde raiding guild (Crimson Retribution – Terenas) because I dared to suggest that not only was he wrong about flight always being a perk in World of Warcraft , but that if his training as a systems administrator instructed him that all hackers are criminals (right after he had called me a criminal for rooting my cellphone) I didn’t think much of the value of his education.
Funny part of that was that he stopped talking to me because I insulted his education. The dust-up wasn’t over his accusation that I was a criminal. No, that insult to me was completely overlooked. His tender feelings were hurt. So I left the guild, because that is what happens when those with lesser authority have a disagreement with higher authorities. You move on. It is not a threat, it is what reasonable people do.
Similarly, there is no winning when the entire structure of a company wants to silence what you have to say, when the only place you can say it is on their forums and have it reach an audience. If you read over the Blizzard forum guidelines it should become painfully clear that any subject that isn’t praise for Blizzard and World of Warcraft generically will not live very long on their forums. They have (like so many other forums on the internet) created an echo-chamber for self-congratulation.
…and why not? I mean, Blizzard has created what is inarguably the most popular game in all the history of electronic gaming. World of Warcraft (or WoW) still boasts subscriptions that are North of five million, which is a number that nearly any other gaming company would give their firstborn children to have access to. Never mind that at its peak WoW boasted a subscriber base of over twelve million people, or that the release of Warlords of Draenor did not lift subscriber numbers from their slow downward slide for longer than a month or two.
They have a certified hit, a cash cow. But how to keep milking that cow without killing it? That really is a tricky question, the multi-million dollar question that speaks to the future of the company. I mean, Blizzard isn’t alone out there. Some would say that they aren’t even at the forefront of gaming any longer.
My children only play Blizzard games because I play them. Left to their own devices, they like their Steam games, playing any number of them for pretty much as long as we allow them to play (him anyway, and only for a few years more) when the daughter heard that Legion would be the next expansion for World of Warcraft her only request was that I get her one of the art books. The game? Well, if you are playing dad, sure.
Steam has tapped into something that only Facebook is doing better at; and that because it doesn’t require any real talent to be on Facebook. You just have to have the connection and you can share memes till the end of time, play flash games till you die of repetition. Facebook is to the internet was TV was to broadcast. Radio was informative and entertaining, TV had pictures!
I can’t explain what it is that Steam offers. I haven’t been impressed with many of the games. I’m certainly not impressed with their business tactics involving the children that make up a majority of their player base (I’ve mentioned this before) But they have a loyal following, and Blizzard has noticed this, which is why they introduced Battle.net and its launcher.
Battle.net is a pale comparison to Steam and it’s myriad of indepedent developers, though. Blizzard is now facing the same kind of broad-based competition that Microsoft laughed at when Linux was introduced. Microsoft is no longer laughing now that Android (also Linux/Unix) runs on more systems than their software; similarly, Blizzard (or more accurately Activision/Blizzard) cannot long outpace a group which can essentially grow to incorporate all programmers who don’t work for them.
I had several players insist to me that Blizzard would stop WoW at level 100 for in-game characters, back in the days when I was writing about Cataclysm and its failings. I knew then just as I know now that there won’t be an end to World of Warcraft so long as Blizzard continues to see a profit. With the announcement of Legion and its 110 level cap, the notion that World of Warcraft might stop anytime soon has been left in the dust.
With new content needed, and the demands of the players for more and more challenging content to master, WoW programmers have a serious problem on their hands. How to keep the players challenged? How to make programming goals achievable in the foreshortened time that Activision was allowing for game development? The developers, after seeing the new subscriptions and interest in WoD declared that they would exclude flight in all future expansions of WoW, reneging on their promise to introduce flight to the new content as this blue post goes into.
There’s a lot of discussion about flying/not-flying and I’d like to try to sum things up and maybe realign the discussion a bit. Some of the other threads are near-cap, some have really gone down tangents, so I’m just picking this one to throw a reply into. Apologies to the other threads.
Flying trivializes combat. A lot of people like to say we’re trying to force world PvP, or that we just really want people to look at the pretty trees we made, but those really aren’t the reasons that drive this same decision we’ve made every expansion. Flying allows you to escape or enter combat at-will. There’s a reason why flying isn’t allowed in dungeons and raids, or battlegrounds and arenas, and that’s because it would trivialize the core mechanic of the game in those areas – combat. For much the same reason it trivializes how content is approached in the outdoor world based on the simple fact that you can lift off and set down wherever you like.
So that’s the main reason. But sure there are a lot of other problems it can cause for content design such as zones having to get a lot bigger because flying mounts can travel so quickly (and thus making ground travel in them take much longer), it reduces the impact of elevation within zones, it completely removes the ability for us to pace or present content in any structured way, and in general removes our ability to determine how and when players approach a situation, see a vista or location, or charge into/out-of a combat situation. It just greatly reduces any gameplay we want to create by allowing infinite choice in how content is approached to best suit a player’s intention to (usually) avoid that content.
I totally sympathize with people’s desire to do that, they want to be efficient and have it be their choice, but we have to balance our intent to create a game against creating a sandbox where anything goes. There’s a happy medium there somewhere, but flying mounts in most cases just do too much to undermine too many of our core intentions with the game world, the basis of the game: combat, or guiding players through a game experience, and for those reasons we have continually chosen (when we could) to disallow flying mounts in the ‘current’ outdoor content. In the past that’s meant only while leveling, but in our experiences with the Isle of Thunder and Timeless Isle we feel like we can extend that for a bit longer in the new content, and have it be kind of a big deal again once you’re able to earn flying in the first big content patch, and in the meantime putting focus on flight paths as well as having some more interesting travel options for players to use.
I liked Timeless Isle, despite the lack of flight. On the other hand I despised the Isle of Thunder and the clearly contrived lack of flight in that area. Why not allow players to attempt to fly? Perhaps the more clever could have figured out how to make it work, that’s why (more on that in a bit) given the success of Pandaria, the increased subs for WoD, the developers thought that they had a solution to their problem of too little time/too much programming.
Not so fast, though.
The player base is now abandoning WoD in droves. It is boring, being limited to ground travel. Being restricted to a very limited quest chain (which is allowed by making sure that players go where you want them) Once again the developers reverse direction and work in a gated introduction of flight into WoD. Players who got a secret pleasure out of denying flight to players who wanted to fly were outraged. The developers have to recalculate programming requirements for content that will now have to include flight. Things are not looking good for Blizzard.
The sad part of all this is that the same developers are still beating the same dead horse that was the established lore for Warcraft more than a decade ago, and trying to draw out the final few dollars they can milk from this story before it stops being profitable. They could re-invent parts of the game as they did with professions in the current expansion (much to their detriment in this player’s opinion) but that carries risk, and large companies are nothing if not risk-averse. (I offer Overwatch as an example of this; a pretty game but essentially a rehash of Team Fortress 2. Not that there isn’t room for more of the same kinds of games)
Risk adverse developers throttle player content, rather than expand playability. Warlords delivered this in spades, extending the amount of work and time spent in the game to achieve even less than you could do in previous versions of WoW. Only now, after the announcement of the next expansion, do they finally grudgingly give players the last piece of playability we had in previous versions of the game. The next patch will finally give the players the ability to fly in Draenor, the ability to use the mounts all of us have paid for with time, effort and real money. Finally fulfilling the implied contract when they sold us flying mounts a year and more ago. Those mounts will finally fly.
But is it too little too late? Speaking for myself, it might be. I’m thoroughly burned out now. Try as I might, there just isn’t enough content in the game to keep me interested; or rather, there doesn’t appear to be any one type of play that the current game encourages aside from the narrow channel of developer intent to progress through the garrisons and outposts. Without flight, exploration, pet battling, archeology, etc all become tedious slogs through NPC’s you’ve already killed repeatedly. Giving me flight now just reminds me how much of the game I liked in Pandaria that I’m already too far behind on to catch up now.
Which is why this article starts and ends with a hashtag. I’m not even going to contemplate playing WoW after the next expansion releases unless the developers include flight in the game from the beginning. Not just flight, but flight for all levels (as it was in Wrath of the Lich King at least) available at the time the expansion releases.
I’m done with being throttled, of playing Activision‘s version of a Blizzard game that reminds me more of Facebook games than it does of the MMO’s and RTS’ of previous years. Most of all, give me the sky to fly in, or I’ll find some other game to play in the future. #NOFLYNOBUY
I don’t care, I’m still free, you can’t take the sky from meSonny Rhodes