- 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?