Blizz, you can still turn this around

An open letter to Blizz and the WoW devs:

Dear Blizz,

I watched your Legion launch event last Thursday, and I made a special effort to watch your Sunday non-event touted as a Q&A. I have read your tweets, and I have scoured the official forums.

You are in the process of making the same mistakes you did prior to WoD, plus a few more.

I am not talking about game or class mechanics for Legion, although there are plenty of huge — possibly catastrophic — mistakes you are making there, too. I am talking about your total disregard for meaningful, regular communication with your players.

When, as Lore said in a tweet, the lesson you learned from launching WoD was that you gave us too much information too early, that is a problem. That is absolutely the wrong lesson to take from the experience. The lesson you should have taken is that you need to get your act together and have an actual project management plan with clear objectives that all devs are aware of and are working towards in their areas. Then when you get an avalanche of questions, devs can address them in terms of those objectives, and describe the goals even if they do not yet have the mechanics worked out.

Clamping down on all communication is the worst possible course of action.

You hyped the original Gamescom event, you generated huge anticipation and excitement, you gave us a few tidbits, then you shut down.

Anyone who has even heard of the term “public relations” knows that this is the surest way to enrage your customers. Anyone who lives in the current century knows that a launch of any major new product is always accompanied by a robust public relations and communications plan. When a company goes to all the trouble of hyping their new product, even holding a special event to announce it, the company should want to capitalize on all that interest, not waste it by proceeding to ignore the very customer interest they worked so hard to generate.

This is a serious question: Do you have no communications professionals on your staff? If you don’t, you are wrong. And if you do, then either they should be fired and replaced, or your execs are ignoring their advice, and your execs should be fired.

I am begging you, start immediately to establish meaningful, regular communication about all aspects of Legion with your customers. It is not too late, but soon it will be.

Here are some ideas.

  • Hold weekly scheduled dev talks about Legion. Structure them however you want, but make them responsive to player concerns and ideas. Hazzikostas can do them all, or you can rotate the duty, but do them, do them at a regular time, and give them top priority. That means do not “reschedule” or “postpone” or cancel because something more important came up. Your message should be that nothing is more important than these talks, nothing is more important than interacting with your players about the next expansion.
  • Provide regular forum feedback in the form of Blue Posts. You have said you read the forums, well no one knows that if you do not provide feedback. Maybe the feedback is “We understand there are strong feelings about our plan to [do umptyfratz], and it will be the featured topic at this week’s Legion Dev Corner.” Maybe the feedback is something else, but you must provide it — communication is a two-way activity.
  • Stop with the fantasy that @WarcraftDevs is the “official” communications path. It is not. As of earlier this morning, in spite of all the player comments about Sunday and about many aspects of Legion, the last public tweet from @WarcraftDevs was something innocuous about pet battles, on August 7th. If you think using Twitter allows for faster responses, this seems to indicate you are not using it that way.  Twitter is not/not conducive to meaningful communications of the sort you need to be engaging in. So just stop it, please.
  • On the Battle.net home page, publish a list of official Legion feedback locations — forums, scheduled dev livestreams, whatever — for various topics. Then follow through by having employees responsible for providing regular feedback in each of these media. Your standard claim of “We listen to all feedback in a variety of venues” doesn’t cut it. The normal reaction to “We listen to everything” is to assume in fact you listen to nothing.
  • Give us the name of a dev responsible for each class, and the preferred way of communicating with them. And if you can’t do that because “It is a group effort” then you are structured wrong. Committee decisions result in the class chaos we see now. Someone has the final say on class changes, so give us that name. I for one would like to know that, for example, there is a hunter class team lead who has mained a hunter for some number of years, and what that person’s preferred spec is, what their vision is for hunters, how they define the feel of the class, where they would like to see it a year from now, etc.

Please, Blizz, I want to be excited and engaged about Legion, I want it to be a wild success, but you have set yourselves on a path to another colossal failure by not setting up valid communications mechanisms with your players.

Just talk with us, not at us, I don’t think that is too much to ask.

Sincerely,

Fiannor

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.

9 Responses to Blizz, you can still turn this around

  1. Casually Odd says:

    “When, as Lore said in a tweet, the lesson you learned from launching WoD was that you gave us too much information too early, that is a problem.”

    I think my eyebrows did a double jump here.

    Even if that is the lesson that they learned, this statement immediately goes against that lesson!

    To be charitable, perhaps what they mean is, we gave you too much information about possible, early ideas. That they should have talked less about maybes and more about definites. And that if they were talking about maybes, they should have been very clear that it was up in the air.

    But that’s probably not what they meant.

    I really do think that communication would go a long way to helping things. People would not have unrealistic expectations and we would feel like they are listening. We might understand why they are saying no to our request. Maybe some of us would even be convinced and support their idea (I can see some appeal to a melee hunter in principal – not in current execution though). At a minimum we would feel like they valued the customer and wanted to create an experience that we all wanted.

    And finally: No umptyfratz, no sub.

    • Fiannor says:

      Yes, Lore’s point was they got into trouble with players because they had to go back on some things that were promised early on, so this time they are shutting down a lot of early information. My point is, that is the lazy way out, and the way guaranteed to tee off players, plus encourage wild rumors and theories. Better to train your devs to say things like “We haven’t worked that out yet, but our ultimate goal is to [make sure no one wants to play a hunter]” or whatever.

      As you say, even unpopular decisions are much easier to deal with if people think Blizz is talking with them and not expecting them to believe obvious whoppers. There is a chance that even someone like me might be persuaded that melee hunters are a good idea, if there is a logical reason. But saying something ridiculous and vague like “de-homogenization” insults my intelligence, and refusing to give us any additional arguments for it, or even deign to notice that many hunters are outraged over it — that’s unacceptable. Not to mention rude to the people whose existence guarantees their jobs.

  2. Delirium says:

    I really like the first idea. When Watcher and Lore did the talk for 6.2, even though some of the things they said angered people, at least we got answers. Having that weekly would be amazing.

    The last idea, though, I don’t think is possible. There definitely isn’t a class lead for each class who’s mained that class. It also seems to change a lot. GC obviously had final say when he was there. Then Chris Kaleiki was the main class designer who seemed to have final say on each class, but now it sounds like he works more on various zones and such. And even like 2/4 sets, it sounds like there’s a dev who’s in charge of those for all specs, that isn’t necessarily working that closely with the people who do the class balancing (I also don’t by the bit about “it’s a group effort”).

    • Fiannor says:

      Yeah, the last thing was more wishful thinking than anything. Still, you would think that at the very least they would go back to a GC type organization, because whatever they are doing now has given us nothing less than continuous confusion and imbalance pretty much for every class.

      It is beyond frustrating to have monumental changes being made to hunters, and no one to discuss the reasoning with us, no one who even bothers to debate the many valid points already made against melee hunters, no one to explain why only hunters need to be so drastically “de-homogenized”, in fact no one who even recognizes this might be a game-ending change for some. They have made the change almost as an oh-by-the-way kind of thing, as if it’s no big deal, so what’s the fuss all about.

      SOMEONE must be approving class changes, I just want that person to stand up and put himself out there for us. To talk with us as if we are intelligent adults who are partners in shaping the game experience, not toddlers who can’t possibly understand why Blizz is making these changes and who at any rate are not worth listening to.

  3. Gefion says:

    I really hope Blizz gets the hint that they need to be open and listen to their players. I’ve seen the same thing happen now a few times, from Konami’s treatment of it’s players with poor quality games, to the CEO of Gearbox stuffing his foot in his mouth towards major icons in his games’ fanbase when they asked him simple design questions, and now Blizzard once again treating it’s users like children that can’t do anything but throw a temper tantrum. Almost makes me sad.

    • Fiannor says:

      I’m not too optimistic, Gef. But you are right, eventually a company suffers consequences when they show disdain for their customers. Even Blizz, though unfortunately they don’t yet understand that.

  4. Grumsta says:

    I suspect that the Gamescom announcement had to be done to stem the flow of people unsubscribing, and give the player base hope that something great (or at least new and not Draenor) is coming “soon”. Ish.

    Legion has already been in development for over a year, and they’re still afraid of promising things they can’t deliver as per WoD.

    Sorry to bring the f-word up again, but that says to me that Legion was going to be a no-flying xpac hence the announcement of “no flying no more not ever” earlier this year. With the grudging reversal of that decision it’s meant that extra work has do be done on 6.2.1 and presumably much more work on Legion too. How far down the no-flying path had they got? Has that impacted on some of the story and basic game design? We’ll probably never know.

    I have no issue per se with “we’ll tell you when we know”, but they said it *after* they’ve already dropped the ball with the Q&A non-event. They’re hopeless.

    I must assume that there are still major design decisions to be made to the extent that they can’t tell us anything without worrying they can’t/won’t deliver it later. They’re not telling us because they don’t know themselves.

    • Fiannor says:

      I agree that the “we’ll tell you when we know” is a perfectly acceptable strategy, for the things they have not yet worked out. And I am sure there are plenty of those things, some of them major pieces of the expansion. But over a year into the project, they must have worked some things out, and they are not telling us about those either.

      Example: You don’t just out of the blue decide to make SV hunter melee and completely remove the pet option from MM without some bigger goal. And “de-homogenization” is on its face false, because they are not doing the same for mages, rogues, warriors, etc., all of which have a “homogeneous” play style. Blizz is not telling us this bigger goal, even though they must know what it is, of they would not have made this huge change.

      Further, you do not decree a change like SV melee without having designed things like outlines of changes to the hunter spell book, talent tree, and pet behavior. At least a professional game design company does not. They may not know the names of the changes or the numbers for them, but they absolutely must have decided, for example, that SV will have to have a taunt mechanism, that there will be a “disengage forward” option, that there will be a damage mitigation mechanism beyond feign death, and so on. But they refuse to discuss any of this with us.

      On the “F” subject — I am sure you are right that they had not planned to include flying in Legion and must go back and do some redesign. But they have plenty of time to do it, because I absolutely guarantee you we will not see it until at least 7.2, or as close to the end of Legion as they can make it. They will give us the starter quest line at the start of Legion, and it will be long and drawn out, then there will be a second part given to us in 7.1, and maybe even a third part in 7.2. We will not have flying in Legion until well into the last patch for the expansion.

      • Grumsta says:

        I commented on Grumpy’s blog that the SV change may be the shape of things to come if it’s well received / they think they got away with it [delete as applicable].

        The Demon Hunter is already a new melee class – why add another? They keep adding new melee (DK, monk) but never ranged. I mean ever. Now they’re switching a ranged to melee? Something doesn’t feel right here. There must be a design philisophy at work here.

        I’m afraid I agree with you 100% on flying in Legion. I hate myself for being so cynical, but I now feel like they’re deliberately dragging their heels with 6.2.1 to see how long people will “patiently” wait for flying when they’ve been told it’s coming, but precisely when. They calmed the boiling pot down, now it’s simmering again. Well, I am anyway. By the time flying comes in I’ll barely have a use for it anyway.

        I doubt if we’ll find out too much more about Legion before Blizzcon now. They’ve kicked the hype machine off, they can leave people to obsess over the few hard details that have been released, and flick through the lore to try to fill in the blanks. They probably have some hard choices to make (design and commercial). I’m sure this was only done to stem the tide of subscription cancellations, we’ll see how well they can maintain subscription numbers as more Legion reveals are made.

        In the meantime I’m going to start gearing my Fury Warrior up. He might be my main in Legion……