Testing the game for Blizz

Today Blizz has posted a rather long and ardent plea for WoW players to create characters on the 7.3.5 Public Test Realm. Blizz has made similar basic requests for other patches in testing, so this in itself is not really new. What does seem a little out of the ordinary, though, is the slightly desperate tone in this one. The announcement is quite a bit longer than usual, with detailed instructions on exactly how to download the PTR and create a new character, along with the usual how-to-give-feedback directions and the promise that players’ comments are extremely valuable. As the PTR has been up for a while, my tea-leaves reading is that not enough players are participating, and in particular that the “usual crowd” is not likely to be the kind of players interested in leveling a new character.

Lots to sort out here.

First, let’s think about the kind of player that usually is active on a PTR. Of course, I have no hard data on demographics here, but my anecdotal experience is that most PTR participants are not part of the vast majority of casual players. There are hard core types that form PTR guilds and want to get a good look at dungeons and raids, there are theory crafters and min-maxers who want to check out class changes, some people wanting to figure out profession changes, some who are curious about new quality of life changes. And there are a ton of tourists, players who like to get a quick look at the whole smorgasboard of changes, but once they have seen them they are pretty well done — they are not players with the time or the interest or the patience to spend hours on the PTR, deal with the inevitable crashes and major bugs, document the details of their observations, and so forth.

Blizz must certainly know this, but this time they really need players willing to take a new character through a big chunk of early leveling, because one of the major parts of 7.3.5 is the new low level zone leveling throughout Azeroth. Absent some pretty heavy testing of this system, Blizz knows they could have a mess on their hands when it goes live, just due to low traffic not discovering major shortfalls.

Second, there is a perception that when Blizz requests feedback, they really only care about obvious bugs, not what players experience in a squishier sense. I can certainly understand Blizz’s emphasis on “hard data” versus comments like “it feels boring”. In one sense, there is nothing they can do with a comment like the latter, but from another perspective if they get a lot of similar such comments they certainly ought to take them seriously and do some work to figure out the basis for them.

And then, of course, there is the example of the alpha/beta and the PTR for Legion, where hunters as well as other classes documented many, many playstyle problems — these were serious players who offered a ton of details and theorycrafting numbers to back up the claims — and Blizz blatantly ignored them for months even after Legion went live.

If there is a widespread perception that Blizz ignores player feedback on the actual play experience — which in the end is what really matters to most players — it is going to be difficult to convince large numbers of players to keep beating their heads against that brick wall. I think there is an implicit contract when a company uses its customers to do quality control of their product: the customers find the obvious product errors for the company, and the company in turn makes the product more pleasing to the customers even if “pleasing” does not involve immediately quantifiable product errors. You want us to find the bugs in your code, Blizz, fine, but in return we want to feel like we can actually shape the game.

Sure, it is impossible to incorporate every player’s WoW wish list, but when a huge number of players express the same set of dissatisfactions, Blizz needs them to know they are being taken seriously. And a boilerplate statement such as “We take every comment seriously” — absent any evidence of that — rings hollow.

Blizz has steadfastly refused to address widespread player concerns, has arrogantly declined to give feedback in any kind of organized fashion. When large numbers of players point out virtually the same thing, even if Blizz has no intention of changing it, they owe it to players to explain why. They have underinvested in structured player feedback mechanisms, preferring to rely on what seem to be random events once in a while to make a short cryptic comment on a few carefully selected items. It’s almost as if they are applying their beloved RNG even to this aspect of the game.

Third, a dearth of PTR involvement may be one of the real downsides to Blizz’s Legion interpretation of “content”. I usually like to participate in major patch PTRs, often spend quite a lot of time working my way through various parts of them and giving what I think is reasonable feedback. But I feel like I simply do not have the time to do this now — my play time for months has been consumed with chasing rep or doing long drawn out quest lines or grinding out profession requirements or bringing a few alts to minimal play level or grubbing for AP or gizmos to upgrade legendaries.

Blizz’s emphasis on MAU means my game time is spoken for just doing the live server, no chance I am going to spend hours leveling a new character on the PTR.

So, yeah, I understand why they are begging players to spend a lot of time on the PTR. But strategic decisions sometime have unforeseen consequences, and here we are seeing a possible negative consequence of Blizz’s decisions to cater mainly to hard core players, to undervalue regular customer feedback mechanisms, and to force feed “content” to players.

9 thoughts on “Testing the game for Blizz

  1. Excellent post. It is sad. If we no longer feel our voice gets heard, then why bother using it.

    What really makes it more silly is that as soon as all these levelling changes hit the live servers, people will rush to the forums and voice their oppinon, one way or another.

    I guess, for something as major as these changes, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Blizzard offered some kind of “carrot” to get people to participate and report back.

    I’m with you though; I do not have the time to join the PTRs.

    And something as little as just achknowleding that they ARE listening to feedback across the board would really help too.

    I have sent several real letters to Blizzards HQs in the past year adressing multiple issues (I guess I’m old fashioned with real mail), and never heard anything back either.

    At the beginning of Cataclysm I did actually get a real letter back, where I got thanked for the feedback I wrote back then, though.

    1. Letters are a novel approach. Let us all know if they yield anything more positive than forum posts or tweets! And we will see if Blizz does indeed offer some kind of sweetener to participate in the PTR this time, though I doubt it. As you indicate, if they are not able to do sufficient testing on the PTR, the first few weeks of live becomes the PTR.

  2. I won’t bother. I tried in the past. Played things through looking for bugs, finally finding one and going to report it only to see 12 forum reports on that issue, and it still makes it to live. I gave an opinion on the 12% nerf to the two DoTs Shadowpriests received after 1 week live. They do that all the time. Post a final release candidate, the theory crafters run their numbers, adjust their guides on best in slot gear, stat priorities, etc. let it go live then make a major tuning change after a week. I won’t even bother posting on the forums about anything. I read comments from people with logs and data to back things up and it falls on deaf ears. Personally I feel that if one top ranked player blows expected numbers out of the water on a fight they look at how and adjust because everyone that plays is that good. Sarcasm. I lost all faith that they listen a long time ago. And unless you are a streamer with 10’s of thousands of followers, you don’t deserve a reply.

    1. Your comment neatly sums up a lot of players’ attitudes, I suspect. Discouraging but true. No one expects Blizz to respond to each player individually, but their total failure to present even a semblance of organized customer communication is nothing short of arrogance, imo. Communication does not always have to be “OK, we are changing it like many of you suggest,” but there needs to be acknowledgement in some way. Even if it is “Hey, we are overwhelmed with class balance this time, and some classes will get some huge changes when we go live.”

      Your comment about tuning an entire spec because of one top ranked player seems close to the truth, and it is in keeping with Blizz’s focus on crafting the game for the 1% rather than for the 99%. It seems to be an unfortunate business decision, but I suppose it depends on the ultimate goals for the game — if you see it becoming almost exclusively a spectator sport with M+ competitions and the like, then you really do not give a damn about the masses who do not play at top level, except insofar as wanting to to maintain enough interest for them to pony up $$$ to watch the competitions (and that is coming, trust me on this).

      1. I’ve grown to think of WoW like Football when I was a kid. We didn’t have pee wee football leagues, or youth sports programs. We just wet to the park, picked teams based on how many people were there and played until we had to go home for dinner. It didn’t matter what the score was, or that the teams changed day to day. We just played because it was fun. Maybe that’s a fundamental problem these days. We are encouraged to get kids involved in competitive things at an early age. They don’t have a chance to just go play in the park.

  3. You must be a lawyer in real life, the way you lay out your case is very methodical; well done.
    I saw the blue post and felt that asking anyone to level up a new character on the PTR, a character that would never see the “real game” is asking a lot, a whole lot. Especially with existing content and quests that we already know, I guess we are trying to unearth a glitch which feels unlikely! The help at that level (with zero profit for myself) isn’t something that I’m willing to do: old content, old quests, the only thrill of discovery is something bad!
    No thanks, blizz!

    1. LOL!! (There is no cause to be insulting. 😉) No, not a lawyer, just the product of a strict Jesuit education where principles of logic were relentlessly drummed into me.

      It will be interesting to see if Blizz gets whatever they consider to be critical mass as testers, something I suspect we will find out only by the early bugginess or smoothness of the live patch.

  4. You know, I do wonder.

    I wonder, if the Blizzard team behind the scenes carefully try to time PTR and what not with “lack of content”-periods in the live version of the game; in hopes of having people hop on to the PTR because they are bored anyway.

    Right now, there isnt a lot to do for the casual gamer – some might think.


    So perhaps Blizzard got their predictions wrong on this one; that getting casual gamers to hop onto the PTR isnt as easy as those hardcore type of players. Especially since there IS things to do for the casual gamer in the live version of the game. (Too much, one could argue)

    I have a lot more to say. Wish I could write it better, sorry, English isnt my first language. I hope my point gets across anyway 🙂 I mean, that the lack of feedback on the PTR is a result of many things, and that Blizzard has somewhat shot themselves in the foot (right expression?)

    1. I recall a long ways back reading something to the effect that a great deal of people that had quit playing live WoW, lived in the PTR, constantly playing the game for free. Perhaps they have made a change to how the PTR works and have cut them off, and are now seeing the fallout from that with not enough people to test systems. And like mentioned, there is so much to do just to keep somewhat current, who has time to jump onto the PTR for a few hours a week.

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