Back to communication lockdown

After the Big Emotional Flying Flap, I — foolishly — thought that Blizz had learned a lesson about how lack of meaningful communication can spiral out of control. In response, not only did they do the “Q& A” but there was even a decent follow-up a week or two later. Though both these events left something to be desired, I was encouraged because they showed a willingness to discuss reasons behind some game design decisions, in a way that was not flippant or snarky or dismissive of legitimate player concerns. (Hazzikostas remarks about demo locks and disc priests notwithstanding.)

At the time, I expressed my hope for these kind of sessions to continue regularly, and — gullible as I am — I really thought there was a chance that might happen. But no, it turns out they were only “events” designed to shut everyone up and buy Blizz more time before the player base disappeared at an even greater rate than it had in the first quarter of the year.

(Also, if Blizz hopes to get a huge bump from next summer’s movie, they need to be able to hype the bump as an increase in subscriptions, not as recouping their massive losses from the WoD disaster of 2015.)

It was, it seems, all about the second quarter bottom line. We will get the Q2 report on August 4, so we will see then, but I have no doubts that it will be a rosy picture for Activision Blizzard, and that there will be no unpleasant footnote about significant WoW subscription losses that Michael Morhaime will have to shoo away as “normal cyclical patterns.”  Because promising flying worked as a tourniquet.

As I have said before, the lesson that Blizz “learns” every time they make big mistakes is that if they APPEAR to be contrite and if they seem serious and humble enough, it will all blow over and they can go back to business as usual.

In this case, the almost total absence of meaningful communication for months, the subterfuge about “maybe”, followed by an imperial edict that there would be no more flying ever, became a public relations disaster. The fact that it subsided after a flying promise and a couple of in-depth pseudo interviews showed how hungry the player base was for some meaningful communication and respect for legitimate game play concerns. Most well-run companies would learn from this and implement regular communication of the sort that their customers demanded.

But not Blizz. Having averted disaster, they are back to their normal communication lockdown. Except for a few Blue Posts AFTER major decisions, they are back to @WarcraftDevs tweets as the main communication vehicle. I don’t know who decided this was the best way to communicate with customers, but whoever it was has zero grasp of the concept of customer relations. There is a place for fast short communications, but to use that medium as the major route to interact with customer concerns is just plain dumb.

Example: Everyone who plays the game knows that queue times — unless you are a tank or healer — are unacceptably long. Worse, they are quixotic, so that your guildmate who queues 5 minutes before you do can get into a group in 2-3 minutes, yet you might wait 2 hours or more. Or the other way around. This is a very significant problem, affecting many aspects of play, causing some players to abandon LFR completely even if they otherwise like it. For weeks now, Blizz has given no indication they are aware of or care about this problem. It is a situation that cries out for some discussion, some explanation of why it happens, some reassurance that devs know how frustrating it is and are working on a fix, some estimate of how long that fix might take to implement. But what do we get? This:

@WarcraftDevs

Improve by how much? Surely you must have a working estimate. What’s with the whole “class diversity” thing? There was not a huge queue time problem prior to 6.2, so when and how and why did you change what appeared to be a working algorithm for what seems to be a terrible one? What made you believe “class diversity” was necessary for LFR groups? Did you not test it before you implemented it? Did no one think it might have a terrible effect on classes — especially DPS — with high populations? Does this mean the current raid tier demands certain classes in order to down bosses? Have you abandoned the concept of “bring the player, not the class”?

LFR queue times are a big deal for many, many players, and a response like the one above generates more questions than it purports to answer — it is something that needs some communication beyond a couple of cryptic tweets.

It is sad but telling that we still learn far more about WoW game design decisions from a former employee than we do from the current ones. MMO champion, as you may know, has for some time been publishing WoW-related tweets from Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street. While I was never one of his big fans, I do think when he worked for Blizz that he always showed respect for players and he always took player concerns — even when they were clearly just whining — seriously. And even now he manages to use short tweets to good advantage, providing decent thoughtful answers and comments. Here is a recent example (GC tweets in bold):

Can’t make content last longer, but you sure can make it last much shorter.
I think you can make content longer *if* you add rewards. I think there is a magical time to reward ratio. (OccupyGStreet)

So here’s a question – how do you distinguish content as reward from drawing things out?
I think there is almost an internal clock of being ready for a reward / something new. (OccupyGStreet)
Which is why you can’t just add time without also adding rewards, extrinsic or intrinsic. (OccupyGStreet)

@WarcraftDevs could take a lesson.

A few days ago, MMO-C published some longer responses from GC, beyond what he felt he could convey in tweets. I am not going to quote them here, although I found them interesting, but take a look at them if you have a few minutes. The point is not so much what he had to say, but that he felt it would be useful to provide better comments than the Twitter vehicle allowed.

Why can’t Ion Hazzikostas and some of the other decision-makers currently at Blizz do the same thing? What would be wrong with a weekly extended-comments sort of communication, where they gave some decent insights into things players have asked about or pointed out as problems? It does not have to be a time-consuming studio “Q&A” “event.” Just some honest, thoughtful communication on a regular basis.

Communication lockdown just never ends well, a lesson Blizz has yet to learn.

A few thoughts on the movie

Though I have paid little attention to any of the rumors and/or hype that have been going on for years now, it seems that there will in fact be a Warcraft movie hitting the screens next summer. I don’t know if I will rush out to see it or not, honestly. I usually like to wait for the DVD or the pay per view versions to come out. The experience is less grand than it is in the theater, but it is also less annoying without the popcorn munching, tweeting and texting, phones ringing, people talking and putting their smelly feet up on your seat back, etc.

I have never been overly interested in WoW lore, and I don’t know if the movie will therefore turn out to be a big yawner for me, of if it will get me more interested in the lore. Remains to be seen.

I also don’t have a feel for how good the movie will be, on its own. Quite a bit of recent hype hints that it will border on spectacular, but that is hype and who really knows. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it is a real blockbuster — great CGI, absorbing story line, terrific dialogue, and hunks and hotties galore. What might that mean for the game?

It will almost certainly make a lot of money for Activision Blizzard. And since the money will be made on the back of the WoW franchise, it should mean that the game itself will get some much-needed corporate interest and resources for a newly energized continuation. Should. That doesn’t mean it will. I still think ATVI is in the process of abandoning the WoW model, and there is a good chance that money from a WoW movie will be seen as a windfall for all their new games.

A successful movie will bring in new players to the game, possibly a LOT of new players. If — and only if — Blizz is prepared for this influx, it will be good for the game. By “prepared” I mean quite a few things:

  1. Servers are ready for the new load. You would think this is a no-brainer, but I give you as People’s Exhibits 1 and 2 launch of Mists and launch of WoD. ‘Nuff said.
  2. The game itself is welcoming, fun, and absorbing for new players who have never seen it before. This means it is self-contained, not so confusing that it requires an outside source such as Wowhead to make sense of it. It means the low-level experience is rich and varied enough to permit a wide range of play styles. It means there are mechanics in place to allow new players to easily meet up with and play with friends (for example, the game is more guild-friendly than it is now). It means a non-toxic social environment, where new players are not ridiculed and scorned for asking reasonable questions, where they are not seen as easy prey and entertainment for more experienced players. (And yes, I do think Blizz can help with this, it is not totally dependent  on the player base. There are plenty of actions they can take to greatly discourage toxic behavior.)
  3. Devs are prepared for a more or less continuous stream of small patches, designed to introduce fun tweaks and options rather than tons of new content.
  4. Classes and specs are stabilized and well-balanced (that is, fun to play) at every level, not designed only for end game max gear.
  5. There are rewarding group activities at low levels.

The specter of a looming successful movie is likely to have an effect on the game even before the movie comes out. Take a look at the timeline. Almost the earliest we will get an initial announcement of a new expansion is at Blizzcon. That means that –even being very optimistic — we would not get a beta before early 2016, and a PTR in spring of 2016 at best. Which would put the new expansion launch in synch with the movie premiere. This makes business sense, as it would combine movie revenues with a rash of new players PLUS the rash of returning players and game sales always associated with a new expansion. A banner year for Blizz. (Although I shudder at the almost certain technical chaos it will cause, given their track record.)

What does that mean for the current game? It means we are a year out — in the best case — from a new expansion. Another year of WoD, another year of garrisons and shipyards and apexis crystals and broken professions and horrible class imbalances.

I think it also means — in spite of Blizz’s reluctance to do it — at least one more patch, 6.3, before we get 7.0. In fact, if we are a year out from the xpac, we could conceivably see a 6.4. And, since I do not think we will get another raid tier, indications are that we will be basically in the same situation we were in Mists towards the end. I could be wrong, and I hope I am wrong, but the realities of time are pretty compelling.

Wanted: Class balance dev team

UPDATE EDIT: The June 25 hotfix announced several hours after I posted this indicates that the Improved Focus Fire bug will be fixed. It is listed as a “Hotfix in testing,” which is Blizz’s way of saying “Okay, okay, we’re working on it.” This in my opinion qualifies as improved player communication on their part, which is good. But that doesn’t change my opinion of the class balance development process.

What started me thinking about today’s subject is a post over at The Thrill of the Wild. In his usual meticulous method, Del irium has documented a HUGE bug in the way Focus Fire works — or more precisely doesn’t work — for Beastmastery hunters. You can read the post yourself for the particulars, but the bottom line is that the essential damage producing mechanic for BM, the part that allows skilled players to be rewarded for good execution, might as well not even exist. It is like that dummy thermostat in the office that allows employees to think they are controlling the temperature but in fact it is not even hooked up.

Let’s assume this is indeed a bug and sooner or later will be fixed. (Although honestly I think it is about 50-50 that it will be fixed any time soon.) Think about it. How in hell did such a gigantic bug make it through development, through in-house testing, through the PTR, and into live, AND NO ONE AT BLIZZ NOTICED? So much for their claim that they carefully scrutinize all the numbers and results from the PTR. Is there zero quality control anywhere in their dev process? Who is the person in charge of final approval for hunter class mechanics, and how did he let something like this slip through?

(Edit: See above edit regarding this.) And while we’re at it, how is it that they are not jumping through their butts now to get it fixed? Check out the patch and hotfix notes. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I feel like I am at a party and everyone is pointing and gasping at the fecal matter floating in the punchbowl, and the hosts are smiling vaguely, and saying “Hmmm? What? Yes, it’s fruit punch, we made it ourselves. Might need more ice, though.”

This huge blunder follows hard on the heels of the apparently intended gutting of SV as a viable hunter spec, and if the BM bug is not fixed, it means that MM is now the only playable spec for any hunter wishing to raid. And I am not talking just about top tier raid teams, I mean any raid team. SV was nerfed greatly at the start of WoD, but I stuck with it then because I was raiding with a “semi-casual” raid team, and I could make the spec work by improving my execution and diligently gearing for multistrike. But this is different. No amount of skill or practice or gearing can make SV a responsible choice for any raid team in 6.2. And now, apparently the same for BM.

Anyway, as much as I would love to continue to rant about the sad state of hunters in this patch, that is not really the point of this post. (Don’t think I don’t hear you all saying “Well get to the point, then, Fi.”) Here it is:

Something is very wrong with Blizz’s whole class balance development system. For this entire expansion, it has just felt like it’s being done by Congressional committee, not by what is supposed to be a world-class game development team.

Nearly every class in this expansion has legitimate, serious structural problems with it. I don’t play every class, so I can’t tell you what the problems are, but I read notes and various class blogs and I know that most have them. I am not talking about the inevitable glitches and annoyances and oopsies that crop up in any system this complex, I am talking about baseline design problems.

More ominously, some designs work for a single class, but they undermine the meta-class balance system, such that team performance suffers.The whole absorb mechanism for disc priests is an excellent example of this.

I am not claiming it is easy to achieve class balance for individual specs and classes, plus for team integration, plus for both PvE and PvP, plus add in a requirement to maintain a unique class and spec “feel.”Far from it. It is vastly complex. But that is Blizz’s job. They are supposedly experts at it. Lately, though, they are doing no better than a couple guys at a bar drawing out systems on a napkin.

The hunter BM bug highlights this. There is simply no way an error of this magnitude should have ever made it out of alpha testing, much less to live deployment. Add this to Watcher’s admission that they can’t fix either the disc priest problem or the demo lock problem, and it basically tells me that the class balance dev team is dysfunctional if not completely unfunctional. Obviously, an outsider cannot diagnose the roots of this problem, but it is a serious one. Maybe the problem is a project management one, maybe it is a low-level dev skill problem, maybe it is an overall lack of class passion and vision, maybe Blizz is as bad at internal communication as they are at external, but whatever it is, it needs to be diagnosed and fixed.

Of all the many parts that make up a game like WoW, possibly the most fundamental one is the set of actions that govern a player’s interaction with the virtual world. It is what draws players to a game, what makes them passionate about a certain class, what challenges them to get better at their execution, what provides the intellectual reward for playing well, what gives them that lizard-brain YEEHAW! moment when they have done everything perfectly. As important as content and artwork and raid tiers are, they mean nothing to players without the framework of the class they play. I submit to you that that is the very foundation of fun in the game.

How sad that Blizzard, a world leader — possible THE world leader — in MMO development, has lost the bubble on this.

Weekend grinding

I spent several hours this last weekend grinding out my remaining apexis dailies for the Defending Draenor achievement and looking for treasures to get to the required 100, all so as to have done everything I can do for the Draenor Pathfinder achievement prior to 6.2. It was not a horrible grind, but I was glad when it was done.

I had a lot of apexis dailies to do, having only done 4 of the 12 previously. The Scouting Missives you can buy for  200 garrison resources apiece from your garrison vendor were a life saver for me. The only one you can’t buy is Assault on the Pit, but I had already done that one. Buying the missives means you don’t have to wait for each daily to pop up randomly. And they are easy quests — none of them took longer than 15 minutes for me to solo on my hunter, although I think healer classes without a damage off spec might have more trouble. I did notice some people posting custom groups in the Group Finder, though, and some of them were for multiple apexis dailies. I did not join any big groups, but I did party up once with a player who was also grinding the same area I was in. I would have grouped up more given the opportunity, but I seemed to be the only one in most of the quest areas. All told, I was done with the achievement in a little over two hours.

The treasures were a lot harder for me. I started out with 41, the number I had gotten by the time I leveled my hunter. I had not been big on finding treasures while leveling, mainly because I determined early on that the reward did not begin to justify the time cost to get them. So if I did not literally stumble on them as I was leveling, I made no effort to seek them out.

I am embarrassed to admit it took me close to 6 hours to get my remaining 59. Part of this was due to a tactical error I made by starting in Nagrand. The treasures there are, almost without exception, enormously frustrating and time-intensive to find and get to, even with a map and the addon. I know some of you like doing these kinds of puzzles, and the more intricate the better. But I detest them. I spent close to 2 hours trying to find goblin rocket NPCs, in order to get fired up into an area where I could ride around and find a goblin glider, which was close to impossible to control, resulting in me crashing and not getting the treasure, causing me to have to ride a long ways to get back to the rocket guy to get blasted up to the area where I could once again gallop to the glider guy so that I could miss the treasure yet again and start all over.

This is not my idea of fun. This is Sisyphus in game hell. Take my advice, if you are just looking to knock out your required 100 treasures and are not masochistically inclined (not that there’s anything wrong with that …), do not set foot in Nagrand. If you look at a map you will be tempted to go there, because it looks like there are lots and lots of treasures scattered all around in the zone, and you will think “Aha! Easy pickings!” But you will be wrong, it is a trap. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

At any rate, once I came to my senses and abandoned Nagrand, the treasure hunting went much faster. It still took me another 3 hours to get to 100. This is due to my navigational ineptness, true, but it is also due to the twisted zone design that makes it impossible in many instances to find paths through obstacles even though it may look like there is a path on the map, or the graphics indicate there is a path. You may even get quite a ways along the apparent path only to discover it is a blind alley, and then you get to go back and start again, enjoying what Ion Hazzikostas would term “engaging, immersive fun.”

Once I got to 100, I stopped. I did not try to go on and get to 200, which is the current achievement requirement. I took Blizz at its word and believed they would give credit for 100 treasures as part of the Pathfinder achievement. (If they pull a Charlie Brown and Lucy football move on this one, I will quit this game, no ifs ands or buts about it.)

Speaking of Blizz and Hazzikostas, I did watch the Q&A on Saturday. It was not as bad as I was expecting, but it was not anything to rave about either. I thought it was very scripted, even the “brutally honest” comments such as the declaration that Blizz is intentionally nerfing demo locks into the ground because it’s time for them to be on the bottom for awhile. I thought that came off as a planned mechanism for demonstrating how sincere and open Blizz was being.

I don’t play a demo lock, so I was only partially interested in the comment, but it made me wonder if that is also their reason for what they are doing to SV hunters. Do they think “it’s time” for them to suck also? Because it seems like that suck rotation is a pretty rapid one, since SV hunters also sucked for quite a while at the beginning of WoD.

The only other thing that sort of got my attention was his comment that the reason they remained silent on the subject of flying for so long after the “no fly ever again” announcement was because there was still no consensus on the subject within Blizz. If this is true, then why in hell did they announce what sounded very much like a final decision? Was Hazzikostas going rogue? Was it a trial balloon? Is there a management coup in progress? Are they just that incompetent? I don’t know, and honestly don’t care much, but it just struck me as an illogical statement.

Overall, he didn’t address many class balance issues, and I would have been interested in hearing more about that. Even though the Q&A was highly scripted, I did think it was useful. I think Blizz could go a long ways towards improving its bad communication image by having regular Q&A sessions, say once a month, instead of waiting for the forums to blow up in outrage before they have one. They could even specialize them, talk about one class each month, or have Holinka talk about PvP on one, talk about raid philosophy on one, that kind of thing.

Holy moly!

Well. Just when I thought there would be nothing to write about today, we get The Big Announcement in a DevWatercooler post. I think it is worth quoting in full here.

We appreciate the spirited discussion on the topic of flying. The subject has brought out passionate viewpoints and  insightful conversations on our official forums and blogs, on community sites, and in chat channels. Your feedback has been a valuable part of the ongoing conversations within Blizzard as well, and today, we’d like to share some updated plans for how we’ll handle flight going forward.

The Thrill of Discovery
At the heart of the initial plan to restrict flight in Draenor (even after players reach level 100) lies the design goal of providing the best moment-to-moment gameplay possible in the outdoor world. From navigating the lava flows of the Molten Front in Patch 4.2, to breaching the Thunder King’s stronghold in Patch 5.2, to reaching the heights of the Ordon Sanctuary on Timeless Isle in Patch 5.4, to uncovering secrets deep within Gorgrond’s jungles on Draenor, World of Warcraft is full of memorable moments that are only possible when players explore the world by ground. And as we’ve continued to develop content over the years, we’ve focused more and more on providing players with these kinds of experiences.

However, while we firmly believe that keeping your feet on the ground is a key part of discovery in WoW, we also recognize that breaking free from those restrictions can be fun and rewarding as well, especially for those who’ve already fully experienced the game’s world content. With that in mind, we’re planning some changes in the near future that will allow players to enjoy their hard-earned flying mounts in Draenor—in a way that doesn’t compromise the excitement of ground-based exploration.

Mastering the Outdoor World
In an upcoming Public Test Realm build, we will be introducing a new meta-achievement called Draenor Pathfinder. You’ll earn this achievement in Patch 6.2 by mastering the outdoor environment of Draenor—exploring Draenor’s zones, collecting 100 treasures in Draenor, completing the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements, and raising the three new Tanaan Jungle reputations to Revered. Initially, this achievement will award a rylak mount: the Soaring Skyterror, one of the native beasts that roam Draenor’s skies. Players will remain ground-bound on Draenor until a small follow-up patch (6.2.x), when all players who have earned Draenor Pathfinder on at least one character will unlock the ability to fly in Draenor on all their level 90+ characters.
We believe this strikes the right balance between ensuring ground-based content lives up to its full potential, while providing players who’ve already fully experienced Draenor’s outdoor world extra freedom to “break the rules.” This also provides a general blueprint going forward for content to come. Players will explore new and undiscovered lands from the ground, and then once they’ve fully mastered those environments—a notion that continues to evolve with each new expansion—they can take to the skies and experience the world from a new vantage point.

Thank you for your heartfelt feedback. We’ll see you in (and soon, above) Tanaan Jungle.

I am, to put it mildly, thunderstruck.

I think someone at Blizz is still having a tantrum over having to give in, thus the extreme list of prerequisites for flying. (There are some stubborn points made in the announcement, such as the reference to “the excitement of ground-based exploration.”)  But the mark of a good compromise is that it makes everyone a bit unhappy and everyone a bit happy. So I find this to be an acceptable compromise. (However, I am not going to thank Blizz or congratulate them, because they should have made this decision months ago, it is the right decision but they should not have put the players through this, should not have forced this gigantic expression of outrage. When you have to hound your teenager for twenty minutes to take out the trash, and she finally does it begrudgingly and sulkily, you do not thank her afterwards, because it is her job to do it responsibly and reliably.)

And the best part of this is that, once you have jumped through all of the considerable (in my opinion excessive, but never mind, see my definition of compromise above) number of hoops Blizz requires, you will have unlocked flying on all of your level 90+ alts. Excellent! Finally, a reasonable policy from Blizz.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure I will be soon ranting about the ten thousand achievements you have to get just to be able to continue something you have been doing for years in the game, but overall I think this is an excellent decision by Blizz. And they absolutely did the right thing by making it a BoA achievement.

Hats off to the literally thousands of players who expressed their opinions — some calmly and logically, some much more emotionally — in the forums and on Twitter. Hats off to the bloggers (the good ones, not me) who took the time to lay out their objections to the no-fly policy and the reasons it was bad. And hats off to whatever group at Blizz finally made the decision-makers see reason.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall for the staff meetings at Blizz the last couple of weeks. Though we will never be privy to it, it would be interesting to know what finally tipped the balance. Was it the number of unsubs? The outrage? A fear that the company was getting a negative rep that would spread to its other games? The imminent release of FFXIV? Not important, but interesting nonetheless.

There may be aspects to this that will come to light later, but meanwhile I am just going to enjoy the moment.

WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOO!

Gathering thoughts

Last night I decided to ditch tailoring on my mage and replace it with herbalism. I have not bothered to level her to 700 tailoring in WoD, as my warlock is also a tailor. True, she did have some low level patterns the lock doesn’t have, but nothing that I can’t buy on the AH or get a guildie to make if I need one for some transmog. Besides, I can pick up most of them later on my lock, which might be kind of a fun project.

I mainly use the mage for inscription, so switching to herbalism as the other profession makes more sense anyway. My other herbalist is my druid, but I am still struggling with her. She is level 91, just recently arrived on Draenor, and a boomkin. Boomkins have been kind a red headed stepchild for Blizz the last couple of expansions, they just can’t seem to figure out the right class balance for them. I was finally getting the hang of the whole moon/sun power thing in Mists, then Blizz radically changed it in WoD, and I am very far from comfortable with it. My hat is off to any of you who play a boomkin well.

To be honest, I am thinking of deleting the druid. (Please don’t say anything to her, though!) She was my second character after my hunter, so she has been around for a long time. I have kept her mainly out of sentimental reasons, but also because I was drawn to the possibilities of four specs in one alt. But it turns out that I really stink at druid healing, and after many many tries I have decided that I don’t like melee dps. Which leaves boomkin and tank. I am interested in learning to tank, but honestly I don’t know how to start. With zero tank experience, it seems impossible to just jump in at level 90+. I could never do that to any group I would be in. I should probably roll a new druid and start tanking every low level instance I can get into, just to learn a bit about the role. Then I would have enough of a foundation to ask for pointers from some of our awesome raid team tanks. Something to think about, I guess, as I continue to look for new fun in what has become an annoying current game …

Of course, the other reason to have a druid as a gatherer was that she had a terrific advantage farming herbs. Some of the most relaxing time I ever spent in this game was chilling out in guild chat while I flew my herb routes in Uldum. I loved that zone, I loved the sere majesty of the sand juxtaposed with oases and ruins. I loved being a bird, swooping and soaring alternately over the windswept sand and the wild anarchy of the river deltas. I would gather herbs for a couple of hours, enjoy the company of my guild mates, then make very decent gold selling herbs and essences in the auction house.

But those days are gone now — WoD has not been kind to guilds, and swooping and soaring have been declared “non-immersive” by Bliss’s arrogant elitist devs. I thought I was having fun back then, but as Watcher has patiently explained time after time, I really wasn’t. Silly me.

Sorry, I digress. So for all these reasons I re-rolled herbalism as my second profession on my mage. This meant that I was starting at level one. With the gathering catch-up mechanism, I could have jumped right in gathering in Draenor, but I chose not to. Herbs are not that plentiful, it would take A LOT of them to level up, and of course it is super annoying to gather them in Draenor. So I progressed from zone to zone to gather level-appropriate herbs. It went fast, and after spending a few hours at it I was close to 600 when I logged off for the night.

I had a good time doing it. It was kind of a nostalgia trip, really. I started out in Elwynn Forest, couldn’t remember the last time I spent any time there! While leveling I visited other forgotten zones like Western Plaguelands, Swamp of Sorrows, Hillsbrad Foothills, Thousand Needles, the old Terrokar Forest, zones in Northrend, Hyjal, Deepholm, and Pandaria. It was great! Before logging off I stopped in to spend the night in my cozy little farmhouse on Sunsong Ranch, with the ever-bubbling stewpot and the comfy bed.

I flew everywhere, it was glorious! At first I used my Sky Golem, but decided — in spite of the advantage it confers — that I get slightly nauseous with its herky-jerky loop-de-loop flying gait. So I used my trusty Headless Horseman mount, still my favorite after all this time. It’s small enough to not obscure the herb you are gathering, and it is graceful whether flying or on the ground. And it’s very cool looking. What else could I ask for?

Unfortunately, I am at the point where I will be forced to complete leveling now in Draenor. I am not looking forward to it.

But I had a terrific time last night. And no matter what Ion Hazzikostas says, it sure seemed like fun to me.

Now what?

This will be a disjointed post, but it reflects my current feelings about the game. I really don’t know where I am in my enjoyment of it, if indeed I am even still “enjoying” it. I just don’t know.

Last night I stepped out of the morass that is Draenor and revisited some of my favorite legacy areas. Places like Uldum, Tanaris, and all of Pandaria. I got out my favorite flying mount and swooped and soared to my heart’s content, taking in what I believe were Blizz’s finest art designs. Designs that cannot ever be truly appreciated from the ground, designs that inspire and delight when viewed from the air. This, I thought, this was Blizz at its best. This was art and design made by passionate, creative, talented people who loved what they did.

I dipped down in Pandaria and traveled awhile on my chopper, and I saw that this zone’s design was so rich that it gave me an entirely different experience on the ground — complex, varied, and with unexpected visual rewards just as I rounded a corner or trekked through a jungle.

The Blizz that designed Pandaria knew how to deliver a product for all of its player base. That Blizz welcomed challenge and met it head on, taking joy in showing they were more than a match for it. They gave us visual content at its very best.

But ultimately visiting these areas was sad for me, because I knew that I would never experience any of it again except by revisiting legacy areas. I realized that among other things it has done to weaken the game for me, Blizz has killed the joy of anticipation. I cannot make myself get excited over 6.2 because it will be nothing more than an undisguised rerun of the worst parts of WoD. More slogging around on the ground even at level, increased garrison chore load, even less relevant professions, class imbalances so great as to make some specs unplayable, crappy gear that can be bought with gold at prices as exorbitant and ridiculous as the Apexis crystal price, and “new” flying mounts that will never fly in Draenor or any future content and are just reskins of old mounts anyway.

Worse, I am so demoralized over this last weekend’s in-your-face announcement that I am pretty sure I won’t be able to work up any real enthusiasm over the next contraction expansion either. Blizz has made it clear that they are no longer about proudly doing the hard things and making them look easy. Instead, they are about cutting corners, about designing Potemkin Villages and telling us over and over how “rich” and “complex” they are, about setting up mechanisms that slow us down so we won’t notice there is very little content.

I doubt I will be logging on much for awhile. When 6.2 comes out, I’ll go through it at least with my hunters, because I’m not ready yet to give up raiding with my guild. But Tanaan will be simply a necessary means to an end, something to get through rather than enjoy.

The sad thing is, the fun I used to have running old dungeons and visiting old content is gone now. I used to have fun running Firelands for the mount, but now really what’s the point? Even if I get the drop, all I will be able to do with that magnificently-drawn mount in any current content is waddle around on the ground with it. Whoopie.

So thanks, Blizz, thanks for sucking the fun out of not only the current content, but also past and future contents.

I have started looking into Final Fantasy XIV. The new expansion, Heavensward, looks very promising and launches June 19 for early play, June 23rd for those who do not preorder. I did download the free 14 day trial on the current xpac, but unfortunately was unable to make it playable on my VMware Windows box — could not get more than 6 fps. (Yes, I play games on a Mac, don’t judge.) But Heavensward has a native Mac download, so I am very hopeful. I will definitely give it a serious try.

I am debating whether to unsub from WoW in the near future. Part of me says it would make a (microscopic) statement of protest, part of me says wait until after 6.2, part of me says get real you know you will stay with this game until the bitter end so quit fooling yourself. (Sometimes I do talk rather sternly to myself.)

I am foolishly now waiting to see what Blizz has to say for itself in the June 6 “Q&A” which clearly will be Watcher “A-ing” bogus watered-down “Q’s” designed to show brief “concern” over the reaction to the no flying decision and then quickly moving on to how exciting and content-packed 6.2 will be. The most I am expecting regarding flying is some vague hand-waving semi-promising to “relook” it possibly maybe in the future in some limited fashion, in hopes that those of us who want it to happen will be gullible enough to hang on and buy the next xpac. (Hey, that approach has worked for over a year, no reason it shouldn’t keep on working.)

Like the little kid diligently searching for a pony when presented with a room full of horse manure, I am furiously digging through this game to find the fun I know has to be hidden somewhere. Sadly, it is that reaction that makes me exactly the kind of player Blizz has come to love. . . .