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.