Thoughts on the Warfronts debacle

  • The Warfront queue now requires a minimum item level of 320.

This 11-word announced hotfix has, predictably, set off a firestorm of protest among WoW players — mostly Alliance. And in my opinion, they have a point. Whether by design or stupidity and tone-deafness, Blizz has shown undeniable favoritism to Horde players in this entire Warfronts debacle. It is now pretty clear that the most lucrative part of Warfronts is not the part where your faction controls Arathi, rather the part where you compete to get it, and that is where Blizz decided Horde should start. By all accounts, 340 and higher gear has almost been raining from the sky — one of my guildies has a brand new 120 Horde character that started Warfronts at 280-ish ilevel, and as of yesterday was at 335.

Probably such largesse is excessive, so from that aspect it was almost inevitable that it would be cut back. No argument there. But to allow one faction to cash in on what was certainly a mistake, at the very clear expense of the other faction — sorry, but this is a new level of hubris even for Blizz. Worse, the faction that has been favored is the one Blizz chose to portray as honorless baby butchers who engage in some of the most horrific acts of terrorism. Yes, this is a computer game, but surely there must be some baseline sense of morality and fairness.

So, lots to unpack here. First up, Warfronts. This “feature” of the expansion has been a dismal failure since the beginning, compounded by Blizz’s ham-handed non-approach to fixing the most egregious problems. The mechanics of it were never really fully explained to players, or if they were, it was in a kind of mumbling disjointed manner. It became clear after the first day that the Horde had gotten the best deal in terms of who played what role for the start. And when many players finally realized the slow-moving progression of the event, they were unhappy. Blizz had touted Warfronts as one of the major new exciting features of Battle for Azeroth, and for at least half of the player base the feature seemed to be a real bait-and-switch. It is, after all, hard to feel pulse-pounding excitement over an event that unfolds at a glacial pace over the course of weeks. Still, Alliance players finally understood that our turn was coming, albeit slowly, and in the long run it would all even out. Thus, this latest change to limit Alliance participation by gear level seems like a gigantic slap in the face.

The second thing is, the entire Warfronts mishandling seems emblematic of Blizz’s JV-team approach to the whole expansion. (Exception being art and music.) With each passing day, it is becoming clear that BFA was not even close to complete when it was released. That Blizz is possibly in over its head on this is evidenced by its lick-and-a-promise approach to “fixing” problems. Look at what they have done, for example, to “fix” what is a pretty significant class imbalance: Lazy, quick across-the-board percentage reductions or buffs. BM hunters are OP? Meh, give ‘em a 5% reduction, what the hell, that seems about right. Feral druids a tad underpowered? Bump ‘em up by 5%. Guaranteed that this kind of wholesale approach will result in even greater imbalances as Blizz figures out what every player knows: that spells and abilities are interwoven complexities, and generic buffs and nerfs can have major unforeseen results for individual abilities. Why Blizz seems oblivious to this well-demonstrated fact is a mystery — it appears that they either do not give a damn, or that they are so far underwater on fixing this expansion that they simply cannot do more than plug a few leaks with whatever is at hand.

This leads me to my third point — Blizz has, in my opinion, reverted to type as far as their customer communications is concerned. Which is to say they seem once again to be back to the mode of “Screw ‘em, they’ll get over it” as a communications philosophy. After the failure of WoD, Blizz appeared to finally be taking customer communication a bit more seriously, and there were flashes of actual give-and-take between devs and players. Even in Legion — with the notable exception of anything to do with certain class changes — there seemed a sincere albeit bumbling effort to dialog with players. But in BFA we have seen a return to the high-handed lump-it-or-leave approach.

I put this on Ion Hazzikostas. He is the Game Director, he gets the big bucks, and not only does he set game policies, but his attitude inevitably filters down to the rest of the team. Unfortunately, his attitude seems to be one of high-handed centralist pronouncements. For example, he personally thinks the only legitimate reason to have alts is to play them in the same way one plays a main. And since he has been in charge, in fact the game has adopted mechanics to ensure that his way is the only way anyone can play alts. Consider also the role of RNG and the demise of useful in-game earned currency to purchase meaningful gear and other items. Ion believes only random drops and random stats are “fun” and all other methods to get useful gear or pets or whatever are a grind. Thus, all gear-type currency has been eliminated (except that used by PvP players because of course they should not have to suffer the indignity of not being able to select their favorite gear), and RNG reigns supreme in every aspect of the game. Fun™, after all, is what Ion tells us it is.

It is one thing to have strong personal opinions, but it is quite another when one applies those to change the shape of a very successful commercial product. Times change, of course, and the culture has moved a long ways from what it was when WoW came along. But that cultural change has been in the direction of more personal freedom, not less, and yet this game which became so popular because of its universal appeal to all play styles has over the past few years become more and more restrictive in its player options.

And I have one last point, returning to the flap over Warfronts. When we first saw the Sylvanas action unfold in the pre-expansion patch, I questioned the wisdom of Blizz promoting hatred, vengeance, and divisiveness in a game, given the rise of extremism in today’s real world. If you have a few minutes, take a look at the tone of many of the forum comments about Warfronts. I am a long time reader of these forums, and while they are certainly never repositories of human kindness, I am seeing a real change to more and more expressed visceral tribalism and hatred. There is a meanness to many of the Warfronts comments that goes far deeper than the game’s Horde v. Alliance competition. It is the same kind of gut ugliness we saw with the gender wars of a couple of years ago. It is humans showing the worst of themselves, spewing a vomitous bile that poisons everything it touches.

And no, I don’t think it is the responsibility of computer game makers to save the world. But here’s the thing. I — and I suspect many others like me — play this game in part to get respite from some of the world’s worst realities. I like the fantasy of comrades in arms with shared beliefs in honor and good, fighting the good fight for the just cause. I think such a fantasy can actually have an effect on our real-world selves, reminding us that there are such things as ideals.

But when the game actively promotes divisiveness and tribalism, when the game descends into the pit of butchery for butchery’s sake, when even the administrative actions of developers seem designed to make one group hate the other — well, what is left of the fantasy?

Indeed, what is left of the game?

21 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Warfronts debacle

  1. Has anyone checked to see if you can fly into Arathi to farm rares? I wonder if the 320 lock out only applies to the scenario. I flew in on the first day and had four 340 gear drops. I can see players getting around the lock out by forming farming groups.

    1. I haven’t tried this myself, but I’m almost certain their would be no ilvel lock on the rares, and you can fly around the whole area. Personally, I think it would be more fun than the scenario, which was mind-numbing.

  2. Thank you for that post. I just hit 120 and was looking forward to jump into Warfronts to help me prepare and avoid feeling too squishy for World Quests, and did not see the hotfix before. Shoot.

    I feel the same way about the Alliance or Horde. Saurfang is the key art for BlizzCon. Are we done already? This is beginning to be bizarre. Obviously I play Alliance, and have a strong connection to Teldrassil, and miss seeing Night Elves around and all that, I know – I try to stay positive.

    I have noticed similar behaviour on the forum; and I hate how in game actions from NPCs more or less adds to it and not just that, but also makes people LOOK UP to a burning-children-alive- villain. No amount of Old-God-Possessingness can justify it, ever.

    As much of a “fangirl” I am, even I struggle with arguing against you; “Screw ‘em, they’ll get over it”- attitude can not be denied. What is going on exactly; this is grotesque. Is it just “Wait for it, BlizzCon is soon”?

    1. Well, it has been a year since the first announcement, so you may well be right. I do not intend to play any form of Classic, but I wonder if in fact Blizz has diverted key resources for this project, and that is a reason BFA came out so half-baked. Such a thought makes me angry, because it would mean Blizz thinks far more of a small vocal special-interest group of players than it does of the majority. Though I suppose it would not surprise me, given their recent designs centered on elite players.

      1. Random thought. What if you had in mind taking WoW into a pure challenge, eSports focus that would not have any real content for average casual players. The main design would be Mythic + Dungeon challenges, short duration PvP battles on Islands as an example, and more organized battles against smart NPCs in a winner take all fight against the clock. But what would you have left for those who have stuck around for years that want the story, want the immersion. Well, then you would have Classic.

        Just a random thought.

      2. Well, I have suspected that for some time now. As I once wrote, think about the NFL. Many people have actually played football in some minor form — family touch football, maybe even youth organizations. (Not discussing the safety aspect here, just an example.) So people have an idea of the challenges of the game, many can identify with it. But the big money for the NFL comes from watching the elites play the game.

        Back when BFA was announced, I said that the doubling down on M+ dungeons, Isalnds, and Warfronts seemed tailor made for esports competitions.

        It is no secret that Activision-Blizzard has gone all in on esports, and if their venture on this fails the company will fail. So I think you are right, and I suspect Ion was given the task of changing WoW to ensure it would be positioned to cash in on it. Sadly, it seems to be destroying the game in the process of trying to make it a mega-sport.

      3. In fact, now that I think about it with my tinfoil hat on, what if Blizz is putting a lot of effort into Classic so that it will be the game for the masses, while what we now know as WoW will be the “real” game for the pros?

  3. There is a lot of anger on the forums at the moment about the Warfront fiasco. Alliance accusing Blizzard of favouritism towards the Horde and Hordies denying this. As a result the community is deeply split and Alliance “I quit” posts are popping in faster all the time.

    Blizz really need to get a grip and improve their customer relations. This was all avoidable but they’ve just stonewalled the players and turned a dumpster fire into The Towering Inferno.

    I don’t know what they really can say now to salvage this situation.

    1. I have to agree. The default comment “we did a bad job communicating” is falling on deaf ears now. To be honest we need a Greg Street to step up and be the guy, or gal, taking the heat but getting conversations going.

      1. Tbh I don’t think they can salvage this without a humiliating climbdown. Even Youtubers and streamers are slating BfA and it’s been baptised as WoD 2.0!

        I get what they’re doing. They are trying to minimise development costs by stretching content through long grinds and gates, hoping that the carrot is tasty enough to keep the customers jumping through hoops to pad the hours played metrics for the quarterly reports. But it’s just making people feel frustrated and now they are leaving for other games.

        In the meantime, I’m chilling out playing SWTOR (I love the stories) and checking up the potential of ESO as a new ‘main game’. WoW has become too corporate and soulless for my taste.

    2. If they do decide to try and salvage it, I hope it is with actions rather than fake humility designed only to placate a few players. I really do not even want to hear apologies, I want a basic explanation of what went wrong and concrete steps to do something — anything — to make amends. But this continued silence from them is nothing but an insult.

  4. When the usually impartial mods at /r/wow/ rename the sub to “Beta for Azeroth” and describe the Warfronts debacle as “a trainwreck” you know it’s bad.

    1. I saw that, too, and it definitely says something. Unfortunately, Blizz seems to be living in their own la-la land on this, believing their own hype about the expansion.

  5. I can’t help return to the mathematical formula I pontificated upon a few months ago, maybe more than a few.

    FUN = Rewards / (Time + Energy)

    In the new MAU universe, this formula has progressively increased the value of Time and Energy required and decreased the Rewards, inevitably shrinking the value of FUN.

    When you and your readers cite examples of doing this or that quest, putting up with hassle would require more energy from you. To dance the dance, jump through the appropriate hoop, etc. and the gating process quite clearly increases the time it takes to achieve one’s goals and get the reward. As you have stated, the rewards of your efforts really go down in value. Spend time and energy on crafting to yield an barely usable let alone useful armor gives you very low Fun number. Same thing when you go through the processes described in your last post, having to do mythic dungeons or M+ to get something that if you went through the dungeons you would no longer need. A very very low reward value, which regardless of time and energy yields a low fun value.

    I’m sorry its has come to this, but I don’t see this pattern changing anytime soon. Since MOP, you’ve seen them push further and further down this design track. Good Luck. I’m glad I learned my lesson about my personal expectations and when those values no longer met my needs. I hope every player comes to better understand where their needs are and act appropriately, either continue to play with your needs met or move on to another game where it can better meet your playing needs.

    😀

    1. Yes, that reward/time spent ration has been on a downward trend. I think it did start in MoP, but I still really enjoyed that expansion. For me, the ratio did not start to hit the critical point until Legion, but BFA is a real nosedive for it. I still find it hard to walk away from the game, however — but the tipping point is indeed approaching.

  6. Horde/Alliance balance issues are clearly present in Warfronts. Blizzard hasn’t yet learned the old lesson about horses and barn doors. Once you create a loot pinata for some players, it’s just literally unfair to turn it off for those who come after. I’m willing to believe that the fact that Horde players got this pinata and Alliance didn’t was not intentional.

    This expansion also has had non-parallel world quests, with Horde having had easier early access to decent weapon rewards. Again, possibly unintentional.

    Horde leveling quests are also more varied and palpably received more design time. That’s just weird.

    It’s seriously odd for an MMO as old as WoW to be investing in increasing faction separation and conflict. That’s way off trend for the genre as a whole, and frankly off trend for WoW. What is going on?

    Ion Hazzikostas: he is certainly responsible for the weird design and implementation. He is also a personally abrasive communicator. It’s hard to play counterfactuals, but I can’t help wondering if the game could be quite different with just a change in his role?

    1. What I do know is that the game under Ion’s predecessor was much more enjoyable. Greg Street could be maddening, but he never once shied away from engaging in dialog with players.

      If BFA turns out to be as much of a debacle as WoD was, that means Ion will have produced 2 out of three stinkers for expansions. In most organizations that kind of track record means you should be polishing up your resume.

  7. Re: warfronts, I think this is a case of grass is greener on the other side. I’ve got 4 level 120s now. 3 horde and 1 alliance. Each of them was about equally fast to gear, apart from the guaranteed 370 piece from the arathi takeover quest . To compensate, Alliance got first crack at the world boss loot pinata.

    Running a horde warfront with a bunch of undergeared toons wasn’t fast, fun, or easy. Mythic dungeons/WQs are a much faster way of gearing. Anyone claiming to have gotten a bunch of great 340 gear through running warfronts is either very lucky or exaggerating. Sort of like someone who got a mythic raid level bit of gear from LFR with a rare and lucky titanforge.

    It should have been clearer around how the turnover occurred. I was confused around that. Seemed odd that the alliance had it so long but once you’ve done the quests and killed each elite once, there isn’t much reason to be there.

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