Of grammar and tinfoil hats

Before I start this post, I have to share this one with you. Sometimes Blizz makes me break out in gales of laughter. I was reading through the latest blue post on the newest Patch 6.2 build, and came across this:

Item – Warlock T18 Destruction 4P Bonus Your Chaos Bolt has a 9% chance to not consume an Ember. a Ember.

This was the only change noted for destro lock new tier gear. Yeah, Blizz, way to go, nice job replacing correct grammar with incorrect grammar. Because, well, clearly tooltip grammar is the only problem with destro locks in this expansion.

Actually, if you think about it, this stupid incorrect change is emblematic of Blizz’s whole dev approach these days. First, they are focused on tiny details but completely oblivious to the big pictures. There are TONS of HUGE problems with destro locks, but here is some staffer going over tooltip grammar with a fine tooth comb.

Second, this staffer apparently has absolutely no idea how to correctly use English indefinite articles, but firmly believes that whatever way (s)he uses them is the correct way. No research, no cross checking, just “that’s not how I say it, so I’ll change it.” Sound familiar? Kind of like “That’s not how I like to play the game, so I’ll change it to make sure it is played my way.”

And third, where is the adult supervision? Someone who obviously has very little grasp of English is given the task of correcting tooltip grammar? What supervisor made that assignment? Makes you wonder about all the other “tweaks” we see in the patch notes, doesn’t it? Do the people making “class balance adjustments” have any idea what they are doing, and who if anyone is supervising their decisions?

Anyway, on to today’s real topic, which is, several of the bloggers I follow, not to mention Yours Truly, have posted tinfoil hat theories in the last few days. Check out The Grumpy Elf, Marathal at Rambling thoughts about WoW, alt:ernative chat. (Plus some large number of forum contributors, which come to think of it given the nature of forum “discussions” these days maybe we should just not acknowledge, as most of them are probably wearing theirs as they write about them.)

It could just be coincidence that far-out but maybe not so far-fetched theories are appearing seemingly at the same time. But I think there is a better, more obvious explanation: Blizz has given us so little to write about in this expansion and is so uncommunicative that about all anyone can do is speculate. And the more time you have to speculate, the wilder your theories get.

Except I am not sure these theories are so wild.

Put together the links I listed, add a dash of alt:ernative chat’s latest timeline speculation and some wacky guesses, and you could come up with this picture:

Blizz is in the process of slowly winding down the 10-year-old World of Warcraft, possibly as soon as 2017, but certainly by 2018. The widely-perceived failure of WoD highlighted some of the compelling reasons to do this — the complexity of maintaining aging code that grows vastly larger every year, the stress load on what is likely an outdated server and network structure, a story line that makes less and less sense with every expansion, and player base expectations that this technologically old game conform to modern game models. It just is becoming impossible to even maintain this structure, much less add to it.

Having decided on a timeline to shut the game down, Blizz is taking steps to maintain its cash flow while it creates the WoW replacement. And it needs to do so with a bare minimum of resources, because they are transitioning as many as possible to the new game.

One of the ways to maintain player base and thus cash flow is to roll out patches and a couple of expansions on the cheap. WoD is the first of these xpacs. There will likely be one more, but don’t expect it to be any better quality than WoD. Similarly, the patches are more cosmetic than engaging, featuring a few major bug fixes and some fluff toys, maybe some raid and instance reruns.

Another way to maintain cash flow is to increase the subscription price, but Blizz knows that to do so for the regular subscription would probably be a net revenue loss, due to people unsubbing. Enter the brilliant idea of the token — and for once I am not being sarcastic when I say that. It really was a stroke of genius. Blizz now gets a significant number of players to pay 33% more for a month’s worth of service, and by doing so using the auction house shuffle, they may actually not only increase the number of active players but also extend the timeline for keeping players.

The key to this cash cow, however, is making it attractive enough for the players who provide the hard cash, those who spend the real world currency to buy the tokens to put up for sale in the auction house. So Blizz does not let pure supply and demand dictate the gold value of tokens, because sooner or later the market would reach a state of equilibrium — most people who want to purchase “free” game time would have done so to the extent they want, and the gold value of the token would have gone so low that very few would think it worth the cash outlay. (Or the usual cash-payers would have sufficient gold to start buying game time tokens, compounding the problem!)

To stop this from happening, Blizz sets the prices for tokens in the auction house by using their own formula for maximizing their cash accrual. They tell everyone it is “based on” supply and demand to some extent, but that factor is in reality very minor.

Another way they prevent the equilibrium state from occurring is by enticing their cash buyers to immediately spend their newly-bought gold, not save it. (This is where Grumpy’s post fits in.)  If people only buy a couple of tokens and figure they are set for gold until the next expansion, Blizz’s new cash source dwindles to a mere trickle. Heck, there are probably also players out there who feel like they have no need to buy gold at all, since any BoEs or other shinies they might want are outrageously expensive. Enter Blizz’s enticement program, and suddenly if they only had about another 20k they could get That One Thing They Have Been Hankering For But Has Been Out of Reach Until Now, and for only $20 they could now have it.

You heard it here first, folks. By 2017 we will be talking seriously about the follow on to WoW. Meanwhile, get used to bargain-basement patches and expansions and to more Blizz schemes designed to part you from more and more of your cash.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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