Expectations are difficult things.
I have, for quite some time now, been of the belief that the pace of development that Pandaria maintained was an indicator of what we could expect not simply for future Expansions, but for Beta releases as well. This was based on the very real understanding that Blizzard was pushing out content that I couldn't complete, that I consciously had to pick and choose from because designers wanted to maintain momentum of change for the majority of the playerbase. I am well aware I hardly fit into the 'average' player demographic to begin with: mother of two, well past forty, with time as my primary resource to manage. Therefore, when it emerged in quick succession yesterday that not only was the 'leak' of the boost to 90 video not being dismissed but that pre-sales of the Expansion would begin today with the boost attached, plus there would also no Beta to be seen to immediately accompany it, I realised I'd been deluding myself.
If I wanted as a company to maintain interest in a game, giving people a new 90 and six months in order to run all the content the existing subscribers were rushed through first time around is the perfect delaying tactic. In fact, it couldn't be more brilliantly timed.
Pandaria was yesterday relaunched for a whole bunch of new people, who all get until the Autumn having paid their money up front for a game plus a L90 to play catch up. The rest of us? We can go back and do all the stuff we were forced to miss out on because there was never the time to do it when it was current. The new Expansion will be with everyone in Fall 2014, just in time for that all-important 10th Anniversary, and it will appear this was all part of the plan. We were never promised stuff at the speed of Expansion development, after all. Lots of people went on record and said they'd *like* it to happen quicker, but if you go and examine interviews nobody ever said it would. Only people like me foolishly assumed that when they announced at Blizzcon the concept was ready to go sooner rather than later. Only players with what might appear like misguided enthusiasm could mistake this pace of change for ACTUAL progress and then get disappointed that actually, this is exactly the same pace of development as we had last time, and the time before.
In the end, do we only have ourselves to blame?
|10 points for the reference. OFF YOU GO.|
What has prompted this latest flurry of activity, the consequences of which caught pretty much everyone on the hop, is unlikely ever to be properly explained. Just like that time when the Mobile Armoury got hacked at the weekend and millions of gold simply vanished, there are some reactions and decisions as players we simply never get an adequate explanation for. There are many reasons for such silences, and a lot of them involve internal issues and mistakes that simply can't be avoided, and therefore have to be dealt with in the most efficient manner possible. The key in any such situation is how to turn a potentially disastrous issue into a success story, and let it not be said that Blizzard aren't more than capable of making a win out of what many would consider a loss. Allowing people to buy their game now and either play a 90 or simply leave and come back when the game proper launches is, yet again, a stroke of marketing genius. Well done them. If it's also being launched now to fill the gap until there's a functional Beta in place, then even more so. It's also going to make those First Quarter profits look really healthy to boot.
There's still a very good chance that a Beta could appear in March, but with Blizzard trailing Warlords for a 'Fall release' in already published Tweets. It's probably more likely to be next month than this, simply because we know from the Dev Watercoolers that there's still a lot of stuff yet to be explained. Of course, they might prove me wrong again and start the thing tomorrow, which could well go some way to assuaging the general level of disquiet I've seen pretty much everywhere since this announcement broke. The biggest problem in all of this is the manner in which the announcements have transpired, the information that has been released, and the way that has disseminated across social networking, which has never been afraid of pulling its punches when presented with the surprising or unexpected. There's still plenty of opportunities for points to be scored and mistakes to be rectified, but that might not be enough for some.
There will be those who feel, perhaps with justification, that they've been misinformed.
|Bring fish fingers and custard STAT.|
Life is, like it or not, a lot about what you can control. When it comes to your gaming experience the only sure-fire method you have to guarantee you'll get what you want is to be inside the company making it, and even then there's no cast iron certainty even then that any end result will be exactly what you're after. For everyone else, you take what you're given and often cling onto it with an enthusiasm that is misplaced, beliefs that are inherently tainted by individual perception. To make sure that happens as little as possible it then becomes vitally important for any information to be handled both sensitively and objectively. I'm pretty sure therefore Blizzard wouldn't deliberately want to announce anything particularly important on a Sunday morning, especially not a very high profile advert for a service that has so much riding on it. Once something like the 90 Boost Advert is public knowledge, the company has a choice. You either make it work where it lands, or you're forced to watch it devalue what has been worked for. Given a decision like that, the solution is simple. Blizzard made what is undoubtedly the right call: you remember those, we've been talking about them for weeks. In fact, this is probably the moment to drag out my favourite graphic as demonstration:
|Presented without comment.|
Nobody promised an Expansion early. Nobody guaranteed a game before December 20th, least of all Blizzard. Nobody said we'd have a year of the Siege either, but here we are, looking at the distinct possibility. The powers that be have decided to 'relaunch' the game for a new bunch of people in the hope returning and new players will either pay up front now, walk away and come back at release or simply shrug and wait. Whatever happens, they make money. If the game is absolutely brilliant it won't matter, because people will flock back. If it's awful it won't matter, because of the cash made from pre-sales. Either way, Blizzard will profit, and that's all that really counts in the end. People like me now have a choice to make: do we sit it out, take a break, or do we accept what is normal behaviour and simply play through to the end?
Whatever happens, as players there is a salutatory lesson to learn from what has transpired. The only people really in control are the designers, and however much you might THINK your input matters, that's only ever true to a point. Don't build up your expectations based on unrealistic possibilities. Understand who's really in control. Above all, don't get overly emotionally invested in a videogame.
Trust me when I say it will only end in tears.