Hopes for tomorrow’s Q&A

Tomorrow (August 3rd) there will be another in what has become a rather sporadic series of “Q&A” sessions, in which the ever-cheerful Lore selects players’ mostly-softball questions to pose to a game developer — in this case it will be none other than the Game Director himself, Ion Hazzikostas.

There is always a forum prior to the Q&A where players can submit their questions. Submitters are cautioned to pose short questions only, usually limited to 40 words or so. In what to me is always a stunning display of — stupidity? arrogance? failure to read instructions? — invariably most of the posted questions are long treatises on everything the poster thinks is wrong with the game or their particular class or whatever. (One has to wonder if these are the same folks who refuse to listen to raid instructions because, y’know, THEY are special and allowed to stand in fire due to how awesome they are…) There are other venues to submit questions, too (Twitter, for sample) — although the full list remains a bit murky, possibly by design so as to allow some conveniently-leading topics.

At any rate, the Q&A questions are pre-selected, I suppose in order to allow Blizz to focus on whatever their intended message is for the session. Often these events occur just prior to release of major patches, and the “questions” take the form of, “I love the new [badass mount/questline/gear/etc]! Can you tell us what other awesomeness is in the new patch?” In answer, of course, Hazzikostas launches into a 20-minute advertisement for the patch.

Another category of “questions” are ones that really have no impact on how the game is played at all, which tend to be ridiculously boring to me but which I suppose are of some interest to a certain segment of the player base. For example, “Is there any chance we will see Bigevilorc finally get his comeuppance in the next raid tier?” This is usually my cue to go get a cup of coffee, because it is absolutely certain that Hazzikostas will kill at least 10 minutes of the hour-long session being coy about the answer, and Lore will interject his own hopes on this vital issue.

From time to time, however, Hazzikostas will choose to address concerns that have bubbled up in the community and he wants to prevent them becoming a huge thing. (Example: Flying in WoD.) Or he wants to introduce a new design philosophy, possibly feeling out the community for a future expansion mechanism or major game change. The mechanic is that Lore will read a short question on the subject, and Hazzikostas will launch into a very detailed answer, almost as if he had prepared to address it! To me, these are the most informative parts of any Q&A session, because they reveal insights into the bigger picture and often give us a glimpse of how the game might evolve in the foreseeable future.

These are some of the meatier topics I would love to see addressed tomorrow:

  • Gear — whether the current stat of complexity is by design (and thus we will continue to endure it in coming expansions) or is just an unintended consequence of the whole artifact/legendary/class balance intertwining. I would also love to hear him explain why, for example, old tier gear and even 860-level trinkets are still “required” for some specs. And are we stuck with the horrible Legion legendary design from now on, or will Blizz abandon it in the next expansion?
  • RNG — whether the intent is to increase its reach even more, or whether maybe it will be dialed back a bit in the next expansion. In particular, I would like to see him address the role of RNG in gear, and ideally would love to see him back off a bit from his absolutely asinine insistence that RNG for gear is fun™.  (Not hopeful here, but we are basically optimistic creatures…)
  • Plans for more catch-up mechanisms for alts. For example, making Blood of Sargeras BoA, compressing order hall quest lines even more, instituting profession catch-ups.
  • Hints about class design changes, both in 7.3.5 and in the next expansion.
  • While he is at it, hints about the timing for the next expansion — will we actually see Blizz adhering to their stated 2-year expansion goal and thus se th next one about this time next year?
  • Zone design — is the preferred design now small, closed areas rather than the exploration-friendly open spaces of the past?

As far as I know, there have been no announcements of the focus of tomorrow’s Q&A. That makes me think it will be either an advertisement for 7.3 or an explanation of some issues Hazzikostas deems important. It would be fun if it were a vehicle for dropping some bombshell about the next expansion, but I think that is highly unlikely. I will be happy if we get a few words on even a couple of the subjects I listed above.

PS. Any guesses as to how many times uber-polite Lore will apologize for mangling someone’s name? I am betting on 6.

Movie

Now that we are only a few days out from the premier of the Warcraft movie in some parts of the world, I suppose it is time for me to write a bit about it. Honestly, I haven’t written on it before this because, well, I have no interest in spending money to go to a theater to see it. I might possibly shell out $5-$6 for it when it comes around on Pay Per View, but even that is iffy.

There. I said it. Try as I might, I just cannot work up anything more than passing interest in the “Warcraft story”, the lore supposedly behind the game. I have tried to read about it — lore summaries on third party sites, official Blizz lore histories, even some of the fanfic stuff — but it all leaves me cold. If you had a cartoon picture of me after reading about it after just a few minutes, it would be one of those where a stick figure is lying on its back with tongue hanging out and X’s for eyes. My first thought after a page or two is “Just kill me now, don’t I have some laundry to do or a root canal appointment I can make?”

This is strange, because I am an avid history reader as well as a lifelong fan of the science fiction and fantasy genres. But with WoW lore, it just all seems far too contrived to be interesting. I feel like the game mechanics and expansion code drive the lore rather than the other way around. I can’t shake the feeling that every new raid tier gets developed, then someone goes back and patches the lore to give the raid some sort of thin pseudo-historical basis.

As a result, there is no real overriding theme to the lore, in my opinion. Yeah, I know about the Titans wanting to save the universe and failing miserably because of the treachery/madness of Sargeras (here’s a tip for next time, Titans: get regular psych evals for your major commanders). Then they set their sights a bit lower and tried to terraform Azeroth, but they ran up against the Old Gods and couldn’t figure out how to deal with them, so they put a few dragons in charge, and hauled ass out.

The only other thing I know is that Azshara was in charge of the greatest power source on Azeroth, and when Sargeras showed up and asked for access she said, sure what could go wrong. This gave rise to all the problems we now find on Azeroth. Idiot, what the hell was she thinking? (I think she eventually got turned into a Naga, so haha Azshara, that’s what you get, not going to get into those sexy skinny jeans now, are you, huh?) Anyway, after this it all gets far too wonky and ridiculous for me to follow.

But even though I have close to zero interest in the movie, I know there are a lot of people who will stand in line for hours or days at theaters to get a good seat for the opening. Some will see the movie because they already play the game and love the story, others will do it because it they have heard of WoW and want to see what it is all about, and some just because it is a cool date night movie, or because their kid or their bf/gf or spouse play the game and they are being dragged along.

Which, finally, brings me to my point today: What if any real lasting effect will the movie have on the game? No one knows, of course, so that allows me to do what I do best — speculate with no factual basis.

GAAAAAAAHHHHH! I had about another 1000 words that finished off this post, was just getting ready to hit the Publish button, and WordPress had a glitch that caused it to revert to this initial draft. It’s Friday, I have a ton of stuff to do, and I am not going to recreate it in its entirety. What follows is a quick reconstituted summary.

  • The movie, assuming it is not a total failure, will have a better and more lasting effect on ATVI than on WoW in particular. It is a gigantic infomercial that will generate interest in ATVI’s other franchises and may bring viewers to eSports.
  • The WoW effect will to bring a significant number of new players, but the effect will be temporary, as most will not become long time players.
  • The reasons they will not stay are many, but include:
    • The game is extraordinarily complex and can be intimidating to brand new players. Blizz rather stubbornly continues to rely on third party sites to explain the game to players.
    • Certain aspects of the game — chat and pugs — are often very toxic and can easily scare new people away, or convince them they do not need to pay out money to be continually humiliated.
    • WoW is still basically an aging genre, and many will decide that newer franchises such as Hearthstone are more engaging for their gaming preferences.
  • I am going to do my best to help defray impressions of toxicity in the game, by coming to the assistance of new players every chance I get. I hope to set an example that may spread through my server. The more of us that do this, the better chance we have of improving our game, no matter how many new players stay or leave.
  • Guilds may yet have a major role to play in helping out the influx of new players — check out yours to see if there is a way to organize this.
  • Blizz might do new players a favor by setting up specific new player servers for those who might be a bit timid about jumping in to the more established community.

Enough. Everyone have a great weekend.

Postponed? Don’t care

By now everyone knows that the “Q&A” Blizz promised for June 6 has been postponed until June 13. Honestly, I don’t care. They could postpone it until August and I wouldn’t care, because it will be nothing but an hour of Hazzikostas spouting carefully scripted party lines interspersed with hard-hitting interviewer follow-ups from Lore, such as “Cool.” Actually, the longer they postpone it the better as far as I am concerned, because it will do nothing but increase my already huge dissatisfaction with a company that used to be great but is now just a gigantic money machine that arrogantly considers itself too big to fail. They are a company that has lost its soul.

It is crystal clear that World of Warcraft is the absolute lowest priority for Activision Blizzard.

Item: In response to a huge outpouring of rage over the decision to prohibit flying in the current and all future expansions, Blizz takes several days to finally respond with a begrudging promise to hold a “Q&A” session two weeks hence. As player outrage continues, Blizz pretty much officially ignores the whole subject.

Item: Two days before the scheduled session, Lore makes a short blue post in the designated Q&A forum announcing the session is postponed for another week.

Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
The Q&A is being moved to Saturday, June 13, at 2:00 PM Pacific time (5:00 PM Eastern, 11:00 PM Central Europe), and I’ve updated the original post with the new schedule. The window of time to submit questions will be extended as well.

Look forward to seeing you then!

A company that gave a crap about their product would have at least given a reason for the postponement, especially in light of the huge player interest in it. The popular guess is that the June 6 date conflicted with the big Heroes of the Storm event, which if true just further shows where WoW ranks as far as Blizz is concerned. (Although the fact there was such a huge conflict to begin with makes one wonder: are they really that incompetent, or were they ineptly attempting to bury what will undoubtedly be a difficult session?)

Item: It has been months since Mike Morhaime, head of Blizz, has even mentioned WoW in any of his tweets. It is all HotS and Hearthstone. Not once has he weighed in to try and placate the enraged WoW player base. It is not something that even comes up in his priority list.

Item: Ghostcrawler, whose unofficial tweets about WoW appear on the MMO Champions site, is far more responsive to questions about WoW than are the current devs. It says something that a former employee cares more about trying to explain dev decisions to concerned players than does the current dev team.

So no, I don’t care that they have postponed “the big session” because it is clear to me that Blizz has given up on WoW and is trying to squeeze every penny they can out of it before abandoning it completely. They have moved on. There will be no big announcements on June 13, no true communication with a concerned customer base, just some corporate lawyer spouting meaningless platitudes about a product that occupies the lowest rung of importance in the company.

For my part, I will try to squeeze every bit of fun out of the game I can before I abandon it. But I will not be playing any more Blizzard games when I am done with WoW. Because I am done with Activision Blizzard. It is clear they have been done with me for a long time.