Saturday, December 14, 2013

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Possibly the best Austin rip-off in the History of, like EVER.

I got a bit of a slap yesterday about a comment in my Podcast, that things are quiet in game-land right now. There is still a great deal going on around these parts, and for many there are a new set of problems quite apart from dealing with the business of playing the game. In fact, people are having to queue to even get online, especially during busy periods, which is odd when I keep being told by the Barneys Naysayers how the Playerbase is declining. Except the thing is, it's like totally not that way right now, because Blizzard have taken all this money off all of the games to make them so much cheaper and are STICKING SHOPS IN GAME so we can like totally buy things and NOT STOP PLAYING. Cher would love it, unless she had a thirty minute queue to get onto her server full of cool kids. The problems Blizzard face have always been peculiar in this respect: server 'merging' is all very well (and we all know that's exactly what this is but this is Blizzard so we don't CALL it that) but it's pretty apparent this normally terminal move isn't spelling the death-knell of the game just yet.

The thing is, this game's always dared to be different.

I read Mr Syp's Bio Break Blog this week and couldn't help but smile at the following:

Granted that the expansion is coming along fast enough, I could totally see Blizzard dropping a Warlords of Draenor bomb just before ESO to rob that launch of some of its thunder.  Blizzard is notorious for doing this, of course, but it’s entirely possible that WoD just won’t be ready and might angle more to a fall release when folks disillusioned with the new games will be ready to return to Mother Warcraft’s comforting embrace.

Quite apart from the fact he illustrates this post with a still from Stripes (10 points!), the concept of 'Mother Warcraft' threw up a number of interesting visual metaphors, and the understanding that I don't think Syp grasps just how important it is for Blizzard not to wait until the Autumn. With a flurry of renewed interest on the #warlordsreleasedate contest this week I know people are looking forward, and it's clear Blizzard's attempt to alleviate the issue of Server Queues (even down to opening free character transfers here in the EU as alleviation) There's a reason I dedicated a third of a podcast to this subject too, this is the break-point in a lot of ways for Warcraft, the Expansion that has everything to prove and very little room to be wrong. There are also potentially an awful lot of people standing by waiting to light their flammable light-sources and to pull out a sharp three-pronged implement on this release: I really cannot believe Blizzard have the luxury of playing the Soon (TM) Card. If there were a Hearthstone 'Make Your Own Card' Creator, [*] this is where I'd make one to illustrate the point :D

The fact that Blizzard's put everything up for sale, pre-Christmas, is also significant: in fact, this is possibly the single biggest push I've seen to get people into the game from scratch, or to encourage existing players to maybe get that second account, which is odd considering that if you end up server merging with someone else there's the possibility two server's worth of players could end up on the same Account anyway. Frankly, at the end of the day I'm guessing what happens is largely irrelevant on that score to Blizzard unless someone finds an exploit. This is, and always has been, a way for a gaming company to make money, and most franchises coming up for their tenth year I'd suspect would be quite happy just being able to bring in the coins on a regular basis. Success isn't relative in this sphere, it's that number on the page that says 'Monthly Subs' and there are very few people still able to tick that box on their Dev MMO Checklist to begin with.

Of COURSE it's not about being a cool kid, or having all the cash. However, I think we can safely say Blizzard's never been Clueless (SEE WHAT I DID THAR) when it comes to understanding how the land lies on these things. As Mr Oscar Wilde once said: 'There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.' As long as we're all still here, there's no worry the game's going anywhere. Give the guys time to sort everything, because it's in their best interests to do just that because without us, there IS no game. Just don't forget that, in the end, what you think is important might not be what the majority believes is. With the server queues however, I think we can safely say this is one issue that they'll want fixed well before the Expansion launches...

[*] This should be a thing, it would make so many people happy.


Peri said...

In the last few days I've had about 5 old names suddenly popping back online after up to 3 years afk (unsubbing for multiple reasons but all returning to be part of year 10/level 100), two from way back when all this was fields inc the dwarf hunter who used to boost baby me round deadmines when dinging 15 opened all kinds of amazing for a first-timer and one from k's old work guild who I used to stand in IF with, mercilessly punching dummies to get unarmed skill up.

My sample size is statistically rolling on the floor, mocking any attempt to draw concrete conclusions from it (or rofmaadccfi as internet parlance has it) but got me thinking - if this is even slightly replicated (and sustained) for a fraction of the old guard then we'd be in green shoots territory...

And one of 'em is bringing his kids in to Azeroth for Xmas!

You have no idea how many attempts it took to spell 'mocking' on this blooming phone.

Grimmtooth said...

You have more faith in Blizz's awareness than I, especially after repeated showings of "Shut up Aggra and make Thrall a sammich". They have a HUGE blind spot that I'll call "This is too cool not do do and what do you mean it offends someone no wai!"

So, if it doesn't jibe with their "savage cool savage fun savage savage everyone!" mindset for WoD, I very much DO think it'll just roll over them, much as they seemed to have ZERO awareness of just how badly Cata went over in terms of player retention because "CHRIS METZEN IZ A DARGON YALL".

I do appreciate Syp's sentiment WRT "Mother Warcraft" (a brilliant phrase which I am totally stealing), and I suspect it's based on the LAST time we saw such a reversal of flow, namely STWOR; once the shine wore off, a number of people came back, somewhat disillusioned because that game didn't meet the expectations they set (other, wiser, folks, had more realistic expectations and are still happy swinging lightsabers).

And the TESO thing has some potential, either right on top of (which is shabby, really) or a short time after.

I'm still sticking to my Fall prediction, though, as I don't think Blizz is quite up to being able to roll out that quickly. One or two more down the road, maybe. But right now I still think we're looking at an 18 month product life cycle. Which is actually a good achievement for a complex product, especially given that they have to keep doing it over and over again. It's just not where they wanna be.

sprowt said...

As far as numbers are concerned ... I run an addon that takes a "census" of characters (of the same faction) online at a specific point in time. It may just be a blip, but over the last couple of weeks I've seen almost a 30% rise in the number of characters online at any one time, on an evening. We've also seen a rise in applications to the guild - despite being on a fairly low population realm.

I hesitate to make assumptions, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it indicates a renewed interest - especially from a guild leader/recruitment point of view.

Of course, the increase in applications could simply indicate that more guilds are dying and those still around are moving to new guilds ...